Saturday, July 1, 2017

2017 Princess Half Marathon Race Recap

Leg 2 of the Glass Slipper Challenge found me with another early wake-up at 3AM to get ready to join the thousands of women (and lots of men too!) at Epcot for runDisney's Princess Half Marathon. Like other runDisney races, the start time is an invigorating 5:30AM and they ask runners to arrive by 4:30AM at the latest.  We boarded our bus from Coronado Springs at 3:45 and were inside the waiting area at Epcot by 4:15.  Since we had time to spare and nothing else to do, we opted to get in line to try and meet a princess before the start of the race.  We cut it close before the line was closed, but were able to grab a picture with Tiana.  Christine and I also found a minute to pause for a quick photo before heading to the corrals.  As you can see, I went with a Belle inspired look for the race which was fitting as the race weekend theme was Beauty and the Beast.

The starting corrals for this particular race are a good walk from the waiting area.  Definitely heed the warnings by the DJ beginning around 4:30 to start walking there.  We began heading in that direction around 5:00 and didn't make it to our corral until after the race had officially started.  That's a benefit though of being slow - my corral placement was so far back, I didn't miss my starting time!  We saw many, many people running hard to try and make it to their corrals before the race started and some early corral runners who missed their start and had to drop back.  Regardless of where runners started, everyone was treated to the usual pomp and circumstance that accompanies the start of every runDisney race - fireworks and music!

The race featured a number of unique and fabulous character stops.  We bypassed the long line for the group of handsome men waiting to greet runners, but don't worry ladies - I grabbed a quick photo as we jogged past.  This course takes you from Epcot to the Ticket and Transportation Center and then onto Magic Kingdom.  There is nothing quite as exciting as seeing the signs for Magic Kingdom, running down Main Street USA, and through Cinderella Castle.  There were a number of character stops in Magic Kingdom, but I was feeling very tired and sluggish from being undertrained and tired from the 10K the day before so we continued to push on to not loose momentum.  I had said that I would stop for Gaston no matter how long the line was, but when the line was back past Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid, I changed my mind and just settled for a quick pic on the way past.

After leaving Magic Kingdom, we ran past the Grand Floridian and saw a very famous and familiar face.  Many Disney regulars will recognize Richard as the long time greeter at the Grand Floridian.  This was one picture I couldn't pass up.  As we made our way back to Epcot, I started to really lose it physically.  As we were on the bridge crossing into Epcot, I was doing way more walking than running, but I was still moving in the right direction.  After entering Epcot, runners circled around the  fountain in Future World and then back to the parking lot.  The Gospel Choir at mile 13 was just what this exhausted runner needed.  Princess Minnie was greeting runners right before crossing the finish line and we were done!  19.3 miles in less than 30 hours was an impressive feat for me and I couldn't have been happier to pick up my beautiful Princess Half Marathon AND Glass Slipper Challenge medals.  I also couldn't have been happier to return to the hotel for a shower and lunch that was waiting for me.  The Glass Slipper Challenge was a memorable weekend and I look forward to my next runDisney adventure!



Sunday, June 25, 2017

Chef Art Smith's Homecomin'

With the recent revitalization of Disney Springs, Walt Disney World has it's very own food and shopping mecca within the borders of the massive resort.  We don't regularly get a chance to visit Disney Springs on our family trips as we spend most of our time in the parks with the little ones, but when I visited with my friend for a runDisney weekend, we took the chance to enjoy a few of the restaurants Disney Springs has to offer.  The first was Chef Art Smith's Homecomin'.

The decor looks like something that Chip and Joanna Gaines would have designed on Fixer Upper.  Inside and outside of the restaurant feature calming colors and a rustic country design.  We had reservations and were seated quickly after arriving.  The restaurant is not very big compared to some of the other spots in Walt Disney World, so reservations do tend to book up unlike at some of the other Disney Springs locations although you probably don't have to be on right at the 180 day mark to grab your table.

While I'm not an expert on celebrity chefs, I did know that Art Smith is famous for his fried chicken.  However, when we sat down with the menu, I wasn't sure that a big southern meal of fried chicken and heavy sides was what I needed in the middle of my Glass Slipper Challenge races.  So instead, my friend and I decided to split and appetizer and then order salads.  To give us a taste of the famous fried chicken, we opted for the Thigh High Chicken Biscuits for our appetizer. The plate included three biscuits that had both fried chicken and pickles then drizzled in honey.  Everyone was right - the fried chicken was to die for!  We thought this appetizer was the classic southern comfort food that you would expect to be delicious here.  My dinner was a simple grilled chicken salad with balsamic dressing.  Everything was fresh and wonderful.  And even though we heard amazing things about the dessert options, we decided to pass on dessert to make sure we weren't to weighed down for the race the next day.

Overall, Chef Art Smith's Homecomin' is a delicious delight located in Disney Springs.  For anyone that likes traditional down-home southern comfort food, this should be a must-do on your dining wish list.  The prices are reasonable too which always helps!  Maybe next time, I won't be on race weekend and will be able to enjoy even more fried goodness from this delectable restaurant!

Monday, June 19, 2017

4 Reasons to Fall in Love with Knoebels Amusement Park

Our family just returned from a weekend visit to Knoebels - our third so far.  My husband grew up visiting the Central PA amusement park, so it's no surprise that he has been excited to make memories there with our kids.  This was our first visit since having both boys and I have to say that it might be one of the best bargains for families with young kids around.

From our house, we can be to Knoebels in about 3 hours which makes it just on the line of being a day trip.  This time, my husband was on his way home from a fishing trip in Canada so I met him in Bloomsburg with the kids and we stayed in a hotel for the weekend.  Our boys are 5 and 2 - perfect for loving the kiddie rides and the family amusement park experience.  This trip really solidified 4 reasons that all young families will fall in love with Knoebels!

The Price - As I said, this might be the best bargain for families with young children around.  Unlike most amusement parks, entry into Knoebels is free - yes, you read that right - FREE!  Try finding that these days!  Entertainment, like musicians and magic shows are all open to the public and included in your free entry.  When it's time to ride the rides, you simply pay as you go for the rides you want.  The kiddie rides are all very reasonable with most ranging in price from $1.00 to $1.50.  You can buy tickets in books of $5.00, $10.00, or $20.00 and can even buy discounted tickets at places like local Weis Markets ahead of your visit.  The paper tickets also never expire so the extra tickets we had from 2 years ago were still able to be used on this visit saving us even more money!  During the week, the park offers a ride all day pass, but on weekends that is not an option.  Now if you have older kids and teenagers that are looking for thrill rides, be warned that the big roller coasters cost $3.00 each per rider which can quickly add up.

The Location - Nestled among the mountains and trees of Elysburg, PA, you don't even realize you're approaching an amusement park as you pull up to Knoebels.  The feel is more of a large carnival than an amusement park with lots of shade, a mix of gravel and paved walkways, and an overall "woodsy" feel.  For those families that enjoy camping (unlike me. . .), there is a campground adjacent to the amusement park which is a popular draw.

The Food - Knoebels is known to have some of the best amusement park food around.  We have never been disappointed in the quality of traditional park fare like pizza, hamburgers, and fries.  They also offer a wide variety of options that are not as traditional in amusement parks including spaghetti dinners, meatloaf dinners complete with potatoes and veggies, and a delicious International Food Court.  The prices are in line with what you would expect at an amusement park - not cheap, but not ridiculous either.

The Rides - The rides are perfect for kids of all ages.  Our 2 year old enjoyed playing on the sliding board and the ball pit the best while our 5 year old ran from ride to ride eager to enjoy everything from cars, boats, trains, and much more.  If you have older thrill seekers, there are several roller coasters including the Phoenix - one of best ranked wooden roller coasters in the country.  The park also features a pool and water play area at a very reasonable price.  So if you are planning to visit in the summertime, be sure to bring your bathing suits in case you want to cool off in the pool during your visit!


Overall, I highly recommend this experience for families - especially those with young kids.  While I still love my visits to (also nearby) Hersheypark, this is a much cheaper alternative that has a very different "old time-y" feel.  It's definitely worth the drive to check out on summer road trips!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Back to the Races

Lightning McQueen races back into theaters nationwide on June 16 in the latest Disney/Pixar hit, Cars 3.  In the newest film, McQueen and the Rust-eze racing team face a new challenge on the race track as next generation rookies are taking the circuit by storm.  Lightning McQueen works with a new trainer, Cruz Ramirez, to get back into top racing shape.  But will it be enough?  How far will the latest and greatest technology take the number 95 and how far will your heart carry you through tough times?

One of the new stars in Cars 3 is Cruz Ramirez.  She is a next generation trainer who is looking to take Lightning McQueen to the next level.  What's really to love about her though is a girl who is strong, smart, and very real.  Ramirez faces her own insecurities during her training of McQueen, but in the end she also learns that with encouragement from friends you can achieve even your wildest dreams.  McQueen also finds inspiration from friends and a mentor of his old crew chief, Doc Hudson.  The educator in me really enjoys how much these movies pay tribute to the "teachers" along the way and Cars 3 is certainly no exception.

And it wouldn't be a film staring Lightning McQueen and his best friend Tow Mater if there wasn't a few good laughs along the way.  One of the funniest scenes finds McQueen at a Demolition Derby where we meet some pretty off the beaten path characters, including a school bus named Miss Fritter.  Call me crazy, but if I was writing a Cars 4, I could totally see Miss Fritter being a love interest of Tow Mater - just wishful thinking though on my part!

Without offering any spoilers, I can say that this movie is endearing, inspiring, and fun for the whole family.  Kids will love the laughs and the fast paced racing, while grown-ups will enjoy the heart of each character and may even find themselves relating to what it means to be getting older in a society that is rapidly changing around them.  Be sure to check it out to kick off your summer season!

Like CARS on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PixarCars/

Follow CARS on Twitter: https://twitter.com/pixarcars

Follow CARS on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pixarcars/

Subscribe to the Disney/Pixar YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/DisneyPixar

Visit the official CARS 3 website here: http://movies.disney.com/cars-3

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

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Enchanted 10K Race Recap

Walt Disney World is a place where dreams come true and runDisney weekends there help those dreams become reality.  This year, my friend and I traveled for a girls weekend to Walt Disney World as part of the Princess Half Marathon festivities where we participated in the Glass Slipper Challenge which includes the Enchanted 10K and the Princess Half Marathon.  Given the princess theme for the weekend, I opted to go for race costumes inspired by two of my favorite leading Disney ladies.  For the 10K, I sported a green skirt and purple top along with a red headband to run in an Ariel inspired look.  

Saturday morning began early as all runDisney race days do with a 3AM wake-up call and a 3:30AM bus ride to Epcot for the start of the race.  The DJ had us all pumped up and ready to go.  We decided to jump in line for the chance to try and meet a princess before the race.  No one can queue up a line like Disney and they had the hour plus line well organized - even if there wasn't a FastPass+ option to jump ahead!  After finally snagging a picture with Jasmine, I joined some very enthusiastic ladies in the parking lot for the Cha-Cha Slide and then it was off to the corrals.  

The Enchanted 10K featured a staggered start within each of the corrals in an attempt to spread runners out on the course.  My friend and I were in one of the later corrals and found congestion prevalent along the way as the race began for us.  Typical of runDisney races, characters were out in full force on the course.  Because our starting corral was not that great, we skipped most of the character stops.  However, I couldn't resist stopping for a rare opportunity to meet the Evil Queen from Snow White.  The line was massive, but I decided to take the chance and wait.  We ended up waiting nearly 30 minutes and as we were getting our pictures taken, I saw the cyclists ride by warning about sweeping and could easily see the balloon ladies - YIKES!  That was a first.  We hightailed it back onto the course and continued along the highway until we entered Epcot through World Showcase.  

Getting that close to the sweepers scared me to death and we didn't end up stopping for any more character pictures along the way.  As we wound through World Showcase and onto the Boardwalk, the sun was rising higher and the so was the temperature.  The final character stop featured Princess Minnie, and a line that was probably 45 minutes long.  I felt like there were a great number of character stops, but I couldn't get over how long the wait was at each one - even larger than what I remember from previous Wine and Dine races.  

The finish was truly a celebration for runners with music, characters, and medals.  We were so exhausted by the end of the race from the late night out the night before and the early morning, that we opted to head straight back to the hotel for a shower, some food, and a nap.  After all, we had only completed one leg of the Glass Slipper Challenge with another 13.1 miles less than 24 hours away!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Disney's Coronado Springs Resort

Many of our most recent trips to Walt Disney World have found us at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek thanks to the all of the Hilton Honors points that we have accrued over the years.  But on my girls weekend trip for runDisney's Princess Half Marathon weekend, my friend Christine and I decided to stay on property.  For a trip with such a short turnaround, the perks of Magical Express and regular transportation to all of the race events made it a smart choice for us.

In all honesty, Disney's Coronado Springs Resort was not our first choice.  We were hoping to grab a room at Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter,  but by the time we got around to booking, the resort was sold out.  Keeping with my tradition of liking to stay someplace new each visit, we then opted to stay here.  I have to say that, as always, I was impressed with the theming, service, and beauty of the resort.

The resort is large featuring several styles of buildings, each connecting with a type of architecture from the Southwest and Central America.  We requested a room in the Casitas which was closest to the main building, but a good walk from the main pool.  The resort surrounds Lago Dorado which provides a beautiful centerpiece to the entire resort.  The main pool, the Dig Site, is centrally located as an island in the center of Lago Dorado.  We visited the pool area for about an hour one afternoon, but only enjoyed the hot tub as it was a little chilly and windy for pool time.  Upon arrival at the resort, guests enter into the main building which houses registration, guest services, a gift shop, several restaurants, and the Conference Center.  Yes, you read that right - Coronado Springs boasts a Conference Center too which makes it perfect for adult travelers which can be a nice change of pace to the often kid-crowded All-Star resorts.  The ambiance around the resort is quiet and relaxed - perfection!

Rooms at this moderate resort are decorated with subtle Disney touches throughout.  As a Conference Center resort, the theming here is much more scaled back than others.  One of my favorite features were the dark doors that closed around the sink area and the bathroom.  This was especially nice on a runDisney weekend when early mornings mean that we need ample opportunities for naps throughout the day.

Transportation around the entire Walt Disney World Resort is available by busses.  There are several bus stops around the resort property so that you are never far from a bus ride to the magic!  For Princess Half Marathon weekend, charter busses picked up in front of the main building and we never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus.  Despite the large footprint of the resort itself, it never felt oversized or inconvenient.  My favorite afternoon happened to be lying in a chair by the lake and reading for hours on end.  Beautiful and peaceful.

Overall, I would highly recommend this resort to those seeking a quiet retreat from the hustle and bustle of your Disney vacation.  There are several choices to relax whether it's at the pool, the spa, or enjoying one of the many restaurants on property.

Looking for additional information about Walt Disney World Resorts and reviews of my favorites?  Check out more of my thoughts here! 




Monday, May 29, 2017

Taking Time for Mom

Over the past three months I've taken an unplanned hiatus from blogging.  I can't say that I'm sorry about it either.  While I was in Walt Disney World for runDisney's Princess Half Marathon weekend, I had a blast with my good friend, but realized just how out of shape I was for someone who was a "runner."  Yes, I would run using Galloway's interval training, but since the birth of my second child, I had a hard time dropping the pounds.  The pictures from the weekend revealed this to me more than I liked to admit.  So I decided to get serious about getting back in shape and focus on me.

In order to take more time for myself, I had to find some extra time in my schedule which meant that blogging took a back seat.  I have to say that it felt good to do something for me each day.  And the results have felt good too.  I've lost roughly 20 lbs over the three months and refocused on my health, career, and family.  And while I still have work to do in all of those areas - I'm ready to return to the blog to talk about my journey over the past months, summer family fun plans, and the magic of Disney!  I look forward to connecting back with each of you again over the next few weeks!!

Monday, February 27, 2017

I'm officially a runDisney Princess!

It's been quiet for a few weeks on the blog as I've prepared for and traveled to Walt Disney World for my very first Princess Half Marathon Weekend.  I'll be posting more details on each of these experiences in the weeks ahead, but I wanted to take a minute and give you a quick weekend recap from my trip.

Where We Stayed - For this trip, I was back on Disney property and stayed at Coronado Springs Resort.  The moderate level hotel is also a Convention Center and as such boasts several dining options, a spa, and beautiful grounds.  We were only here for two nights, but enjoyed our stay.  It's definitely one I will recommend to friends and family in the future.

Where We Ate - We had two new dining experiences on this trip.  We visited Chef Art Smith's Homecoming in Disney Springs for dinner one evening where we were delighted by some down home southern cooking.  And on Sunday, we enjoyed the Gospel Brunch at House of Blues - also in Disney Springs.  The Gospel Brunch, which features a buffet of New Orleans favorites and a gospel concert, had been on my "must-do" list for a while now and it didn't disappoint!  I also had the pleasure of introducing my friend Christine to California Grill.  If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know that dinner while watching the fireworks from California Grill is one of my favorites and I was excited to do it again.

What We Did - We ran the Glass Slipper Challenge!  When you spend less than 50 hours in Walt Disney World and run both a 10K and Half Marathon, there's not much time to do anything else.  Both races were a lot of fun.  In typical runDisney fashion, characters and entertainment were everywhere you looked.  And the bling. . .oh, the bling!  It was a fabulous weekend of race medals - my new favorites in my ever growing collection.  Princess Half Marathon weekend had a very different vibe then my previous experiences at Wine and Dine.  It felt "crazier," but I guess that's what happens when you have 20,000+ women running in tutus!

As you can see, it was a short trip, but I was able to pack in many new experiences.  I can't wait to share them with you in the weeks ahead and I'm already counting down to our next trip in November - a return for runDisney's Wine and Dine Half Marathon weekend events!!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Disney News Update!

This week featured many big announcements in the world of Disney!  Here are some of the highlights in one place.

Image from Disney Parks Blog
Animal Kingdom Openings - Opening dates were released for the long awaited Rivers of Light Nighttime Show and Pandora: The World of Avatar.  Rivers of Light will open officially on February 17 - just in time for President's Day weekend.  You can book FastPass+ reservations for seating at the show and there are also dining packages with Tiffins and Tusker House that are available for booking at this time.  Pandora: The World of Avatar of Avatar will open on May 27, 2017 - Memorial Day Weekend.  First looks at this new land are amazing with lighted walkways, floating mountains, and so much more.  The movie featured breathtaking scenery and Disney imagineers have worked hard to replicate that in the park.

Star Wars Land Update - Disney also announced that Star Wars Land will be set to open in both Disneyland Resort and at Disney's Hollywood Studios in the Walt Disney World Resort in 2019.  Reports have shared that the out-of-this-galaxy experience will feature character interactions, a new Star Tours, and the chance to be Han Solo and take control of the Millennium Falcon.  My two little padawans are going to love this!

Image from Disney Parks Blog
Goodbye Wishes - For the past 14 years, guests at Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom have ended their magical day with the Wishes fireworks show.  This park classic will bid farewell on May 11th and an all new show, Happily Ever After, will begin on May 12th.  The new show promises to bring even more shows topping magic to the Magic Kingdom with projections, lasers, fireworks, and of course classic Disney music!

Beauty and the Beast meets Disney Cruise Line - Disney will unveil a Beauty and the Beast stage show on board the Disney Dream beginning in November.  No doubt capitalizing on what is sure to be a wonderful live action film this year, the stage show is sure to bring this "tale as old as time" to life in the grandest of fashions.

Ticket Price Increase - As I was prepping this blog post, more information hit today about ticket price increases for Walt Disney World.  It looks like some of the most notable changes will be increases for single day and annual passholders, no more water park and fun option, expiration dates on all tickets, and an increase to premium parking rates.  More information on all of this can be found in numerous posts online today, including this article from the Orlando Sentinel.

What a whirlwind few days! Hope everyone has been able to keep up and I can't wait to see what new fun awaits in the wonderful world of Disney!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Can You Handle The Kitchen Sink??

There are several things that any Disney fanatic will tell you should be on your "must conquer" list at some point during your Walt Disney World vacations.  In November, we tackled one of my bucket list items - the Kitchen Sink Sundae at Beaches and Cream.  Beaches and Cream is located poolside at Disney's Beach Club Resort just outside of Epcot.  It's a great place to visit on your Epcot park day as you can easily exit Epcot through International Gateway, turn to your right, and you're just a short 5 minute walk away.

While Beaches and Cream serves a full menu of lunch and dinner items, they are best known for their ice cream.  The decor is reminiscent of a 1950s soda shop and features diner favorites, such as grilled sandwiches and fries.  We had dinner in Epcot and then made a 7:30 reservation for Beaches and Cream to grab dessert prior to going back for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.  Reservations are tough to grab for this restaurant as the inside seating area is extremely small.  There is a "carry-out" side of Beaches and Cream if you can't get a reservation inside.  They feature a smaller version of the kitchen sink sundae then what you'll find inside, but they host a full compliment of ice cream flavors.
Upon being seated, our server quickly greeted us and we shared that we were here with one thing on our mind - the Kitchen Sink.  He was happy to fill us in on all of the delicious details.  We have a picky eater in our family and our server even offered to "deconstruct" the sundae a bit and put some of the ice cream in a separate dish so that Brody could enjoy a plain treat if all of the sundae toppings were too much.  After placing our order, it was just a short wait for the arrival of our dessert.  And it arrived in grand fashion.  The lights in the restaurant dimmed and sirens went off to signal that a brave table was attempting to conquer The Kitchen Sink.

So what's in this sundae you ask?  It features ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge, cake, brownies, sprinkles, candy, and so much more.  The full list of what's included can be found on the Disney Parks Blog.  It was heaven in a bowl. We didn't quite finish the masterpiece - actually we didn't even come close, but it was enjoyable down to the last bite that we could manage.  At $32.00, the Kitchen Sink is a heavy hit to the budget, but when you think that it can easily serve a family of 4+ as opposed to paying for four individual desserts and that it's probably a splurge for a special occasion, it really isn't too terrible of a price for you get.

What do you think?  Can your family conquer the Kitchen Sink?  Don't forget one of my favorite sayings for all of your runners out there. . ."I run Disney so I can eat Disney!"

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Happy Birthday Brody and Caleb!

It's a big week in our house as both Brody and Caleb celebrate birthdays - Brody is turning 5 and Caleb is turning 2.  Each year when I plan their birthday party, I try to work in a little Disney magic.  This time around, I broke out some creative energy to throw a Figment themed birthday party at Port Discovery Children's Museum in Baltimore.  Port Discovery has three floors of interactive fun for kids of all ages.  It really is a place for imaginations to run wild, which is why I thought Figment would be perfectly suited.  It turned out to be an amazing day with a lot of fun, some creativity, and a little touch of Disney magic.

The Invitations - I designed custom invitations for the birthday party using the HP Card and Invitation Kit that I received as a sample as part of the HP Millennial Influencer Panel.  The HP website made it easy to pull up a template and create the invitations.  I used an image of Figment in the background and a Disney font that I downloaded to my computer to inspire the look.  To draw in an extra piece of nostalgia from Epcot's Journey Into Your Imagination ride, I made Dr. Nigel Channing of The Institute, our special guest host.  This also played well with the mad scientist theming that Port Discovery offers for parties.

The Decorations, Food, and Cake - We were fortunate that Port Discovery is an amazing venue and they were providing balloons and table cloths.  I purchased purple, orange, and yellow paper goods to mimic the colors of our imaginative dragon.  The colors that Port Discovery used just happened to correspond perfectly with our inspiration.  I wasn't sure how much table space we would have in their party room, so outside of a framed invitation, I really didn't bring other Figment decorations.  I did however Disneybound with a Figment look for the day!  We decided to keep food simple - ordered some pizzas, served bags of chips, grapes, GoGo Squeeze applesauce pouches, juice boxes, and bottles of water.  The cake was truly out of this world.  Brody came with me to Starry Night Bakery in our hometown to help pick out what he wanted.  I originally was going to do white icing with a picture of Figment, but Brody wanted purple icing with orange writing and borders.  I think his idea turned out better than what mine!  The cake didn't just look good, but it was delicious too.  Brody is a chocolate lover so the cake was chocolate with Oreo mousse filling.  It was a big hit!




The Venue - If you haven't been to Port Discovery and live around the Baltimore area, you should definitely check it out.  They have a coloring room, water room, pretend Royal Farms store, indoor soccer field, and a whole half of a floor devoted to soft play areas for babies and toddlers just to name a few.  The favorite spot though for my oldest is the three story indoor playground - complete with rope ladders to climb, bridges to cross, and big slides!  They also have some areas of the museum that feature visiting activities.  The current visiting attraction is a Thomas the Tank Engine play area - perfect for my little boys.  Kids can dress up as engineers, load the train, play interactive computer games, and even enjoy a expansive toy train layout.  We bought a family membership to Port Discovery last year after our first visit because we knew we would enjoy coming back time and time again.  As members, we received a discount off of our party package and our membership for the upcoming year was renewed.  The party package featured a make your own slime activity that gave everyone their own bag to take home.  Port Discovery also gave BOGO admission tickets out to party guests as favors.

Overall it was a wonderful day!  We again had the chance to show our Disney side with a Figment inspired party while enjoying all the fun that Port Discovery Children's Museum has to offer.  Can't wait until next year when we can plan another memorable birthday party for the boys.  Happy Birthday Brody and Caleb!      

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique - Is the Magic Worth the Money?


Special thanks to my friend Jon Hill for the guest post below!  He and his wife have traveled to Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line both by themselves and with their two beautiful children.  His wife, Christine, is traveling with me in just a few weeks for the Princess Half Marathon weekend and their family is planning another magical trip for this coming summer!


From our earliest trips together to Disney nearly 15 years ago, my wife and I always enjoyed stopping to watch the reactions of the young girls undergoing the magical transformations that take place at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (BBB) with the help of Fairy God-Mothers-in-Training. I’m certain that the very first time we witnessed it, we agreed that if we ever had a girl, she would experience this enchanted, fairy-tale makeover. While planning our Disney trip for the summer of 2016, we decided that our daughter Lily, was old enough that she could appreciate and understand the experience. Additionally, on the first night of our trip we were to have dinner with Cinderella and her friends at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian resort. Since we were not going to a park on our first day, we made reservations to go to the BBB at Disney Springs. While searching the web for information and tips on BBB, we were pleasantly surprised to find that they also have Knight makeover offerings for the boys. These are very inexpensive, so we signed our 4 year-old son Luke up for a Knight makeover to match his sister and be properly prepared for the Royal Ball as well.

Upon arrival, we were surprised to find out that the BBB had recently undergone renovation and that it now had its own dedicated building instead of sharing space with the World of Disney. The bluish building, with large windows blends into the surrounding spaces, with the exception of the large BBB sign over the entrance. Once inside, the bright boutique reflects the royal setting of a fairy-tale salon with dark wood paneling and trim and fairy-tale murals all around. Having its own space lends to the experience, removing the noise, bustle, and distraction that the hundreds of shoppers in World of Disney brought. The waiting area was appointed with displays of available Disney princess dresses and accessories and the staff was cheerful and delightful as we have come to expect with the Disney experience. We checked in at the desk and after a brief wait, our children were whisked through the large wooden doors to meet their fairy godmother-in-training. 

Our first stop was in a large, private changing room. In an effort to save money, we bought our own costumes at home before the trip and brought them with us (which Disney graciously allows). While the ones Disney has available at the boutique are very nice, they come with a steep price tag. We scored a Cinderella dress and accessories for our daughter at JC Penny for just over $30. For our son, we had ordered a Prince Charming outfit from Amazon for under $20. These both doubled as Halloween costumes later in the fall. By bringing our own outfits, we were able to opt for the lowest priced “Crown Package” for our daughter ($59.95). The “Castle Package”, which includes a dress, is a paltry $199.95. The “Knight Package” for our son was only $19.95. Once the cast member gave us some brief instructions to the princess-to-be and prince-to-be, she stepped out of the changing room so we could get them changed. In a wisp of magic, the large mirror on the wall came to life with Cinderella’s own animated fairy god mother who interacted with the kids and gave them some additional instructions. As soon as they were changed, we exited the changing room and proceeded into the styling boutique    

The boutique is set up in the round with a several styling stations similar to those found at a typical salon. The large room is beautifully appointed with gold accents, chandeliers, royal draperies, and murals reminiscent of your favorite Disney princess stories. Each of the styling stations is staffed by a fairy god mother-in-training who is responsible for your child’s royal transformation. In the middle of the room is a large, oval, cushioned bench so that parents may sit and watch the enchanted work of the fairy god mothers-in-training.  After a brief introduction, the two fairy god mothers-in-training (Kayla and Mary) assigned to our children went to work.  Both quickly developed a great rapport with the kids and demonstrated a love for their work. But then again, who wouldn’t love to delight children all day long by magically transforming them into royalty? As part of Lily’s package she received hair, makeup, and nail treatments, as well as a sash. She even received a pink BBB nylon bag with extra styling products to take home with her. Lily’s hair (Fairytale Princess Style) was done so well, that we were able to leave it in overnight and it lasted through the whole next day as we enjoyed rides and had fun at the Magic Kingdom. Having it up and off of her neck was also an added advantage as it helped her stay cool in the late June heat.  Luke received a hair treatment and was presented with a mighty sword and shield in a knighting ceremony complete with official certificate. All throughout the makeovers, Disney Photopass photographers assigned to the BBB were snapping a ton of photographs of the kids. These pictures can be purchased after the experience, but if you already have the Memory Maker package, it is awesome. All together we received another 40-50 photos just from this experience alone. As part of the transformation, the children are not permitted to see themselves in the mirror until the makeover is complete. The photographer captured an awesome picture of Lily’s reaction as her chair spun around and she saw herself in the mirror for the first time as a beautiful princess.        

Following some pictures, we bid farewell to our fairy godmothers-in-training and wished them luck in their quests to become full-fledged fairy godmothers. We then were escorted into a room adjacent to the styling boutique for a photo session. This royal-looking room was outfitted with a kid-sized replica of Cinderella’s magic coach. Photographers took several more posed photos of the kids with the coach. Again, having Photopass is a great option if you are considering BBB. We were permitted to take our own photos with our iPhone, but having the Photopass photographers capturing shots with their digital SLRs produced professional photos to preserve the memories. 

We bid adieux to the BBB and its friendly staff, but not before being directed to go to the nearby Disney Photopass Station to view our photos. Once there, we were again surprised to receive yet another photo session with both of the kids with a Photopass Photographer. As I said before, if you are going on a multi-day Disney trip and considering BBB, purchasing the Photopass package ahead of time will pay for itself. We got another 20 posed photos here. We had only been at Disney for 6 hours, hadn’t even gone to a park, and already had about 60 Photopass photos in our gallery.    


After departing Disney Springs we made our way to the Grand Floridian for an early dinner reservation at Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner. We then walked around the resort and took advantage of the Victorian d├ęcor and beautiful landscapes to grab some more pictures of the kids. Overall, the BBB was a great experience. The staff was friendly and the individual attention and service the kids received was what we have come to expect from the Disney experience. We did not feel rushed or pushed through the process. As far as the cost, yes it is a little pricey- a hair styling, some makeup, glitter, nail polish, and a sash for $60. But compare that to what you might spend at a local salon for the same treatment, and it doesn’t seem so out of line… And can you really put a price on the moment when your little girl first sees herself as a real Disney princess? Or the moment when she, in her finest, meets a real, live Disney Princess? The “Knight Package” would definitely fall into the bargain category as the hard foam sword and shield alone (which are pretty nice and durable) are around $15 in the World of Disney Store.

Was the magic worth the money? Absolutely! Would we do it again? Probably not. While it was a great experience and, in our minds well worth the money, I think it is something you will do once for your kids and (provided they are old enough) they will remember the experience for a lifetime. There are numerous sites out there with tips and FAQ’s about BBB so I’m not going to list too many, but here are the most important:
1.)   Make reservations early- this is a popular experience, so the earlier the better. The reservation number can be found on the BBB website under “Know Before You Go”
2.)   Consider the weather and you activities for that day- If it is the middle of July/August and the humidity will be 90%+, is your child going to enjoy their visit to one of the parks in a full princess dress, with hair and makeup? If it is the summer, opt for an afternoon appointment so you can relax and enjoy the A/C in the BBB during the heat of the day, and make early dinner reservations for character dining at one of the Disney Dining options where you can meet the Princesses. Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner is at the Grand Floridian, so you don’t even have to go to one of the parks if you have a free day.
3.)   Leave ample time- I would say to budget 3-4 hours for the whole experience door-to-door. From catching the bus or driving to Disney Springs, visiting BBB, getting pictures, and then making your way to a park, a restaurant, or your hotel.
4.)   Save some money- If you want to do the princess dress, bring your own. While the ones offered at BBB are nice, I’m not sure they are worth the extra $140 you will pay.

5.)   Check out the BBB website’s “Know Before You Go” information for additional details and more.


                                                   

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