Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursdays with Mel... Disney-free Florida

It may surprise you to learn that nearly two out of every three of our Florida vacations are Disney-free. I am a native Floridian, so most of our trips to Florida incorporate family get togethers and reunions.
As a native Floridian, I hold a special place in my heart for the Spanish oaks, intracoastal waterways, and lakes of my home state. We just returned - late last night - from my family reunion, so here are some pics of Florida’s natural beauty!

Gem Lake in Central Florida

Intracoastal Waterway in St. Augustine

Historic Matanzas Bay

Matanzas Bay view from the Castillo de San Marcos

Lighthouse view from the Castillo de San Marcos

Natural beauty of St. George Street in St. Augustine

The Castillo de San Marcos 

Yesterday morning! 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hey, Cowboy!

On our final day at Walt Disney World, we were lucky enough to get to meet some "famous" people at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Known as the Citizens of Hollywood, or Streetmosphere, these characters take the streets as characters, actors, directors, and the people making it in Hollywood, or those taking care of the streets!

Dorma Nesmond and ??

We had missed the opening show that morning, coming from breakfast at the Hollywood and Vine (Play and Dine!) - we could hear some of it, but were on a different street waiting for the official opening.  Luckily, that didn't stop us from nearly being run over by an actress - student driver, and her producer/driving instructor.  

After leaving Dorma and her instructor, we walked towards the exit and caught a glimpse of Hollywood's newest cowboy, Beau Rangler!

Beau was incredibly friendly and told us all about his newest film project (which, I of course forgot the name of), but that he'd been out in Hollywood for only about a year, here to make it as a Cowboy Movie star!  Incredibly friendly, he even pointed out his agent, Jack Diamond (which is funny, because a local DC radio personality calls himself Jack Diamond!).

Though I'd never really been a big fan of DHS, really taking in the atmosphere and joining in on the fun definitely stepped up the appeal of DHS.  I'm excited to go back and meet more aspiring actors and actresses!

I'd love to know which citizens you've met!  For more pictures of Norma and Beau, make sure to check us out on facebook and you can always find me on twitter!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Travel Tip Tuesday - Creating a Mountain!

Magical Mouse Schoolhouse

No, no, no, this has nothing to do with Expedition Everest.

This is all about creating a barrier in between the parents and the baby.

As you hopefully read on Friday, our first morning at Walt Disney World, Noah woke up extra early (4 a.m.) and because he could see us from his crib, he didn't fall back asleep like he would have on a normal day.  Instead, he stood up and cried out "Mama" which many of you may know is nearly impossible to resist.  I picked him up and brought him to our bed (which I have never done) in hopes he would fall asleep again.  But, no.
The Grand Floridian has Cribs, not playards!
So, when we came back for our much needed nap, we used our 2- queen room for to our advantage:  We piled up both of the bed quilts (b/c I NEVER keep those on the beds!), and all of the pillows from the couch (pull out sofa!), and from the extra bed, and made a blockade.  We stayed in the bed closest to the door and had him directly next to the balcony, giving as much space as possible.

Of course, with the 900+ pictures I took, I never took a direct shot of the mound.  Can you believe it?  But, you can somewhat see the pile from the picture above.  And, it worked like a charm.  As long as we were on our side of the room, even if Noah was standing in his crib, he couldn't see us.  Which, with an 18 month old (or younger!), was still enough!

Other resorts - such as the Caribbean Beach Resort - has a curtain near the bathroom area, which is another great idea to block off the pack-n-play from the rest of the room, but since we had no such curtain, we made due.

What other ways have you used to separate the rooms?  Are their children that wouldn't freak out in similar situations?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Grand Floridian Hidden Mickeys, Part 1

When we booked the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, I expected a stunningly beautiful resort.  I expected great rooms, wonderful service, and the best location.

What I didn't expect were all of the hidden mickeys and other beautifully subtle Disney references everywhere. I had been in the GF in my middle school years, but couldn't remember anything!  During our entire stay, up until right before we left, I kept finding hidden mickey's in all different places.  Today - I wanted to show you just some of the Hidden Characters - the first ones you see as you walk in!

Entrance Way Floor:
Do you see Pluto?
I saw dozens of people walk directly over all of this beautiful artwork without even noticing who they were walking on!

Up Close:
Oh, there's Pluto!

And Minnie Mouse!


Mickey Mouse
Donald Duck
Talk about magical!

For more pictures from the Grand Floridian, make sure to check out our facebook page!  There's a full album dedicated to our stay at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Starting Early

One of best reasons to stay on property is for Extra Magic Hours.  And, though I am not opposed by any means to staying off property, we absolutely take advantage of the EMH when we have the chance.

Of course, with an 18 month old, we rise bright and early, so reaching the parks for the Morning Rope Drop isn't as challenging as I'm guessing it would be with teenagers.

So, our first full day, we set the alarm Noah woke up before our alarm - 2 hours before our alarm - and could see us in the room, which meant he was not going back to sleep.  We started our Monday at 4:30 a.m.  Of course, this made our trip to Disney's Animal Kingdom that much easier.  We had a relaxed breakfast at the Gasparilla Grill (the counter service at the Grand Floridian Resort) and made our way to the bus stop.

Unfortunately, they didn't do a morning show for us, so we headed straight for the Kilimanjaro Safari - walked on in under 10 minutes, then headed across the park to Asia.  We snagged a fast pass for Kali River Rapids, and headed over to do a Ride Swap for Expedition Everest.  I found the Yeti first, then waited for Adam to ride - and took time to apply sunscreen!

The best part?  We were able to get another fast pass for Everest and rode it twice before heading over to get completely soaked on the rapids.

While Adam was on the Rapids, Noah and I played in the fountains over by the entrance to the ride.  Right on the way to entrance/exit for KRR and Maharajah Jungle Trek, there is a water play area - 2 fountains from the wall, 2 water spouts from the ground, and a great water fountain in the middle.  Noah was enthralled and I literally couldn't pull him away before he was completely soaked.  
1 thing I learned - wet feet in strappy sandals (Dansko - quality/designed for walking) - still causes cuts and pain.  Ouch!

With a few more rides, a trip to Rafiki's Planet Watch, lunch, some music, and even a spotting of Divine, we headed back to the hotel for a nap before heading to EPCOT for dinner.

Dinner will be described in upcoming Foodie Fridays!!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thursdays with Mel... Pin Trading

~ With a Baseball Tournament in full swing (batter up)... I thought I'd pull this one from the archives for those of you on your way to Walt Disney World & Disneyland Resort this summer! ~

New Pic: My 'Goofy' son in
front of DTD's Pin Traders
Pin trading, the unofficial sport of Disney resort guests, has been around for over ten years, and for eight of those years I resolved not to get sucked in. And for those eight years I was successful. So what happened?

Mr. Incredible (my Disney-tolerating husband) and I took our kids to the Magic Kingdom on our older son’s 9th birthday. With $10 of birthday cash in hand, he proudly announced he wanted a Disney Trading Pin. He bought it, and we were hooked.

That Star Wars pin seemed so innocent. Something that cost less than $10 made him so happy, therefore I was happy. But those little shiny pins are like potato chips; you cannot stop at just one.
My boys at DHS in their favorite lanyards!
Those who love Disney Trading Pins usually fall into one of two camps: Collectors or Traders. My older son and I are collectors. I collect pins from special Disney moments. I have pins from every resort where we have stayed and every character dining experience.  My son collects pins, mostly from attractions. He likes pins with some sort of movement to them. Some whirl, some spin, but they all move somehow.

Then you have traders. My younger two children fall firmly into this camp. Like most kids, they will trade any pin with any willing trader. If you are like me, and worry about your kids talking with strangers, here are my favorite kid-friendly pin trading tips.

1.    Have your kids trade pins with other kids. Make sure both parents are there to supervise and that both are cool with the trade.

2.    Disney Cast members with GREEN lanyards are specially trained to trade pins with children and are extremely unlikely to say ‘no’ to a trade. UPDATE: At the Disneyland Resort in California, the special lanyards are TEAL.

3.    Any cast member can trade with any guest, though they are free to say no to trades they feel are not equitable. Though my kids have never had a bad experience trading with any Cast Member. The best, and most enthusiastic pin-trading Cast Members can be found in the Downtown Disney Marketplace.

4.    Lastly, if your child does want to keep a pin for their permanent collection, secure it with a locking pin-backer, available Disney Pin Traders and the larger pin trading stores. This prevents trader’s remorse and keeps pins safely secured to the lanyard.

The crazy thing about traders is that sometimes they trade their way into a collection. My daughter naturally chose the Baby Princess pins during our last week-long vacation. Now she has a respectable handful of these adorable pins, and so she is torn. Does she trade with them on our next vacation, or does she become a pin-hoarder, I mean collector, just like her mom? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wordless Wednesday Hop!

As I mentioned in my trip recap Day 1 - my parents drove up for our first day in Orlando.  Not only did they join us in the Magic Kingdom, but they brought me a birthday present - a new camera!  In honor of that and the 900+ pictures I took, I decided to participate in a Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop.  Obviously, I'm not so good at the wordless part.  Hope you enjoy!  Make sure to click back to Focused on the Magic to hop on!

The Disney Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop

Begging to meet Mickey and Minnie!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Magical Memories - a Park Day 1 recap

After a whirlwind vacation planning spree and a wonderful 5 day vacation, we're back and getting back to our "normal" routine.

Our trip started with a quick visit from my parents and older sister, joining us for a few hours (literally 3 hours) in the Magic Kingdom.  Maybe some of you remember that I couldn't decide between the Magic Kingdom or EPCOT - want to know how I decided?
That's us in the back row!
Of all the rides - this is the one that I really want to share with Adam.  Okay, maybe Soarin', too.. but Splash Mountain makes me want to sing and share the great story with my husband!

Plus, my family - not ride people - had more options!  My parents, sister, Adam, and I enjoyed the Haunted Mansion together, with a very sleepy Noah
We discovered 1 MAJOR difference *more to come* between 6/12/18 months - Noah did not like the opening room of the Haunted Mansion.  He's never shown fear of the dark, but the room with the stretching ceilings scared him both times we went on the Haunted Mansion.  Just something to think about if you're going with toddlers!  He was fine on the ride, but those ceilings caused a fright!

We had an early dinner with my family at the Tomorrowland Terrace - rarely opened, but I've usually enjoyed my meals there when it's open...

And - without a picture of my meal - I actually had a fantastic-for-counter-service Beef and Blue Cheese Salad.  I was very impressed with my meal!

After the long day of traveling, we had an early night - headed back to our resort - the Grand Floridian - and called it a night around 8 p.m.
View from the Ferry from MK

Monday, June 20, 2011

Flying through the years

Noah at 18 months has flown more times than several of my adult friends.  Most recently, he completed his 5th round trip flight - 3 of those being for WDW trips. It's amazing to watch him grow, but we realize quickly that even in flight entertainment and seat arrangement change drastically over the months.

At 4 months (to a friend's wedding in Louisiana), we checked the stroller and infant seat at the gate and he sat on my lap, sleeping (and nursing) for the much of the flight.  The hardest part of this trip with him was changing his diaper in the seat *Jet Blue now says over the intercom that changing in the seat is prohibited.* 

Waiting in the airport 4/10
At 6 months, we took Noah for a trip to the Grandparents in S. FL and headed up to WDW for his 1st adventure - when we traveled with Melissa and her family.  The flight was fairly similar.  He sat calmly in our seats, looking at books, sleeping, and being easily entertained by peek-a-boo.  He hadn't been introduced fully to solid foods, so we didn't have to worry about any of that during our travel days. We brought the same toys we had for the previous flight - noisy rattles with lights, and other textures that we hoped would entertain him.
The night before his 2nd flight.  Still little,but so aware!
At 13 months, we traveled into the Orlando Airport (MCO) for the first time ever - getting us all prepared for marathon weekend.  He sat on our laps, but at 13 months, (which hasn't changed much), he hated to be contained.  He wanted to run around the airplane and definitely didn't want to stay on our laps!  He no longer had a pacifier or bottle to help with the pressure changes of takeoff and landing, but ate plenty of solid foods to make sure he would be swallowing during those times.  Adam and I definitely stressed trying to keep him calm during that flight, because he no longer wanted to sleep on us, but didn't have his own room to get comfortable.  Luckily, we kept episodes of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on our phones for him to watch.
At 16 months, we decided not to play the "hold Noah down" game - we bought a seat for him.  Silly to many, paying full price for a 1 year old who can still fly free (under 2!).  But, to us, it made sense.  Bring his car seat (yup, the big heavy convertible seat for toddlers) with us on the plane so he can be comfortable.  Hopefully, he'd fall asleep and know that he can't actually get up and run around.  Luckily, it worked!  He fell asleep (for maybe 30 minutes of a 2 hour flight) but never tried to run away, not complaining much about being restrained.  We brought earphones for him to use, and brought several episodes of his favorite shows and movies (mostly Pixar).  Most definitely our easiest flight yet!

At 18 months, we tried something different.  Taking the Magical Express to stay on property, we knew we wouldn't need a car seat, and I sure didn't want to lug that thing around the airport if we didn't need it, so we found the next best thing: the CARES harness.  Stocked with games, movies (Cars, Nemo), magna-doodle type books, stickers, and snacks, we strapped Noah in with this standard seat-belt-type harness, and headed on the flight.  I will say - the CARES harness is a great idea, but I haven't yet found the right adjustments.  The shoulder buckles weren't located in a good place, but I do think with extra time, this could be adjusted to be more comfortable.  Actually, for much of the return flight, Noah sat peacefully and watched the cartoons on the seat tv.  We'll absolutely be using it again in January - hopefully I'll figure out the best height for it!
Notice the buckles at head height? Not the best position. Needs to be lower!
The CARES harness isn't as comfortable as his car seat - he made the whole trip without a nap, which we paid for later, but Noah gets his stubborn-ness from me, and if I can avoid toting that car seat around the airport again, I will!  Plus, this will be great for the years until he is big enough to fly without any extra harnesses or belts.

So, what have we learned from all this?

For us: 
  1. Noah flies better in his own seat.
  2. CARES harness is way better than carrying the car seat on my back.
  3. Books, movies, and snacks are imperative for flying with a toddler.
  4. Crying is louder to us than the people around us!  Obviously, not everyone around us feels this way, but we've heard many encouraging comments from parents and other travelers.
  5. Practice makes perfect!  Better plan that trip for WDW Marathon Weekend 2012 to continue flight training!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thursdays with Mel... Welcome Phineas to our family!

Meet Phineas!
Our Disney family is busy making preparations to welcome home its newest member, Phineas (Finn for short).

Phineas should make his trip home in about a month. He is a Bichon Frise, just like our sweet Sophia, who is almost two years old now.  We know she will be a fabulous big sister.

We thought long and hard before deciding to add to our family. Honestly, we thought longer about this decision than we did about having some of our human children!

Of course Finn is named after the fabulous Phineas from Phineas & Ferb. Perry was also in the running, but Finn won out & we are counting down the days until we welcome him home for good!

Finn at 4 weeks... awwwe.

Finn & his litter-mates shortly after they were born.

My new Summer Series, Wordy Wednesdays, began yesterday on The Disney Lifestyle Blog. This summer I am slowing things down and reading a few good books - most with a Disney twist or connection. Come see what my kids and I are reading, and read-a-long with us! This week, I am talking about Wings, a young adult, fantasy series by Aprilynne Pike.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

SorCom Review in Jeopardy?

Over the past several weeks, I had the pleasure of getting to know the DJ of the SorCom Review for our special edition of the magical blogorail.  Not only did I learn more about his radio show and family, but I learned that he is a Jeopardy Champion.  I don't think I've ever met anyone who's been on the show at all, so to meet someone who actually won?  Amazing.   I had to ask for the full story.  Curiosity killed the cat, right?  Meow 

Luckily, Eric was kind enough to share the story with me.  And, it was so awesome, I asked to share it with my readers!  Hope you enjoy as much as I did!

I'd been trying to get on to Jeopardy off and on for almost 20 years.  I'd send in postcards/letters first for the Teen Tournament, then the College Tournament, and then showing up for the testing events when they'd come nearby.
In 1992, I received an invitation to attend the College Tournament tryouts.  That year they were being held at Disney-MGM Studios (am I the only one who has trouble calling it Disney's Hollywood Studios?  I still want to say "Disney-MGM" when I'm not paying attention).  I flew down the day of the tryout, and the only solid food I had eaten until 9:00 p.m. that evening were two of the worst horrendous sausage biscuits I've ever had at the Atlanta airport.  Who knew hockey pucks were edible?  Well, come to think of it, dinner that night was at Denny's so that wasn't a whole lot of improvement.  Anyway, the rest of the day was spent downing various high-caffeine soft drinks approximately every 30 minutes.  I say that because it'll come into play later.
Anyway, I got to Disney-MGM, received my day pass, and proceeded straight to the tryout room -- the theatre that's at the end of The Magic of Disney Animation.  About 15 minutes or so I was yawning, so I went into the restroom and whipped out my travel packet of No-Doz.  Which went into a system already saturated with caffeine and low on solid food to absorb it.  Can you see it coming yet?  Yep, they took effect right as the test started.  I was wired for surround sound!  Imagine the Tigger sequences in all the Pooh movies spliced together and ran at 10-times speed.  That was me.  It was then that I found out that who should be presiding over that day's tryouts but Alex Trebek himself.  I passed the test (although when they called out my name you'd have thought my favorite team scored the winning touchdown) and got Trebek to sign my day pass.  I think I may have freaked him out though, as it seems the rest of the time he always had at least one person between the two of us.  Unfortunately I was so overstimulated by a combination of caffeine and nerves that I didn't do well in the practice rounds.  But I did get my first taste of the park and my first ride on Star Tours that day.
Fast forward to the fall of 2005.  The tryouts came through town, so naturally I tried out and passed the test again (I think I passed that infernal thing 4 out of 5 times).  During the practice rounds and interviews I did much better (having learned my over-stimulated lesson).  I'll never forget when one of the staff asked me what I'd do if I won a lot of money -- my response was three words: "Helloooooooooo Grand Floridian!"
Fast forward again to the spring of 2006.  I received a call from a member of the Jeopardy staff inviting me out to California as a contestant on the show.  I was calm and collected during the phone call, but after I hung up it finally sunk in and all three of us were bouncing like gazelles through the house!  I of course was bouncing because I finally received "the call" and my wife/son were bouncing because they knew we'd HAVE to visit Disneyland while we were out there!
We made our plans and finally the trip arrived.  Unfortunately they didn't allow children under 8 in the studio audience, so I had to fly solo while my wife/son stayed in the hotel.  When my turn came to be on the show, I bowed my head during the first commercial break and said "Lord, you know how long I've tried to get on the show.  I don't want to ask for much, but please give me ONE day.  Just so I can say years from now that I am a former Jeopardy champion.  I don't care what happens after that."  Then at the start of Double Jeopardy, they revealed the categories for the round and first on the list was "Disney Film Voices."  I kid you not -- there was actually a Disney category!  I was SO glad the camera wasn't on me as the grin on my face would probably have put the Cheshire Cat to shame.
Long story short, I got exactly what I asked for by winning the first day and crashing/burning on the second.  The bouncing continued when I got back to the hotel room and my wife noticed that I had changed clothes and therefore lasted more than a single day.  Of course I couldn't blab to the public about how I did until after the episode aired, but we spent the next three days at Disneyland and I don't know that my feet ever touched the ground.  It's hard to make a first-time trip to Disneyland even more magical than it normally would be, but I'm here to tell you that knowing you're walking around as a Jeopardy champion will do it.
Oh, and there was another contestant from that week (though since he won a couple days I should say "fellow champion") who told Trebek during the interview segment that he carries his wife across Italy every year.  Trebek asked "so you take her to Italy?"  He replied with a smile.  "No, I physically carry her on my back.  You know, at Epcot."  If you turn up the audio during that episode you can hear a solitary laugh from the audience.  That would have been me; I think I was the only one who got it.
What an awesome story, don't you think?  I'll make sure to pass any comments along, but you can also tweet at me @disneybabiesblg or Eric @SorComReview

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Running Update!

It's over 5 months since my 1st half marathon - my Disney half marathon!

But, I can now officially say I've completed TWO half marathons!

With a time of 2:34:04, I finished the Virginia Wine Country half marathon!

Though not Donald Duck, the medal had a rubber face with the image above - and also seconds as a wine bottle stopper!  Pretty darn cool, I have to say!  And, even though we weren't running through the happiest place on earth, the views were quite breathtaking beautiful!
But, I do have to admit one thing - running a half marathon isn't nearly as enjoyable without stopping to meet my favorite characters!

My next scheduled race: The Annual Army 10-miler in October, with the WDW Half Marathon 2012 scheduled as well! 

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Good Start

After a very early morning (4am), the little man is out for nap #1 at Animal Kingdom!
Luckily, he already enjoyed the Kilimanjaro Safari this morning!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone

A Very Minnie Birthday!

My sweet Piper turned 2 last week, and to celebrate, we had a Minnie birthday party!
I scrapbooked her invitations (all 30 of them) and sent them out to family and friends a couple of weeks before the party.  I really love how they came out!
On the day before the party, my Mom, Grandmother, and I made these precious cookies for Piper.  We used a cookie cutter shaped like Mickey, and dyed the icing ourselves!  We learned that we had to spread them out well on the cookie stone to cook them or they become misshapen.  I put the "P" on by putting icing in a Ziploc and cutting the tip off.  It made a great pastry bag!

For the party, I decorated the house with a Disney banner, tablecloth, and pictures from her 2nd birthday photo shoot (taken by my cousin in our local park).  We also had an AWESOME cake made in our mall!  My Disney-baby had so much fun playing with her friends, and she loved all the Minnie-stuff!  Enjoy the pictures!

My Disney-baby and I share a birthday!  Happy birthday to us!

See ya real soon!