Wilderness Lodge and Artist Point – the Perfect Christmas Combination

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Who doesn’t want to go home to their cabin in the woods at Christmas time?  Gather your family around the fire, with a giant pine tree standing in the center of the room, rock in your rocking chair, and enjoy a cocktail and a dinner of freshly caught salmon.  It sounds idyllic to me.

That may be why we try to spend every Christmas dinner dining at this rustic Christmas paradise.

Day 6 5The decorations are not over the top, gaudy, bedazzled and blinged out.  They are earthy and rustic, with a nod to the Pacific Northwest roots from where the resort was conceived.  The feeling of homey warmth consumes you, and it’s cozy despite the grand, vaulted ceilings.

When you combine the beauty of this amazing resort with the amazing food served at Artist Point, you have one of the most perfect Christmas combinations you could imagine.  While the menu may vary when you visit, a staple is the delicious salmon.  The type of salmon varies by season, but the cedar plank preparation imparts a wonderful flavor to the perfectly prepared fish.  Combined with the smokey portobello mushroom soup, hearty and full bodied for a cold (or perceived cold!) winter’s day, this is one of my favorite meals at Walt Disney World.

You have just over 11 months to plan your Christmas season visit to Walt Disney World, and I cannot recommend enough the combination of this amazing resort and fabulous restaurant.  It’s the best of both worlds – a homey, rustic, holiday feeling in the middle of warm, sunny Florida.

Artist Point mushroom soup

How Not to Starve on Two Meals a Day – The Disney Dining Plan

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Disney-Dining-Plan

Friends and family alike are always asking me questions about the Disney Dining Plan.  Is it a good value?  Can I eat anywhere I want?  Can I eat anything I want?  But the question that keeps coming up again and again is the question about how much people need to budget for the third meal that is not included in the quick service or regular Disney Dining Plan.

And my answer to that really should be – you aren’t going to starve.

In addition to credits to cover you for two meals, you also get a snack credit for each night of your package on either of those plans.  When I tell them “snack”, most people think an ice cream bar or a box of popcorn, but when I tell you what your other snack options are, you’ll understand the not starving thing.

If you’d like to save your meal credits for lunch or dinner, check out some of the amazing breakfast options that count as a snack.  You’ll find muffins, pastries, scones and coffee cake on the list of snacks you can use to enjoy breakfast.  You might also opt for a mixed fruit cup, a whole piece of fruit, a hefty cinnamon roll (you could share this between two people!), or a yogurt.

Maybe breakfast has to be your biggest meal of the day, so you’d like to use one of your meal credits to get yourself a nice platter of breakfast foods somewhere.  Save those snack credits for lunch instead – or even a light dinner.  If you’ve eaten a big breakfast, you might be satisfied with an egg roll or some sushi, both options you can use snack credits for.  If you’d like something a bit more filling, you’ll find one snack credit buys you a good sized serving of chili cheese fries.  Be Our Guest has delicious and filling crocks of potato leek or French onion soup as snack offerings.

You might split your snack credits with friends, and make a meal out of the lobster bisque and a whole baguette – each one snack credit – available at the recently opened Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie at EPCOT’s France pavilion.  A nice breakfast is half an oatmeal and half of a yogurt and fruit parfait – a whole one of each is available at Animal Kingdom for one snack credit each, and can be shared with a friend.

You’ll find carrots and celery with dip, trail mix, and nachos and cheese – all of which are offered in pretty generous serving sizes that will tide you over until your next meal.  I haven’t met many people who regret sacrificing snack credits for food that is more like a meal.

Disney-Favorites-Sunshine-Seasons-Dessert-EPCOT-Land

And don’t forget – you can grab a dessert with your meal that can be boxed up and eaten later – as a snack!

It’s Too Hot to go to Walt Disney World!

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Bite your tongue!  Some people – including those of us with school aged children – are bound by school schedules, sports schedules, and even work schedules (says the teacher-to-be), and a vacation to Walt Disney World has to be done during the hot summer.  When it’s hot.  And humid. And did I mention hot?

Summer, though, is the best time to have your cake and eat it too!  You will want to arrange your day to beat the heat, but that will give you a chance to maybe do some of the Disney things you never have time to do!

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My best theme park tip for the dog days of summer is to hit it early and hit it hard.  Be at the park at rope drop, and if you can take advantage of morning extra magic hours, DO IT!  As soon as you arrive, snag a FastPass for your absolutely must do attraction, then get in line for your second must do.  Chances are, you’ll have both of those attractions done pretty quickly, and can move on to your next FastPass and your next attraction.

If you are doing FastPass+, schedule your attraction choices for early in the day or later in the evening.  This will not only help you avoid the hottest part of the day, but it also might help you miss the typical afternoon thunderstorm Central Florida is known for.

By lunch time, you’ve probably melted to a puddle bodily fluids.  You’re ready for something cool, comfortable, and away from the theme parks – something you might not think about if you were there when it was cooler.

Now is the time to take advantage of the OTHER side of Walt Disney World!  Check out Downtown Disney for some shopping and a nice lunch.  Head to the AMC 24 at Pleasure Island, where you can do a Fork and Screen movie/lunch show, enjoying the hottest first run movies in cool comfort.  How about the so hot it’s cool Splitsville for a game of bowling and one of the best burgers at Walt Disney World?

splitsville

Have you ever done DisneyQuest?  A hot afternoon is the perfect time to visit this gaming mecca, with virtual reality, arcade, and video games galore.  You can grab a quick bite to eat here – and save room for some of the great desserts!

Take the afternoon off to take a dip in the pool.  Pop on the monorail for some resort hopping afternoon shopping.  Or enjoy the heat of the afternoon in a spa getting your nails done!

disney spa

A hot afternoon is a great time to enjoy some of the Walt Disney World attractions you may typically overlook, so when the heat index is rising, split your theme park day in half.  With an attraction packed morning and an afternoon cool down, you’ll be ready and refreshed to shut the parks down at the end of the day!

 

Every Once in a While…

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…you just have to have a taste of Disney World.

But you can’t always get there.

So what do you do?

I have, over the years, built up quite a collection of recipes for some of my Disney favorites, and one that I’m surprised I have (but use most often) is the Boma recipe for Frunch.  I am not a juice drinker.  I don’t love juice, never drink orange juice or apple juice, and would rather have a cold glass of water if it came down to a real thirst quencher.

But I LOVE Frunch.  The combination of juices is just the right amount of sweet and tart, and this refreshing punch is easy to make and perfect for a brunch or summer lunch.

In case you’re craving a little bit of Disney World – here’s the recipe for West African Frunch from Boma.  Because it’s so hard to find mango juice, I’ve skipped the pineapple juice concentrate and used pineapple mango juice – it works just fine that way, too.

1 1/2 cups of mango juice

1/2 cup pineapple juice concentrate, thawed

1/2 cup lemonade concentrate, thawed

2 cups fresh orange juice

3 cups of water

4 Tablespoons of grenadine

Mix all ingredients together, serve over ice in a tall glass.

30 Days of Thanks – Day 20 – Thankful for Disney

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So, you had to know this was coming.  I wouldn’t be able to get through 30 days without being thankful for the Mouse and all it’s meant to me.

My first real vacation with Jim was to Walt Disney World, and my honeymoon was to Walt Disney World.  That made the earliest happy memories, the foundation of my life with my husband, of Walt Disney World and how much fun we had together.

When we moved to Orlando in 1993, the first thing we did – without jobs to pay for them – was buy annual passes.  We were thousands of miles away from family and friends, and having a fun, familiar place to go while people at home were enjoying turkey dinner on Thanksgiving or celebrating a family birthday we couldn’t be home for took some of the sting of homesickness away.

EPCOT is where Eilis took her first steps unassisted, and it’s where Granuaile had her first popsicle – and Itzakadoozie pop that gave her baby brain freeze.  We’ve got wonderful memories of Brighid dancing in a parade, Eilis hugging Donald Duck, Granuaile window kissing Goofy.

Then, in November of 2008, when I was selected to be on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, I acquired a whole family of amazing people who have become my lifelong friends.  Along with them, I’ve been introduced to others in the Disney community who have taken up residence in my heart, and I can’t imagine what life would be like without them (I’m talking to you, Jackie P  and my bonus children, Amy and Anthony!!).

Today, with all of y’all’s eye rolling and fake gagging when I mention my beloved Walt Disney World, I’m so thankful for Disney.  And I’m so thankful for the people it’s brought to my life, enhancing it in ways I’d never imagined possible.

Mother’s Day, Keurig Style – A Single Cup Coffee Brewer Review

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Yes, I know Mother’s Day is still a week away.  But if you know me, you will be well aware of my Starbucks addiction.  We’ve been considering making this purchase for months, and have browsed the coffee maker aisles of every store in South Jersey.  I almost bought one this morning at Target, but, as I have every other time, I walked out without one.

Then we went to Costco.  And there it was – the Keurig deal too great to walk away from.  So we took the plunge!  And tonight, for the first time, I made coffee!

Now, even if you know me, you may not know that despite  my frequent (sometimes twice daily) trips to Starbucks, I do not like coffee.  My drink always has extra pumps of coffee flavor killing syrup.  That was my biggest concern with the Keurig.

I have seen the light!

With the enormous variety of flavors, I was bound to find some that I liked, and in the variety packs that came with my purchase, I found a French Vanilla that was tasty.  I didn’t want to have to figure out the coffee maker and the milk foamer with company here, so I just added cold milk and some Splenda, and it was a reasonable facsimile of my beloved latte.  With a little practice, it will be perfect!

The machine was super easy to use, and I had coffee in a matter of seconds.  Costco had a great deal – the Keurig Platinum B70, 60 K – Cups, and a personal K – Cup reusable filter (for brewing your own coffee) for $149.99.  It was a great deal compared to the ones we looked at elsewhere.

I’ll probably post another review in a few weeks, just to let you know if I’ve been avoiding Starbucks in favor of my Keurig, but I can’t imagine needing to hit up the ‘Bucks once I become a pro at this Keurig stuff.

I’ll be saving so much money – it may mean more trips to Walt Disney World!

 

Walt Disney World – It’s the Little Things

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It’s a pretty big expense when you start to add up the cost of going with your family on a Walt Disney World vacation.  Once you run the numbers for hotels, transportation, theme park passes, and meals, you’re probably thinking the air in your lungs that you breathe while you’re at the Magic Kingdom is the most expensive souvenir you can afford!

Not so.  This is, of course, a theme park built on a mouse; overrun with dwarves; and with the incessant beat of “It’s a Small World” acting as the soundtrack.  That seems to indicate quite a fondness for the little thing.

So when your kids are looking all around at the gift shops, souvenir kiosks, and merchandise markets, fear not.  You won’t have to say no to every souvenir they find!  Steer them in the direction of these fabulous finds – souvenirs that won’t break the budget, cause Dad to keel over, take up too much room in the luggage that has to go home – oh, and that might inspire a love and a lifelong collection!

VINYLMATION:  Well in reach of the range Grandmom might slip into an envelope for the kids to take on their trip (around $10 – $15), these are currently all the rage.  Shaped like The Mouse, but created to be almost anything but, kids seem to love these things – but adults will hunt you down and murderize you for one they need to complete their collection.  You’ll find Vinylmations that are themed on Disney villains, occupations, theme park treats, Muppets, and even the theme parks themselves.  Some are just differently colored, others are a total surprise until you get the package home and open it up.  Best of all, they’ll fit easily into carry-on luggage!

PINS:  Do you remember Chicken Man?  He’s Everywhere!  He’s Everywhere!  So are the pins at Walt Disney World.  You can find pins that start in the $7 price range and go up from there, but talk about something for everyone – and everything!  There are pins that commemorate seasons, events, attractions, characters – you name it, there’s a pin for it.  Pin trading became so popular, that Walt Disney World cast members are often seen wandering the parks with their own collection, so you can stop them and trade with them as you go through the theme parks.  For a relatively small chunk of your souvenir budget, you can buy a pin starter kit, which usually includes a lanyard to put your pins on and four pins – two each of two different pins – one to keep and one to trade.  Some starter sets are geared more toward girls (princesses), some toward boys (Cars), but there are several gender neutral sets, and kids love them.  This is definitely a lifelong hobby you can get your kids started with for less than $20.

BACKPACK CLIPS:  Currently the souvenir du jour in my house, these also come in all shapes and sizes!  They are pretty self explanatory – they are clips that you can attach to your backpack, and hanging from the clip you’ll find a character or something Disney-fied.  Some are plush (Duffy the bear), some are icons (Minnie hat, hands, and skirt), some are hard rubber.  You can clip them to your backpack, handbag, diaper bag, lanyard, or even (with some of the smaller ones) onto a zipper.  These sweetly priced souvenirs can be had from about $7.

PRESSED PENNIES:  Probably the best souvenir for moms and dads who want to spend the last few dollars of their vacation money on the important stuff – like getting home.  And you know that weight limit your airline imposes on your suitcase?  This is no more than pocket change – literally!

For the bargain basement price of only 51 cents, you’ll get this great souvenir – and you’ll find them throughout the theme parks.  Collect them all!  These smooshed, mashed, squashed pennies commemorate your visit to various parts of the Walt Disney World theme park, and if your kids are seriously loving them, for less than $10 more than the cost of the pressed penny (oh yes, I said only 51 cents!!), you can get a binder in which you can store your pennies.  Best. Cheap. Souvenir. Ever!

I know in this economy, it’s harder to stretch your vacation dollar as far as it needs to go.  But these reasonably priced souvenir options add a little spandex to the budget – and put smiles on your kids faces.  And THAT is what vacation is all about!

Disney Holiday Weekends – Worth the Trip?

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As if I’m EVER going to say there’s a time when it’s NOT worth the trip!

People ask me, especially during the school year, when you don’t want to yank the kids out of school, if they’ll have time to see and do what they want on holiday weekends during the school year.  With the Martin Luther King day holiday coming up next week, I wanted to just give you a resounding YES!!

Will it be busy?  Yes.  But nothing like the crowds you are going to see during Christmas and Easter week.  You’ll see a surge in crowds that will make you want to use the FastPass system, but it’s rare during holiday weekends like this that you could expect park closures or two hour lines.

Tips for making the most of your holiday weekend and for maximizing your time?

– Use FastPass – This complimentary “ticket” will give you a window of time to come back to the busier attractions.  Instead of waiting in line, grab the pass at the kiosk, then go do something else.  For these busy weekends, as soon as your window opens up, head to another FastPass attraction and get another pass (which you can’t do until your window opens up).  That way, you’ll always have something to look forward to, plus you won’t stress over making it to your favorite attractions!

– Make Dining Reservations – I you want to eat somewhere special or you are specific as to where you must have your meals, book ahead of time.  You can almost always find SOMEWHERE to sit down and eat – even at the table service restaurants – but if your heart is set on Chef Mickey’s or Le Cellier, book in advance.  Reservations can be made up to 180 days ahead of time.

– Consider Park Hopper Passes – I have to admit that we almost never park hop.  And you might think that on a busy weekend, you’re better to stay put where you start.  However, if I know that the parks are going to be busy, I’ll try to hit the morning Extra Magic Hours (which you are entitled to as a Walt Disney World resort guest) at whichever park they are offered, then move to another park after spending that early morning hour.  I might do my top attractions at the next park, move on to a third, then head to a fourth for dinner.  If I’m going to go for dinner, I like to see about doing the park that has extra magic hours in the evening, then I stay put there.  That gives you a longer day in the theme parks, allows you to see some of each park (which can be tough on a three day weekend), and gives you a chance to eat breakfast in one place, lunch in another, and dinner in a third.

Will you find bigger crowds on a holiday weekend?  You will.  But the crowd is manageable if you go with a strategy, and you really can see quite a bit of all four Walt Disney World Parks if you head in with plan in hand.

Disney World Christmas – My Quick List of What Not to Miss

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You cannot begin to imagine how excited I get over Walt Disney World at Christmas time!  I start planning next year’s holiday trip probably before I leave this year’s vacation.  Visiting Walt Disney World during the holidays has become tradition for my family, and as much as there is to see and do, there are a few things I encourage you to put at the top of your list.

A Cup of Christmas Tea

The Garden View Lounge at Disney’s Grand Floridian resort is where you’ll find this jewel of an afternoon break.  Afternoon Tea is served daily from 2 PM until 4:30, and honestly, this is a meal – and an event – unto itself.  Choose from a selection of packages that include tea, sandwiches, pastries, scones, and fruit; or opt for the a la carte service, where you can choose the components of the meal you want.  It is a great way to kick off the holiday season, and it’s usually where my family begins our Christmas holiday at Walt Disney World.  We head from the airport to the resort, and we are checking in for a relaxing tea service right around 3 o’clock.  I love sitting with my girls around the table, enjoying their company in a way that we don’t always get to do in the hustle and bustle of home – OR during the hustle and bustle of a theme park vacation.  It’s a must do for me.

World Showcase Santas

Where else in one afternoon can you visit Santa, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, AND the Monkey King?  And where else in one afternoon can you give your kids such an amazing holiday cultural lesson without the whining and complaining that comes normally with trying to teach kids something on Christmas vacation?  I like to clear an afternoon and have the girls go from country to country in the World Showcase to listen to the stories of Christmas in other cultures.  The “Santas” are all wonderful, and the children are glued to the stories of how other kids are waking up on Christmas morning.  You’d think there was a Hannah Montana marathon on, they’re so attentive!  If you can’t give up a whole afternoon/evening, choose the countries significant to your family – perhaps La Befana in Italy can give your kids a glimpse into what it was like when Great Grandma woke up in her country on Christmas day.  I love it when learning and playing are almost the same thing!

Jennings Osborne Is My Hero

Long before his lights became a holiday tradition at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I couldn’t help but admire a man who held Christmas and the joy of his daughter in such high regard that he went to court to defend his right to celebrate both things.  Unfortunately, Jennings lost his court battle, but fortunately for the rest of us who couldn’t get to Arkansas for the holidays, he was kind enough to share his love of Christmas with us at Disney.  If you have ever wanted to burn your neighbor’s house down, because he has the most obnoxious holiday light display on the block, you might want to skip this part of my annual holiday tradition, but if you find joy in the bright celebration that is Christmas, you won’t want to miss the Osborne Spectacle of the Dancing Lights.  I have to tell you, I could do without the dancing part, which was added a few years back, but I still wouldn’t miss a chance to go see this outrageous display of Christmas celebration at least once (but usually twice) during my Christmas vacation.  You’ll see flying angels, marching soldiers, dancing lights, and even snowflakes (yes, in FLORIDA!!).  If you linger after the initial massive crowds when the lights first come on (usually around six in the evening), you can grab a cup of hot cocoa (yeah, I know, it’s 80 degrees – but ya gotta….) and meander up and down the street, soaking up the holiday festivity.  I’d venture to guess this is the very top of the must do list for my two littler girls, but it’s a holiday favorite for all of us.

EPCOT Candlelight Processional

It is here every year that I find the true meaning of Christmas.  Yep, in the middle of a loud, busy theme park.  Surrounded by people whose feet hurt.  Crowded by crying children.  Overwhelmed by all of the “I want…” and “Can I have…”s.  If you don’t find your holiday spirit here, you are not going to find it.

This is the retelling of the Christmas story – remember that one?  No, not the “You’ll shoot your eye out” one – the ORIGINAL Christmas story.  A celebrity narrator tells you of the birth of Christ and his impact on the world.  I gotta tell you, by the time the essay “One Solitary Life” is read, I’m crying.  I’m crying right now just thinking about hearing it.  It is the most moving theme park experience I have ever had, and I cannot wait each year to enjoy it again.  The music is outstanding, and the reminder of the reason for the season much welcomed.  If there was only one thing I could do at Walt Disney World during the Christmas season, this is the thing I would do.  (and after I did it, I’d push to do all the other things!)

This is a can’t miss vacation, no matter what.  I hope you get to enjoy some of the wonderful things my family goes back for year after year, and I hope some of our family holiday traditions become some of your favorite family traditions as well!