Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Top 5 Posts of 2016

In what has now become an annual tradition on the blog (I think I can call it that if I've done it two years in a row, right?), here is a countdown of my top 5 posts from the past year.  Thanks to everyone who stops by to check out my posts and I can't wait to share more memories and magic in 2017!

5. Why We Won't Be Going to MNSSHP - Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party has been on my Disney bucket list for a long time now and we were finally taking a Fall trip that would put us there not only during some of the party dates, but actually on Halloween.  So why did we decide not to go? Find out here!

4. runDisney Inaugural Wine & Dine 10K - The inaugural runDisney Wine & Dine 10K was an amazing race.  Hosted by Chef Remy, the race featured a familiar course through Epcot and around the Boardwalk with some great characters and all the runDisney fun that you expect from their events.

3.  A Beginner's Guide to Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival - One of the most popular events in Walt Disney World can be overwhelming when you don't know what to expect.  We attended for the first time in 2015 and I used my experiences to write some tips that I learned which might benefit other first timers.

2.  Best Bets for Preschoolers in Epcot - Traveling with the little guys to Walt Disney World has meant seeing the parks through the eyes of my kids.  Epcot gets a bad reputation sometimes as not being a kid-friendly park.  This post highlights some of our favorite things to do around Future World and World Showcase!

1.  Things that May Terrify Your Kids in Walt Disney World - My husband will probably laugh out loud that this is my top post of the year.  His biggest complaint about Disney is that our kids are scared of some of the things there.  It's a true statement.  I don't think that ruins a family vacation - just review some of these experiences that might terrify your kids.  Moral of the story, there is so much to see and do in Disney; do what makes your family happy rather than trying to push through things that scare them.

Monday, December 26, 2016

How to Survive a runDisney Expo with Your Sanity

If you look up the definition of "insanity" in the dictionary, you may see a picture of a runDisney event.  From the breathlessness that accompanies registration day ("Will I get in?") to the organized chaos mass of people loading into corrals on race morning - no race that I've ever experienced comes close to the excitement and adrenaline rush that runDisney enthusiasts know far too well.  The expo at runDisney race weekends is no different.  After having a few runDisney events under my belt, here are some tips to help make the expo a little less stressful and allow you to hopefully enjoy everything there.

1. As Scar would say, "be prepared." - At it's very core, the expo's prime purpose is for you to pick up your bib so you can actually run in the race.  In order to do this, you need to have your race waiver ready to go.  runDisney typically sends these out a week or two in advance and you can print it out to bring with you.  If you forget, the expo does have printers available for you to print there, but it just adds more time and another line for you to wait in.  Also, make sure you have your ID.  runDisney has a strict no transfer / no sale policy and they will verify that you really are the runner who registered.  Another thing to keep in mind is that you may only pick up your own bib; not for anyone else unless you are picking up for a child in the Kids Races.

2.  Choose your time wisely - I would not recommend going to the expo when it opens on the first day. . .unless you would like to be trampled by all manner of ebay sellers and crazy merchandise shoppers.  The pictures I've seen on social media in the first hours that the expo have kept me away.  I have attended the expo on the first day later in the afternoon and have been able to purchase official merchandise without any problems.  Now if there is something that you are desperate for, maybe you will need to go early - may the Force be with you.

runDisney celebrity sighting!!
3.  Shop the merchandise like a pro - First things first, if you want a jacket or pin go ahead and pre-order it through Active.  It will save you a lot of time and hassle at the expo to pick up what you ordered rather than worrying about whether or not they will still have what you want in stock.  The pre-order jackets are also unique to the online pre-purchase so you won't be able to find those exact ones there.  Secondly, when you go to the official runDisney merchandise section, be sure to shop the whole area before getting in line.  These lines can be lengthy and you don't want to have to get out and get back in.  It's also good to note that at the official runDisney location, you can access all of your typical Disney discounts - 10% off $50 or more with a Disney Visa and current percentage off discounts for Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club Members.  They also accept Disney Gift Cards at that location.  Lastly, if you're in search of the runDisney New Balance shoes, sign up for the virtual queue to reserve your spot.  These are at the New Balance location at the expo, not with the runDisney merchandise.  Disney discounts and Disney gift cards can't be applied towards the shoes. 

4.  Take your time to enjoy - You have worked hard and trained hard for this race weekend, don't rush through it!  I love exploring the booths, checking out the medals for upcoming runDisney races, and listening to guest speakers.  I was so excited to meet Jeff Galloway and talk about my training with him.  Know your travel party on your Disney vacation.  I leave non-runners at the hotel or at the parks so that I can enjoy the expo at my own pace without my little ones (or my husband for that matter) asking "are we done yet?"

5.  Manage expo transportation - Transportation to and from the expo is provided from the Walt Disney World Resort hotels on a continual basis (about every 15-20 minutes).  The bus parking lot is well signed with which busses are going to which resorts.  If you are not staying on property, you can drive to ESPN Wide World of Sports or take a taxi.  Parking is free and taxis are also readily available.  Cast members are more than happy to help point you in the right direction whichever option you choose!  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Even though I've been blessed with two boys, I still need to get a little Princess fix on my Walt Disney World vacations.  Luckily, with my boys both still being young, they enjoy seeing the "pretty princesses" too and we were able to grab pre-park opening reservations for breakfast at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall on our most recent visit to Epcot.  This was probably the most controversial of the dining reservations we had on the trip from a review standpoint so I've decided to summarize the experience into two categories:

What You'll Love - There are several things to enjoy about breakfast at Akershus.  Most notably is the princess interaction.  Everyone knows that a reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table is next to impossible to secure, but reservations at Akershus are a bit easier to come by.  Here you'll get to meet five princesses.  While they say that princesses may vary from visit to visit, we were able to meet Belle, Aurora, Ariel, Snow White, and Cinderella.  All of the princesses were delightful to interact with during our meal.  I decided to "Disneybound" as Snow White that day, and she was so excited to see my outfit.  During the meal, there is a princess parade every 15 minutes or so where the princesses get the kids up from their chairs and walk around the restaurant.  The restaurant itself is also pretty featuring some classic Norwegian architecture and decor. 


What You Won't Love - The price for the food that you get.  I'm not going to say the food was bad, because it wasn't.  The meal comes in two parts - a buffet that you can start on as soon as you arrive and then a family style plated selection of hot breakfast items.  The eggs were fine, the potato casserole was delicious, and the selection of pastries and Norwegian specialities on the buffet were good - but when you're paying over $40 per adult for the buffet, you would expect more variety and not just "good," but "great" dining in my opinion.  What you are paying for here is the opportunity to meet and mingle with the princesses.  If that's not high on your priority list, you would be better served to dine somewhere else.  Epcot is full of fabulous dining choices around World Showcase which will be both cheaper and offer a better selection of food.

Overall, I would not go back to Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.  The boys enjoyed meeting the princesses and I'm always glad to try something new in Walt Disney World, but with so many great choices around the resort, this would not be one for me to experience again.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Jedi Master You Will Be

Have you ever watched a movie and imagined how amazing it would be to be a part of the magic?  Any Star Wars fans ever dream battling the Dark Side?  Well, young visitors to Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World get the chance to do just that.  Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple allows children between the ages of 4 and 12 the chance to train with a Jedi Master, become an expert in the ways of the Force, and then do battle with Dark Side foes like Darth Vader.  This experience is entirely free (yes, you read that right. . .FREE!) with your admission to Hollywood Studios, but space is limited.  In order to make the most of your experience, here is everything you need to know.

Getting Registered - You cannot pre-register for the Jedi Training Academy.  Registration takes place each day at Hollywood Studios and you want to get there early in order to secure your spot.  We arrived at Hollywood Studios around 8:15 for a 9:00 opening that day.  Around 8:30, cast members began welcoming guests into the park.  Guests who were looking to head towards Sunset Boulevard, Pixar Place, and other parts of the park were held back by ropes once inside, but signs directed those signing up for Jedi Training to head over to begin the process.  The registration takes place back by Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular.  Even though we entered at rope drop and were in line before 8:40, the line was still incredibly long.  After about a 20 minute wait, we were able to sign up.  Don't forget that your little Jedi needs to be with you to sign up.  They show runs multiple times throughout the day and you get to select your time based on availability when you arrive.  The earliest show we could get that day was 11:40 AM so we scooped it up.  Along with our confirmation ticket for the training, we also received three FastPasses good for the entire family.  I don't know if this happens all the time, but my guess is that these FastPasses might be a way for Disney to let guests be flexible in selecting their time for the performance - if you have to schedule during a FastPass+ reservation time, no worries.



Checking In - The check-in for the Jedi Training Academy is directly in front of the 50's Prime Time Cafe.  You'll notice some blue circles on the sidewalk and that's how you'll know you are in the right spot.  They ask you to arrive 30 minutes before your show time.  This allows the cast members to check guests in, get them cloaked up, go over PhotoPass information with the family, and give directions to the young Jedi.  I stayed here with Brody while my husband headed over towards the stage to grab a good viewing spot.  It doesn't matter what circle your kid stands on; everyone will get a chance to battle the Dark Side.  While cast members were getting the kids ready, a PhotoPass photographer came over and shared with us information on accessing the pictures they take during the performance.  Remember, all of these images are yours for free if you've purchased Memory Maker.  About 5 minutes before showtime, cast members will lead the future Jedi and their parents over to the stage to begin.















The Show - The stage is located next to Star Tours: The Adventure Continues.  When the kids arrive, they take a spot on stage based on the line they are in.  Again, no worries about which line they are in - both get the chance to train and do battle against the Dark Side.  The Jedi Masters teach the kids the ways of the Force and some lightsaber battle techniques.  After some practice, smoke fills the stage and villains from the Dark Side emerge.  The villains may vary from show to show, but we had Darth Vader and the Seventh Sister.  Brody was so excited and volunteered to be first to do battle with Darth Vader.  The show is extremely organized with the Jedi-in-Training lined up and ready to fight as soon as one is done.  Once everyone completed their battles, those two disappeared, but it wasn't long before Kylo Ren emerged.  The kids did not do battle with Kylo Ren, but they used the power of the Force that now flowed through them to cause him to retreat.





















From check-in to the finale of the show, the whole experience lasted about an hour and was one of the most memorable from our trip.  The pictures from the Disney PhotoPass photographer were priceless and Brody couldn't stop talking about his encounter with Darth Vader.  I would highly recommend this free experience to anyone with a young Star Wars fan - just be sure to arrive to the park early to secure your spot as all shows do fill each day and they typically reach capacity very early on in the morning.  

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Experiencing a Galaxy Far, Far Away

Visitors to Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort have a number of opportunities to be immersed into the world of Star Wars fanfare.  For my little Jedi, we made Star Wars Launch Bay one of our first stops during the day.  My son was dressed as a Jedi for our Halloween visit to Hollywood Studios and was heavily questioned at the entrance to Star Wars Launch Bay by the Stormtroopers guarding the entrance.  Once inside, we opted to move past the Launch Bay Theater where a short film plays giving behind-the-scenes information about the Star Wars saga and linking together some memorable clips.  At 4 years old, Brody was focused on meeting the characters so away we went!

At Star Wars Launch Bay, you are able to meet Chewbacca and Kylo Ren.  The characters are separated into two queue lines with pieces of Star Wars memorabilia for you to look at while you wait.  We first visited Kylo Ren, which made Brody a little nervous the closer we got.  He was worried that Kylo Ren wouldn't like him because he fights for the Dark Side while Brody is a Jedi and clearly on the Light Side.  I will say, that when the doors opened and we had our chance to meet Kylo Ren, he was a little intimidating.  He paces in front of the group, presumptively trying to use the Force to read our minds.  There really is nothing "scary" about the encounter - but it's definitely a change for the "warm, fuzzy" character meets you might be used to around the parks.  Then he poses for a quick picture before you are ushered out.  We waited about another 20 minutes in the next queue line to meet Chewbacca.  Chewie could not have been more friendly!  He had lots of hugs for the whole family.

After about 50 minutes inside meeting characters, we were anxious to move onto the next adventure in our day.  We quickly moved through the remainder of Launch Bay where there were computer games, more memorabilia from the Star Wars saga, and even a chance to visit with some Jawas.  Launch Bay is a great stop in Hollywood Studios for Star Wars fans young and old alike.  It's also a great place to escape the heat during your day in the park.  And Launch Bay continues to receive updates!  On Monday night, Walt Disney World announced that new pieces - both authentic and replicas - from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story will be added to the Launch Bay experience, which means that even the seasoned Walt Disney World traveler will have something new to check out on their next visit!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

As someone new to the whole world of Star Wars, I've been waiting for another movie to give me a chance to dive back into a galaxy far, far away.  My personal Star Wars journey began with my oldest son starting to watch Star Wars Rebels on Disney XD.  Then I watched my first Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, this past year and was instantly hooked.


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a standalone film which will chronicle the journey of a group of unlikely heroes as they try to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire's ultimate weapon of destruction.  The trailer promises the action and adventure that Star Wars fans have come to love and expect from the franchise.



Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens December 16th in theaters everywhere, but tickets are already on sale.  Follow along with the hashtag #RogueOne on social media and the official social media channels for the movie below.  Also, check back here on the blog over the next few weeks as I highlight Star Wars fun from our most recent trip to Walt Disney World that can bring the magic to life for you and your family on your next vacation!

Like STAR WARS on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/StarWarsMovies  

Follow STAR WARS on Twitter: https://twitter.com/starwars

Follow STAR WARS on Instagram: http://instagram.com/StarWarsMovies 

Follow STAR WARS on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/starwars

Visit the official ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY website: http://www.starwars.com/films/rogue-one


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Signature South African Dining at Jiko

Located inside of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge at the Walt Disney World Resort is a restaurant that is home to delicious South African flavors, Jiko - The Cooking Place.  I love trying each of the signature dining experiences within Walt Disney World as each offers a combination of service, atmosphere, food, and drink that is second-to-none.  Jiko has been on my wish list for a while and on our most recent trip we were able to join friends of ours from the Orlando area for a date night out while the kids stayed back at the hotel with grandma and grandpa.

Atmosphere
Jiko is situated on the lower level of Jambo House at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge; directly across from Boma.  The decor could best be described as "elegant casual" in my opinion.  The dining room was a comfortable mix of tables and booths featuring bright colors and beautiful art that is meant to symbolize the natural beauty of Africa.  Our dinner was after dark, but during the day, there are large windows that have a view of one of the savannas.  There is a small bar area near the hostess station where we were able to relax and have a pre-dinner cocktail before being seated.  The restaurant does have a dress code which requests "resort casual" attire.



Food and Drink
We found the menu to feature a lot of variety and delicious flavors.  The dinner service began with bread and we ordered a chicken flatbread appetizer.  During the appetizers, my husband ordered one of the South African wine flights to taste a variety of what the restaurant had to offer.  The pairing was reasonably priced and was smooth and delicious.  For our entrees, everyone sampled something different.  I opted to follow one of our waiter's recommendations and try the Oak-grilled Filet Mignon while Dan went with the Maize-crusted Halibut.  The filet was cooked perfectly, but I have to say that I enjoyed the flavors of the halibut a bit better.  For dessert, we once again took the waiter's recommendation and went with the Malva Pudding.  It was the perfect end to the evening!  Everything was wonderful and we can't wait to go back again!





Overall Impressions
I was really impressed with Jiko.  It definitely ranks above Artist Point in both food and atmosphere in my opinion.  When I compare it to California Grill, I think it's right on par with food, but California Grill does hold an edge with the breathtaking views overlooking Cinderella Castle in Disney's Magic Kingdom.  I would look forward to returning to Jiko in the future and trying more of their diverse and delicious menu!

Friday, November 25, 2016

There's a Sprocket in my pocket!


I have to say that when I first saw the advertisements come out for the new HP Sprocket, I struggled to think about why anyone would NEED this product.  But, I as much as I questioned the need for one, I was nevertheless excited to find out that I would be able to try this newest piece of technology out with my family.   After setting it up and playing with it for a week, I have to admit that it is easy to use and a fun addition to our house.  If you haven't heard about the Sprocket yet, it's a pocket sized, inkless photo printer generating 2"x3" prints of your favorite pictures.  Think of it as Polaroids for the 21st Century.

So, how does it work?  It's incredibly easy to set up.  Once removed from the package, you want to plug your Sprocket into your laptop via the USB charging cable in order to get the battery ready to go. When you have your battery charged up, pair your Sprocket to your smartphone using Bluetooth and then download the Sprocket app on your phone.  In the app, you can select the picture you want to print from social media sites like Facebook or Instagram, or you can choose from pictures in your photo library.  After selecting your picture, you can edit to add text, stickers, or photo frames and also crop or use a filter on your image.  Make sure you've loaded the Zink paper into the printer, press the green print button, and you have your photo!  It's so easy to use and fun to play with that my four year old continuously asks me when we can make more pictures.

Being able to print pictures on-the-go can be a great way to celebrate even the smallest of moments with family and friends. The Zink photo paper also features a sticky back so you can add the prints to a collage, white board, or binder easily (just to name a few!)  I will say that I've found the coloring to be a bit off with the printer - duller than the images themselves.  I've been able to work around the problem by lightening the image using the editing tools prior to printing, but it's good to know in advance.

In the app
The finished product





















As you're completing holiday shopping for your friends and family, the HP Sprocket definitely deserves a look for anyone who enjoys capturing and sharing those special moments.  I can see us using our printer at holiday gatherings and parties throughout the year for instant photo booth fun and to print copies of favorite pictures with those family members that we don't get to see too often.  I'm anxious to continue to learn and play with all of the features of the Sprocket and can't wait to have fun this holiday season with our family and friends.  

Disclosure: I received the HP Sprocket for free as a promotional item for my participation in the HP Millennial Influencer Panel.  Opinions are my own!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Say Aloha to Moana! 5 Things to LOVE about this movie!

I was fortunate to attend an advanced screening of Disney's latest film, Moana, last week.  After falling in love with recent hits like Zootopia and Finding Dory, I was prepared to be disappointed thinking that Disney couldn't roll out yet another blockbuster animation film in 2016.  I was wrong.  Moana did not disappoint on any level.  Here are 5 things you are going to love about this film.

The Scenery - Let's start with the breathtaking setting for the film.  Taking place throughout the beautiful Pacific islands, anyone who loves island views will fall in love with these lush tropical paradises and life on the Ocean.  Moana's ancestors were experts in the ancient skill of wayfinding.  As voyagers, they used the ocean currents and the stars to explore the ocean and discover new islands.  The ocean calls to Moana the same way it did to those in her family before her.

Moana - Since we've already started talking about her, let's take a look at the newest Disney heroine.  Moana (voice of Auli'i Cravalho) is the daughter of the island chief and is being raised to one day lead her people.  She feels torn between her obligation to lead and her desire to be on the water.  When difficult times fall upon her island, Moana decides it's time to take to the ocean to seek answers and find the help that her people need to survive.  During the journey, she finds out just how strong she is and discovers her true identity.  

Maui - Throughout the movie, Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) moves from someone who seems to be a self-absorbed Demigod to a complex character who faced difficult times as a child and is rediscovering his own courage through Moana.  His dancing tattoos and musical introduction engage audiences and keep kids laughing.  Here is a clip from the song "You're Welcome" to show you what I mean.



The Messages - Walking out of the theatre, there were plenty of things to talk about with my son.  One of the biggest takeaways he saw in the movie was the importance of working with nature.  Moana's journey is about restoring the balance in the Pacific, something that was upset years before.  The movie also reminds us to be true to ourselves and never ignore that little voice in our heads.  No matter how many times Moana's father told her that her place was on the island leading her people, she knew she was destined for more.  By following her heart, she did more than she ever knew she could.

The Music - The songs in the movie connect both the history of the Pacific with some modern fun.  There is plenty of chances to sing along for the whole family to the beautiful music.  It shouldn't be any surprise that the original music is amazing with the team that created these memorable songs including Lin-Manuel Miranda ("Hamilton"), Mark Mancina ("The Lion King"), and Opetaia Foa'i (founder and lead singer of Te Vaka). 

I attended the screening with my 4 year old son who loved every minute of the movie.  He thought Maui was funny, Moana was brave, and the chicken was funny (just wait. . .you'll see!)  Disney's Moana opens in theaters nationwide on Wednesday, Nov. 23.

Like MOANA on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/disneymoana

Follow MOANA on Twitter: https://twitter.com/disneymoana

Follow Disney Animation on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/disneyanimation/

Disclosure:  I attended a free screening of the film to share a review with my readers.  Opinions and thoughts are always my own!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Favorite Mickey Meet and Greets in Walt Disney World

A trip to Walt Disney World isn't complete without a visit to the mouse himself, Mickey!  If Mickey Mouse is on your "must-do" list (and we all know he is!) there are plenty of opportunities to meet him around the theme parks and in resort dining.  With all of those chances to say hi to Mickey, where does one begin?  Here are my favorite places to meet Mickey Mouse around the Walt Disney World Resort!

Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater - I'm starting off my list with one of my all time favorites.  This meet with Mickey is located just inside Magic Kingdom.  Mickey Mouse is dressed as a magician and greets guests before he is set to go onstage at the theater.  What sets this meet apart?  The fact that Mickey talks!  Kids (and adults) have the chance to interact with Mickey in a way that is totally unique to this location.  We can't make a visit to Magic Kingdom without visiting "talking Mickey." FastPass+ is available for this meet, but may not be necessary as I've rarely seen lines longer than 30 minutes and often have spotted wait times of 15 minutes or less.


Garden Grill - Inside of Epcot's The Land Pavilion is a semi-hidden character dining gem, Garden Grill.  This restaurant features Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Chip, and Dale in their best farming gear as they serve up homestyle food, family style.  We had breakfast here and delighted in the character interaction and the delicious food.  As someone who travels a lot with small kids, the fact that breakfast is served family style is a nice touch so I don't have to juggle kids at the buffet.  Another unique aspect of this restaurant is the fact that it is circular and rotates through the Living with the Land ride.  This dining experience is not as crowded as others which meant that the characters really took their time at each table - and farmer Mickey Mouse is adorable!  A great tip is to book a character breakfast here before the park opens and you can be among the first in line for popular attractions like Soarin' when you have finished eating.  For more information on Garden Grill, check out my review here.


Chef Mickey's - If you'd like to meet Mickey Mouse without visiting one of theme parks, you can have a meal at Chef Mickey's inside of Disney's Contemporary Resort.  This character meal is energetic and upbeat.  The open air concept of the restaurant with the monorail zooming through the hotel above adds to the fun.  Here you can meet the "Fab Five" in one spot - Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, and Donald.  The price of this character meal is steep and reservations are hard to come by, but it's a great way to meet your favorite Disney friends without the lines and while enjoying a buffet breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  It's also easy to access this restaurant as you can take any transportation to Magic Kingdom and then either take the short walkway or hop the monorail to the Contemporary.  If you're interested in learning more about Chef Mickey's, check out my review here.

At a runDisney race - I love meeting characters out on the course of my runDisney races and coming across Mickey is one of my favorite stops!  Mickey Mouse can typically be found as runners are waiting to move into corrals and once the race ends to pose for pictures (and Minnie is usually by his side).  We all know that when you runDisney, "every mile is magic" so what better way to capture the fun and memories of the race then with a photo op with Mickey!

There are so many places to meet Mickey on your vacation, that it's easy to follow Walt's advice and never forget "that it was all started by a mouse."  Happy 88th Birthday Mickey Mouse!  See ya real soon, pal!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Nighttime Spectaculars at Disney's Hollywood Studios

For years, each trip to Walt Disney World had included a visit to Fantasmic! at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  We broke tradition on this trip and opted to skip Fantasmic! to get up close and personal with the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular show.  As much as I love all of the nighttime shows throughout the Walt Disney World Resort, I was blown away by this extravaganza and would say it is a "not-to-be-missed" show.  Lasers, projections, fireworks, and music combine to make you feel like you are actually in a galaxy far, far away.  The projections highlighted movie clips from the older Star Wars movies all the way up through the latest installment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

I'm terrible at fireworks pictures, but hopefully you get the idea!
Now that I told you that you have to check this out, I'm also going to tell you that the show is going away. . .whomp, whomp.  Hopefully, it's just for the holiday season though and in it's absence you get to enjoy Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!  This new holiday nighttime spectacular will be shown nightly from November 14 - December 31.  It will be similar in it's presentation to the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular show, but instead of droids and Jedi will feature some familiar holiday friends.  I'm sure the show will be amazing based on this sneak peek posted by The DIS on YouTube:



Whether you get to enjoy the holiday fun of Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! or you are hoping for the return of Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular after the holiday season, these newest nighttime shows at Disney's Hollywood Studios are amazing fun for the whole family!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

runDisney Inaugural Wine & Dine 10K

After running my first runDisney races in 2015, I was hooked and couldn't wait to plan a 2016 race getaway.  We ended up planning a weeklong family vacation that would end on Wine & Dine weekend once again.  And with a new menu of racing choices including the addition of a 10K and Lumiere's Two Course Challenge there was a lot of excitement in the air during the months leading up to the event.  Due to our travel schedule, I wasn't able to do the half marathon so the inaugural challenge was out for me, but I was thrilled to be part of the Ratatouille themed 10K.

The 10K was set to run on Saturday morning with the typically early runDisney start time of 5:30AM.  I was staying offsite at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek so I had to provide my own race transportation, which I did via taxi service to the start line at Epcot.  I arrived right around 4AM and couldn't be more excited to be at the party that greets runners.  Characters, concession sales, and a DJ all provide a fantastic atmosphere to get pumped up for the race.  Since I didn't have much else to do until the start time and I was by myself, I hopped in the very long line to meet Remy and Emile from Ratatouille.  The DJ kept announcing that the characters would leave at 5AM and I wasn't sure if I was going to make it.  Remy disappeared about 4:45, but I remained in line for Emile and ended up being the last person who got to meet him before the race started.


After meeting Emile, I headed over towards the corrals.  runDisney is nothing if not efficient at getting their races off and running on time.  By the time I made a stop to use the bathroom, corral A had already headed to the starting line and my corral, corral B, was already opened up to follow.  With the typical runDisney fanfare including music and fireworks, the first corral started promptly at 5:30 and corral B was off about 10 minutes later.


This was my first runDisney 10K and, although this was an inaugural race for Wine & Dine weekend, my understanding is that it was a familiar course.  The first 3 miles were on the roads out and around Epcot.  There were two character stops along the road including the penguins from Mary Poppins and  Flik and Princess Atta from A Bug's Life.  I was feeling energized and neither stop was overly appealing to me, so I kept on running past those characters.  Shortly after the mile 3 marker, runners enter Epcot through a backstage area and burst into World Showcase inside the Norway Pavilion.  The cast members inside World Showcase were phenomenal - cheering runners on in languages native to each country!  This also led to the next few character stops which included Geppetto and Pinocchio in Germany and the Genie in Morocco.  I was feeling like I needed some character interaction as I was already past the halfway point so I stopped for each of these.  Runners then continued out of Epcot via the International Gateway to circle Disney's Boardwalk and the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts.  Chip and Dale greeted runners at the ESPN Club and there were a lot of spectators out in the resort areas to cheer everyone on.  As we re-entered Epcot, a large Sebastian met us and the party continued into the United Kingdom.  We exited the park after running through Future World and accepted the inaugural bling in the parking lot near where we started.  As always, the course was flat and fast.



I have to say that once again I was incredibly impressed with runDisney.  Everything was organized, well-supported, and fun.  I can't say that any other races I've run have come close to the experience of runDisney.  I was also really pleased with the runner's etiquette on display this week.  Many runDisney runners follow Galloway's run/walk intervals.  Everyone I encountered on the course was signaling breaks and not walking in large groups.  I would definitely come back for another Wine & Dine 10K and can't wait for the Glass Slipper Challenge in about 100 days!!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Quick Trip Recap

We're fresh off our latest trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and I have so much to share about our vacation!  We traveled with my parents and stayed at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.  This was the first time we've stayed off property with kids and I have to say that the Hilton was a perfect choice.  I'm going to update my review of the property with everything that we enjoyed with the kids, but in short, the pool, breakfast, and transportation made it easy to enjoy all the parks had to offer as well as relax around the resort during our "down time."

Daddy and Caleb enjoying the pool at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
Our week long trip included a 6 day Magic Your Way base ticket where we visited one park per day.  We opted to spend 2 days each at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom with 1 day each at Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  Inside the parks, we tried a few new experiences including The Pirates League at Magic Kingdom and the Jedi Training Academy: Trials of the Temple at Hollywood Studios.  Brody, our 4 year old, loved all of the Star Wars activities at Hollywood Studios in particular.  While Hollywood Studios is getting a bad rap lately due to so much of the park being closed for the addition of Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land, I think this might have been one of Brody's favorite days.

My handsome Captain Hook!


Brody was an extremely brave Jedi as he battled Darth Vader and Kylo Ren!
We also tried a few new dining and evening experiences.  The Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage was a memorable evening and one that I would highly recommend to anyone with young kids.  We also enjoyed a fabulous date night out at Jiko with it's delicious South African cuisine and tried out the breakfast at Akershus inside of Epcot.  I was also thrilled to run in the inaugural runDisney Wine and Dine 10K my last day in Walt Disney World.

Meeting my doppelgänger, Snow White, at breakfast!
Just a few quick pictures from the inaugural runDisney Wine and Dine 10K
I'll admit that the week long vacation with a 1 year old and 4 year old had its trying moments, I still think that the boys enjoyed their time in the most magical place on Earth.  I can't wait to share all of the experiences with you from my trip over the next few weeks.  Stay tuned for some new and exciting posts!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Week Before Disney

In the final days leading up to a Walt Disney World vacation, families have a lot on their minds - and their checklists!  Below is a list of everything that I do the week before our family vacation to get us ready to make some magical memories.

Packing - This is the the most obvious one. When packing for your vacation, there are so many things to remember.  From clothes to magic bands to diapers to food for picky toddler eaters (yes, I pack an entire suitcase of food. . .), it's easy to forget something along the way. I recommend making a list before you start with whatever the unique needs of your family might be for their trip. One new packing tip I've tried for this trip and have loved so far is packing the kids clothes in gallon sized baggies labeled with the day of the week they are going to wear them.  Each baggie contains the outfit, socks, and underwear so in the morning it's easy to grab what they need for the day without digging through an entire hotel room of clothes.  Don't forget to pack those mouse ears!!

Buying Gift Cards at Target - I made my run to Target and picked up the amount of gift cards I thought I would need for my trip.  Why do this?  You can buy your gift cards for 5% off when you use your Red Card.  Pretty sweet deal, right?!?  And if you're more organized than I am and can take care of this step a few weeks ahead of time, you can even order the gift cards online with your Red Card to save 5% and use Ebates to also get 2% cash back.  Just as a quick example, on $1000 gift card purchase, you only pay $950 and get $20 back in cash - a savings of $70!! Don't have Ebates yet?  Check out this link to learn more about ways you can earn cash back on a lot of your online shopping.

Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

Continue to Check FastPass+ and Dining Reservations - Don't forget that people are changing their plans constantly as their trip approaches.  I've been able to grab last minute reservations for hard to get restaurants like dinner at Be Our Guest or a pre-park opening breakfast at The Crystal Palace, just by being persistent.  And with the My Disney Experience app, it's easy to check dining and FastPass+ reservations anywhere.

Gather essential travel documents - Even though we live in a digital society where I have electronic copies of all of our confirmations and travel information, it still makes me feel better to print out a copy of everything and keep with me - just in case.  Don't forget if you're flying to Walt Disney World and have a lap baby, you will most likely need to present the child's birth certificate to get their Boarding Verification Document at the airport.  I also include packing my Magic Bands in this category too.  Make sure they are in your carry on and ready to use when you arrive!

With all of the excitement and energy in the house, be sure to get some rest as well!  All of the magic of your vacation awaits in just a few days - enjoy!

Monday, October 24, 2016

New Moana Clips and Free Printables

The anticipation around Walt Disney's Animation Studios newest film, Moana, continues to build.  Today, I'm excited to share with you not one, but two new clips as well as some free printable activities for your family.  And If you love the great music that adds to the magic of a Disney movie, you can look forward to the release of Moana's original motion picture soundtrack on November 18.  Enjoy and get ready to say "aloha" to Moana when she and Maui sail into theaters on November 23!!






Free Printable - Moana Maze
Free Printable - Moana Memory Game
Free Printable - Moana Coloring Page #1
Free Printable - Moana Coloring Page #2
Free Printable - Moana Coloring Page #3

Thursday, October 20, 2016

I'm a Baltimoron!

Under Armour Race Premiums - Yes, please!
Everyone knows runners can be a little crazy.  And those of you who know me, probably know that I love my race bling.  So when the time came to sign up for my 2016 racing schedule, I decided to go all out.  Those of you who have been following my blog, have seen race recaps from the first two legs of the King Crab Challenge.  In May, I completed the Nut Job Challenge at the Frederick Running Festival which included a 5K on Saturday night and a half-marathon on Sunday morning.  Just 3 weeks later, I ran the hot, hilly, and humid Baltimore 10 miler.  The final part of the King Crab Challenge came with completing the Baltimore half-marathon last weekend.  I decided to take the Baltimore Running Festival one step further and signed up for the Baltimoronathon - a 5K and a half-marathon with start times just two hours apart.

The hubs and I sporting our 5K medals
I was excited to have my husband join me for this race weekend.  We decided to get a hotel room in the city the night before so that we wouldn't have to get too early of a start on Saturday morning.  Our hotel, the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor, happened to be just a few steps from the start line for the 5K - perfect!  Just a few days before the race, I convinced my husband to sign up for the 5K as well.  After a light breakfast of oatmeal and a banana, we headed down to the start line for a 7:30AM start.  Since I knew I was tackling two races in the same day, I decided to take it easy on the 5K and walked most of it with my husband.  The 5K course is almost entirely uphill the first half and then turns around to go downhill the second half.  We added some jogging in to the second half of the race, which helped to loosen me up for the half.  We finished the 5K in about 47 minutes, collected our bling, and headed back to the Hilton lobby to meet up with my friends who were going to be running the half.

So much bling!
The half was slated to start at 9:45AM, so we started heading down to Inner Harbor for the start around 9:15.  The Baltimore Running Festival also features a marathon that day.  Along the way to the start, we were able to cheer for the marathon runners passing by and were keeping a look out for a friend who was completing the full.  The start of the half is right next to the Inner Harbor and features self-seeded waves.  My speedier friends headed off in Wave 2 and I lingered back to the end of Wave 3 of 5.  I don't know why, especially after the Baltimore 10 miler, but I was surprised how hilly the course was - particularly the opening miles.  Despite the hills, I felt really good the 5-6 miles.  It typically takes me a few miles to hit my groove on a long run, but I think the 5K earlier took care of that for me.  Around mile 7 the course flattened out and circled Lake Montebello where a DJ kept runners dancing and smiling as they entered and left the lake.  The Lake Montebello portion and 33rd Street, mirrored a few miles of the Baltimore 10 miler.  However, while that race ended with a large uphill portion back into Druid Hill Park, the Baltimore Half Marathon finished with a downhill run to finish through Eutaw Street and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  I'm really glad the race finished downhill, because by about mile 11, I was dragging and needed all the help I could get.  I finished the race with a smile and collected my bling!  That day, I earned my 5K, half-marathon, and Baltimoronathon medals.  I also was able to collect my Maryland Double medal for finishing the Frederick and Baltimore Half Marathons.  And the King Crab Challenge award this year was a fleece blanket.  My training had been a little lax for this half, so my goal was to finish in under 3 hours, and I clocked in at 2:57.  

The spoils from my 2016 race season!
So for those of you thinking about the Baltimore Running Festival - I would definitely recommend it!  The race is well supported - both officially by Corrigan and unofficially by the people of Baltimore.  The residents and spectators who come out to cheer runners along the course offered high fives, music, costumes and some pretty funny signs.  The Baltimoronathon was certainly an added unique challenge.  Now it's on to the next race - runDisney's Wine and Dine 10K on November 5th!

Happy Running, Friends!

Friday, October 14, 2016

My Top 5 Must-Do Rides in Walt Disney World

As we continue to count down the days to our next Walt Disney World trip, I'm busy finalizing FastPass+ reservations for our favorite rides and attractions using the My Disney Experience website and app.  I don't know about you and your family, but we have some favorite rides that are "can't miss" experiences for us on each of our family vacations.  Here are my top 5 must-do rides in Walt Disney World.

5. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train - Magic Kingdom - One of the newer rides in Walt Disney World, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train boasts mild thrills while also showcasing some amazing creativity.  The dwarfs inside the mine take you right back to the famous scenes from the movie.  This is probably the most popular ride in Magic Kingdom these days and FastPass+ reservations go quickly.  Without a FastPass+ time, you can expect to spend well over an hour in line for your turn.

4. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - Hollywood Studios - I have a closet obsession with The Twilight Zone.  Each year, when the Sci-Fi Channel runs marathons of the show on fourth of July and New Year's Eve, I find myself drawn into the show.  This ride puts you right in the middle of your own Twilight Zone story as you go plummeting down an elevator shaft in The Hollywood Hotel.  This is a definite FastPass+ reservation for us.  At Disney's Hollywood Studios, this is a tier 2 FastPass+ selection which makes it a no-brainer for us!

3. Toy Story Mania! - Hollywood Studios - This is Brody's favorite ride in all of Walt Disney World!  Here you enter the world of Andy's toys while playing a carnival-style selection of computer games.  The ride is interactive, fast-paced, and entertaining.  This is another ride where wait times can easily top an hour, so a FastPass+ reservation is highly recommended.  As a tier 1 attraction, you'll have to make some tough choices in Disney's Hollywood Studios, but for our family there is no question on securing a FastPass+ for this favorite attraction.

2. Soarin' - Epcot - We have yet to experience the new video in Epcot's Soarin', but if it's even half as good as the previous version of the ride (and I've heard it's even better), we're going to be thrilled with the experience.  This has always been one of my husband's favorite rides in Walt Disney World and I'm excited that my oldest son will get to enjoy it for the first time on our upcoming visit!  We always like to hit this early in the day while also checking out other fun features in the Land Pavilion before heading over to Epcot's World Showcase.

1. Dumbo the Flying Elephant - Magic Kingdom - This ride is a Walt Disney World classic and holds a special place in my heart.  One of my favorite Disney memories is from my very first trip.  I was just 5 years old and my grandmother and I rode Dumbo together.  It's still one of my favorite pictures from Magic Kingdom!  Now I get to make memories with my own children nearly 30 years later.  That's the magic of Walt Disney World - family memories to enjoy year after year!

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