Creating a #DisneySide Cake

I received free products in order to host the #DisneySide @Home Celebration. The opinions expressed here are my own. 
Back before life was crazy with two kids, I took cake decorating classes through Wilton at a local craft store.  My grandmother instilled a love of cakes in me and this seemed like a fun hobby to pick up.  Over the years, I've done several Disney themed cakes (and many that weren't).  I'm no professional, but it has been a skill that has come in handy at birthday parties and special events throughout the years.


For our #DisneySide @ Home Celebration, we received a Mickey cake pan and some Duff Goldman Tie-Dye Cake Mix in the box.  This was the first time I used the Wilton Mickey pan and Duff Cake Mix and have to say, I had a blast with both!

For those of you who aren't familiar with the cake decorating world, Duff Goldman is a renowned cake decorator who happens to be right down the road from me in Baltimore.  He owns Charm City Cakes and gained fame beyond Maryland thanks to his own TV show.  He has released several different cake mixes that are funky and fun as well as some cake decorating supplies that let you show a unique side through your decorations.  His tie-dye cake mix was both fun an festive for our Disney party.

The cake itself was easy to make.  It's a white cake mix that you divide into six different bowls once it's you have it prepared.  Then you use his supplied food coloring to color the mix into six different colors.  I successfully colored the cake batter with only a small mess on my hands!  Then the box gives you different options about how to layer the colors to achieve a tie-dye look.  Since we were doing a shaped cake pan, I started with red and drizzled all of it in the pan.  Then followed the same with orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.  The great thing with a tie-dye cake is that there is no wrong way to drizzle the colors and design your cake!  It baked perfectly in the Mickey pan in 35 minutes.


After letting the cake cool on a rack for about 20 minutes, I turned it onto a cake board and let it cool the rest of the way.  I used a baking spray in my pan to make sure it released easily from the pan.  When the cake was cool, I "dirty iced" it with a thin layer of my homemade buttercream white icing to seal in the moisture and smooth out any crumbs.  I then used the Wilton icing colors to color cake icing for my Mickey design.  I had all the icing colors and decorating tips I needed to successfully go from a naked cake to Mickey Mouse in about 90 minutes. 


Overall, the cake was fairly easy to put together from start to finish.  The hardest part on party day was keeping my 3 year old off of it until the guests arrived.  Thanks again to all the sponsors who helped make our #DisneySide @ Home Celebration a big success!  For more ideas on how to add some more Disney to your next party, visit www.disneysidecelebrations.com and follow the hashtag #DisneySide on Social Media.

I received free products in order to host the #DisneySide @Home Celebration. The opinions expressed here are my own. 

What you need to know about FastPass+

Our last trip to Disney was the first that we had a chance to experience MagicBands, FastPass+, and My Disney Experience - oh my!  As you might recall from an earlier post, I was a both excited at the new changes and nervous about how they may work in the weeks leading up to the trip.  Now that I've had the opportunity to experience these changes first hand, I have a better idea of the benefits and some tips and tricks to help you navigate these new systems if you haven't traveled to WDW recently.  Rather than one long post, I'm going to divide this into 3 shorter posts to make it easier for you to digest.  Earlier, we reviewed MagicBands and today we'll take a look at FastPass+ and some tips to help you experience this new system.

FastPass+ - If you traveled to Walt Disney World under the old FastPass system, you'll probably remember the stress surrounding a rush at rope drop in order to get your coveted paper FastPass.  Getting a FastPass for attractions like Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios was a difficult (if not impossible) task.  And, once you used a FastPass, you'd have to run to the other side of the park to pick up your next FastPass from another favorite attraction only to then turn around and head someplace else while you waited for that window.

Enter the world of FastPass+.  Disney has tried to reduce some of the stress and frustration in the parks by creating a system that allows guests to pre-select their FastPass attractions prior to arriving on property.  Here's how it works.  Guests who have a reservation on Disney property can begin reserving FastPass+ attractions 60 days in advance while those not staying on property can begin registering their selections 30 days in advance.  Visitors select 3 FP+ attractions from one park each day.

FP+ home screen from the My Disney Experience App

The Benefits - Gone is the stress and frustration of running around the park to pick up your paper FP+ tickets.  Now you can pre-plan and prioritize what is important to you and your family and guarantee your FP reservations well in advance.  When we booked our attractions at the 60 day mark, we were able to get everything we wanted - not the ideal times always, but able to secure the attraction.  For someone who likes to pre-plan our trip, this is a nice feature.  I also liked being able to choose 3 attractions and know the times early on.  There were some occasions on previous trips when we would pull a FastPass for a time that conflicted with a dining reservation and we couldn't do anything to change either one on the fly that day.  The new system gives you the chance to make sure things coordinate and line up prior to your arrival.  You can also view and manage your selections from a mobile device app now which is great for the park - no more worrying about losing your return tickets!  Since Brody was too little to ride many of the rides that are popular enough to need a FastPass, we decided to book ours mainly for character greetings and reserved parade and fireworks seating.  It was great to meet so many characters without having long waits.

Epcot Character Spot was one of our favorite FP+ stops.  Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy with only a 5 minute wait!
The "Kinks" - I like to call them "kinks" because FP+ is still relatively new on the WDW resort scene and I'm confident that some of these minor issues will be fixed along the way.  If you have purchased a park hopper ticket, you can't book FP+ reservations from multiple parks.  This is a frustration I've heard from lots of people who are seasoned park hoppers and want to maximize every moment of their vacation.  In addition, some of the parks have tiered options for their FP+ attractions.  This means that you can't score a FP+ for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios.  You'd have to pick only one of the popular attractions and then 2 others off of the "Tier 2" list.  The only other problem we encountered was nothing to do with the system itself, but our issues of traveling with a toddler.  When using FP+, you are locking yourself into attraction times 2 months ahead of time.  Couple that with your dining reservations that you booked 6 months out and you're trip is pretty much locked in.  Normally not a problem, unless you have a crabby toddler who needs a rest at the hotel and you have to choose whether to stay and use your Festival of Fantasy Parade FastPass or forego your plans you've been making for months and go back to nap at the hotel.  At peak times, there is very little hope of switching FP+ reservations at the last minute for the more popular rides and attractions.  We ended up loosing 5 of our 15 FP+ reservations during our stay because Brody's schedule didn't jive with what we had thought it would be 8 weeks before the trip.

Summary - While my "kinks" section is longer than my "benefits" section, I actually am a fan of FastPass+ when compared to the old system.  Is it perfect?  No, but perfection is a lot to ask for.  And my criticisms aren't meant to be harsh, more of an education for those of you who haven't experienced the new system to know what to watch out for.  All in all, with a little research and some advanced planning, you'll find FP+ to be a helpful way to help you see and do everything you hope to experience in Walt Disney World.


Whosits and Whatsits and MagicBands

Our last trip to Disney was the first that we had a chance to experience MagicBands, FastPass+, and My Disney Experience - oh my!  As you might recall from an earlier post, I was a both excited at the new changes and nervous about how they may work in the weeks leading up to the trip.  Now that I've had the opportunity to experience these changes first hand, I have a better idea of the benefits and some tips and tricks to help you navigate these new systems if you haven't traveled to WDW recently.  Rather than one long post, I'm going to divide this into 3 shorter posts to make it easier for you to digest.  First, we'll take a look at MagicBands and how they are revolutionizing the vacation experience at Walt Disney World Resort.

MagicBands - LOVE THESE!  What a great invention!  It's so convenient to have your room key, charging privileges, FP+ tickets, and park tickets stored on a handy bracelet.  Dan remarked several times during the trip that it was great to not have to carry a wallet.  We also linked our tickets to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party to our MagicBands and didn't have any issues in doing so.  Brody enjoyed wearing his "bracelet" so much he wanted to sleep with it on each night.  Even though he was only 2 so he really didn't need one, it's awesome of Disney to provide one to each member of the family so the littlest mouseketeers can feel a part of the excitement.

Getting this little box in the mail a few weeks before our trip just heightened our excitement!
Disney will send MagicBands to everyone staying on Disney property and guests staying off property can purchase them if interested.  In fact, there are special MagicBand releases in the parks for holiday parties, popular movies, and events.  They even sell some very cute MagicBandits and MagicSliders to decorate your band.  You can check out a few selections on the Disney Store website. 

You can personalize your MagicBand by choosing your color and having it personalized with your name from the My Disney Experience website - all included with the perks of staying on property at Disney.
The only downside we ran into with the MagicBands was that not all vendors in the park took them as payment.  We didn't carry wallets, cash, credit cards, etc. during our vacation because we assumed EVERYTHING on Disney property would accept MagicBands as payment.  Imagine our disappointment (and Brody's) when we wanted to get him a light up toy from one of the carts at MVMCP only to find that the cart vendors did not accept MagicBands.

Moral of the story. . .MagicBands were a wonderful addition to our Disney vacation.  However, until all the final bugs get worked out, you may want to have a hard copy of your tickets and carry some cash on you too.  And, to end, a small confession. . .Brody and I sometimes still put our MagicBands on and pretend to be at Disney!  

Saving money on food in Disney!

When traveling to Walt Disney World, one very large (and oftentimes underestimated) cost of the trip is buying food.  Even if you choose to purchase the Disney Dining Plan, you will probably still need some snacks and staples throughout the day.  So how can you save money on food?  Easy, buy groceries!

Now, you may be thinking I'm nuts.  Nobody wants to grocery shop on vacation and a lot of resort guests don't rent a car to easily get out.  Orlando though is home to numerous online grocery shopping services that are worth considering on your next trip.  On our most recent trip, we used Garden Grocer and couldn't have been happier with their service.

Here's how it works.  We visited their site about a month before our trip.  I knew that in our Studio at Animal Kingdom Lodge - Kidani Village we would have a fridge, sink, and some cabinet space.  I ordered easy breakfast items (milk, bananas, grapes, yogurt, bakery fresh muffins, cereal) and drinks (Capri Sun, soda, juice, case of water) as well as a few healthy snacks to pack for the park (granola bars, apples, pretzels, etc).    We don't know exactly how much money we saved by taking advantage of this service, but I know it was substantial.  Think about just water alone.  Water is one snack credit on the Disney Dining Plan or $2.50 a bottle when you buy it out in the parks.  From Garden Grocer, we received a case of water for $6.99 (or just $0.29 a bottle). The case was more than enough for what our family of 3 needed to last for the 5 days we were in Disney.  Between the online grocery order and some snacks we packed from home, we had a lot of options that saved us a great deal of money in the parks.  Once you place your order on their website, you select the delivery date, time frame, and resort destination.  They will deliver the groceries to bell services at your hotel where Disney staff will keep cold stuff refrigerated for you until you are back in your room to receive them.  When you arrive at your hotel, simply call bell services and they'll deliver your groceries to your room.  Voila!    

Having some breakfast food in the room allowed us to enjoy some leisurely mornings watching the animals from our balcony.
So how do you know if online groceries are right for your next trip?  The biggest suggestion I have is to check out what kind of refrigerator your room has.  All Walt Disney World Resort hotels now feature a refrigerator, but they do vary in size from mini-fridges in the value resorts to full size refrigerators and kitchens in most Disney Vacation Club property villas.  You'll want an idea of how much space you have for cold things before you place your order.  Many park visitors aren't aware that you can bring food into the park (including soft-sided coolers), but this little trick can add up to big savings!

What other tips or tricks do you have to save money on food when visiting Walt Disney World Resort?

Gearing up for a Cars #DisneySide @Home Celebration!

I received free products in order to host the #DisneySide @Home Celebration. The opinions expressed here are my own. 
With our #DisneySide @Home Celebration less than 2 weeks away, planning is in full swing.  I've loved looking at Pinterest, Instagram, and following the adventures of fellow party hosts on Facebook and Twitter for ideas as well as tapping into some of my own creativity.  Invites for our party were sent via Facebook and we're anxiously awaiting responses from family and friends with preschool aged kids who would love to come and celebrate a Cars fun-filled day with us!

As any party host knows, one of the first things to decide upon is the menu.  An easy way to let your Disney Side show at any party you throw, is to theme your food with the event.  I had an idea of some of the menu items I wanted to serve and then tried to come up with creative ways to connect the food to characters from Cars.  Between some of my own ideas and the ones I found on Pinterest, here is what I've come up with for our menu.

During lunch, I'll be playing the Disney Parks Vacation Planning DVD.  And, as part of the party favors guests will receive, I'll be sending home several Disney goodies and some sweet treats for the kids too!

The other part of the party that I've been anxiously planning is the games!  The preschool crowd can be difficult to keep happy for a long period of time, so I've been trying to find games that are short and to the point while also being age-appropriate for the kids.  Included in my Disney Side party box were two games that I plan to incorporate - Pin the Smile on Mickey and Disney Bingo.  The Disney Bingo might be tough for little ones to navigate on their own, but I thought it would be fun to play one quick game and encourage parents and kids to play together.  The Disney Bingo winner and winner of Pin the Smile on Mickey will be treated to prizes that were provided to me.

Some of the games in our Disney Side celebration box!
I also found on Pinterest an idea for a game - Guess Which Cone the Car is Under.  Inspired by the Cozy Cone Motel, a car is hidden under one of three orange cones.  The cones are then switched around while the kids watch.  They then have to guess which cone the car is under.  I'm going to use the Cars stickers from my Disney Side party box as prizes for all kids that play the game.

Now it's crunch time to get the final details pulled together!  I can't wait to share how the party went when it's all complete!

For more ideas on planning your own party, check out www.disneysidecelebrations.com and follow #DisneySide on social media.

I received free products in order to host the Disney Side @Home Celebration. The opinions expressed here are my own. 

Liberty Square in Magic Kingdom

Image from www.waltdisneyworld.com

In honor of President's Day, let's take a look at some of the rides, restaurants, and attractions in Liberty Square at Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom - home of the Hall of Presidents.  Liberty Square is a small area of the park located between Fantasyland and Frontierland.  While it doesn't have the big thrill rides or most popular restaurants, it's a hidden gem that can frequently be less crowded then other parts of the park.

Attractions / Rides
Haunted Mansion - Perhaps one of the most popular rides in Magic Kingdom, the Haunted Mansion takes you inside with 999 "happy haunts."  The wait to enter the mansion takes place through an outdoor graveyard.  Upon entering the mansion, guests are escorted into a room where some of the resident ghosts give you a quick welcome.  Then you are invited to enter your "doom buggy" for a ride through experience of the mansion and its resident ghosts.  The ride is not incredibly scary, but you may want to think about the personality of your own child before bringing a preschooler along.  We took Brody at 2 because he insisted he was big enough and brave enough to go.  He did fine on the ride, but was scared in the pre-show.
Hall of Presidents - A classic Disney attraction, guests can beat the Florida heat in this air conditioned theatre while also getting a taste of history.  The show includes a movie and then each president addressed the crowd in his audio animatronic self.  The show is not designed to hold the attention of little ones, but is a great place to go if you need a break from the heat and crowds.
Liberty Belle Riverboat - Another often overlooked ride is a quick cruise around Tom Sawyer Island on the Liberty Belle.  Again, not a thrill ride, but another nice way to beat the crowds, take a look at some pretty scenery, and take a break from the heat of day.  

Restaurants
Liberty Tree Tavern - Can't get a reservation at Be Our Guest or Cinderella's Royal Table?  Don't assume that all is lost in Magic Kingdom.  Liberty Tree Tavern is another Table Service option that serves good ol' fashioned American comfort food.  You won't be disappointed in the quality of the food or service here.  The atmosphere harkens back to Colonial America where everyone is treated as family!  A quality find (and an easier dining reservation to snag!)
Columbia Harbour House - This is a Quick Service option for guests that is usually less crowded then other choices throughout the park.  The choices here are features from New England.  Fish, clam chowder, and some unique sandwiches give diners a welcome change from burgers, pizza, and chicken often found at other quick service choices.  

Next time you're in Magic Kingdom, don't just breeze through Liberty Square but stop to enjoy a slower pace as well as the quality attractions and food!  

Romance on the High Seas

When you think of a Disney Cruise Line vacation, a lot of people don't often think of romance.  However, while I love spending quality family time on the cruise, one of my favorite parts of a DCL vacation is having some "adult time" for my husband and I.  In honor of Valentine's Day, here are three quick tips to make your next DCL vacation a bit more romantic.

Tip #1 - Take advantage of the nursery and kids clubs - Kids will LOVE spending time in these bright and colorful areas of the ships where they can play and interact with the amazing Youth Team and some of their favorite characters.  You can enjoy a few guilt-free, child-free hours on board while you know your children are well cared for and having as much fun as you are.  There is a per hour charge for the nursery which is available for children under 3, but the other youth spaces are included in your cruise fare for all children over the age of 3.  The ship has plenty of adult only spaces to explore including pools and nightclubs that are often a lot less crowded then you would expect.

Playing in Andy's Room in the Oceaneer's Club on the Disney Fantasy


Tip #2 - Try out one of the adult only restaurants - Whether it's a brunch or a dinner, be sure to spend at least one meal (or more if you're like us!) at either Remy or Palo.  Palo features delicious Italian cuisine and is available on all four Disney ships while Remy serves French delights and is available on both the Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream.  We have had the pleasure of eating at both Remy and Palo on our previous cruises and the food, service, and atmosphere did not disappoint.  Brunches are typically seres on at sea days only while dinner is available each night.  While, these restaurants do require an additional fee, they are a wonderful way to spend some alone time with your significant other.

Enjoying our date night on the Disney Fantasy waiting for dinner at Palo
Tip #3 - Don't forget about Serenity Bay - While on Castaway Cay, Serenity Bay is located on the backside of the island and is the adult only beach.  When we traveled on our last cruise, we spent time on Serenity Bay and were surprised about this hidden gem.  There were hardly any people on this side of island and we enjoyed some quiet time on the beach - along with a few cocktails!  And once again, you don't have to worry about the kids.  Scuttle's Cove is available on Castaway Cay for kids 3 and over to have fun with attractions and games just for them while you sneak in a little romantic time!

A view down the beach of Serenity Bay!
What's you favorite way to get romantic on a Disney Cruise??

Good Stuff to Come

Thanks everyone for your patience as I've been away from my blog for a few days.  As many of you know, we welcomed a new addition to the family on Feb.1!


Needless to say, between moving into our new house and adding a new baby, life has been a little hectic.  I didn't want you to think I had forgotten about you!  

My blog posts for February will center around hosting my #DisneySide @Home Celebration.  Look for fun posts about how you can show your Disney side at home including party tips and tricks, game ideas, and menu options.  Can't wait to share some awesome party ideas with everyone this month!  

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