Showing posts with label Animal Kingdom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Animal Kingdom. Show all posts

Collecting Character Autographs in Walt Disney World

Meeting characters is a highlight of any Walt Disney World vacation - for both the young and the young at heart!  Photos are a great way to capture those memories and many people enjoy collecting autographs from their favorite characters to also bring home a piece of the magic.  Below are a few different options for recording those signatures.

Disney Autograph Books - On site and online, Disney sells autograph books for visitors to use.  The books range from a simple book of blank pages for characters to sign to larger books that hold pictures from your trip alongside the autographs you collect.  On a plus side, these books are readily available and easy to carry being small on size.  Brody keeps his old autograph books in his closet and occasionally will go back to look at them.  Books start at just $7.95 so if you are in a pinch in the parks, it's not an overly expensive option.

Disney Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters (or another character book) - This is my new favorite option!  We bought this book from Amazon for less than $10 prior to our trip.  It's a nice hardcover book that features some of Disney's most beloved animated characters.  Each page has a picture and a brief description of each character.  The idea is that when you meet each one, they sign their page.  This is a nice book to keep on a shelf and revisit time and time again when you return from your trip.  I also enjoy that we can bring it back on each vacation and try to collect more and more signatures.  On the downside, it is larger than the Disney Autograph books in the parks and not every character is in the book.  We were easily able though to work around both of these minor concerns.  With our little ones, we still carry a backpack in the park so carrying the book wasn't a problem and we just had characters without a page sign on the front or back cover.

Wall Displays / Pillowcases / Etc. - I have seen people post about bringing various household items for characters to sign too.  While I have never done this personally, it may be something that we do in the future.  One example may be a photo mat that would hold one of your family photos from the parks or maybe a wooden letter.  I've also seen people hand characters pillowcases or t-shirts to sign too.  Perhaps the most creative I've found were the people who brought a frying pan to have Rapunzel sign!  While these appear to be great, creative ways to display character signatures when you return, I have always worried about carrying some of these items as they can be a bit awkward in the park.

At the end of the day, what you carry in the park is all about what makes you and your family happy! There are so many creative ways to collect character signatures and a quick Pinterest search will show you endless possibilities.  What are some of your favorite ways to gather signatures while on vacation in Walt Disney World?

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!

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!

FAQ - Should you use Disney FastPass+ on parades, fireworks, and shows?

Walt Disney World Resort
Magic Kingdom's Happily Ever After Fireworks
I hear this question asked often among friends and in several of the Walt Disney World groups that I'm in on Facebook.  We have chosen on some trips to use Disney's FastPass+ for viewing parades, fireworks, and shows and skipped it other times, so I can speak about the pros and cons here pretty honestly.  And like most answers related to planning a Walt Disney World vacation, the answer about how to use your FastPass+ reservations truly depends on your family and vacation priorities.

For our family, using Disney's FastPass+ to catch great viewing spots for fireworks and parades has been a good choice - especially if we're spending more than one day in that particular park.  As a family with two young children, we find it difficult to get to a prime spot to watch nighttime entertainment up to an hour before it starts.  When we visited the parks with babies and toddlers, we were traveling with a double BOB stroller - basically a minivan for kids - so even having one adult go to hold a spot while the rest of the family continues to run around the park can be a challenge.  For this reason, knowing that we can grab a perfect spot to see fireworks and parades while arriving just 10-15 minutes before they start is a great luxury.  If you have young kids in Walt Disney World too, the cost/benefit may be easy for your family to figure out.  Many of the rides and attractions for babies and toddlers don't really *need* FastPass+ because the wait times are rarely longer than 15 minutes or so.

So what are the big questions to ask yourself when determining whether or not to book Disney's FastPass+ viewing areas for parades and fireworks?

  • How many days are your going to spend in that park?  If you're spending more than one day you may have some FastPass+ allotments that you don't need to do your favorite attractions.
  • How old are your kids?  If you're traveling with older children or adults, it might be easier to arrive early and hold a spot as opposed to keeping young kids entertained while waiting for the show to start.
  • Are there any other options to get preferred seating for the show?  For example, we always book a Fantasmic Dining Package in Hollywood Studios.  We figure that we have to eat anyways, why not book at one of these locations and get the perk of prime seating for Fantasmic so we can save our Tier 1 FastPass+ reservation for another popular attraction? Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom have also offered dining packages paired with nighttime parades and shows as well.  

Check out my review of the Happily Ever After Fireworks Dessert Party at Magic Kingdom here!


If you do choose to use your FastPass+ options for entertainment, you won't be disappointed in the location.  All of them offer a great spot that's not as crowded as some other areas may be without the stress or worry about saving your spot.  

5 Ways to the Beat the Heat in Walt Disney World

Crusing Main Street, U.S.A.
July 2013
Walt Disney World in the summertime often gets a bad reputation for being full of heat, humidity, and the frequent afternoon thunderstorms.  Well. . .this is kind of true.  While your Disney trip in the summer does feature some intense weather from time to time, there are plenty of ways to beat the heat and humidity to have fun with your family.  Here are some of my favorite tips:

1.  Order a case (or cases) of water from an online grocer and have them delivered to your hotel.  You can get a case of water for a few dollars instead of paying $2.50 a bottle or using one snack credit in the parks.  Disney lets you bring in soft side coolers, food, and drink.  This is a great way to make sure you have plenty of water to stay hydrated and cool while also not breaking the bank.  Remember that the online grocers have order minimums, but if you're traveling with kids for at least a few day trip, you can certainly fill up on snacks, fresh fruit, and other drinks to keep everyone happy.  I've used Garden Grocer in the past and have been really happy!

Enjoying the water slide at
Port Orleans Riverside
2.  Avoid the parks in the middle of the day by taking a break back at your hotel.  Whether you decide to take a nap in your air conditioned room or cool off in one of the amazing pools, the break will be sure to refresh you so you can stay up for the nighttime activities in the park without tiring out.  I recommend getting to the park at rope drop, head back to your resort after lunch and then return to the parks around dinner.

3.  Indoor rides and shows can be a great way to quickly cool off in the parks when you need a break and don't want to head all the way back to your room.  If you're in Epcot, check out Ellen's Energy Adventure - the total ride takes about 45 minutes where you are seated watching a video and riding through time.  Over in Hollywood Studios, The Great Movie Ride is one where you have a fun ride queue that is inside featuring scenes from some Turner Classic Movie favorites.  And in the Magic Kingdom, shows like Mickey's PhilarMagic and The Country Bears provide both music and a respite from the heat.

Taking a break with Mickey
Ice Cream at Hollywood Studios
4.  What would a trip to any amusement park be without ice cream?  And in Walt Disney World, you can find lots of cool, frozen treats.  If the classic ice cream sandwich or ice cream bar are your favorites, you can find Mickey shaped ice cream throughout the parks.  But perhaps the most famous cool treat in Walt Disney World is the Dole Whip.  If you haven't tried one, you're missing out!  This is a soft serve pineapple creation that can be served simply in a cup or as a float.  Dole Whips are more elusive in the parks than the typical ice cream.  My favorite spot to pick one up is in Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom.

5.  Don't forget to pack up some ways to keep cool and stay safe in the sun from home.  Sunscreen is available throughout all of the Disney parks, but you're going to pay a premium for buying it on vacation compared to what you'll pay at home.  Also, remember to pack spray bottles or personal fans - or better yet the spray bottle with a fan on it!  Again, you can buy one with a picture of Mickey and friends in the parks, but you'll save significantly by buying a generic one at Wal-Mart or Target before heading out on your vacation.  If you have kids using strollers, I also recommend purchasing a stroller fan to help them stay cool.  We bought one on Amazon for less than $15 before our trip with a 5 month old and it was some of the best money I ever spent.  Remember that a cool baby is less likely to be a cranky baby!

And as a bonus tip - if you are traveling with infants or toddlers, don't forget to make use of the baby care centers in each park.  They are perfect for a little rest and relaxation in the middle of the park day and can be a mom and dad's best friend!

Just remember that with a good strategy and some advanced planning, you can make Disney in July not only bearable, but an all around magical vacation!  

Quick Service Favorites in Walt Disney World

I love the shirts that say "I runDisney to eat Disney" because it is such a true statement!  Eating my way around Walt Disney World is one of my favorite things to do - and with so many great choices it's easy to see why!  Typically, it's easier to review table service restaurants in the various parks and hotels, but tonight we're going to take a look at some of my favorite quick service locations.  There really are a lot of great choices, but a few stand out when I think of my Disney vacations.


Whether it's a Mickey Bar or a Dole Whip, there's a lot of great treats to be found in Walt Disney World!

Aloha Isle - Magic Kingdom - The Dole Whip is one of the most iconic Disney treats and you can find it in Adventureland near The Enchanted Tiki Room.  If you haven't tried a Dole Whip yet, you absolutely must!  It's a frozen pineapple treat that will definitely cool you off on a hot Florida day!

Columbia Harbor House - Magic Kingdom - In my opinion, this is one of the best and most unique quick service locations on property.  Located in Liberty Square, you'll find New England favorites here such as a Lobster Roll and Clam Chowder.  It's a nice change of pace from some of the other quick service restaurants that serve more traditional burgers and chicken nuggets.  No need to fear though if you have picky children, as the kids menu features all of the favorites for your young ones.

Gaston's Tavern - Magic Kingdom - This is a relatively new spot that was added with the Fantasyland additions a few years ago.  While there is a relatively limited menu, you have to check out the warm cinnamon roll as a dessert item or a midday pick-me-up.  And the ultimate item on the menu, is LeFou's Brew.  This frosted apple juice concoction is heaven in a mug!  The theming of this stop is also with checking out as it looks exactly like the tavern from Beauty and the Beast.

Pizzafari - Animal Kingdom - As you might imagine, pizza is the name of the game in this restaurant.  Selections here go beyond cheese and pepperoni to include Mediterranean pizza and even a shrimp flatbread.  But you can find much more than pizza on the menu here, with other Italian favorites like baked pasta, there is definitely something for everyone.

Sunshine Seasons - Epcot - Located inside The Land pavilion, this location is set apart by it's focus on using ingredients produced in the sustainable environments of this pavilion.  You can count on fresh flavors here and a lot of Asian twists to the menu.  Even the menu items for kids are unique featuring salmon and salads.  

These are just a few of my favorites around Walt Disney World and there are so many others to choose from!  Which are your favorite quick service places to check out when in the parks? 

BIG Announcements from Disney!

Over the past few days there have been several announcements from Disney that have fans of the parks and Disney Cruise Line excited.  Let's summarize the details here:

Rivers of Light - Animal Kingdom will be joining Epcot, Magic Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios by launching a nighttime show called Rivers of Light.  While discussions about and work on this show have been going on for a long time, the official start date was released this week.  Beginning April 22, guests at Animal Kingdom will be able to delight in the evening event.  The show will feature animal Spirit Guides that will tell their stories lanterns, fountains, and water screens.  It sounds like something not to be missed!



Disney Springs Expansion - The transition from Downtown Disney to Disney Springs has brought a facelift to the area and many new experiences.  Earlier this week, the Disney Parks Blog shared that another 30 dining and shopping locations will be joining Disney Springs.  Some of these include Under Armour, kate spade new york, and Sephora.  This expansion makes Disney Springs a nice high-end shopping location with a number of world class dining options as well.

Disney Cruise Line - Perhaps the biggest news to come from Disney this week was the expansion of the Disney Cruise Line fleet.  It was announced today that Disney is planning to add 2 more ships to join the Wonder, Magic, Dream, and Fantasy.  While these cruise ships are still in the distant future (anticipated dates of completion are 2021 and 2023), this brings a lot of excitement and anticipation to the future of Disney Cruise Line and expanded destinations for worldwide travel with entertainment and service that only Disney can provide!

With so many exciting announcements in just one week, the future of Disney travel is certainly looking bright!!  Remember that you can always follow along with the latest Disney news by following the official Disney Parks Blog.

Why Disney's Animal Kingdom is So Much More Than a Half Day Park

Brody caught up with Chip and Dale at Rafiki's Planet Watch
One of the more common Disney myths that I hear is that you only need half of a day to visit Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World.  At first glance, I can understand why some people may feel this way.  After all, there are far fewer attractions in this park then in it's counterpart Disney's Magic Kingdom Park, but, what you may fail to see is the quality and depth of these attractions.  Pandora: The World of Avatar has been a big addition to Disney's Animal Kingdom Park since it opened in 2017.  The draw of Flight of Passage and seeing the floating rocks of in the Valley of Mo'ara may seem like the biggest things to do here, but there is so much more.  Beyond Pandora, Kilamanjaro Safaris, and Expedition Everest (all obvious highlights), here are five reasons you need a full day at Animal Kingdom which you may have been missing out on.

1.  The Shows! - Animal Kingdom is home to several great shows the whole family will enjoy.  Festival of The Lion King and Finding Nemo: The Musical, tell familiar Disney stories with a colorful cast of characters that will leave everyone smiling.  There is also the Flights of Wonder show where live birds become the leading actors and actresses.  Each of these shows are roughly 25 minutes and require you to arrive about 15-20 minutes prior to showtime in order to secure your seat.

2.  Rafiki's Planet Watch - This is a hidden gem in the park that you may miss all together if you're not looking closely.  Hop aboard a train in Africa and be transported to a place where the Circle of Life is explained to young ones as they visit exhibits on animals and habitats.  At Rafiki's Planet Watch, kids can visit a petting zoo, observe animals being treated by veterinarians, and meet some of their favorite Disney characters.  In 2019, this area received a major overhaul and now also features opportunities for kids and adults alike to learn about Disney animation.  This quiet part of the park can be a quick 45 minute visit or may take as long as a few hours to explore.

3.  The Oases and Other Walking Trails- Upon entering Animal Kingdom, guests often rush through the trees and wildlife surrounding the Tree of Life to get to Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, or other rides.  However, you want to slow down as winding pathways get you up close and personal with beautiful plants and animals.  And great walking trails are not just confined to the entrance of the park.  Both Africa and Asia also feature trails filled with unique animals and jam packed with information from knowledgeable guides.

4.  Interactive Kids Activities - If you're traveling with children in your family, Animal Kingdom often has interactive educational opportunities to engage kids in the environment around them.  Whether they are studying to be a Wilderness Explorer like Russell in the movie Up or showing how brave they can be as part of the new Lion Guard, there are several spots throughout the park where kids can participate with cast members in activities to earn stickers and badges!

5.  Great restaurants - Any Disney park is home to great food and Animal Kingdom is no exception.  I highly recommend making a breakfast reservation at Tusker House for some quality time with Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Mickey decked out in their jungle apparel.  In addition, a new fine dining restaurant, Tiffins, will be opening in 2016 which promises to bring even more excitement to the dining landscape.

Check out my review of Yak and Yeti here!


Check out my review of Tusker House's Character Breakfast here!


When you combine these reasons with the already popular attractions at Animal Kingdom including Kilimanjaro Safaris, Kali River Rapids, Expedition Everest, and Dinosaur, there is so much to do in this park you definitely need a whole day, if not more!

Mickey's Jingle Jungle 5K 2015

As part of the November 2015 Wine and Dine Half-Marathon weekend, runDisney also hosted Kid's Races and a 5K.  Since we were making the journey to Florida for the half, my friend Craig and I decided to participate in Mickey's Jingle Jungle 5K as well.  This made for a busy day of running as the 5K was scheduled for 7AM on Saturday morning and the half-marathon was set to begin at 10PM that same night.  Since this was going to be my first half-marathon, I wanted to save my energy and my legs so we opted to take it easy on the 5K.  We stopped at all but one character picture along the course and jogged between the characters.  The 5K is also considered a fun run by runDisney and is not timed.

Race gear ready to go.
The course is entirely contained to Disney's Animal Kingdom.  We arrived at the course around 5:45AM and there were already several thousand people gathered.  Since we had about an hour to wait until we had to get into our corral, we joined the incredibly long line to wait for a picture with Mickey and Minnie.  Well, after an hour wait and lots of conversation with the friendly folks around us in line, we still never made it to Mickey and Minnie and now it was time to head to Corral A for the start of the race.  All morning long, the DJ entertained us with great music and now the announcers were taking over to welcome Mickey and Minnie to the starting line for the race to begin!

Waiting in the longest line ever to hopefully see Mickey and Minnie.

Ready, Set, Go!
With a little Disney magic, flurries fell in Central Florida and we were underway.  The "flurries" didn't do much to help the weather that day as the sun was rising with the start of the race and it was already in the low 70s with sweltering humidity.  The course began looping around the parking lots of Animal Kingdom and you were almost a mile in as you entered the theme park.  Once inside the park, runners raced towards the Tree of Life and followed the path to the left traveling towards Africa.  Flick from A Bug's Life was greeting runners just inside the Oasis, but we kept moving.  We did make our first character stop in Africa to say hi to Rafiki and Timon.  All of the characters along the course were decked out in their Christmas attire to usher in the holiday season.

Rafiki and Timon were waiting to say "hi" in Africa!
We then entered a backstage area behind Harambe and passed through to Asia where we found Baloo and King Louie.  The rest of the course alternated back and forth between backstage and public theme park areas.  We passed three more character stops including Chip & Dale, Pluto, and Donald Duck with Santa Goofy.  The race used the same finish line that had been our starting point.  Christmas Mickey and Minnie were on hand to greet finishers for pictures, but we didn't want to face the long lines again and were anxious to go back to our hotel for a shower and a big breakfast!

King Louie and Baloo

Chip & Dale

A big smile for Pluto!

Merry Christmas with Donald and Goofy!
Even though Disney didn't time the race, my Garmin watch at has clocked in at a finish time at about 1:20 - that's right. . .well over an hour for a 5K!  Along the course, we waited in line at 5 character stops and took one bathroom break.  I didn't care at all how fast the run was as it was by far the absolute best 5K experience I've ever had!  If you're looking to enjoy the fun of runDisney, but aren't a serious runner - don't be afraid to to sign up for the 5K.  It's accessible to runners and walkers alike and will be sure to provide a fun morning that you won't soon forget!

Back at the hotel sporting my new runDisney bling.

runDisney Wine & Dine 2015

Waiting for the race to start.
Whether you refer to it as the Wine & Dine Half and Half or the ever clever Zap & Dash, the 2015 Wine & Dine Half Marathon certainly proved to be an unforgettable evening.  When we arrived at ESPN Wide World of Sports there were already thousands gathered outside on the fields.  Despite the large crowds, the staff and volunteers were incredibly organized and the stop at gEAR check was quick and easy!  I was running the race with a good friend of mine, Craig, and after our arrival around 8:00PM, we found a spot on the pavement to sit down and rest our legs.  Lines were long for pictures with Disney characters so we opted to save our photos for the race course and afterwards.  The DJ was just wrapping up on stage and the official Wine and Dine pre-show began with previews of future runDisney races and the after party at Epcot's International Food and Wine Festival which was just 13.1 miles away. 

Can I get a FastPass for the bathroom line?
As the pre-show was ending, the heat and humidity that had been surrounding the evening broke while the temperature dropped a few degrees, the wind picked up, and just a few raindrops fell.  Instead of moving us to the corrals at 9PM as planned, an announcement was made that storms were in the area and we would be delaying moving into corrals.  That first announcement was quickly followed by a second announcement directing runners, volunteers, and staff to evacuate from the fields and inside the stadiums at the Wide World of Sports complex.  We were inside for about an hour and, besides the incredibly long lines for the bathrooms, things were pretty comfortable.  The runDisney staff frequently made announcements alerting us that we remained in a holding pattern and they would let us know as soon as possible the status of the race.  Close to 10PM, the original scheduled start time, we had the all clear to return back outside and begin getting organized in our corrals.  As we were heading back to the fields, rumblings began to spread through the crowds about a shortened race - anything from a 5K to a 10 miler were rumored.  Once in our corrals, the official announcement came that they would cutting roughly 6 miles off of the course (the final measurement would come in at a race distance of 6.72 miles).  From what I've seen on social media in the hours and days following the race, the decision to shorten the course was made based on continued concerns of storms in the area, debris on the course at Animal Kingdom, time restrictions on the permits for road closures, the heat/humidity, and making sure runners had a chance to enjoy some of the after party at Epcot which was scheduled to end at 4AM. 
The scene inside the HP Fieldhouse.

Let's try this again. . .time to race - Part 2!!
The race started close to 11PM with runners in Corral A going off to fireworks and music!  runDisney requires proof of time for their longer races and they use this to organize runners into corrals.  Since I had not previously run a race distance of 10K or longer, I didn't have a proof of time to submit and ended up in the last corral, Corral L.  And because Craig is a great friend who wanted to stick by my side for the race, he gave up his super speedy position in Corral B to hang back with me.  Corrals were started roughly every 5 minutes and each corral had the chance to feel that special magic at the start line as fireworks and music were re-created with each start.  We were off and running around quarter of midnight, and I couldn't be happier to finally be underway!  For me, the longest part of the night was waiting in the corral for our turn to start.

Some motivation from the Green Army Men
The race course itself was awesome!  runDisney keeps runners hydrated and happy with plenty of bathroom breaks available along the course and water / Powerade stations every mile.  Around what should have been mile 9, they offered energy gels to all runners too.  The course felt great as I train on the rolling hills of Carroll County and Orlando is flat as a pancake!  There was a hill at an on ramp around the original mile 8 marker.  To take runners minds off the hill, Green Army Men from the Toy Story movies were there for character pictures and shouting orders at runners as they conquered the hill.  "Don't you even think about walking now!"  "Drop and give me three!"  That was one of my favorite parts of the race!

Made it to the lights!
The course was supposed to run through three parks including Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot.  However, with the shortened course, Animal Kingdom was eliminated.  We spent a little over 2 miles on the highways and then entered Hollywood Studios.  There were numerous character stops throughout the park and we had the chance to also run through The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights.  2015 is the last year that Walt Disney World will be featuring this spectacular event and with construction slated at both Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom, it will be interesting to see what course changes will take place.  The worst part of the race course was the run between Hollywood Studios and Epcot.  Runners were directed to use the walkway between the two parks which also includes the boardwalk around the Yacht and Beach Club.  This walkway was long and narrow which made it difficult to keep up any kind of decent pace, especially when you get caught behind walkers who were walking three and four across.  The one plus side of this area is that once the boardwalk opens up around the hotels, you are greeted by spectators for really the first time since the start as guests from the hotels are greeting runners with signs and cheers.  Only about 1 mile to go! 


Stopping for a selfie in Hollywood Studios
Minnie Mouse!
The race ended running through Future World at Epcot and into the parking area.  My husband and Craig's wife were cheering us on from one of the spectator areas inside of Epcot and we knew we were wrapping up.  As we approached the finish line, we noticed Mickey and Minnie greeting runners.  We pulled off the course just steps before the finish line for two final pictures before crossing the finish and getting our bling!  Once again the staff and volunteers get things moving smoothly at the finish with runners picking up medals, seeking medical attention, grabbing their box of food, getting drinks, and picking up their bags from gEAR check.  Craig and I were both feeling great after the race despite the fact that it was closing in on 2AM.  When we caught up with our spouses though, they were exhausted from hours of fun in Epcot so we opted to skip the after party and head back to our hotel.
Finish Line with Mickey!
While it was a little disappointing that my first half-marathon only turned out to be half of a half-marathon, I loved every minute of the unique Wine and Dine 6.72 miler!  My official time according to the runDisney website was 1:37:21 which included three character photo stops and a bathroom break as well as accounting for the bottlenecks throughout the course - I'm happy with that in my longest race distance yet!  The entire weekend was a lot of fun and I'll be posting more about the Jingle Jungle 5K, the Expo, and some general tips for runDisney races that I've learned in my first experience in the weeks to come.  Check out all of my other runDisney articles and I hope to chEAR some of you on as you also enjoy runDisney.  After all, "every mile is magic!"

Your Guide to Baby Care Centers at Walt Disney World Resort

As anyone with little mouseketeers knows, traveling to Walt Disney World Resort with an infant can seem like a daunting and overwhelming task.  However, there are many things in place to make your vacation a little more relaxing and easier to manage.  The Baby Care Centers in each of the four theme parks at Walt Disney World do just that!  Thanks to these convenient locations, my family was able to enjoy a week in the parks with a 5 month old.  Below is a guide to each Baby Care Center so you know what to expect.

Animal Kingdom - This is my favorite Baby Care Center!  The rooms were spacious and colorful here.  When you enter, there is a small seating area with a hostess and supplies you may need - medicine, diapers, wipes, and even changes of clothing.  To the left, you'll find a waiting area for older children and husbands complete with tables and chairs as well as cushioned benches to enjoy the Disney movies that happen to be playing.  In the back are several changing tables, highchairs, and a microwave.  Off of this room are a few private nursing rooms which each feature their own changing table and a rocking chair.  The size and atmosphere of this Baby Care Center made it very relaxing for several nursing breaks during the day.

Each of the Baby Care Centers is located next to First Aid.
Magic Kingdom - This was #2 on my list of Baby Care Centers.  Located behind The Crystal Palace, this center features many of the same separate rooms as Animal Kingdom, only a little less spacious.  At certain times, the Baby Care Center felt crowded.  Another difference is that the nursing room here is not divided into private rooms, but rather it features one large area that is closed off and private from the rest of the Baby Care Center which has about 6 rocking chairs all together.  This room is exclusive to nursing moms so you don't have to worry about being uncomfortable.  I found the moms to be super friendly each time I entered and enjoyed conversations about our vacations, kids, and motherhood in general.

A quiet space to nurse baby inside the Baby Care Center at Magic Kingdom
Epcot - Epcot's Baby Care Center is very similar to that in Magic Kingdom.  Due to the way our schedule worked that day, I only visited this Baby Care Center once and it happened to be about 30 minutes prior to the start of Illuminations.  Perhaps it's because it was so late in the day, but the entire Baby Care Center was empty which worked great to nurse my little guy to sleep.  You'll find this Baby Care Center tucked away next to Mexico between Future World and World Showcase.

Hollywood Studios - This was my least favorite of the Baby Care Centers mainly because of the size.  This Baby Care Center is located inside of Guest Relations and is smaller than a hotel room.  It attempts to have the separate spaces of the other Baby Care Centers, but in doing so makes everything super cramped.  The nursing area here is separated into two private "booths" which was often not enough for the demand required at the park.  Also, each of the other Baby Care Centers had a dedicated cast member to assist moms and dads, but Hollywood Studios did not.  Overall, it served it's purpose, but some more space would go a long way in accommodating the many families traveling with infants.

The fact that Walt Disney World offers such great spaces for families with young children speaks to their commitment to making sure everyone enjoys their day in the parks.  We spent A LOT of time in the Baby Care Centers on our last trip and would not have been able to survive as well as we did without them.  Don't forget that Baby Care Centers are also a great place for older toddlers and young preschoolers too if they need a break from the heat or stimulation.  They also feature kiddie sized potties so that those who are potty training will feel more comfortable then in the busy, big public restrooms.  If you're traveling to Walt Disney World with young ones, be sure to check out these great facilities!

Yak & Yeti Restaruant


Sitting in the shadows of Expedition Everest you will find Yak and Yeti - a great choice for dinner in Disney's Animal Kingdom.  Yak and Yeti features Pan-Asian flavors from Japan, Nepal, and Thailand to name a few.  The dishes are unique and tasty, but not too adventurous if you have young travelers or picky eaters.  As with any Walt Disney World dining experience, first class service is the norm here.  We were lucky to have a wonderful waiter named Mark who has been working on Disney property for over 20 years.  He took fantastic care of our family and added to a memorable experience.  And don't forget when you are visiting the restaurant to explore some of the beautiful details and artwork!  As is true for the rest of Animal Kingdom, you'll find many nods to traditional cultures throughout the restaurant.




Now onto the really good stuff - dinner!  For starters, Dan and I shared an order of pot stickers.  These were cooked perfectly and the soy lime dipping sauce that came with them was one of the best I've experienced.


For our entrees, I tried a Kobe beef burger.  The burger was HUGE - way too much to finish!  On top of the 10 oz. of meat was a sesame soy mayonnaise and asian slaw.  It was accompanied by a side of fries.  The flavors blended together perfectly and the fries were wonderfully crispy.


Dan opted for the baby back ribs.  During our whole trip, he had a craving for ribs and was thrilled to find them here.  The BBQ sauce that they were cooked in featured an asian flair and they were served with rice and slaw.  Dan thought that this was the best meal he had during our trip and hopes to enjoy these ribs again on our next trip.


For dessert, we shared the a piece of mango pie.  This pie is the consistency of key lime pie, just with mango instead.  The sweetness of the mango was a perfect finish to the spice and tanginess of our entrees.


It had been several years since I last visited Yak & Yeti at Animal Kingdom, but I won't make that mistake again!  We'll be back real soon to enjoy all of the flavors, ambiance, and service.  Don't miss this unique and delicious dining experience on your visit to the Walt Disney World Resort.

How to Organize Your Disney Vacation Plans

Planning a Walt Disney World vacation requires keeping track of a number of details including flights, hotel reservations, FastPass+ experiences, and dining reservations.  Thanks to the advent of the My Disney Experience app and website in recent years, this task has gotten a bit easier.  However, I’m someone who likes to be able to lay out my days and visually capture my whole vacation in just one easy to read page.


 The biggest advantage, in my opinion, of using a table like this is that you can quickly check for any time overlaps or concerns.  On our last vacation, I booked our breakfast at Hollywood and Vine and our first FastPass+ of the day for the Frozen Sing-a-Long too close together.  We ended up having to cut breakfast short in order to make it our FastPass+ experience.  While this certainly didn’t ruin the vacation, it was something I could have avoided if I would have been better prepared in planning the day.  When planning for character meals, I usually allow an hour to ninety minutes while other dining reservations can typically be completed in under an hour.  The exception to this would be any signature dining restaurants that are serving higher end meals and longer experiences.


On the above chart, you’ll notice I break the day down into morning, afternoon, and night.  So far, I have only entered times for dining reservations and FastPass+ selections, but as we get closer I will typically add ideas for quick service meals and breaks at the resort.  Planning you Walt Disney World vacation is a dynamic process that may involve many shifts along the way.  Finding a planning strategy that works for you will help make the whole experience more enjoyable and successful for you and your family. 

Brody's Top 10 List for WDW - Part 2

My last post featured #6 - 10 in Brody's recommendations for the best attractions in Disney World for a toddler and / or preschooler.  Here is Part Two!

5.    Meeting Characters - Whether it was at a character breakfast or in the parks, Brody loved meeting some of his favorite characters.  This can be tough to judge on your first visit to Disney with little ones.  I think Brody was more comfortable since he met a lot of characters last year on the Disney Cruise and our short 3 day visit to Disney World.  We didn't have to wait in long princess waits, but did wait several times up to 30 minutes to meet some of his favorites like Woody and Buzz.  If you know your kids will enjoy it, and they're not big enough to ride many rides yet, think about using some of your FP+ reservations for these meet and greets.

Giving Minnie kisses at Epcot Character Spot

Saying "hi" to Mickey and Minnie at Adventurer's Outpost in Animal Kingdom

4.    Talking to Mickey at Town Square Theatre - This was a new experience for me this time and it was AWESOME!  Brody met the talking Mickey on Day 4 of our trip.  He was amazed after meeting Mickey a few other times who couldn't talk.  Mickey also took his time and was very interactive.

Thrilled to talk, sing, and spin around with Mickey at Town Square Theatre!
3.    Cinderella's Castle - Or the "Disney Castle" if you're Brody.  He's talked about the castle for months leading up to the trip as he knows it from the beginning of Disney movies.  His face was priceless as we started walking down Main Street USA and he ran up to the castle several times to give it a hug!

Seeing Cinderella's Castle when you start down Main Street USA = Priceless!

2.    Riding Disney Transportation - Who would have thought that the part of the trip that most adults find to be the biggest pain, would turn out to be among Brody's favorites?  Maybe it's because of a lack of public transportation where we live, but Brody was fascinated by the busses and the monorail.  He would get so excited when we told him it was time to ride on a bus and also loved waiting at the bus stops.  He would ask what seemed like a million questions about where each bus was going while  we waited for ours.  He is still talking about the busses and how much fun they were!

1.    Dumbo The Flying Elephant - A Magic Kingdom classic, this ride was Brody's favorite.  He loved going "way up high" and the "way down low."  It's perfectly designed for the preschool set and we must have rode it at least a half dozen times.  I was excited to see him loving this ride as one of my favorite memories from my first Disney trip in 1989 was riding Dumbo with my grandmother.  Sharing old memories and creating new are a big part of what makes a Disney vacation so memorable.

One of our many rides on Dumbo
So that's it!  Brody's recommendations for the toddler and preschool set.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask him - he talks about his Disney trip almost every day!!