Walt Disney World Without Kids? You Bet!

January 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Posted in Disney Travel, Disney Travel Planning, Disney Without Kids, Downtown Disney, Epcot, La Cava del Tequila, Magic Kingdom, Main Street, Walt Disney World Resort | 1 Comment
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A lot of people I talk to are amazed that I have gone to Walt Disney World WITHOUT my kids before. They ask “what do you do with all of that time in a place that is made for kids?”. Well, let me tell you…whatever I want!

Now don’t get me wrong. I absolutely LOVE going to Walt Disney World with my kids. But I have also gone without them on several occasions. I’ve gone solo. I’ve gone with friends. And I’ve gone with my husband. And they have all been fantastic trips. There is so much to do throughout the WDW resort without kids. Here are some of my favorite things:

  • Stay Up Late: Let’s face it. When you go to WDW with kids, you are at the mercy of their sleep schedule. My kids can’t make it to the PM Extra Magic Hours where many times, you’ll find Magic Kingdom open until 3 am. What better time to get to enjoy the parks when it’s not as crowded? And a bonus? Not as many strollers (including the one that I wind up pushing the entire trip).
  • La Cava del Tequila: Yes, kids can go into La Cava, a tequila bar in the Mexico pavilion in Epcot. But to truly enjoy their array of tequilas, margaritas and tapas style appetizers, you need to go without the kids. You won’t be sorry. Trust me.
  • Signature Dining: If your kids are like mine, you definitely don’t want to spend the money for your kids to not eat at some of Disney’s wonderful signature dining locations such as California Grill, Narcoosees, Artist Point, Brown Derby or any of the other wonderful establishments! And who could forget Victoria and Alberts at the Grand Floridian? Leave the kids at home for these places and go enjoy a romantic meal with your loved one.
  • Romantic Strolls: Walt Disney World has miles and miles of beach line. And there are so many wonderful places to take a romantic stroll. How about walking along the beach at the Polynesian Resort while watching the fireworks from Wishes? How about walking along the Boardwalk listening to the sounds and music coming from the many restaurants and other fun locations? Sound good? It is…
  • Boardwalk and West Side Entertainment Districts: Do you enjoy listening to dueling pianos? Then try Jellyrolls on the Boardwalk. Want to go out dancing? Then head over to the Boardwalk to go to Atlantic Dance Hall. Kiddos can’t go with you to these places so make the most of your alone time! The West Side has House of Blues, where you can enjoy taking in some great music!
  • Be a Kid Again: One of the best things about Disney without kids is that I get to be a kid again! I get to go on all the rides I want to, and I can eat where I want. And I can get MY picture with the characters. Yes, I’ll admit it. I love to be able to be a kid when I go to Disney. Sure, I can act like it when I’m with my kids, but there is nothing better than being able to act like a kid without your own kids making fun of you!

There are so many things that make a trip to Walt Disney World without kids special. What are some of your favorite things to do at Walt Disney World without kids?

Contact us at lea@magicalmousecapades.com for more information or go to www.magicalmousecapades.com.

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Wordless Wednesday: A Beautiful Day!

January 18, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Posted in Cinderella's Castle, Disney Travel, Disney Travel Planning, Magic Kingdom, Main Street, Walt Disney World Resort | Leave a comment
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Walt Disney World Educational? Of Course it is!

September 11, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Posted in Disney Travel Planning, Education, Epcot, Vacation, Walt Disney World Resort, World Showcase | Leave a comment
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This is one of my most favorite posts, first published in August 2009. With school getting underway, I thought it was an appropriate time to repost! Enjoy!

Can Walt Disney World be considered an educational trip? Many parents wonder if taking thier kids out of school to go to Walt Disney World is the right thing to do. I, myself, am planning on taking my second-grade daughter out of school for a week in November to go to the World.  Why did we come to that decision? Number one, we can take advantage of cooler weather and smaller crowds, and number two, we’re making the trip to Walt Disney World educational! There are so many educational aspects at WDW. It’s teeming with history, geography, culture, science, math, economics, science and more! Let’s take a look at how YOU can make your Walt Disney World trip educational at anytime of year!

Epcot World Showcase: Children can explore the different cultures of the world in the 11 various World Showcase Pavilions of Canada, United Kingdom, France, Morocco, Italy, Germany, Japan, China, Norway, Mexico, and America. Your child will be able to learn about the architecture, languages, diet and dress of each country. They will also be able to talk to the cast members in each country. The World Showcase cast members are actually from the country in whose pavilion they work! They can learn about the flags, learn to say hello in each language, learn capitals and more!

American History: Children can learn all about the U.S. Presidents by witnessing the The Hall of Presidents presentation at the Magic Kingdom. This show highlights every U.S. President from George Washington to current President Barack Obama. The show focuses on the role of slavery in America and tells how early leaders debated slavery from the Constitutional Convention to the Lincoln-Douglas debates.  They can witness the American Adventure Show in the American pavilion in Epcot and learn about the beginnings of the United States of America. This show combines film footage and Audio-Animatronics of dozens of historic figures and is as moving as it is educational. Listen to Ben Franklin and Mark Twain tell the story of America, beginning with the Pilgrims and going through World War II. Children will see George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Will Rogers and Rosie the Riveter.

Epcot Future World: Children can learn about science by exploring Mission:Space. Your child will have the chance to see and feel Family_On_Test_Trackwhat it would be like to travel by rocket to Mars. Children can experience the Universe of Energy exhibit which teaches about fossil fuels energy and conservation. The Circle of Life show in The Land Pavilion teaches about environmental protection. The Innoventions Pavilion allows children to participate in hands-on activities showcasing interesting innovations and new technologies. The Living with the Land ride is an indoor boat ride through greenhouses full of plants and aquaculture tanks. Many of the plants that you see growing are used in the Garden Grill. The Seas with Nemo and Friends teach children about aquatic life and offers many exhibits for children to take part in. Children can view marine exhibits complete with dolphins and manatees. Spaceship Earth is a slow-moving ride in the “big golf ball” (as children call it) that uses Animatronics to teach about the history of communication. Test Track (pictured, left) lets children take part in a GM test vehicle as they zip around an indoor-outdoor track, learning what tests cars have to go through before they can be sold to the public. Throughout Future World, there are numerous learning activities for children of all ages!

Disney’s Animal Kingdom- What better place to learn about nature and conservation? This 110-acre theme park, the largest Disney theme animal kingdom safari park, features an African savanna and safari, up-close encounters with animals of all kinds as well as a Conservation Station, where  children can learn about conservation efforts being made across the world as well as Disney’s part in those efforts. Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s zoological operations are respected worldwide, but Disney keeps them fully hidden from its guests by man-made hills, rivers and rocks. Scientists are breeding endangered species, and on-site researchers are there studying animal behaviors. DAK is a member of the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums). Disney wants you to see the “real” world of animals, however, and not a zoo. Observation windows at Conservation Station let you look in on medical procedures on animals while veterinarians explain what is going on. Other windows display researchers studying elephant vocalizations and tracking a sea turtle off of the Florida coast. Kids can learn more about the park’s primates and other animals with remote animal-cams. Children can listen to hear thunder and insects, they can “speak” with Dr. Jane Goodall or George Schaller of the Tibet Wildlife Reserve. They can view a film on endangered species and get a closer look at various animals when the Cast Members bring out animals for closer viewing.

Economics: Children have the opportunity to learn about economics as well by managing his/her own spending money. Children are able to make budget decisions on how to spend their money. They can also work with saving at the hands-on at The Great Piggy Bank Adventure. T. Rowe Price worked with Disney to create this interactive game to teach families the importance of financial planning. You can do the game as a single or up to 3 people can compete on a team. There are a number of stations where you start the game.  There are plenty of cast members to help you along the way.

Art: Children can learn about art, animation and the history of film at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Map Navigation: Allow your children to navigate throughout the theme parks and the Walt Disney World Resort by usingMagic_Kingdom_Map_wkey the    numerous maps that are available. Children can use the key to figure out where the nearest dining or shopping establishments are or where their favorite ride is and how to get there from where they are.

Mathematics: One of the best ways for children to learn math is by wait times! You can ask children how long a 30-minute wait time is (i.e. is it one quarter of an hour, one half an hour, etc).  Which attraction has the longer wait time? It really is up to you!

The Walt Disney World Resort is a wonderful and educational experience, and the best part is, the children are having so much fun, they don’t even realize that they are learning! Disney truly makes learning fun for everyone!

If you are going to take your children out of school for a WDW trip, make sure and get their assignments ahead of time, and try and complete them BEFORE you go on your trip. And have your child keep a journal of their trip so they can practice their writing. My daughter loves to write about what she did during the day and what her favorite attraction and ride was that day.

For more information on the great educational aspects of Walt Disney World, contact Magical Mousecapades now!

Top Ten Reasons to go to Walt Disney World in 2011!

January 5, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Posted in Disney Travel, Disney Travel Planning, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Italy, Magic Kingdom, Main Street, Mexico, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World Resort, World Showcase | 1 Comment
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2011 will be a wonderful year to go to Walt Disney World (as if anyone REALLY needs an excuse to go to WDW)! There are so many wonderful things to do and see and experience! Here is a quick list of the top ten reasons you need to go to WDW this year!

  1. Let the Memories Begin– Disney’s new promotional campaign focuses on the memories made at the Disney parks. I know we all have them. And if we don’t, we will soon! This campaign allows us to see other’s magical memories and to share some of our own! Do you remember your 1st trip to WDW? Or what about your child’s? This campaign makes me smile simply because it is real. Those are real experiences and real reactions. And who knows? Maybe one of YOUR memories will wind up on one of Disney’s commercials or print ads. And maybe even displayed on Cinderella’s castle. For more information on this new campaign, click here.
  2. Walt Disney World’s 40th Anniversary– Come celebrate WDW’s 40th birthday at the Most Magical Place on Earth! Join in at all the parades, the rides, the shows… Come and see what has made Walt Disney World a must-see travel destination!
  3. Meet the Characters from Tangled– Did your little princess or prince love Rapunzel or Flynn Rider? Well, did you know you can meet them at the Magic Kingdom? That’s right! The beautiful princess and her prince now have their own Meet and Greet area in Fairytale Garden, near the castle side entrance to Fantasyland. Come to this new interactive Play and Greet!
  4. Duffy– So this may not be the MAIN reason, to go to Walt Disney World, but it’s a pretty fun thing to do while you’re here! For years, Duffy has been a popular character at Tokyo Disneyland. In October 2010, he arrived at Epcot for his own Meet and Greet! Duffy, for those of you who are wondering who I am talking about, is Mickey’s teddy bear. He’s a soft, cuddly bear with a “Hidden Mickey” on his face and paws. And of course, the Duffy merchandise abounds! You can get a seasonal Duffy bear, a HUGE Duffy bear, or a plain Duffy that you can dress anyway you want in one of the many Duffy outfits that are available.
  5. Two New Epcot Eateries– Via Napoli opened this past August in the Italy pavilion. This authentic Neapolitan pizzeria features wood-burning ovens and serves wonderful pizza, salads, sandwiches and more. La Hacienda de San Angel is an indoor-outdoor restaurant right on the lagoon that features authentic Mexican dishes. This is the first of Disney’s new concept dining establishments that acts as a quick service eatery for lunch and a table service eatery for dinner.
  6. Disney Channel Rocks– This new street show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios replaces the old High School Musical street performance. This new high energy show features songs that your tweens and teens will know all too well (and most parents will know them all too well, too). You’ll hear tunes from Hannah Montana, Sonny With a Chance, Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, Shake it Up!, JONAS LA, Starstruck and more.  Some guests will even be invited on stage to dance!
  7. Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival– This fall-time event usually lasts from the beginning of October through the middle of November. You’ll be able to enjoy food and drinks from around the World. Besides the usual 11 pavilions, you will find food and wine kiosks from other countries as well such as Ireland, Belgium and South Korea, along with several others. You’ll also be able to enjoy regional entertainment. You can also take in the Eat to the Beat concert series, which highlights performers from years past! For more information on the Food and Wine Festival, click here.
  8. Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival– This event runs from March 2, 2011 through May 15, 2011 and showcases a colorful display of flowers, gardens, topiaries, entertainment and more. During the festival, you will find special entertainers from the 1960’s and 1970’s at the America Gardens Theatre during the Flower Power Concert Series. For more information on the Flower and Garden Festival, click here.
  9. Star Tours– This full-motion flight simulator is currently closed while it is being renovated and being made into a 3D attraction. BUT it will open in 2011 with all new 3D imagery, and any Star Wars fans in your family will be thrilled! New journeys and exciting destinations await. In the meantime, guests can enjoy shopping at Tatooian Traders and can watch (and maybe participate) in Jedi Training Academy, right by the attraction.
  10. The Feeling of Being a Kid Again– Many people go to WDW for their kids. But those of us who go more often know that the fun and excitement is not just for kids. The second I walk into Magic Kingdom, I revert to a kid again. I get more excited than my kids when I see the characters, and I cry when I see the castle for the first and last time of each trip. I remember growing up at Walt Disney World and watching it change through the years. I laugh and squeal on the rides, and I am just as excited as the kids to get a Mickey Bar! Plan that Disney trip in 2011, but don’t just do it for your kids- do it for you, too!

For more information or for a free no-obligation quote, contact us at www.magicalmousecapades.com!

Disney Dream Depot Brings Disney to You!

December 15, 2010 at 10:29 pm | Posted in Disney Dream Depot, Disney Travel Planning, Disneyland, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World Mom's Panel, Walt Disney World Resort | Leave a comment
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Do you like  love Disney? Do you like to hear about what’s new at Disney or learn about different things pertaining to all things Disney? Then Disney Dream Depot. (www.disneydreamdepot.com) is for you. Disney Dream Depot was created in late 2009 by some people who didn’t make it through the final rounds of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel interviews. This group wanted to help others plan their Disney vacations and serve as a source of information for people looking to go to Walt Disney World for their 1st visit or their 100th visit. They are not trying to compete with the WDW Moms Panel- they are simply trying to share their love of Disney.

The website consists of several different areas: blog posts, forums, friends, events, groups and more. The site is open for anyone to start a forum question. You can also find Disney Dream Depot on Twitter (@disneydreamdepo) and on Facebook.  

Every Thursday night from 9:00-10:00 pm EST, you can find the Disney Dream Depot chat. Two “Dreamers” host a live web chat on www.disneydreamdepot.com discussing various Disney topics. You will even hear guest hosts that are pretty familiar with different Disney things. There is a chat room available for the listeners to ask questions. It’s a lot of fun, and everyone should join. If you can’t make the chat, you can also download them at a later time on ITunes.

Come join the Dreamers as they answer your Disney questions!

Megan, Pennsylvania: Megan is the mother of 3 awesome Kiddos, and a lover of all things Disney! With 2 self proclaimed princesses, Megan has lots of ideas to help you make the most of all that Disney has to offer your little princess . . .want to find Prince Charming? Ariel? Dine with Royalty? She’s here to help you do just that. Did you know that you can find Cinderella’s pals Jaq and Gus in the Castle? She’ll tell you where!

But don’t be fooled into thinking she doesn’t know what the little guys want either…her oldest is a guy who loves all that Disney Parks have to offer him.

Sprinkling pixie dust over itineraries for her family and friends quickly fills what little spare time she has between caring for her family, working as a guidance counselor, and managing her custom photo gift company.

Jennifer, Pennsylvania: “I’m the Disney mom of a Disney family. I have one son, 6, whose favorite game to play in the car is “What ride am I thinking of at Disney?”. I work at home as a freelance clinical editor, and spend much of my free time volunteering at my son’s school and in his activities.  I have been to Disney more than 10 times. I have been as a teenager, married-no-kids, pregnant, and with my son. I am currently planning a holiday trip with my parents, who have never been. I love learning about Disney and sharing my tips and tricks with others.”

Lynne, Texas: “I am a single mom living in Houston with a beautiful teenage princess and a lifelong love of Disney. We are currently planning our 20th trip to the world for next summer, and love to try new restaurants, events and activities every time we go. I especially love to help “first-timers” plan their trips to share a little bit of the Magic. I love all kinds of Disney Trivia, and have also visited Disneyland Paris and the Original Disneyland! To me, there are two kinds of people – those who love Walt Disney World, and those who don’t know it yet!”

Mike, Pennsylvania: “I’m a father to my Disney loving son and a husband to my Disney loving wife. I really enjoy being a part of a Disney family now because I really didn’t grow up in a Disney family. I grew up in Arizona and I only got to Disney Land twice as a kid, and Disney World was out of the questions as it was to far away. The addiction for me really didn’t start until I was an adult and had to attend a business meeting in Orlando. Since I was already going out to Orlando, I decided to bring my wife and spend some time before the meeting at WDW. All I can say about that trip was WOW. It was then that I really began to love Disney World. In fact, my wife and I loved it so much we even flew her parents out to watch our young son while we took an adult trip to WDW. A few years later, after our son turned 4, we returned to WDW and brought him with us. It was so amazing to watch his face as we introduced him to the magic that is Disney. It was then and there that the addiction really raised its little head. By the next year we owned annual passes and went on 3 family trips to Walt Disney World. All in all, I’ve been to WDW and Disney Land a total of 13 times. The addiction remains healthy and is now to point that we start to twitch if we don’t got about every three months. I hope you enjoy reading and talking about disney on the site and will continue to use us as a resource for you future trips.”

Lea, Texas: “I am a working mother of 2 wonderful kids! I was raised going to Walt Disney World every summer. As I got older, I fell in love with Disney even more, especially once I began bringing my children to Disney. I am a Disney Travel Planner as well as an outside sales professional. I love chatting Disney with whoever will listen! And I am THRILLED to be a part of the Disney Dream Depot so I can help others plan their magical trips!”

Shaene, North Carolina: “I have been to Disney World 20+ times.
I got married at the Wedding Pavilion at the Grand Floridian in 2007 and honeymooned on Disney Cruise Line.
I have been to Disney Land once.
I have no kids, but I have taken foster children to Disney World twice.
I believe in sharing the Disney magic with everyone I can and truly believe in the motto of “Faith, Trust, & Pixie Dust”.
As Walt said “It was all started by a Mouse…”

Jim, New Jersey: “Hi! My name is Jim and I am a married dad of two (my son is 11 and my daughter is 7). I have been to WDW somewhere in the 40 times range and find new experiences every time I go. I am a DVC member since 2001 and love all things Disney! I didn’t start loving Disney only when the kids came, because about 25 of my trips were without kids PRIOR to kids! Very excited to be part of the Disney Dream Depot team…here to answer any questions and help plan vacations at the BEST place in the world!”

Rob, Virginia: “Hello hummmmmans! I am Rob, a Disney obsessed husband and father who works in the maritime industry in order to fund my addiction. My Disney life began at the ripe old age of two when my Aunt took me on my first trip (of many as a child) to Disneyland. As an adult my wife and I had our honeymoon at Disney World in 2006 and have been addicted ever since. That addiction eventually led to us becoming DVC Members in 2009 and sufficiently infecting our two boys with a love for Disney as well (and we have to start on a third one in February!). I love helping people figure out the ins and outs of Disney vacations, getting the most out of their experience. I am happy to answer any and all questions you might have, especially about DVC!”

The Magic Behind the Walt Disney World Moms Panel

July 28, 2010 at 1:02 am | Posted in Disney Travel Planning, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort | 3 Comments
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The Walt Disney World Moms Panel is becoming very well-known in and outside of the Disney community. The panel began a few years ago and since that time has answered many thousands of questions from people like you planning their Disney vacations. Many of them were planning their first ever trip, and others were planning their 15th and 20th trips. But as you may or may not know, there is a LOT to do at Walt Disney World. The Moms Panel is full of FANTASTIC people who are Walt Disney World experts. They have stayed there, played there, eaten there and more.

One of the very first members of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel was Laura Spencer. Since then, she has gone on to work for Walt Disney World in Social Media for Disney Parks. She is part of the magic behind the current Moms Panel. I was lucky enough to have Laura answer some questions for me!

1.  Your job is fascinating to all Disney fans. Tell us what exactly you are responsible for on a daily basis.  Social Media for Disney Parks

 2.  You were on the 1st Walt Disney World Moms Panel. What made you decide to apply? My love for all things Disney and I knew NOBODY knew as much about Walt Disney World as I did LOL! I am also a mom of color and I didn’t see a lot of Disneyphiles out there like me in the blogosphere and fan sites and I wanted to connect with more!

 3.  What was the best experience while on the Moms Panel? I had already been helping people plan their trips to Walt Disney World before the panel came into existence for years, so doing it on a large scale for even more people was really great! 

4.  How did being on the Moms Panel bring you to work for Disney?  I have almost 25 years of experience in marketing, sales and public relations in many industries, so my resume and experience was solid. It was a natural transition to doing what I know to doing what I love.

 5.  What is the best thing about working for Disney? Working for Disney.

 6.  What was one unexpected thing you found while working for Disney?   That it is still magical, even for Cast Members. 

7.  What is your favorite WDW theme park and why?  Magic Kingdom. There is a castle. I’m a princess. Nuff said.

 8.  What is your favorite WDW resort and why?  Disney’s Old Key West Resort. It was my family’s home-away-from-home and my dear grandmother’s favorite resort. She is since passed on, so visiting there brings back many happy memories. 

9.  What is your favorite WDW restaurant and why? It changes from month to month, but right now it’s Jiko since I became a vegan. 

10. What is your favorite WDW attraction and why?  it’s a small world. It is the classic that my family always makes time for.

11. Does your family share your love of Disney?   Of course.

 12. How does Disney influence you as a mom?  It doesn’t. I think being a mom is truly the best job in the world and I love it! That would be true with or without Mickey.  However in my opinion the Walt Disney Company does offer families the best quality when it comes down to family-friendly entertainment, products and movies. Most moms want the best for their families, so yeah, my house is full to the brim with Disney stuff!

 13. What is your favorite Disney movie?  I love “Lady and the Tramp” because the lullaby sung by Darling to the new baby has the word “Lu” in it. Lou is my nickname used by only my closest of friends. The song also has the world “pink” in it and anybody who knows me knows, that I always wear pink somewhere, everyday. I still sing that song to my daughter every night before she falls asleep. 

14. If you could tell us one thing about what makes Disney special, what would it be?  Cast members truly want to make everyone’s visit magical.

The Countries of World Showcase-Part 5: Italy

June 14, 2010 at 1:46 am | Posted in Disney Travel, Disney Travel Planning, Epcot, Italy, Italy, World Showcase | Leave a comment
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Ciao, and welcome to Italy! We are on the 5th stop of our trip around World Showcase. Italy is a beautiful pavilion, filled with the beautiful architecture of Venice. Stroll the Italian piazza and take in the eateries, the shops, the jugglers, music and more. The attention to detail in this pavilion is stunning. You’ll find it in the bridges, gondolas, colorful barber poles, the Neptune fountain in the central Plaza de Teatro, and a stunning 83-foot version of the bell tower, Campanile of St. Mark’s Square. The detail is so great in the Tower, there is even an angel atop the tower covered in real gold leaf. The scaled-down campanile was sculpted on model of the original, right down to the curls on the back of the head. Other statues in the relatively small pavilion, including the sea God, Neptune, are similarly exact.

The Italy pavilion even has an island, like Venice. The seawall is stained with “age” plus there are moorings that look like barber poles with Venetian-like gondolas tied to them. St. Mark the Evangelist is also remembered along with the lion that is the saint’s companion and Venice’s guardian. He can be seen atop two massive columns that flank the arched footbridge that connects the island to the mainland. The only deviation from Venetian reality is the alteration of the site of Doge’s Palace in reference to the real St. Mark’s square.

Italy is a horticultural-lover’s dream. On the island, you will find Kumquat trees, citrus plants typical of the Mediterranean. There are also a couple of olive trees originally located in Sacramento, California. The trees were transported to Orlando on a flat-bed truck. They actually arrived smaller than they were when they left California. As they were in Arizona, border inspectors mandated they be trimmed to the 10-foot length required by state law. They were actually shorned en route. The scars from their traumatic travel remain. The darker bark you see would be from the original and the lighter bark you see would be the new growth. You will also find in the pavilion tall column-like trees that are called Italian cypresses.

Shopping in the Italian pavilion is reminiscent of real-life Italy. At Enoteca Castello, located at the edge of the piaza, you will find red and white Italian wines, chocolate, espresso, cookbooks, and decorative bottle toppers. At Il Bel Cristallo, you will find an abundance of sports-themed apparel and accessories plus purses, wallets, bags, scarves, ties, fragrances, and jewelry. One of my favorite World Showcase shops is La Bottega Italiana. This beautiful little shop is an eclectic blend of decorative ceramics and glassware along with handcrafted Venetian masks, ranging in price from $30 to $500.

Dining in the Italy pavilion is pretty limited, but there is more coming! The table-service restaurant in Italy is called Tutto Italia. This is one of the most popular restaurants in Epcot. Recently, they expanded the outdoor seating area, which makes for one of the best people-watching spot in all of Epcot. Tutto Italia serves traditional appetizers like fried calamari, fresh mozzarella with tomatoes and basil and Caesar salad. Entrees include fresh pastas, fish, pork, chicken, and paninis at lunch. New on the horizon is Via Napoli, an authentic Italian-style pizzeria! This new restaurant is set to open in 2010. The menu will feature several Neapolitan pizzas, such as pizza bianca, quattro stagioni, piccante, and traditional Margherita pizza. Famed Pizzaiolo Charlie Restivo will serve as the restaurant’s executive chef.  The water at Via Napoli will even be calibrated specially to the pH found in Naples to make for an even more authentic pizza experience. For more on Via Napoli, go to Disney Food Blog.

While one of the smaller pavilions, Italy is among the more authentic and a true delight. Take your time while exploring, and take in the sights, sounds and smells. And make sure while you are there, you search for Sergio, the Italian clown juggler!

The Italy pavilion, with the author's daughter in the corner.

Wordless Wednesday

May 26, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Posted in Disney Travel, Disney Travel Planning, Magic Kingdom, Main Street, Uncategorized, Walt Disney World Resort | 1 Comment
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Pondering the day's activities on Main Street

The Countries of World Showcase- Part 4: Germany

May 24, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Posted in Biergarten, Disney Travel, Disney Travel Planning, Epcot, Germany, Walt Disney World Resort, World Showcase | 1 Comment
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Guten Tag, and welcome to Germany! This is our fourth installment of our trip around Epcot’s World Showcase! Today, we are visiting the beautiful and quaint Germany pavilion. This 16th-century picture-perfect village is dominated by a fountain depicting St. George’s victory over the dragon while on a pilgrimage the Middle East. Monuments to St. George, the patron saint of soldiers, are common throughout Bavaria. An animated glockenspiel (like the one in Munich) comes to life every hour above the platz (plaza), complete with Hummel figurines and a melody composed especially for Epcot. In the Germany pavilion, you can enjoy a beer, indulge in bratwurst and other types of sausage or stroll through one of the magnificent shops! Kids can also meet one of their favorite princesses, Snow White along with the Prince and Dopey near Snow White’s wishing well.

Germany’s architecture is simply beautiful and was inspired by Bavaria and the Rhine region of Germany. The buildings are not precise replicas of buildings in Germany. Instead, the Imagineers of the pavilion adapted German structures to fit the need and scale of the World Showcase. The facade of the art and book shop was inspired by the Kaufhaus, which is a 16th century merchants hall located in Freiburg in the Black Forest. The high wall that serves as the backdrop for Germany was inspired by Eltz Castle, located on the Mosel River and the Stahleck Castle on the Rhine.

Hungry? Then Germany is the perfect place to be! Biergarten celebrates Oktoberfest every day! Here you can enjoy Oktoberfest Musikanten show, a 6-person musical group that performs traditional Bavarian music with singing, dancing, and yodeling while partaking in a delicious meal of sausages, red cabbage, sauerkraut, spaetzle and schnitzel. The Biergarten restaurant reflects the 16th century town of Rothenberg. This lively restaurant is an indoor German courtyard, and it serves lunch and dinner. Seating is at long communal tables so everyone can be part of the Oktoberfest celebration. Ready for dessert (as I always am)? Biergarten offers up tasty Bavarian cheesecake, freshly baked apple strudel and more! Raise a stein of German beer or a glass of Rhine wine or other drink selection, and say “Prost” as you enjoy the food, entertainment and company! Biergarten is on the Disney Dining Plan! Make sure and make your Advanced Dining Reservations.

Do you want to experience quick German food? Then you will enjoy Sommerfest, Germany’s quick-service restaurant. Sommerfest serves up bratwurst, frankfurters,  cake and strudel. Of course, you can also enjoy a German beer! If you’re just in the mood for a traditional German beer, you can head over to Bierline, which is a walk-up cart serving beer, wine and pretzels.

Shopping is fun for both adults and kids in Germany. The shops interconnect on both side of the cobblestoned central platz. Das Kaufhaus stocks a nice selection of Adidas sportswear. Volkskunst’s walls are covered with Schneider cuckoo clocks, and the shelves are stocked with limited edition steins and glassware. Der Teddybar features Engel-Puppen dolls and Steiff plush toys. You will also find the Kidcot stop at the back of the store. Kunstarbeit in Kristall has beautiful Swarovski pins, glassware and Arribas Brothers collectibles. Look for the $37,500 replica of Cinderella’s castle, made out of 20,000 Swarovski crystals. You will find 300 varieties of German wines at Weinkeller. You can also take advantage of wine tasting opportunities. Head over to Sussigkeiten for imported sweets and fresh-baked goods such as fudge and cookies. Do you love Christmas? Then you don’t want to miss Die Weihnachts Ecke where you can find Christmas ornaments and handmade nutcrackers. Glas und Porzellan showcases Goebel and Hummel glass and porcelain objects. Sometimes you can even find a German artist painting the delicate M.I. Hummels there!

Food and shopping are the true attractions in the Germany pavilion. You also will find a 1930’s miniature train village. This village was originally created for the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, but they kept it around due to the popularity. The village is complete with a castle, farmhouse, monastery and a wee commuter railroad!

When EPCOT Center was being planned, one of the planned attractions was a boat ride that would take guests past mini-recreations of famous German tourist spots, like the Black Forest and Cologne Cathedral. The building that was to house the attraction was eventually completed, but budget overruns forced Disney Imagineers to cancel the project. This building still stands today behind the scenes. It is empty and is mainly used as a rehearsal space for the various high school bands that sometimes perform at Epcot.

Germany is a beautiful and fun pavilion! Have a beer and a pretzel and stroll through the shops as you take in the atmosphere!

Meet Zanna! A True Disney Mom!

May 19, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Posted in Disney Travel, Disney Travel Planning, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Downtown Disney, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Mom's Panel, Walt Disney World Resort | 1 Comment
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As you all know, I have a bit of an obession with all things Disney. While reaching out and finding others who share my passion, I found Suzannah DiMarzio, or Zanna (you can read her wonderful blog at www.zannaland.com) on Twitter. In the year that I have “known” Zanna, she has proven to be a wonderful person and friend. Her love of her family and of Disney come through with all tweets and blog posts. I am truly looking forward to finally meeting her in person this October during the 5K weekend.

This past September, Zanna began the process of applying for the Walt Disney World Mom’s Panel. The Mom’s Panel is made up of several moms and dads who are true Disney fans. These people are the epitome of Disney experts. All of us on Twitter knew from the start that Zanna would be a perfect fit for the Mom’s Panel. We all cheered her on from the time they announced they were accepting applications, through her 2nd and 3rd round interviews and then finally when she made the announcement that she was selected to join this great group of people!

Read on for more information on Zanna and how she incorporates her love of Disney into her every day life, including being a mom and wife!

1.  Tell us about your childhood interest in Disney…

My dad grew up in Ocala Florida and his family still lived there, so I know visited Magic Kingdom at about 7 months old (so 1974) and again at around I think 4 or 5, but I don’t remember those visits at all. The trip that changed my life and made me a Disney fan was in the summer of 1983. My parents decided to drive down and make stops along the way over and back to various historic sites (Philadelphia Baltimore, Washington DC, Charleston and Savannah). In the middle, we spent some time at Disney World. I don’t remember how long, it must’ve been a week though. We stayed at the Lake Buena Vista Villas which were located in what is now the Saratoga Springs area. It was beyond amazing to me, at 9 to check into a townhouse-like ‘hotel’ and get our own golf cart and be able to drive to the then Lake Buena Vista Marketplace. I fell in love with EPCOT Center then too. We visited again with my older siblings the next year, and the year after that, my parents and I moved to Ocala. They opened a homemade ice cream shop (named after me) and we’d visit EPCOT almost every other Monday when the shop was closed. I can’t really describe the magic that exists at Walt Disney World, but I think it’s mostly the feeling of being able to leave the real world behind and let your imagination take over. 
 

2.  How did that change as you got older?

As I moved through 6th – 8th grade, it was well-known by family and friends that we were just always at Disney. We visited other areas in Florida, and we’d join my mom’s family when they would vacation for the summer in the southeast part of Maine, but Walt Disney World became home. We built up so many memories there that, to paraphrase a quote from fellow Moms Panelist Andi, it became a living book of treasured memories. 

In the middle of 8th grade, we moved to Lynchburg, VA. It was during that time that our multiple visits to Disney World stopped, but we did try to go once a year. It was then that we discovered Disney’s Beach Club resort. We fell in love. Being originally from New England and having the resort be so close to our favorite Epcot, it was just perfection.

In the middle of high school I moved back to Massachusetts with my mom. We didn’t get down there too often, but I did find several other Disney fans in school. As a result, the senior trip that usually took place in Caribbean each year, was split into two groups, because so many people wanted to go to Disney World instead. That was a fun trip too. After that, I didn’t get to the parks too much, but after trying out a few majors in a couple of colleges (Creative Writing for Children and Public Relations among them) I realized that what I really wanted to do was work for Disney as one of the people that booked the vacation packages. I then switched gears to a smaller school to get a degree in Travel and Tourism Management and use that to get a job in the travel company at Disney. The only problem was when I moved down there, the travel company had no openings. I took a job on Main Street, USA and hoped to transfer. However, in the meantime, I found a position in an actual travel agency and decided to start there. The company was just starting out, so I was able to move up quickly and become the leisure and cruise department manager. I left when I had my first son.

3. What is your family like?

I met my husband in high school. He played guitar and wanted to play music for the drama club, but got roped into acting because so few boys tried out for parts. He was a natural but it wasn’t until senior year that we started talking more and hanging out. I introduced him to musicals and he introduced me to Led Zeppelin. 😉 Luckily, he liked Disney too. His family had been when he was 13, but that was it. I remember knowing everything would be fine when we drove down to Disney during Spring Break of 1994 and stayed in All-Star Music together. We had a such a great time. I was able to convince him to move to Florida in 1995 with my mom and I and we all worked at Disney for a while. We were married in 1996 and had our reception at the Walt Disney World Dolphin hotel. Our first son was born in 1999, our daughter in 2000 and our youngest son was born in 2008. My husband is a Systems Engineer and also writes tech books. Our oldest son is very into video games, usually on Xbox 360. He also loves to read and write. He has a killer sarcastic wit, which assures me daily that yes, he is mine. Our daughter is into gymnastics, swimming and loves helping with her baby brother. She detests pink much to my dismay, but she is still a princess in her own right. Our youngest son is a bundle of energy that keeps us laughing, smiling and warms our hearts daily. He is fearless and so far he shows all the signs of being a Disney fan too. My mom lives nearby and is a cruise agent. She likes to plan most of our family vacations to Disney and is very much like a fairy godmother to all of us. 

4.  Do they share your love of Disney?

Oh yes. They would live there if they could. My older two are at the age where they don’t like to admit they like it as much as they do, but they always find something new to make each visit special when we go. My oldest son in particular is very into finding Hidden Mickeys. They both collected pins for a while, but never got into the act of “trading” them. 😉 They now both love Vinylmation which has become a family activity (being obsessed with them).
 

5. How many days a year are you in the Disney parks?

This is something I really wish I’d kept track of, but sadly I never did. I’d love to know from day one exactly how many visits, including working there and being Florida residents, I’ve had. Before starting the blog and being chosen for the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, we’d probably go once a month, with a couple of longer stays throughout the year for birthdays. Since I started blogging and connecting with people on twitter, there haven’t been too many weekends that I’m not in the Parks. It’s been a completely different experience visiting the Parks solo, or with friends vs. with family and I’m very lucky and grateful that I’m able to do both. 
 

6. What is your favorite Walt Disney World restaurant?

My answer seems to change every week when I do my Meet the Moms Panel series on ZannaLand and read their answers. Just when I think I have one favorite, I read their choice and think “ooh, that’s a good one too!” I really do love Citricos though and that’d probably be my top pick if I wanted a nice dinner out with my husband. California Grill would be next on that list. For the whole family, we love Japan’s Teppan Edo, Les Chefs de France, Germany’s Biergarten, Le Cellier, Kona Cafe…I really should stop. 😉

7. What is your favorite Walt Disney World Resort and why?

It really is hard for me to pick one, because I have 3 top favorites: Disney’s Beach Club, Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge. I love them all for different reasons and would feel at home at any of them. Beach Club reminds me of New England and of course the pool there is just amazing. I love its convenient location too. Wilderness Lodge is just comfort defined. I feel so at home there and love the sights sounds and smells. Animal Kingdom Lodge has a similar feel, and I love that there are just so many areas to explore within the lobby alone. There is nothing that quite compares to waking up to zebra and giraffes grazing outside your window. For me, the resort has always been as much a part of the vacation as the Disney parks and other attractions. I love the relaxing feel you get as you leave the real world behind and make your Disney resort your home away from home.  

 

8. What is your favorite Walt Disney World attraction?

My two favorite attractions actually don’t exist anymore. The original Journey into Imagination and Horizons. I have such love for them because they represent a time when EPCOT Center was new and really made me love Walt Disney World. I thought the original Imagination ride was a complete work of art and it saddens me so much that whoever was in charge made the decision that it needed to change. It was a perfect representation of the different parts of imagination and things like the white room and the senses room and the science room were just amazing. I loved the photo at the end too, with no attempt to sell you a picture, it was just part of the magic of the experience.

Horizons was reminiscent of Carousel of Progress, which has always been a favorite too. I loved that there was a *story* to the attraction and the extras like the orange grove smell and the ‘choose your ending’ parts really made it unique. I understand that rides have to appeal to a broader audience and most people want action vs. story, but those two rides will always be my favorite for those reasons. I loved World of Motion too. I have most of the original EPCOT Center album memorized. 😉

Of existing rides, I love Soarin’. I wish there were about 5 more theatres so it wasn’t quite such a long wait for a short ride, but I still love it and think it’s a wonderful ride. I love Toy Story Mania! too and think it’s a great example of combining story with new ride technology. Outside of that, I’m a sucker for the classics; it’s a small world, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pirates of the Caribbean, the TTA (which will always be the Wedway People Mover to me). I love Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain, but I’m always going to love the older, simpler attractions because of the history they have. 
 

9. What is your favorite Walt Disney World theme park and why?

Epcot. Or I should say EPCOT Center circa 1985. 😉 I still love the park despite the changes. I walk through that park and thousands of memories flood over me. I love all of the countries and how you can have a different experience every time you visit the park. Magic Kingdom I love because I worked there, so I have great memories of that park, plus so many with my children. I love the Studios because it was my dad’s favorite park, but I do miss the old Residential Street and original backstage tour and special effects tour. Animal Kingdom I will always love because it is a park of discovery and you can just explore and drink in the surroundings. So…I like them all for different reasons, but I think Epcot wins out by a little. 

10. Tell me about your decision to apply to the Walt Disney World Mom’s Panel…

I hadn’t heard about the Moms Panel until the end of 2008, when the application process for the 2009 panel began. I believe it was in the allears.net newsletter that I saw a little blurb about it and thought, “oh, Disney? Moms? online? I can do that!” So I wrote out my answers in Word, pasted them into the little boxes, hit submit, and promptly forgot about it. Then in October I got an email about the Mickey Moms Club, realized that I didn’t make it and thought “aww.” but that was it. It wasn’t until starting to interact with other Disney fans on twitter and meeting some of the 08 and 09 moms there, that I felt like “wait, I HAVE to do this.” I’m sure the buzz online contributed to my obsession. I realized how much fun the panelists had with each other, and wanted to experience that in the context of helping others plan their Disney vacations, something that was really second nature to me. I knew with my experience as a visitor alone I could help, but combining that with my cast member experiences, my travel agent knowledge and my time online, I figured (and hoped) it would be a perfect fit.

Of course I found out during the application process that when you paste answers in, they can come across completely garbled and unreadable. So I wasn’t sure if my first attempt had been foiled because of that, or more likely, because I approached the first application like a resume, trying to “prove myself” worthy. The second time, I spoke from my heart and shared personal experiences vs. facts and figures. I’m not sure if that made a difference or not, but I’m of course extremely grateful that Disney saw something in me and I made it onto the panel. 

11. Can you describe the process of the Mom’s Panel?

Well, in the past, during the month of September, www.DisneyWorldMoms.com will have a link to apply to the WDW Moms Panel. On that page, you answer 3 questions in 100 words or less about you, your family, and your experience as a Disney fan. The questions vary slightly each year. I have no insight into *how* they choose people from the 1,000’s of applications they get, but I can only advise to put your passion into words. Don’t just say “I’m really passionate” show them how you are. With that many applications, they really have to weed through any spelling or grammar errors, so watch out for those. Just be yourself, and let the real you shine.

After that first cut, somewhere around 200 people advance to round 2, which is another set of three essay questions. Usually they are a little more in-depth and may ask for examples of your planning tips or skills, or what makes you unique and a good choice for the Panel. In the past, it’s usually been narrowed down to around 40 or so, but we aren’t sure how that went last year since there were double the amount of panelists added. Round 3 is a phone interview where you tell executive cast members about your experiences and why you feel you should be on the Panel. From there, the final Panel is chosen! It is an extremely exciting, nerve-wracking and exhilarating experience. It’s equally as much fun as it is ulcer-inducing. 😉

I know from speaking with a lot of people online, that sometimes it’s really hard to understand how the panelists are chosen and why some people with vast Disney knowledge or experience may get passed over. I have no answers for this because even after making the panel, we are not given any insight into how we were chosen or how future panelists will be chosen (and rightly so, it would taint the process if we knew). All I can say is that there are a LOT of people that love Disney. Disney loves and appreciates all their fans, and however they decide choose to select members of their panel, that decision should not diminish your love and passion for the Parks and Resorts. Keep spreading the magic and making memories, because that’s what it’s all about. 

12. What was one unexpected thing you discovered on the Mom’s Panel?

As a shy person in the real world (online is another story), I was worried that I wouldn’t fit in or be accepted by the rest of the panel. After all, how often do 21 (or 43 altogether) people actually have enough in common at first meeting to become friends? But the power of pixie dust is strong, and we all became instant friends. That in and of itself is such a powerful gift that I thank Disney for each day. There isn’t anyone on the panel that doesn’t want to help other people, and as much as it of course makes sense, it was an unexpected reality.

The other thing was just how addictive answering questions on DisneyWorldMoms.com can be. As my time approached to start answering questions, I became nervous that I wouldn’t be able to do a good job or that I’d even feel overwhelmed by the ‘job’ part of being on the panel. It was just an instant fit and the only downside is that I don’t have enough hours in the day to answer ALL the questions I see on there. 
 

13. What is your favorite thing about the Mom’s Panel?

Without a doubt, being a part of such an amazing, diverse group of moms and dads. I’ve learned something from each of them and I’m so grateful to call them all “friend”. The cast members in charge of the panel and other aspects of Disney Parks are all wonderful too. It’s been such a treat to get an insider’s look at some areas of how things are run, and of course it leaves you with wanted to do more with Disney. In addition, the support on twitter and other places online for the panel in general has been overwhelming. There are so many people with such a great love and knowledge of Disney, it’s nice to know that we are all one big family online.

Knowing that you are helping people head on their way to a magical Disney vacation is a wonderful feeling too. It’s especially nice when you get people that liked a previous answer you gave and come back and ask you more questions personally. I had one mom ask me about 3 different questions about her trip and it was so cool to know I was helping her plan a great trip. 

14. What are your family’s thoughts on the Moms Panel?

My husband and mom think it’s amazing and are really proud of me. The big kids didn’t really get that it was a big deal, until they got *their* picture in the paper too. 😉 Now they think it’s pretty cool. They love meeting other Moms Panel kids but what’s funny is they think that *everyone* I meet in the Parks now is on the Moms Panel. 

15. How does Disney impact your role as a mom and a wife?

It’s definitely made me appreciate my family more, and made me take stock of ALL the memories we’ve experienced over the year that turn into Disney traditions that they will hopefully pass on to their children as well. It’s definitely made me want to visit the parks more and gain even more experience to share with others who ask questions on the Moms Panel, and readers of my blog.

Disney was such an important part of my childhood and for a long time I avoided ’embracing’ my love of Disney World because so many people I met just didn’t ‘get it’. Becoming involved in twitter and finding so many other people that felt the same love for Disney really helped me embrace my passion and find out how to share it with others and help them create wonderful memories too. I am really lucky to have such an amazing support system in my husband, mom, children and friends that allow me to pursue my dreams. I’m even luckier to have Disney be a major part of those dreams.

I’d like to thank Zanna for taking the time out of her busy life to answer my questions! You can find her on the Moms Panel site, www.zannaland.com or on Twitter.

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