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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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!

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.

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.

The Countries of World Showcase- Part 3: China

May 11, 2010 at 3:38 am | Posted in China, Disney Travel, Disney Travel Planning, Epcot, Walt Disney World Resort, World Showcase | 2 Comments
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 你好 (Nǐ hǎo) and hello from China! World Showcase’s China pavilion is our 3rd stop as we travel around the “World”. China is a beautiful, serene pavilion in which you can enjoy a beautiful 360 CircleVision 360 movie, witness thousands of full-size terra cotta soldiers and horses from a lost tomb that date back 2000 years or enjoy a delicious Chinese meal at Nine Dragons Restaurant or a quick meal at Lotus Blossom Cafe. 

 

The focal point of the Chinese pavilion is the Temple of Heaven. The three-tiered, circular Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is a one-half scale reproduction of its counterpark inside the Temple of Heaven complex near Beijing. Many of the architectural details have significance to the Chinese. Inside the hall, you will find 12 columns. These columns represent the 12 months of the year and the 12-year cycle of the Chinese calendar. Near the center of the room, you will find four columns representing the four seasons. These columns support a beam that represents Earth and is topped by a round beam signifying Heaven. Outside of the Temple, you may find Mulan and Mushu. Inside, the temple, you will see the best of Disney’s Circle Vision 360 movies called Reflections of China. This 13-minute film is a remarkable film presentation  that takes you on a breathtaking visual journey across this amazing country. You will journey from Beijing to Shanghai, from inner Mongolia to the Forbidden City, from the distant lands of the Hunan province to the Great Wall, discovering all the brilliant facets of this Land of Many Faces. The host portrays 8th-century Chinese poet Li Bai.  

Reflections of China is shown on the half-hour. While you are waiting, you can take in the Land of Many Faces Gallery. You can also gaze 

at Tomb Warriors: Guardian Spirits of Ancient China in the House of the Whispering Willows Gallery. These are pint-sized replicas of the life-sized tomb warriors found in the 22-square-mile tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang; and cases displaying archaeological tools and photos. Much like the real army, the model soldiers all have distinct characteristics and realistic features. 

You can then be entertained by the Dragon Legend Acrobats. These are a fantastic troupe of children, typically 9-12 years old. These children are absolutely amazing and perform daily. They are a must-see! Inside the Temple of Heaven, you can listen to the beautiful harp-like music of Si Xian. Si Xian is the name of the harp-like music played on the Chinese zheng, an instrument resembling a table zither. This beautiful instrument was created more than 2000 years ago during the Qin dynasty. It is used as both a court instrument and a folk instrument , and it is now a member of the Asian zither family and is a very popular instrument. Si Xian plays at different times throughout the day. 

Knell Studio Works

Knell Studio Works

Ready to shop?  Then head over to Yong Feng Shangdian department store. This unique shop carries apparel, furniture, fountains, food, housewares and jewelry. You can also find fun panda items as well as kid items. Kids love the brightly colored parasols in which they can get their names written on them in the Chinese language. Kids can also locate the Kidcot stop towards the back of the pavilion. They also may come across Mulan and Mushu! 

Hungry? Then head over to Nine Dragons. Nine Dragons serves several different types of meals, many of which are perfect for sharing, including several Dim Sum favorites such as Shrimp and Chicken Egg Rolls served with plum-chili and ginger-soy sauces, General Tso’s Chicken Dumplings, and the Appetizer Trio, a sampler of cucumber salad, spicy beef and fragrant chicken. This restaurant was extensively renovated in 2008 and is a mixture of modernism and tradition. Chinese food is always best when served family style so make sure you order a number of dishes and share! Advanced Dining Reservations are recommended for Nine Dragons. 

Need something quick? Then head to Lotus Blossom Cafe! This quick-service restaurant serves up stir-fry, eggrolls, and a daily special. 

All in all, you will find a serene, peaceful and reflective area in China. The culture and the lands of China permeate throughout the pavilion. Find a seat and watch the people stroll along the lagoon! Enjoy and goodbye – 再见 (Zàijiàn). 

Amy at http://www.flickr.com/photos/teruterubouzu/

This post is part of the Disney Blog Carnival, go there to read more great posts like this!

The Countries of World Showcase: Part 2- Norway

April 27, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Posted in Disney Travel, Disney Travel Planning, Epcot, Norway, Walt Disney World Resort, World Showcase | Leave a comment
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Heisann and God Dag! Welcome to Norway! This is our 2nd stop in our trip around the World- World Showcase, that is! Epcot’s Norway will transport you to Scandinavia, old and new. Here you step back into the land of the Vikings! Epcot’s Norway contains a beautiful village square with traditional Norwegian architectural elements such as stone and wood designed to represent the Norwegian towns and cities of Bergen, Oslo, Alesund and Setesdahl. 

Norway is one of the two World Showcase pavilions with an actual ride. Here you can enjoy Maelstrom, but remember to look out for trolls. After you take your boat ride, you can dine on traditional Norwegian fare and with princesses at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall or enjoy a wonderful Kringla Sweet Pretzel at Kringla Bakeri og Cafe. Then stroll through the Stave Church and see “Vikings: Conquerors of the Seas”, which is a collection of authentic Norse weapons and artifacts. Shopping aficionados will love the fragrances, candy, hand-knit woolens, trolls, glass, pewter and more that can be found in Norway.

Maelstrom is Norway’s main attraction and is themed to Norway’s rich seafaring heritage. This is a FastPass attraction, but unless you are there at one of the busiest times, you shouldn’t have to wait more than 10-15 minutes. Maelstrom uses a 16-passenger boat to transport you through a 10th century Viking village and forest where trolls wind up casting a spell on your boat. After the curse is placed on the boat and trolls commandeer your ship, you will start going backwards before you reach a waterfall, where your boat will change course and turn around. After the waterfall, you go through a storm and arrive in a quaint Norwegian village. When you exit the boat, you will be in a holding area which will ultimately open in a small theatre that shows “The Spirit of Norway”,  a film on life in Norway. The film shows the daydreams of a young Norwegian boy. He examines an old Viking ship and imagines all types of successful Norwegians, which portray the film’s point- “The Spirit of Norway is in its people”. When the show is over, you exit into the store where you can don your viking horns and have your picture taken with the giant troll!

After your Maelstrom adventure, you can head over to Akershus Royal Banquet Hall, where you can dine with princesses for breakfast, lunch or dinner for ‘Princess Storybook Dining’. A word of advice- make sure you make your Advanced Dining Reservations! When you enter Akershus, you will have your photo taken with a princess (it was Belle the last time I was there). The photo package will be brought to you during your meal, and it is included with your meal. Akershus is patterned after its namesake castle, located in Oslo, Norway. You will meet five Disney princesses such as Alice, Ariel, Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, Esmerelda, Jasmine, Mary Poppins, or Mulan will come and visit you during your meal for photographs and autographs (princesses subject to change during each meal).  Breakfast is a Norwegian-style meal with an American feel, such as scrambled eggs, bacon, potato casserole and more. Lunch and dinner begin with a Taste of Norway assortment of cold meats and cheeses as well as various salads. From there, you order your main course. You can try lamb stew and kjottkake or stick to more traditional items such as different types of chicken. And don’t worry, Akershus is still a Disney restaurant and knows what kids like- hot dogs, pasta, pizza and grilled chicken.

For a sweet treat, stop by Kringla Bakeri og Kafe. This is a great pastry shop that serves breakfast or desserts. One of my favorites is the sweet pretzels- a must in my opinion. Use your Disney Dining Plan snack credits here!

There is one main store, The Puffin’s Roost, in Norway. This store runs the gamut. Here you can find Norwegian apparel such as pricey Dale of Norway woolen items, Christmas ornaments, toys, Geir Ness perfume, puffin stuffed animals, plastic trolls, Donald Duck vikings and silly plastic Viking helmets, some with braids and some with horns. You can also find the Norway Kidcot station here.  And don’t forget before you leave, to get your picture taken with the Giant Troll!

You can stroll through the old Stave Church Gallery to see Vikings: Conquerors of the Sea. This display shows a life-size Rognvald the Raider, a Viking who invaded and colonized France as well as Erik the Red, and King Olaf as well as a detailed scale model of a 9th century Viking ship. You can also see authentic swords, arrows and axe blades, some of which date back more than 1,000 years.  The Stave Churches (or Stavkirke) were built by Norwegians beginning in the year 1050. Norwegians knew woodworking the best so when St. Olaf brought Christianity to Norway, they turned to what they knew best and began building the churches  and blended Christian symbols and Viking images. Other wooden churches were built throughout Europe, but only ones in Norway remain. Out of the 1000 Norwegian Stave Churches built, only 28 remain.

Make sure you observe the four different types of architecture while strolling through Norway. Setesdal style, with grassy roofs and thick logs, projects a rough woods look in The Puffin’s Roost and Kringla Bakeri og Kafe. Bergen style, captured here in the Fjording Shop, is marked by gabled windows on close-set wooden buildings. Oslo style is marked by the surrounding walls of the Akershus Castle. Alesund style is typified by the white stucco and stone-trimmed information building where you find the entrance to the Maelstrom.

Norway is a beautiful part of World Showcase. There are many intricacies that you need to search for, and you can also find some Hidden Mickeys, for those of you who are Hidden Mickey fans! Enjoy Norway!

The Countries of World Showcase- Part 1: Mexico

April 19, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Posted in Disney Travel, Disney Travel Planning, Epcot, Mexico, Walt Disney World Resort, World Showcase | 4 Comments
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I find the countries of World Showcase to be fascinating. I love strolling through each country, learning about the history and culture and speaking to the cast members who originate from these countries.

This is the 1st blog post in a series. Travel around World Showcase with us as we explore each country’s pavilion. First up is MEXICO!

Hola y Bienvenidos a Mexico! We’re beginning our tour around World Showcase by going counter-clockwise! You begin your journey into Mexico by entering a tall pyramid modeled after an actual Aztec Temple of Quetzalcoatl at Teotihuacan, Mexico. Quetzalcoatl was traditionally known as the god of the morning and evening star.  Later he became known as the patron of priests, inventor of books and of the calendar and as the symbol of death and resurrection. He himself is depicted along Disney’s priests’ steps.  Inside you will find a huge gallery of cultural artifacts from different periods of Mexican history. From there, you will enter into an outdoor” colonial Mexican plaza, Plaza de los Amigos, where it is always twilight! Listen to the festive music, enjoy a drink in La Cava del Tequila or sit down for a delicious traditional meal in San Angel Inn.

Located in the back of the Plaza, you will find a smoking volcano and a Grand Mayan pyramid that rises above an indoor lagoon. There are colorful carts and shops offering all sorts of Mexican wares: Mexican jewelry, Kahlua, pottery, clothing and leather goods. There’s usually a strolling mariachi band, Mariachi Cobre, so you can partake in the sounds of Mexico as well. Kids can purchase their World Showcase passports here as well as enjoy the Kidcot Funstop, where they can color a mask and then add on to the mask in each country of World Showcase.

One of the more relaxing rides in Epcot is located in the Mexican pavilion- the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros. This ride is an update of the old El Rio Del Tiempo attraction and is usually a walk-on attraction, and while it’s not very exciting, it is entertaining and also serves as a great place to get off of your feet and cool off! It features Donald Duck, Jose Carioca and Panchito from Disney’s 1944 animated film “The Three Caballeros.”  The storyline has trouble-maker Donald disappearing en route to the Three Caballeros performance in Mexico City. The other caballeros go in search throughout Mexico for their friend! You can enjoy all sorts of Mexican scenery throughout the ride, even “fireworks”! You begin the ride in Mexico’s 1st century, sailing through a rainforest before you enter a Mayan pyramid and sailing into a temple. You will experience a Day of the Dead celebration and pass by Acapulco’s famous cliffs before you finally make it to Mexico City, where the Three Caballeros can finally perform!

Outside of the pavilion (to the right-hand side if you are facing the pavilion), you will find Donald Duck, dressed in his Mexican finest. He is there frequently throughout the day! Make sure that the kids have their autograph books ready and that you have your camera ready!

San Angel Inn is Mexico’s table-service restaurant. This restaurant overlooks the plaza and the boat ride, and it is very romantic as it appears you are dining in a moonlit courtyard. In the “distance”,  you will hear a rumbling volcano. The food is delicious and traditional. You can enjoy tortilla soup and a mouth-watering steak as well as churros and flan for dessert. San Angel Inn is open for lunch and dinner, and the Disney Dining Plan is accepted here. Reservations are recommended.

La Cava del Tequila is the newest (and one of the most fun) additions to Epcot. Opening in 2009, La Cava is a refreshing change to the Mexican pavilion and it celebrates the history and heritage of tequila. You can enjoy 70 different types of tequila (those over age 21) as well as margaritas and tapas-style appetizers. The resident “tequila ambassador” will educate guests on the history of tequila. Be prepared as La Cava is very popular, and it only seats 46!

Currently closed until fall 2010 for refurbishment, La Cantina de San Angel is great for a quick bite. You can enjoy nachos, tacos, churros, frozen margaritas and more. Once this establishment opens this fall, it will showcase a new type of dining experience at Epcot. You will find it to be a quick-service dining location at lunch and a table-service restaurant at dinner. This will greatly expand the number of people able to dine in the Mexican pavilion, and it will offer both indoor and outdoor seating. Find quick-service Mexican food at Taqueria Del Lago on the promenade.

Make sure you also take a look at Animales Fantasticos, Spirits in Wood: ” – In villages surrounding the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, artisans create fantastic wood carvings of animals, humans, and beasts. Their work is prized for the way they freely mix reality with magic. This modern folk art is also unique for the way it blends traditional with contemporary themes. In just a few short decades, Oaxacan woodcarving has become recognized as an important expression of how ancient cultures interact with a modern world.”

“Oaxacan parents tell stories to their children about fantasy animals that live in the nearby forests. Most of these magical creatures are mis-chief makers and the children are warned to stay clear of them. Today, these fantasy animals have emerged from the woods. They have been set free by the artisans who captured them in the branches of the trees. These brightly colored animals have traveled far from their home in Southwest Mexico, but bring with them their legendary playfulness.” (Quotes from the display, October 2001)

Shopping is a delight in the Mexican pavilion. You can bring home kids favorites such as sombreros, maracas and paper flowers. You can also find silver jewelry, as Mexico is well-known for its quality silver. You can find traditional pottery, glassware and decorative gifts as well leather goods, clothing, tequila, blankets and more.

Have a great time strolling through the land of Mexico! Adios!

Hitting Walt Disney World Solo!

February 28, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Posted in Caribbean Beach Resort, Disney Travel, Disney Travel Planning, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Downtown Disney, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World Resort | 3 Comments
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Me in front of Cinderella’s Castle

Recently, I had the chance to plan a solo Walt Disney World trip! Solo?!? Why on Earth would someone want to go the Most Magical Place on Earth all by themselves?  As someone who has always gone with family, I always wondered the same thing. As someone who has now experienced it solo, I can simply say DO IT!

My husband is a corporate pilot, and he was assigned an Orlando trip which was supposed to go from February 14-16. I was invited along! Great! Of course I’ll go! Well, as things typically go in the corporate aviation field go, plans changed. Our 2-night trip was cut back to 1 night. I began thinking, “what if I just stay an extra day and go explore?”. So I made the plans: got a Disney resort reservation, made a reservation for the Keys to the Kingdom tour and began to plan my ONE day at WDW by myself. Then plans changed again. Instead of arriving on Sunday, we would now be arriving on Friday night, and my husband would be leaving on Saturday evening. What to do? I had flight arrangements for Tuesday and my tour on Monday. After careful researching, I decided to stay on until Tuesday, giving me 2 FULL DAYS and 3 nights at Walt Disney World all by myself! What would I do?? The answer: ANYTHING I WANTED TO!

We arrived late Friday night and checked in at the beautiful Gaylord Palms Resort. We had an early Valentine’s Day dinner at  Old Hickory Steakhouse in the Gaylord Palms. What a wonderful place! If you ever are lucky enough to get to eat there, get the artisan macaroni and cheese! It’s delicious! We wandered around the hotel f or a bit, and then we decided it was off to bed as we were planning on waking up

Welcome Home!

and heading out! We awoke bright and early on Saturday to head to the Magic Kingdom! I felt like we were home! Nothing beats driving through the Walt Disney World Resort arch! We went straight to Jungle Cruise, Pirates and Big Thunder Mountain. It was so strange to be able to ride these sitting next to my husband and not my kids! Then we headed over to the Haunted Mansion, lunch at Columbia Harbour House, Buzz and Carousel of Progress. As we were getting on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, he received a text that signaled the end to his Magic Kingdom time! He had to head out to fly his boss home, leaving me alone on

Goofy in Frontierland!

Main Street USA during the Move It, Shake It Celebration. At first, I was so lonely, and I thought “What have I done?”. I saw all the smiling faces of the families around me, and it made me miss my family terribly! But then….I saw the tantrums. The meltdowns. The family arguments on where to go next, and I realized… I don’t have to deal with any of that!

I immediately headed over to Aloha Isle in Adventureland to get a Dole Whip Float. I sat down to enjoy it and watched the people go by!

My Dole Whip Float

 I walked around Magic Kingdom to take photos of whatever I wanted! It was extremely crowded due to the President’s Day Weekend, Daytona 500, cheerleading championship and more. I decided to head over to Wilderness Lodge to go take some resort pictures and enjoy a quick break. I jumped on the boat, and away I

Wilderness Lodge

went! I waited for the geyser to erupt (but quickly lost patience) so I went and wandered around. I bought an iced tea at Roaring Fork and sat down in one of the rocking chairs in front of the huge rock fireplace in the Wilderness Lodge lobby. It was cold out so the fireplace felt great!

I then hopped on the bus and headed over to Epcot! Crowds were an issue there, too- no more Fastpasses for Soarin’ and the wait was 120 minutes. I decided to try for Test Track in the Single Rider line, which said 20 minutes when I went in. By the time I sat in line for 30 minutes and heard the announcement that wait times would be longer than posted, I decided to head back out. When I walked out, the Single Rider line was up to 90 minutes! Whew!

Epcot

I walked over to World Showcase and began wondering through all of the pavilions. There were many stores I had never been in before because I had the kids with me, and they wanted to do their Kidcot stops! I took my time in each pavilion exploring and seeing what I

Italy Pavilion

may have missed before. Then I got hungry! I had no ADR that day so I decided to try my luck! I went to Tutto Italia, where I had never eaten before! I was able to get in with a minimal wait! I guess seating for 1 makes them feel sorry for you! I waited for about 5 minutes and then was seated! The food was great. The ambiance was very romantic (at least that’s what I gathered by watching others), and the service was great. I enjoyed listening to the Italian singers and just getting off of my feet for a bit! Then back out to World Showcase! I finished wandering through the pavilions and bought some gifts to bring home. Then I headed out the back entrance and walked over to the Boardwalk!

I had never been to the Boardwalk before, and I’m sorry I’ve missed it! I will definitely have to bring the family back! I have to say though that I am not a fan of the pool area. As many of you know, the Boardwalk pool has a

Boardwalk

 HUGE clown slide, and I HATE clowns! I strolled along the Boardwalk and went to the bakery where I ordered a Cheesecake Brownie- simply put, DELICIOUS. After walking around the resort for a little bit, I decided I was pretty dang tired so I hopped in a cab to head back to the Gaylord Palms!

Early Sunday, I woke up and rented a car so I could spend my Sunday exploring the Disney resorts! My first priority was breakfast! I headed over to the Polynesian Resort for my 10:20 ADR at Kona. Tonga Toast was

Tonga Toast from Kona!

calling my name! After stuffing myself with the banana-stuffed cinnamon-sugar rolled French Toast, I jumped on the monorail to the Grand Floridian Resort to explore! I had never been able to truly explore any of these resorts before! What a beautiful resort! I watched the crazy kids play in the pool, wishing I had mine with me (although it was way too cold for me to have allowed my kids to get in the water- call me an overprotective mom)! I walked to the far

Grand Floridian Resort

 end of the resort and enjoyed the site of  Magic Kingdom before me! I walked along the beach and walked through the great shops!

After riding the monorail back to my car at the Polynesian, I decided to head up to the Value Resorts. I had visited Pop Century before breakfast so I went over to the All-Star Resorts. I knew I had to make it to All-Star Movies to see the Toy Story section, as my 3-year old LOVES anything to do with Toy Story! What a cool place!

Toy Story section at All-Star Movies Resort

Then I was off to Animal Kingdom Lodge, Coronado Springs (simply beautiful), Port Orleans French Quarter (where I sat and enjoyed some beignets) and Port Orleans Riverside. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to spend time at the various resorts. I knew it was something I could never do with my kids. And how magical it was to be able to take it all in and watch the kids’ eyes light up when they realized that they were checking in to their hotels at WALT DISNEY WORLD! It brought tears to my eyes on several occasions! Being alone gives you a lot of time to think, and I was remembering vividly my kids’ first times at Walt Disney World- the excitement, the fatigue, the amazement. My daughter was 3 when we brought her for the first time. We stayed at Wilderness Lodge, and the look on her face when we walked into the majestic lobby was absolutely priceless.

Late in the afternoon, I headed over to Hollywood Studios to meet up with a Twitter friend, Maria. I enjoyed the

Maria and Me at Hollywood Studios

 Block Party Bash, and then I went off to meet Maria and her husband and four daughters. What a sweet family! They were off to spend time in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area. I decided to head the other way to take some more park photos. It was too crowded to ride my favorite ride, Toy Story Midway Mania, so I continued to just explore! I was wearing down after all those resorts so I then was off to try to get in to a table-service restaurant. They weren’t accepting walk-ins at Mama Melrose’s so I decided to head to another

Sci-Fi Diner

place I had never been to- Sci-Fi Drive-In. I was amazed when I was able to get a table- in one of the cars, nonetheless! What a fun experience! The kids around me were enthralled by being able to eat in a car and watch TV while they ate! I was hoping to catch Fantasmic, but with the crowds, I decided it was best to head out to check in to my new hotel- the Hilton at the Walt Disney World Resort!

I checked in and decided to head across the street to Downtown Disney to do a little shopping and exploring! I’ve never had the chance to wonder aimlessly at Downtown Disney before so I took the chance! I drove around for a while and finally found a parking space and then headed straight for World of Disney,

World of Disney

 my favorite store. Then I decided to indulge in a warm cookie fudge sundae from Ghiradelli (would have posted a picture but I ate it too fast). After my treat, I decided to head back to relax as I had an early Monday! It was a great Sunday, although I missed having my sweetheart with me on Valentine’s Day!

Monday came up fast! I was up early checking out of the Hilton and checking in at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. Then I was off to do something I would never be able to do with my kids here- The Keys to the Kingdom Tour (you must be 16 to attend the tour).  My tour started at 9:00 so I arrived at Magic Kingdom

at a little after 8:00. I checked in for the tour and then walked around Main Street USA and enjoyed the

The Mayor on Main Street

emptiness! There is nothing more beautiful than seeing the castle without a massive crowd in front of it! I walked down Main Street and up through the castle and then slowly wandered back near the Main Street Train Station where I took in the pre-opening show with the Disney characters! As I waited for the tour began, I was lucky enough to have the characters walk right by and wave at me on their way backstage!

Then came time for the tour to start- this was the part of my trip I had been waiting for! I had a group of 16 people. Needless to say, I was the only one attending solo. Our tour guide was named Tracy, and she was excellent! We began by touring Main Street and discussing Walt’s idea for the park and most importantly, the story. We took in the windows on Main Street and discussed a few windows in particular. As we strolled down Main Street, we learned bits and pieces of Walt’s life and his relationship with his brother, Roy. We ended up at the Partners statue before we were on our way to Adventureland where we hopped on a Jungle Cruise boat! We didn’t get the normal Jungle Cruise speel. Instead, Tracy talked with us about Walt’s original thoughts for the attraction. The main thing being the fact that he actually wanted real animals along the banks, an idea the Roy rejected! But how interesting would that have been??

After the Jungle Cruise ride, we were on our way to Frontierland, where we finally got to go backstage! We were all responsible for making sure that our “travel buddies” made it each step of the way. Needless to say, it was easy keeping up with my travel buddy! We had to take an “oath” that we would not take any photos or videos while we were backstage. Then off we went! We first saw the backside of Splash Mountain and then were able to go into the warehouse where they keep the Spectromagic parade floats. It was very interesting to learn about how they position the floats and who gets to drive certain types of floats. We also were able to see Woody and Jessie before they become Woody and Jessie, if you know what I mean!

Next, we were off to Liberty Square, where we stopped to learn more about all of the details that went into Liberty Square, such as the 13 lanterns hanging in Liberty Tree.  Liberty Tree was even a great story- it broke in half when they were moving it to Liberty Square. After we spent our time in Liberty Tree, we had a great lunch at Columbia Harbour House, one of my favorites. I sat with Tracy, our tour guide, and a lovely couple who had gotten married only 2 days before! When we sat down for lunch, we received our special gift- our key to the kingdom (a key pin). After lunch, it was time for Haunted Mansion. We heard the “story” of Gracy Manor, and all of the rumors surrounding it. Then we went through the back entrance and gained quick access to the ride! I tried to locate some of the special things to look for (a headless Mickey, Jack Skellington and Sally), but I couldn’t find any of them!

Not long after that, we headed back up towards Main Street and down to the Utilidors! The Utilidors are a mystery to many people! And I can vouch for them saying, they are in fact long hallways. However, what is housed down there is simply amazing! It makes you wonder how many people truly realize they are on the second story when they are at Magic Kingdom! Tracy told us of the many benefits tat Disney offers their employees, and I have to say, that people who work at Disney are very lucky!

Rick, Amanda, me, James and Aurora

Once the tour was over, it was time to meet some more of my Twitter friends- Amanda, Rick, Aurora and her husband, James! What a great group of people! Amanda had a special pass that allowed us to get on Fastpass attractions right away! We met up at Space Mountain, where I took my 1st Space Mountain ride in 16 years (I know, a Disney-lover sin). I must confess that I am not a roller-coaster person, but Space Mountain is tame enough for me. We rode a few more rides and then met up with another Twitter friend, Debbie and her cute boys and headed to the Polynesian so we could have some dinner at Kona Cafe.

I then went back to Magic Kingdom so I could catch the 8:00 Wishes fireworks show, which I love! I

Wishes

 decided I couldn’t make it to Spectromagic (I had already been at Magic Kingdom for 12 hours) so I went back to take in my room at Caribbean Beach! I finally found my room in the Jamaica section, dropped off my bags and headed over to Old Port Royale for a drink and a snack! It was my last night at Disney!

I loved my Nemo-themed room and was excited to see the different Nemo characters on the comforter. I hopped into bed and watched what I wanted to- the Olympics!

Caribbean Beach Resort

My last morning there involved dropping off my rental car, checking out and waiting for Magical Express. After bringing the car back to the Gaylord Palms, I was back at Caribbean Beach Resort for a Mickey waffle and some bacon. I still had 4 hours before my bus to the airport came so I decided to catch the bus over to Downtown Disney for some last minute shopping. It was a chilly morning, but I had a nice time wondering through all of the shops and had a nice lunch at Wolfgang Puck Express. I was hoping to hit DisneyQuest, but it opened a little too late for me to have been able to make it back in time! After doing some more shopping, I was off to wait for my bus!

After a rather lengthy wait for my Magical Express bus (he was 20 minutes late) and some last-minute confusion, we were on our way to the airport! I had a wonderful experience at Walt Disney World, but I was ready to get home to my kids and my husband. It was finally time to board my flight, where I wound up sitting next to my high school dance instructor! Such a small world! She had been there with one of the local high schools for the cheerleading competition! Three hours later, I was in the airport and seeing my kids running to me saying “Mommy! Where are my presents?”! I knew I was home!

Looking back, this experience was truly a once-in-a-lifetime event for me. I had a wonderful time, met some great people, did a lot of walking and had some relaxing quiet time! I would without a doubt do this again, and I would hands down recommend a solo Disney trip to any Disney fans out there.

Walt Disney World is so many things to me- magical, peaceful, happy memories. But above all, Walt Disney World is family. My once-in-a-lifetime experience was something that I will always cherish. I was able to see many things I had never gotten to see before, even after all my trips to the World! I enjoyed watching the happy looks on the families that were there and seeing the magic on the childrens’ faces. I remember seeing that on my kids, too. Without the support of my family, I would never have been able to take this trip- my husband for inviting me and then for supporting me when I said I wanted to go alone for 3 days, my kids for being excited for me, and my parents, for taking care of the kids while we were gone. So thank you to my family…I owe you. I had a fantastic time. And I missed you.

This post is part of the Disney Blog Carnival. Go there to read more great Disney posts.

My Family on a Previous Walt Disney World Trip!

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