Planning

So I am in planning mode now.  We’re having a different trip this year.  Or next year I guess I should say.  We’re shortening our trip with the kids, choosing a larger room to accommodate more family members and adding in our fall trip.  Sometimes it involves a spreadsheet as I’ve mentioned in previous posts.  I do usually toss out the spreadsheet once I feel like there is some semblance of a plan in place.  Right now we’re looking at a 2-bedroom for the majority of our stay and hopefully securing a “lock-off” room so that when Granny and Grandpa leave we pare down to our one-bedroom without actually moving.  That is the hope anyway.  Our goal is to incorporate the grandparents into our trip so that the children get to enjoy them as much as possible without lots of extra running about trying to meet up somewhere.  By staying together we’re hoping that this will allow Granny and Grandpa the freedom to roam as they please without feeling the need to follow the grandchildren everywhere because its not like they will be missing out – we’ll still see them at meals and in the room for breaks etc.  Of course we’ll do a number of attractions and activities together, but I feel like it should be their vacation as well.

So this time of year is when I begin the careful and minutely detailed plan of dining while at WDW.  I figure out how many meals we’ll have and all the restaurants we WANT to eat at and figure in which ones we may have missed over the past year or two (such as San Angel Inn and that beef stew) and then we sit down together and go over the favorites and mark off those that are not as child-friendly for our little ones (ex. my oldest has Aspberger’s and does not do well with a lot of background noise so Chefs de France is just not an option for us any longer).  This is one of my favorite parts of WDW planning.  Its like looking through a catalog of all the goodies that you might want and then picking and choosing until your schedule is filled up!  (A good reference for me is looking through the Service Merchandise catalog as a child trying to decide on all the toys I wanted to add to my Christmas list for Santa.  Am I dating myself here?  Anyone remember Service Merchandise?  Anyway…)

Favorites on my list for this year:

Chef Mickey’s (Granny’s favorite)

O’Hana (food is served quickly – family style and something for everyone)

Crystal Palace (delicious breakfast – a little hard on our Aspberger’s child because of the noise but we try to eat, see characters and dash)

Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe’ (no resos needed and free alien floor show!  Also – amazing cheese sauce for fries and chocolate cake)

Flame Tree BBQ (amazing BBQ, no resos needed!)

Boma (buffet, delicious, quick to be seated and served!)

Tony’s Town Square (great with kids, they have cartoons to watch while you’re waiting to be seated)

Liberty Tree (this one we may not do.  I like it because its family style for dinner and we are quick to be served – my husband is not so thrilled with it.  Neither of us enjoy it at lunch – the menu is different and it takes FOREVER to get your food.)

Contempo Cafe (since this is where we will be staying, we always end up eating one or two meals here)

California Grill (parents’ night out!)

Electric Umbrella (to watch the fountain shows!)

and maybe one of the new Fantasyland restaurants!?

San Angel Inn (if possible – if not, we’ll move that one to the Fall)

For the Fall:

Sanaa

Yak & Yeti

Anyway, so as you can see its all very up in the air – but once we get the kinks worked out its going to be a delicious trip.

If you are planning too – don’t forget (!!) that you MUST call ahead by 24 hours if you are going to miss your meal or change your plans because otherwise your credit card will be charged a fee for holding your reservation.

Toodles,

Pinky

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You’re going again??

That’s the question we used to get from just about everyone – except our fellow Disney-nerd friends.  From them of course it was, “that’s nice – we just got back”!  Our family has been discussing whether its a regional tradition to vacation to the same place every year or wether its just personal taste?  Our extended family is from the south.  Hence, my husband and I both grew up vacationing at Disney regularly – not every year – but regular enough to be very familiar with it.  There were of course gaps in our vacationing to WDW – going to college, getting married – “starting out” in life as an adult etc.  Sometimes it just wasn’t in the budget.  After we sort of got our feet on the ground with our new little family though – we picked up the Disney bug again from my husband’s family and it has stuck with us.  We have gone every year since 1999.  Our trip is different every year especially now that we have children who are (obviously) different every year.  What was originally our couples getaway has now become our yearly family vacation and yet we still do not tire of it.  In fact I can’t think of a single place better equipped to visit with your children of any age than WDW.  Maybe its a personality trait that causes us to love WDW so much.  I’m not sure, but I do know that we have even given some thought to going twice a year as a regular occurrence.  Right now we go twice a year every OTHER year – once in the spring as our family vacation and once in the fall to the Food & Wine Festival and Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.  And we love it!  It is a wonderful couples getaway and we have the time and opportunity to do all of the things that sometimes we aren’t able to with 3 children + other family members in tow.  We have special evenings out at the Top of the World bar at Bay Lake Towers where the view is not less than spectacular especially for fireworks.  The drinks aren’t bad either – I had a delightfully refreshing raspberry mojito!  Yum!  We stand in line at leisure at any ride we please regardless of height restrictions, we lounge at the pool and have late night dinners and tipsy forays into the candy stores after to much wine.  I miss it already.

For me, there is something comforting about coming to the same place every year.  Our children will grow up with common memories about a place and our time together there over the years.  I think this is so very special.  I cherish those times and the pictures of the children 1 year older each time.  We brought all of them when they were less than a year old.  Our oldest went at 5 months old, our middle child when he was 9 months old and our youngest when she was 3 months old.  As we have mentioned in previous posts – for us its not about the excitement of the rides or getting to each and every attraction every trip.  Its about creating unique memories with our family and when we can – getting away with just the two of us to enjoy what we love about Disney.  (Honestly there is a mexican beef stew at San Angel Inn with my name on it!!)  I digress…  maybe its the Hamptons for some families, the beach for others, the lake, a particular cabin, but for my family its WDW and I’m so very glad that it is.

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I just love fall, don’t you?

The cool, crisp air, leaves turning colors, the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival at WDW… what?  You don’t have that marked on your calendar?  Well put it down!  I’ll wait.  It’s September 28th through November 12th.  2012 is the longest festival to date at 46 days of food fabulous-ness!  (I feel like I’ve used that word a lot lately – shouldn’t that be a word “fabulous-ness”?  I think so.  I’ll see if I can e-mail someone.  Anyway.)  Grab those plane tickets and also mark August 14th on your calendar because that my friends is the first day you can call to purchase tickets for some of the special events at Food & Wine also called (literally) Party for the Senses.  There are a few new festival marketplaces making their debut this year including:  TERRA featuring vegan items, and Florida Local featuring a new spin on regional offerings.  There are some creative new beverages geared towards family dining which will include “inventive sips” to pair with culinary delights for the under 21 set.

And here are what I like to call the “extras”:  HGTV will have designers hosting home entertaining seminars every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, celebrity chefs will be doing demonstrations, the festival welcome center is offering complimentary Authentic Taste seminars with tastes and sips for a small fee and the reserved culinary events will showcase a lineup of winemakers, guest chefs and speakers participating in awe-inspiring dinners, luncheons, seminars and wine schools and finally, don’t forget to stop and smell the kabobs while you sit back and prop up those sore tootsies listening to one of the Eat to the Beat concerts.

Call 407-WDW-FEST beginning August 14th to make reservations or check out Food & Wine periodically for updates.  Enjoy!

 

*information originally released by Walt Disney World News on 6/27/12

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Doin’ the Planetary Boogie – In between Trips of Course

So… what’s with the Disney Parks cd?  Ultimate Disney nerd must-have or do we just really get down to the Swiss Family Robinson polka?  Hmmm…  For me I think its like bringing a little piece of Disney back so that I can use it when I need it later.  Kind of like Disney leftovers.  Ha.  Seriously though there are times when our family is especially stressed and we’ll be driving in the car and someone will say, ” Oh I so wish we could go to WDW today”.  Sometimes that little bit of music helps make that wish come true just for a few minutes.  And if you close your eyes and let your memories take over your senses you can almost smell the french fries while listening to the lounge music from Cosmic Rays, the sweet tropical air of Adventureland while listening to the Tiki Room song.  And then the planning for our next vacay becomes much more fun and exciting and much less out of grasp.

I love the “classic” songs that they have on their package cds which include music from rides and attractions that are no longer available.  I love WDW The Happiest Place on Earth – its a 2-cd set with not-to-be-missed songs like:  Kitchen Kabaret, One Little Spark, Soarin’, Canada (yes really), Star Tours, and the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.  Yo Ho (A Pirates Life For Me), Grim Grinning Ghosts and Its a Small World are also favorites.  And a child-friendly Disney-going tip:  if you have small children (babies and toddlers), we found that it was helpful to play the Disney music starting a couple of months ahead of time in the car or during “playtime” at home, so that they could get used to the music before they went to the World.  Disney can be overwhelming for anyone and getting used to some of the sounds before they arrive can help them feel more comfortable on the rides.  Most of the ride soundtracks are available on cd, mp3 or on-line.  We still do this with our youngest before we travel, even though she is kind of a veteran now.  Happy planning!  I’m going to go put on that music now.

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Building Memories…. Or, how I validate paying for park tickets and going to the pool

So… I have kids.  Three actually and they’re little.  My oldest is 5, my youngest is 1.  We have always taken them to WDW and truthfully its been pretty easy – honestly I think its a little harder once they are older and not in a stroller anymore.  Anyway – being tiny humans – they also are developing opinions.  Imagine!  So.  Its their vacation too and we all try to compromise.  In the mornings we may go to the park, do 1 or 2 attractions, head back to the resort for a lunch break, a rest, some pool time or down to the community center.  (We LOVE the one at Bay Lake.  Video games – movies, arts & crafts, other kids to play with – its awesome.)  Some days though – some days my kids want to watch the monorail go by (in the window!  Bonus!), and go the pool or community center.  And that’s all.  What’s a Disney aficionado to do? Well, take a deep breath and go with the flow of the kiddos.  Its much easier on everyone’s nerves and yes, I’m sure I will get to fit in that last ride on Space Mountain before we leave.  Its just… different.  And next year it will be different again and the next year again and so on.  That is the part that I’m learning to slow down to enjoy and appreciate.  My family at this stage – this year in 2012 loves the pool and the community center at Bay Lake Towers.  Going to get hot cocoa at the food court in our jammies at the end of a day and settling in for a Disney movie before bed.  Heading to the pool 5 (or 7) days in a row – so often that we begin to meet and recognize the pool game schedules and organizing cast members.   And we begin to build memories this way.  At the end of our trip my children had plastic bead necklaces like you would make at camp, works of crayon art, character buttons, and we had seen hours of vintage Disney movies that we would never watch at home.  My boys played on those oddly shaped padded benches by the Marketplace in the lobby of the Contemporary as if it were the best playground ever and when asked which pictures he wanted to bring to show his classmates at school, my 5 year old answered, “the fancy monorail pictures!”. Those were of course the pictures of the monorail wrapped with the Avenger movie promos.  That monorail – its the best thing at Disney according to my kids.  And its free.  You don’t even have to have a park pass or be staying on property.  As I let out my resigned sigh of “adult-ness” about getting my money’s worth or some nonsense, my kids are pointing to the fun bricks along the walkway as we go to the Magic Kingdom (for maybe an hour or two), begging to ride the monorail again, asking when we’re going back so that we can go swimming or so that they can play with “Sarah” again (the cast member at the community center).  And you know what – that’s ok – maybe they can teach me something about being in the moment.  Isn’t that what it’s really about – because next year will be completely different.  Again.  

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G’s been busy (Or, The Point of the Plan)

It is almost embarrassing to look at the date of my last post.  I should at least take some solace from the fact that there is no counter tracking the number of times I’ve said aloud,” I really need to post to the Mouse.”

The explanation is simple.  My world has radically changed in the intervening months.  I have finally set foot in the corporate world as a full time employee.  This has been a major shift in my family’s world and we are still settling in.  Suffice to say that I am very happy, often surprisingly so.

So I have suddenly become a very busy bee.  There was really no adjustment period, one day the world was as it was and the next it was if we’d been shot out of the barrel of one of Barbossa’s cannons.  It was insane.  There was almost no time for anything other than work and family.

It dawned on me at some point, early in the process, that the monumental amount of planning and attention to detail that we were desperately trying to apply to this new life was a strangely similar approach to that of our annual escape to the Happiest Place on Earth.

As Vacation Club members we book our room eleven months in advance (No, seriously folks…eleven months).  This is followed by weeks of tinkering with our dining itinerary (I still think this is the most important piece of the puzzle), coordinating with the various friends and family that have started joining us, and detailing the logistics of transporting a family of five from the Midwest to Bay Lake.  There are spreadsheets, emails, and phone calls.  Packing lists must be put together and finances must be checked and double checked.  Throughout all of this, an exhaustive amount of research goes into what is new in The World as well as what is still there that we’ve never done (yes, there is actually a good bit of that, too).  The sum total of these plans is then picked through over and over again, fine-tuning here and replacing there, until the day finally comes to lock the doors and pile the family in the car.

Of course, being Mellow Mice one and all most of this is instantly forgotten as we roll under that magical “Welcome to Walt Disney World” sign.  Upon reflection, it seems downright silly to invest so much time planning the minutia of such an undertaking, only to have it slip out the window before we’ve checked in.

Then it hit me.  It all serves a purpose, albeit not always the most obvious ones.

For many years the planning of our trip was done simply to remind us that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and not the type I remember so vividly from Mr Toad’s Wild Ride.  In those days we were both working jobs that in one way or another made us miserable, the Mouse (and all his friends) was the antidote.  We would pore over the slightest detail, carefully choose our flight and lodgings and make every single reservation the instant we could.  The genesis of what I have come to refer to as my “Disney Dining Architecture” was born in this time and still brings me joy when I get to mentally plot our gastronomic pleasures.  I would often find myself stealing a few moments at work to call and “confirm” our dining reservations.  The lucky cast members almost always got a laugh when I told them the real reason for my call, that I just wanted someone to remind me that I was all set for the time of my life.

Even then, young and child-free as we were, once our feet were firmly grounded and our lungs were filled with that first breath of Orlando air, those carefully crafted plans immediately fell by the wayside.  Sure, we had planned to hit the Studios on Day Three, but the Epcot bus that just pulled up was far too seductive.  Even our dining schedule, so lovingly assembled, became fluid.

Having planned a handful of trips with some good friends of ours I realized that many people make their plans and the stick to it, with only the smallest of variance and then only when absolutely necessary.  I can attest to the quality of their trips, as they certainly do love them as much as we do ours.  I also understand that a great number of visitors to Main Street are doing so for the first, and possibly only, time in their lives.  Certainly, seeing and doing as much in the time allotted is critical in these cases.

I am, however, returned to the very catalyst for this blog: we don’t travel the way most people appear to.  We move slowly.  We sleep in.  We are rarely entering a park at opening.  We typically leave the parks long before closing.  We spend hours at the pool, watch movies, or head into a park only to take the kids to a playground.  Lately, we’ve taken to hopping on the monorail or a resort launch and taking a trip all the way back around to our resort.  We have always enjoyed people watching at the resorts or Downtown Disney.

Which brings me to offer this:

If you truly want to feel like you’re on a vacation, grab a snack and a drink and sit down somewhere busy to watch the chaos swirl past you.  That’s how I got here, how the Mellow Mouse was born.  Somewhere, very early on, we sat down with an ice cream on a crowded afternoon and let the madness roil around us.  All I could think was, “Why is everyone in such a hurry when there are Mickey Head bars everywhere?”

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Pinky: A Planner goes Mellow

I’ll be the first to admit that to some – I have what would look like a problem.  Maybe an obsession.  We book our vacation 11 months ahead of time, our restaurant reservations 6 months ahead of time and any specialty dinner reservations even further ahead of time (re:  dinner shows, etc.).  I have a packing list so detailed you would think I was organizing a small military operation.  (honestly, I have all of these wonderfully useless skills!)  I make personalized identification signs for my kids’ stroller.  I am sure to bring lots of pennies and a roll of quarters just for the pressed penny machines.  Oh, and did I mention that for the past 5 years we have traveled to Disney with a baby and twice with a young infant.  I have also traveled to the World pregnant – 3 times actually.  Needless to say, I’m a planner.  I make a spreadsheet with the park hours, parade times, times and places of additional recreational activities (petting zoo or carriage rides anyone?).  I plan out our family’s daily schedule including naptimes for the kids, “pool days” away from the parks and non-reservation meals.  Is this a “mellow” way to do Disney?  I’m not sure, but I will tell you that it works for me and here is why…

I don’t actually use much of my planning “busy-ness” and it helps me to relax once I arrive.

You see, by making a personalized sign for the stroller I can then relax about whether or not my stroller will disappear.  (incidentally, most strollers are not stolen – even high-end models.  If a stroller is taken it most often can be blamed on looking nearly identical to the other 75-100 strollers that may be parked together at any given stroller parking area.)  Its not that I have warned off would-be thieves, its that I feel like I have done all I can to relax and then I let it go.  Here is what my sign usually says:

<Insert Baby Name>

Please don’t take my stroller, I’m only <insert age> old.

I then decorate the sign with cute bright pictures of favorite characters and mount the sign on colored construction paper.  I laminate it to protect it from those oh-so-common Florida rain showers, punch holes in the top and secure it to the stroller handle bar with ribbon or d-rings.

Next, the pressed-pennies.  If I bring a roll of quarters and pennies for pressing – I don’t ever have to go searching for coins when I happen upon those enticing little machines.  Seriously I have no idea what it is exactly that is so nifty about squashing a penny and collecting them in a little book – but it is quite fun and if you haven’t tried it you should.  So after I’m prepared – I can really kind of pack it and forget about it.

The spreadsheet might seem a bit over-the-top, but it really just helps me get an idea of how I would like our days to fall when we arrive.  In truth, it all comes together in a much more “0rganic” way, as G would put it.  We usually decide what park (if any) to go to in the morning over breakfast. When the kids get tired, we go back to the resort.  We eat when we’re hungry, although we do make a valid attempt to make our dining reservations if we have any.  After all, it would be a shame to miss out on so much good dining – but that is another post.  It also helps to have some additional activities in mind for the kids.  For us as well I suppose.  The World can definitely be over-stimulating at times.  So an evening of playing video games, going to a bonfire on the beach, a movie night by the pool or a sing-along with Chip and Dale are sometimes a welcome diversion.  The key is to just leave all of the spreadsheets, lists and time tables at home and just “go with the flow” when you arrive.  This is of course not to say you should miss your favorite attractions because you were lounging by the pool…..  but really, would it be so bad if you only caught your top 5+ attractions, but were able to relax the entire time you were at the World?  I think not.  As you stand in line for Ellen’s Energy Adventure, eating your Premium Mickey Ice Cream on a stick – you can reflect on your afternoon at the pool, your leisurely breakfast or your saunter through the Animal Kingdom and wonder if those around you are enjoying their vacation as much as you are.

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