2014 - The Year in Review

2014 was another whirlwind year for our family with much excitement and many blessings!  As we say goodbye to the past year, here are some of our highlights:

  • Started blogging and (somewhat) successfully maintained it - minus the summer hiatus.
  • Got back into running "for the first time in forever."
    What better than #runDisney to motivate me back into running for the first time in 8 years??
  • Celebrated Brody's 2nd Birthday.
  • I turned 30 and was lucky enough to celebrate on a Disney Cruise with Dan for a little "mommy / daddy time" at sea.
    With Captain Mickey on the Disney Dream!
  • Dan got a new job doing what he loves and does best.
  • We found out that we were expecting baby #2 - another boy. . .due to arrive February 2015!
    Waiting on Baby Caleb!
  • I got promoted to an Assistant Principal position in July.
  • The Orioles won the AL East for the first time since 1997 :)
    Enjoying a day at Oriole Park at Camden Yards!
  • I made it R2 of the Disney Parks Moms Panel application process, but alas, no R3 this year.
    Such a magical email to receive!  Hoping for more #DisneyMP fun next year :)
  • We put a contract on a new house and are planning to move in January.
  • Brody got to go on his 2nd vacation to Disney World - this time a 5 day trip in November.
    Brody was so excited to meet all of his favorites - and a perfect gentleman!

Disney Touches for the Holidays

Even though we are spending Christmas hundreds of miles away from Disney World, the influence of everyone's favorite mouse can still be felt as we celebrate.  Below are just a few pictures from our holiday!  Hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful time with family and friends this season!

Our elf, Tinsel, had fun playing in Brody's Disney toys in the days leading up to Christmas.

I love wrapping gifts in Disney paper.  Found this at Hallmark this year!
I must have been a very good girl!  Love me some Disney Dooney and Bourke!
All Brody asked for from Santa was Cars stuff - and Santa delivered big time!
My mom got me my first Disney Pandora charm to add to my Pandora bracelet.
Even Baby Caleb received Disney themed gifts from Santa this year while we wait for him to make his appearance!

WDW Magic @ the Holidays

As the countdown to Christmas draws ever closer to the big day, let's take a few minutes to look at some of the special Christmas events Walt Disney World has to offer that Dan, Brody, and I took advantage of on this trip.

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights - This holiday attraction is included with your admission to Hollywood Studios.  Each evening, the Streets of America come alive with beautiful lights and music.  This is truly a beautiful and overwhelming experience.  We spent nearly an hour strolling up and down the small stretch of Hollywood Studios.  There are food and souvenir carts that line the streets if you are looking to purchase something and you can also find several PhotoPass photographers to capture that perfect pose.  This is definitely a sight to see and since it's included with your theme park admission, why pass it up?

A picture of the beautiful lights

But first, let me take a selfie :)

Family shot in front of the big tree!
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party - This party takes place several evenings each week at Magic Kingdom Park.  Long story short, the park closes down for the evening at 7PM and only remains open for party guests.  This is a hard ticketed event, meaning you have to pay extra to attend.  If you have a ticket to the party, you can enter Magic Kingdom at 4PM.  No FP+ are available from 7PM on as park attendance is limited and there really isn't a great need.  The party includes free cookies and hot chocolate, 2 parade times, and a Holiday Wishes fireworks show.  Also included are character meet and greets throughout the park and some dance parties.  I have mixed reviews to share with my experience at MVMCP.  What I liked:  smaller crowds (although the early parade time was packed on Main Street USA), cookies and hot chocolate, seeing snow on Main Street.  My problem was one that I should have seen coming.  With a 2YO, who normally goes to bed at 8, the party was way too much too late.  Despite taking a nice nap in the afternoon and allowing for plenty of rest at the resort, by 8:45 we were in total meltdown mode.  We saw the early parade, but had to leave the park before Wishes or really taking advantage of much of anything at the party.  When you consider the extra money that we paid for tickets, I don't feel like it was worth it for us.  So, my recommendation is that it looks like a blast for elementary aged children and up.  If you're traveling with little ones - think about their limits and respect them when making a decision.  I know (and am jealous) of friends who have kids that can adjust their schedules on the fly and when they are tired will just fall asleep in the stroller.  Not my kid.  If you're preschooler or toddler is routine driven with an early bedtime each night, it might be best to save this until your next trip.

Frozen was EVERYWHERE this Christmas in Disney!  One of many Frozen floats featuring Olaf

The parade ended with an appearance by the man himself - Santa!

Posing for a picture in front of the Frozen castle

Christmas in Disney is full of beautiful sights!  Beyond the parks, be sure to check out the lobbies of the various hotels.  We were just slightly ahead of most of the hotel decorations, but the pictures on Twitter look amazing and I can only imagine how wonderful those lobbies look in person!

Be Our Guest Restaurant

Ever since I heard that Disney was opening Be Our Guest Restaurant, I have been waiting to go and check it out.  I loved Beauty and Beast as a kid and the idea of dining in the Beast's Castle was too much to pass up.  Unfortunately, scoring an ADR for dinner here is ridiculously hard and even at 180 days out, I can never seem to get one.  This trip though, I was able to grab a FP+ for lunch.  We had a FP+ return time between 1:05 and 1:35.

A beautiful stained glass window with Beauty and the Beast
We arrived at the restaurant around 1:00 and were welcomed across the bridge into the castle.  BOG is a quick service meal for lunch.  However, with the unique FP+ offered at this dining location you don't have your typical "counter service" experience.  When you book your FP+ (or any time thereafter), you can pre-order your meal.  If you take advantage of this, you can enter the restaurant right away without having to wait to order.  This is a great option as long as you don't have any food allergies.  The current ordering system online does not allow for you to make dietary requests like no cheese or hold the pickles.  Since Dan has some specific diet requests, we could not order online.  When we crossed the bridge, we were directed down a hallway of the castle lined with suits of armor and then entered the Beast's study where a server will direct you to a computer screen to order.  You can use the computer to choose your food, make specific requests, and pay.  When finished, you receive a magic rose that you can take to any table in the restaurant.  Magically, your food will find you!

We chose to eat in the largest dining room, the Ballroom.  Brody enjoyed the ambiance and the "snow" that was falling out of the large window in the back of the room.  The entire restaurant was beautiful and really made you feel like you were in the castle of Beauty and the Beast!  The dining experience was an enhanced by actually serving food on real plates with real silverware - something you don't see at other quick service restaurants.  As far as food goes, the lunch menu was mostly soups and sandwiches.  I found the Croque Monsieur to be delicious.  Brody and I also split a Triple Chocolate Cupcake.  By split, I mean that he MAY have let me have one bite! 

View of the Ballroom from our table
Overall, we really enjoyed the dining experience.  Brody had a small meltdown while we were waiting to order as there was a line, it was nap time, and we had a few glitches since we were trying to pay with a gift card instead of on our MagicBands or using the Dining Plan.  Despite the rocky start, I would definitely come back.  I'm still hoping to one day score the elusive ADR for a dinner reservation so I can try the table service menu and experience!

Disney and Pregnant!

When we booked our trip in May, we didn't know that a 4th member of our family would be making the trip with us - even if he wasn't born yet.  When we found out about our future Disney fanatic in the making, I immediately began worrying about traveling to WDW at 7 months pregnant.  Below are some tips and tricks I'd like to share if you happen to be traveling to the "House of Mouse" while expecting.

Chilling with Pluto on Main Street USA!

Remember to Rest - It's easy in Disney to get swept up in the excitement and want to do everything possible during your visit.  However, rest for you and your baby are important to keep up your endurance for the length of your trip.  We were lucky to be traveling to Disney with our two year old that required daily nap time and early nights back to the hotel.  When planning our days and dining reservations, I always remembered to plan for mid-day rest at the hotel.  While I didn't always nap alongside of Brody, I did take advantage of the few hours of quiet respite on our balcony at Animal Kingdom Lodge and putting my feet up.

Be Proud to Be Pregnant - Show off your bump in Disney and take lots of pictures!  One thing that shocked me was that Disney Store doesn't carry maternity shirts (P.S. Disney - You're missing out on a racket there. . .).  I found 2 cute shirts on Etsy that I wore during the trip.  Each of these shirts garnered lots of compliments from other park guests and cast members alike.  They also were perfect in pictures so that Baby Caleb can see his first trip to Disney!

Adorable shirts from Etsy seller Baby Talk Designs

Don't Forget to Drink Water. . .And Find the Bathrooms (All of them!!) - Dan joked that I hit every bathroom in Disney during our 5 days in the parks.  He's probably right.  Even though we weren't traveling in the oppressive Florida summer, staying hydrated is of upmost importance to pregnant ladies.  At the point in my pregnancy that I was and the position of the baby, I didn't have much of a lull between bathroom breaks.  Grab a park map - even if you're a Disney expert - so you can find the closest bathrooms when needed.

Accept Limits - You can Google a list of rides that are not recommended for pregnant women.  Many of them are what you would expect - sorry, no Tower of Terror.  However, be sure to check restrictions out either before or during your trip because some may surprise you.  I didn't think about Kilamanjaro Sarfaris as being a risky ride during pregnancy until I saw the restriction and then thought about all the bumps along the way.  Even rides that you are OK to ride may not be super comfortable.  Climbing in and out of the Jungle Cruise boat, for example, may be no big deal normally, but becomes quite a chore (and somewhat funny for others I'm sure) when you're center of gravity is all off kilter. 

Our Christmas cards that showed off my proud baby bump!

You can have a wonderful time in Disney pregnant.  Take this trip to enjoy some of the slower paced activities and soak in your surroundings.  Remember that it may not be the action packed trip that you're used to, but hey, there's always next year for that, right?

Renting DVC Points

Ever since I heard of the Disney Vacation Club (DVC), I've patiently dropped hints to my husband at how fabulous this sounds.  Unfortunately, as a young couple having kids, daycare bills, and purchasing a house, putting out the upfront cost to join DVC has not been in the cards.  I had previously read about renting DVC points, but had never taken the plunge before this year.  Dan and I enjoy staying at the Deluxe resorts but don't like paying the Deluxe price tag.  So, we decided back in May to try out David's DVC Request website.  Everything I read about them was positive and we were very pleased with our experience.

How it Works - DVC members who have points that they can't use or don't want to use connect with David's.  Guests who want to stay at DVC properties fill out a simple questionnaire with information about your family, requested dates, and requested resorts.  David's then goes to work seeing if they can match up your request to points that are available to them.  We were originally trying to book during October which happens to be Food and Wine Festival.  We were unable to find the original reservation we wanted 5 months out, but were able to find a vacation option that would work by tinkering with our dates just a little.  The whole booking process was completed in less than 48 hours from my initial inquiry with the team being extremely responsive and helpful.  Once booked, you receive your confirmation number which you can plug into your My Disney Experience account to begin planning your vacation!  You pay David's a significantly discounted price over what Disney rack rates are for the villa properties.  They in turn pay the original owner and keep some for themselves.  You can easily price out your trip with their price calculator.  Remember that David's availability depends on the points that they have.  If you're looking for a popular week, season, or resort, try to get your reservation in close to 11 months out when DVC rentals open up.

Tickets, Dining, and Magical Express - You have to purchase your tickets separately.  I would recommend either going directly through Disney (don't forget your Disney Gift Cards from Target to save 5% with your Red Card) or Undercover Tourist.  Don't worry - you can still link the tickets to your Magic Bands on the My Disney Experience site.  You can also take advantage of Disney Dining Plan and Magical Express through David's.  They request that you get them these details at least 30 days in advance of your trip.

We loved our experience with David's and can't wait to go back to another DVC property in the future!

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