Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Top 5 Posts of 2015

Here are my top 5 blog posts of 2015!  Any of these among your favorites??

5.  2015 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration - This was a highlight of my year!  I felt like I learned so much from the wonderful presenters and speakers.  A big "thank you" to BSM Media and the Disney Social Media team that organizes this event.  It was due in part to their inspirational messages and powerful content that I saw the growth I did this year!

4.  runDisney - Creating Me Version 2.0 - I was surprised at first that this was on my top 5 list.  This was a pretty personal blog post about why I was training for a runDisney half-marathon and the ups and downs of my training.  It meant a lot to me, but didn't realize that it would speak to so many others.  I think everyone who runs, runs for their own reasons and regardless of where you are in your training journey, everyone experiences the highs and lows of training.

3.  What is the Disney Parks Moms Panel? - This blog post could really have been one simple sentence - they are simply the most awesome vacation planning resource ever!  The men and women who make up this panel are fabulous individuals who are genuinely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about all things Disney Parks.  If you haven't visited them, be sure to check them out and submit any questions you have!

2.  How to Organize Your Disney Vacation Plans - Even with the advent of My Disney Experience, I still rely on a good old fashioned table and some spreadsheets to make sure all of my plans line up the way I want.  I'm happy that my ideas have hopefully helped others plan a magical vacation for their family as well.

And drumroll please. . .

1.  runDisney Wine & Dine 2015 - My first runDisney experience was fabulous, even though it was not the race I was expecting.  I would highly recommend a runDisney race to anyone and literally cannot wait for the chance to participate in another one hopefully sometime soon!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

runDisney - The Fashion Edition

A quick Google image search of runDisney will let even the most novice fan of these races know that running in Disney is about way more than the race - it's about the fun!  And a large part of that fun is dressing the part.  Runners from the first corral to the last come to runDisney events sporting running outfits and sometimes full on costumes that showcase their favorite characters and their own personal "Disney Side."

This was the plan for my costumes.  There were a few slight changes that happened closer to race day.
If you're planning to run in Disney, there are a few basic things to know about costuming.  First of all, costumes are optional.  If it's not in your DNA to dress in a funny outfit while you run, no worries.  There are definitely people who don't opt to dress in Disney inspired gear, so you won't be alone.  Secondly, runDisney does have on their website the following guidelines related to costumes:

Screenshot from www.rundisney.com

Basically, be smart and don't wear anything that is unsafe or offensive.  Lastly, you don't have to be creative to create you ensemble.  Places such as Etsy have many crafty individuals who will gladly sell you a Disney themed racing outfit.  Or, you may even elect to create a Disney inspired look using running gear that you already own or can easily purchase.

I opted for the second choice.  While I love to think I'm creative and crafty, at the end of the day - not so much. . .especially when it comes to sewing.  So instead of going with a full on "costume," I opted to create Disney themed outfits that would be comfortable to run in because they are actually running gear.  

During the Wine and Dine Weekend, my first race was Mickey's Jingle Jungle 5K.  For this race, I chose to go with a classic Minnie Mouse outfit.  I already owned the white tech shirt and black running shorts.  From a local Halloween store, I purchased the white Minnie Mouse gloves and I ordered the red and white polka dot running skirt from Rock City Skirts on Etsy.  Originally, I was planning on wearing my plain Minnie Mouse ears, but I opted to switch it out for the more festive Christmas one when we arrived in Disney.  I thought the outfit captured the classic characters of the race as well as the Christmas theme well!


For the half marathon, I decided to "Disneybound" as Snow White.  I already owned the royal blue tech shirt and added a yellow princess running skirt that I picked up at the runDisney expo from Running Skirts.  I know the cardinal rule of running a race is not to wear a new outfit on race day, but I felt comfortable using a new skirt from Running Skirts because I have used their products before.  I had purchased a headband with a red bow on it to complete my look, but after experiencing the brutal Florida heat and humidity in the days leading up to the race, I decided to lose the headband after a few pictures and trade it in for the more functional runDisney headband.


The costumes and fun of a runDisney race are part of what make these the most magical miles around!  Happy running friends!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Epcot's La Hacienda de San Angel

Hola!  Bienvendios a La Hacienda de San Angel!

OK. . .that's as much Spanish as I know for this review :)  As you may have guessed, La Hacienda de San Angel is located in Mexico within Epcot's World Showcase.  This is no Taco Bell - you will definitely encounter authentic Mexican cuisine which is well prepared here.  Reservations are encouraged at this popular dining location, especially around the time of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.  With it's location right along the water, the restaurant features beautiful views of the nightly pyrotechnic spectacular and guests don't miss any of the experience with the lights inside the restaurant being dimmed and the audio played throughout the restaurant.

Interior of La Hacienda de San Angel
La Hacienda de San Angel is a table service restaurant and offers a warm, cozy interior that is designed to transport guests to an upscale Mexican kitchen.  With so many yummy items on the menu, we were anxious to get started.  Unfortunately, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs - especially after a day of tasting at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.

When in Mexico, you have to begin with a margarita!  The restaurant had a fun drink menu with a few margarita concoctions that were tasty treats.

I tried the Rosita Margarita - definitely a good pick!
Our table began with appetizers.  My husband and I each ordered the Crema de Elote.  This cream of corn soup is served fresh table side.  When the waitress brought the soup to the table, it was just the corn in the dish.  Then the cream soup was poured fresh over the corn.  It was a beautiful presentation and one of the best soups I have ever had!  Our friends shared an order of the Queso Fundido.  I tasted a bite of theirs - it was wonderful cheese deliciousness, but I would recommend the Creama de Elote over it.

Beautiful presentation!

Did someone ask for cheese?
For our entrees, my friend Ali and I shared Carnitas Yucatecas.  We were both getting pretty full from all of the food that day.  Even with sharing, we couldn't finish everything on our plates!  The pork was good, but I think the Tacos de Camarones (Shrimp Tacos) that my friend Craig had were the better bet.  Everything was well prepared and service was fast.  Actually, service was almost too fast. We hadn't finished our appetizers yet when our entrees arrived. 

Carnitas Yucatecas
Tacos de Camarones
Of course, we had to save room to try some desserts.  We ordered the Mousse de Chocolate and an Empanada de Manzana to share around the table.  Both were OK, but I'd save my calories to enjoy more appetizers or cocktails if I were you!

Mousse de Chocolate
Empanada de Manazana
At 9PM sharp, the lights dimmed in the restaurant and we were treated to a great view of Illuminations.  Granted, it's not the same as the FastPass+ viewing experience we had on another trip, but this was a nice alternative and didn't require fighting crowds for a front seat view.

Overall, La Hacienda de San Angel is a solid choice if you're a fan of Mexican cuisine and looking for a place to enjoy some indoor, relaxing dinning after strolling around the world in Epcot.  Until next time, adios!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Running Disney with Galloway's Intervals

Interval training is what carried me through training for what was supposed to be my first half-marathon and I relied on it heavily on race night.  I first learned of the benefits of interval training from reading up on information from Olympian Jeff Galloway.  Jeff Galloway has partnered with runDisney to create training plans for each of their races which are posted on the runDisney website.

Interval Training + runDisney Race = BLING TIME!
If you're a first time half-marathoner like me, intervals provided a great way to extend my mileage without burning out.  As I began training for the 2015 Wine & Dine Half Marathon, I printed out Galloway's beginner training plan from the runDisney website.  The training plan was the first place I saw interval training outlined and then I quickly found more information online.

At first, I have to admit that I felt silly.  Everything I read said that it was important to follow the intervals from the beginning of your run and I had read a few different places that 30 sec walk and 30 sec run intervals were a great place to start.  This means that just 30 seconds into a long training run, I was slowing for a walk interval.  The thoughts of looking silly quickly passed though as I saw my pace remain steady while continuously adding miles to my distance.  I felt good even after those longest runs and knew I could have even gone further.

On race day, intervals calmed me down and allowed me to keep my pace without going out too fast.  I did deviate a few a bit from my regular intervals on race day though.  If you have ever been a part of a runDisney race, you know how busy each corral is at the beginning of the race.  I chose to run the first 3 minutes before starting my intervals just to get out of the bottleneck at the starting line.  There were also several places along the way where the course narrowed (like the walkway between Hollywood Studios and the Boardwalk), where my intervals fell apart too as the congestion just got to be too much.  For those who scoff at interval running as "not real running," I will say that I passed A LOT of people during the race who overexerted themselves early on and couldn't keep up their pace while I stayed steady the entire time.

Important Etiquette Note:  If you are using intervals, PLEASE practice runner's etiquette.  Signal when you are going to walk and move to the right.  Others around you will appreciate it!  

Overall, I was really pleased with using intervals to train and run my runDisney race.  I have a half marathon planned close to home in May and anticipate using intervals to get started after winter at building my distance once again.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Fantasy Comes to Life in the Festival of Fantasy Parade

One of the long standing jokes at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom is, "what time is the 3 o'clock parade?"  Well, you'll want to be sure to be lining the sidewalks before 3 o'clock each day to catch the daily showing of the Festival of Fantasy Parade.  I can't believe it has taken me until November 2015 to catch this gem which debuted March 9, 2014, but with midday nap times necessary when traveling with my little guys, it wasn't until our adult getaway for Wine & Dine Half-Marathon Weekend that we had the chance to see what all of the excitement was about.

I had read previously that this may be the best parade that Walt Disney World has ever imagineered and I would have to agree!  Here are 5 things to love about the Festival of Fantasy parade!


1.  Modern Characters Meet Classic Friends - This parade has a little something for everyone!  Young children who haven't had a chance to appreciate all of the classics will delight in seeing Anna and Elsa, Merida, and Rapunzel while also getting acquainted with classic characters.


2.  Imagineering at it's Finest - Walt Disney World is known for being on the cutting edge of creativity, but this parade takes it to the next level.  I mean, c'mon.  . .a fire breathing dragon that is this cool?  Where else would you see something like this besides Disney?


3.  Crowd Interaction - The Disney cast members that walk along the parade route and the characters that join them enjoy getting up close and personal with the crowd.  You feel like you are part of the show and the magic truly comes to life for little ones!  The parade has a street performance feel and flair about it which is both fun and engaging.


4.  The Costumes - You won't find a parade with more colorful and intricate costumes.  Details on some of our favorite characters are spot on while the supporting cast members don beautiful designs as well!


5.  Premier Viewing with FastPass Plus - Guests can use one of their three FastPass Plus allotments to experience the parade from the Flag Pole Viewing Area on Main Street U.S.A.  This means that you don't have to worry about grabbing a great sidewalk spot up to an hour ahead of time.  Instead, enjoy all that Magic Kingdom has to offer and then walk into your reserved viewing spot just minutes before the parade begins - a guaranteed great view!  We didn't use this for the Festival of Fantasy parade, but have experienced this same viewing location with FP+ for the Main Street Electrical Parade.

Check the times guide or your My Disney Experience app for more information regarding this entertaining parade!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hilton Bonnet Creek & Marathon Weekends

As a frequent traveler to Walt Disney World, I'm always a fan of staying on property with some of the perks like Magical Express and Extra Magic Hours.  However, my bank account isn't always as big of a fan.  And with a healthy supply of Hilton Honors points saved up, we opted to spend our runDisney weekend at the Hilton Bonnet Creek where we could stay for free and use our money for more Disney fun.  Located on a privately owned patch of land that is right in the center of Walt Disney World property, the location of the Hilton Bonnet Creek means that you are the center of all of the action.  This was my first visit to the Hilton Bonnet Creek Resort, but I don't think it will be my last!

Outside of the Hilton Bonnet Creek
Rooms & Amenities
The resort itself is beautiful, both inside and out.  The lobby featured numerous areas of comfortable seating and looked out onto some outdoor seating areas where gas fire pits greeted guests each evening.  We checked into a room with a Disney view where we could see Spaceship Earth, the Hollywood Tower of Terror, and ESPN Wide World of Sports all from the panoramic view out of our window.  Our room also overlooked onsite amenities such as the pool and golf course - shared with the neighboring Waldorf Astoria.  While we didn't play any golf on this trip, we did enjoy the pool complex which features a pretty cool lazy river, pools, and several hot tubs.  

The pool complex
Restaurants
On property, there are several restaurants that you can enjoy when taking a break from the parks.  Each morning, we enjoyed breakfast at Harvest Bistro - where there was both a continental breakfast buffet and a full hot buffet.  There were a lot of the usual offerings on both buffets, but a few unusually delicious treats like Pumpkin French Toast Casserole and an artisanal cheese and meat tray.     We had lunch one afternoon poolside at Beech where a waitress served us in our cozy lounge chairs.  My husband and I both opted for the pizza that day.  I was expecting a personal sized entree, but was shocked at the large serving size.  It was delicious and there was plenty leftover to take back to room later on for a snack.  We also tried out La Luce on the evening of the Wine & Dine Half Marathon.  I chose to go for the child's sized spaghetti so that I wasn't overloaded before the race.  The food and atmosphere were both pleasant.  With a wide variety of Italian dishes on the menu, I wish I would have been able to try more.

Transportation
Probably the biggest downside to staying at a non-Disney hotel is missing Magical Express.  Since free transportation was not available to and from the airport, our party arranged for a Mears Luxury Sedan for our travel needs.  It was roughly $75 each way plus tip.  As a group of four adults, we would have spent almost that much on one of their airport shuttles which makes the sedan a no brainer with a dedicated driver, luggage assistance, and direct to your hotel service.  Once at the hotel, free coach bus service is provided each hour to the four major Disney parks.  The coach busses were very comfortable and not overcrowded.  Another big perk of the coach transportation was having the space under the bus to store strollers - making it easier for everyone on board!  If the timing of your plans doesn't match with the bus schedule available, you can always take a cab to the parks for less than $20 each way.

Getting ready to board the bus for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon!
Marathon Weekends
Probably the biggest draw of the Hilton Bonnet Creek during runDisney weekends is the support they offer to runners.  Overall, I was pleased with the race weekend experience, but there were a few cons to go with my pros.  On the plus side, free transpiration is provided to the half marathon race and the hotel features a big send-off to the runners before they leave featuring music, food, and water.  However, I was disappointed to not have transportation for the expo or the 5K during the Wine & Dine weekend.  Since we didn't rent a car, we ended up arranging for Mears transportation or taking a cab to these events.  I was also a little surprised at the overall lack of knowledge by concierge staff on the events of the weekend.  Messages seemed confused - for example, how race transportation was going to work, departure times, and return transportation from the after party at Epcot.  Everyone couldn't have been nicer at helping us try to find the answers to our questions, I just thought more people would be familiar with the race weekend events.

Overall, I would return to Hilton Bonnet Creek again!  It was beautiful, well maintained, and featured many great amenities.  Having stayed at both the Hilton Bonnet Creek and Hilton Lake Buena Vista, I would definitely recommend Hilton Bonnet Creek, especially for families.  There are a few improvements that could be made with regards to Marathon Weekends, but this is a really nice alternative to staying on Disney property and still getting great race weekend treatment.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

HP for Christmas!

As a Disney loving mom, I'm always collecting articles to help me plan my next Disney trip and reliving memories from my previous vacations.  When I attended the Disney Social Media Moms On the Road Celebration in New York City earlier this year, I was able to see some of the latest HP printing technology in action.  And just in time for any last minute shopping that may be on your list, I'm happy to share some details from HP that you won't want to miss!

The HP Envy 5540 e-All-in-One printer is perfect for all of your printing, scanning, and copying needs and it also includes 3 months of free HP Instant Ink.  HP Instant Ink allows you to pick a monthly subscription plan that works for you based on the number of pages printed.  When you are running low on ink, HP will automatically send some your way!  And with subscriptions as low as $2.99/month, it's a great way save money on your at home printing too.

As an added bonus for the holiday, HP is offering 6 months of free Instant Ink for printers enrolled by Dec. 31, 2015.  To enroll your printer in this program, visit http://bit.ly/HPInstantInk6.  HP Instant Ink has no annual fee and you can change or cancel your plan at any time.

I was impressed with the quality of HP with their onsite printing during Disney Social Media Moms Celebration as well as the ease of use.  So whether your planning a vacation, creating a menu for a holiday meal, or working on a project for work or school, the HP Envy 5540 and HP Instant Ink are great companions for all of your printing needs! #NeverRunOut

This post was sponsored by HP and BSM Media.  Opinions are my own.

Monday, December 7, 2015

runDisney Wine & Dine 2015 Expo


A runDisney race weekend begins with a visit to the expo.  For the Wine & Dine Half-Marathon Weekend, the expo began on Friday and continued through Saturday afternoon.  Held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, the expo is home to packet pick-up, official runDisney merchandise, and major damage to my credit card with all of the great shopping!  Here are a few things I learned at my first runDisney expo.

Bring your patience - One thing that you'll be sure to do is wait in line.  From the time we arrived to pick up our bibs, long lines stretched throughout the field house.  Bibs for the Half-Marathon and 5K were separated on opposite sides of the complex.  Following the wait in each of those lines, the lines for official merchandise and pre-purchased commemorative items awaited.  All told, it was a very long morning with lots of crowds.  Be prepared with a good attitude and your best Disney spirit to survive!

New Balance Shoes - Beginning in 2013, runDisney and New Balance have partnered to offer exclusive shoes for runDisney expos.  These shoes are only available for purchase during each expo and are immensely popular.  In an effort to minimize lines for these very popular shoes, New Balance utilizes a virtual queue.  Beginning at 6AM on the morning of the expo, you can enter your bib number and contact information and New Balance will assign you a time to arrive to their booth for shoe pick-up.  In the virtual queue you can reserve one pair of shoes and you can purchase a second if you're interested at the expo.  I was pleasantly surprised by how smooth this whole process went.  In fact, I was even able to access my return time about 15 minutes early. . .and I walked away with two great pairs of New Balance shoes!


Official Merchandise - At ESPN Wide World of Sports, there were two runDisney official merchandise booths - one inside of each field house.  Lines were long, crowds were big, and cast members tried to restock shelves as quickly as they could to keep up with popular demand.  I arrived at the expo around 10:15 on the first day and was able to grab what I was interested in for official merchandise - an "I Did It!" shirt.  I also picked up a headband and could have maxed out my credit card on all the great items if I didn't exercise some serious restraint.  Just a reminder that the official merchandise booth is Disney operated so you can use Disney gift cards to purchase items and you also can grab your Chase Disney Visa discount of 10% off $50 or more.


For the best selection on any items that you would like to purchase at the expo, you'll want to arrive early on the first day.  However, this is also where you will find the largest crowds.  Come prepared with a large amount of patience (and maybe a sizable wallet as well!) and you'll be sure to have a successful kick-off to your runDisney race weekend!


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Visiting National Harbor, Maryland

Some of the best trips occur as last minute surprises.  Our recent weekend getaway to National Harbor, Maryland proved this to be true!  On a Thursday night, we received a surprise phone call from a family member who had two nights at her time share available at the last minute.  Unable to use them, she offered the room to us for the weekend.  And with that, our little family piled into the minivan and drove the hour and a half to National Harbor!  Located just outside of Washington, D.C., it's convenient to our house and I was stunned that we haven't been here before.

National Harbor, MD located along the banks of the Potomac River
We stayed at the Wyndham Vacation Resorts at National Harbor in a 2 Bedroom Presidential Reserve Suite.  The room was incredible!  A two bedroom condo with living room, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, and laundry is definitely the way to travel with little kids.  We were able to put the kids to bed early and still enjoy the evening in the room watching TV and unwinding.  The resort itself also featured an indoor pool area.  Both of my boys enjoyed splashing around and my oldest even got over his fear of jumping in the pool after watching some of the other kids having fun too! 

Having fun in the pool at Wyndham Vacation Resorts at National Harbor
While in National Harbor there is so much to see and do!  We were there the first weekend that Christmas activities were taking place.  This meant that we got to see the Christmas tree in the downtown area in addition to The Wheel overlooking the Potomac River and enjoying time on the carousel.  While walking the streets downtown, we also took time to visit the Build-A-Bear workshop.  Even though this store is not unique to National Harbor, it was the first time Brody had experienced the store - he loved building his very own Snoopy!  However, the holiday highlight has to be found at the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel.  The Gaylord is home to ICE! - an indoor spectacle of ice sculptures that look amazing!  There are also photo ops with Santa, Gingerbread houses, and even character dining on select days which featured Kris Kringle and Topper the Penguin from Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  

The carousel played Disney music all night - no wonder I loved it!
Every 30 minutes, the tree came to life with twinkling music and light show.

Brody was so excited to pick out and build his very own stuffed animal at Build-A-Bear Workshop!

Character dining at the Gaylord brought smiles and fun - a great breakfast to end our weekend getaway!
We only spent about 36 hours in National Harbor, but we packed in memories that will last a long time.  Dan and I are anxious to plan another trip when the weather is warm so we can take advantage of the water taxis to travel to nearby towns like Alexandria.  With so much to see and do packed into a just a few blocks, this is the perfect little spot to getaway to and a really nice alternative to the downtown D.C. area if you are planning travel to the region.  

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