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.

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!  

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.

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.  

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!

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


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