Is there really something for everyone at Walt Disney World® Resort?

Is there really something for everyone at Walt Disney World® Resort (“WDW”)?

Could this possibly be true? I had this idea to put it to the test.

I decided to use some of my family and friends and their widely varying interests to see if I could match them with what I think will interest them at WDW. Some of these people (in particular my immediate family) have been to WDW before and I have therefore used a few of their favorite activities.

First the obviously easily matched.

Wayne, the thrill seeker (and my husband) –   Tried parasailing with Sammy Duvall’s Watersport Centre located behind Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Even I who am terrified of heights tried this and it was AMAZING. There are also a number of rides geared towards thrill seekers such as Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster® staring Aerosmith at Disney’s Hollywood Studios® where you get to take a ride in a stretch limo through 3 inversions and reach speeds of 60 mph.

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Justice, the pre-teen gamer (and my son) –   At DisneyQuest® Indoor Interactive Theme Park (at Downtown Disney® Area) he found a 5 story gamer paradise. He also loves Toy Story Midway Mania! (at Disney’s Hollywood Studios®) which puts him in the middle of a midway-style game. I should also mention the resorts on WDW property have arcades in them as well.

Rayne, the little princess –  Princess Fairytale Hall (at Magic Kingdom® Park) is a magical place where she can meet various princesses and have her picture taken with them.  Dinner at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (at Epcot®, World Showcase) is also a wonderful place to meet some princesses as they mingle with diners.

Mairi, the animal lover –  Disney’s Animal Kingdom® Theme Park is a whole park dedicated to animals, need I say more!

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Hailey, the artist –   Up until recently I would have suggested Animation Station and Animation Gallery, however, with them scheduled to close soon I’d suggest checking out the amazing artwork at The Art of Disney in Downtown Disney® Area.

Dwayne, the foodie –  SOOOOO many restaurants to satisfy his food cravings but here are a couple of my suggestions:  Boma – Flavors of Africa (at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge) where you can sample selections from over 50 different African countries or Narcoosee’s (at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa) for a mouth watering seafood treat.  I also like to walk around Epcot®, World Showcase and sample all the different cuisines at each country as I go past.  Doing this during Epcot® Food & Wine Festival is an extra special treat.

Photo courtesy of Mary Morales and Disney Food Fans Facebook Page

Desserts from Boma –  Photo courtesy of Mary Morales and Disney Food Fans Facebook Page

 

Ed, the car guy – Test Track® presented by Chevrolet® (at Epcot®) allows him to design his own virtual concept vehicle.  You then get to ride a SIM car around a windy circuit with 50 degree banked curves and reaching up to 65 mph.

Candice, the Star Wars™ geek –  Visit the world of Star Wars™ on a motion-simulated space flight with Star Tours® – The Adventures Continue Attraction or build her own light saber at Tatooine Traders both in Disney’s Hollywood Studios®.

Now for the slightly less obvious.

Victoria, the clothes hound (and my daughter) –  Marketplace Co-op and Tren-D are her favorite places to shop for those unique articles of clothing and are both located at Downtown Disney® Area.

Sharon, the creative crafter –  Disney Design-a-Tee (at Downtown Disney® Area) would be a great place for her to put her creativity to use and design her own custom t-shirt.

Ted, the quiet country lover – Tom Sawyer’s Island (at Magic Kingdom® Park) is a quiet little island you get to by barge and where you can wander across suspension bridges, check out a giant waterwheel at Harper’s Mill or sit an relax in a rocking chair and just people watch.

Harper's Mill

Josh & Kristy, the newlyweds –  Book a reservation at Victoria & Albert’s for a high end romantic dining experience or visit Senses – A Disney Spa at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa for a relaxing massage for two.

Michelle, the nightlife lover –  Visit Atlantic Dance Hall for an evening of non-stop dancing or House of Blues® for amazing live entertainment, but don’t forget in Florida you need to be 21 to legally drink alcohol.

Rob, the sports fanatic –  ESPN Wide World of Sports Grill is a great place to catch a game on one of the many HDTV’s while munching on wings and drinking and beer.

Valerie, the semi-antisocial sun worshiper (and my mother) – She isn’t as enthusiastic as she used to be about the various parks but is more than happy to situate herself in a lounge chair beside the pool at whichever WDW property we are staying at and enjoy the sun, while reading a book and sipping on an adult beverage.

Well, it seems I’ve succeeded in matching everyone with experiences they should enjoy and confirmed something that I’ve always known.  There really is something for everyone at Walt Disney World® Resort.

My Disney Dream

A few years ago I remember seeing the posts of the new Disney Parks Moms Panelists during training as they had their pictures taken early one misty morning before Magic Kingdom Park opened to the public and it gave me chills.

Now I dream of what I imagine would be an almost surreal experience of walking down Main Street, U.S.A. towards Cinderella Castle without anyone else around and being able to gaze in wonder and appreciation at one man’s dream and the creativity and talent of so many more who brought it to life.

I dream of having the time and space to absorb all the nuances and layers of imaginering that often go unseen and unnoticed as crowds rush to their favorite attractions during park hours.

I imagine in the peace and tranquility of a misty morning I could almost hear Walt as if a whisper on the breeze saying “If you can dream, you can do it” as I walk under the archway and into Cinderella Caste.

This is my dream and even 30 minutes of it would be the beginning of an absolutely, perfectly, magical day.

Cinderella Castle

 

An Unexpected Benefit of Running

When I started running I did so knowing I needed to be more active and get healthy.  A sedentary office job was starting to take its toll on my body. I had a lot of aches and pains and had a standing appointment with my massage therapist, Angie, to work out the kinks.  In particular the muscles under and between my shoulder blades were always badly knotted from sitting in one position at a desk typing on my computer all day. I think those muscles are called the Trapezius and Rhomboids but whatever they are called they caused me a great deal of pain on a regular basis.

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During the first few weeks of running Angie had to deal with tight muscles in my legs and hips when I showed up for my appointments and didn’t get to spend as much time working on my shoulders as she usually would. Once my body got used to running Angie no longer had to work on my legs and returned to my shoulders but to both our surprises my shoulders were not in nearly as bad a shape as we expected, especially since they had basically been neglected for a few months.

It seems that for me at least, there is an added benefit to running. The motion of pumping my arms as I run also seems to loosen up the stiff muscles in my upper back and shoulders and I couldn’t be happier about this unexpected side effect.

Now if only I could figure out how to pay for my next trip to Walt Disney World for the runDisney Wine and Dine Half Marathon to really stretch out those muscles, life would be almost perfect.

I AM going to run a half marathon this year!

So after a year off from running and roller derby due to a knee injury and life getting in the way I’ve set myself a new goal.  I AM going to run a half marathon this year!  There I’ve said it and put in it writing.  I can’t turn back now.

I haven’t always been the best at keeping fitness goals I set for myself so my thought is that by putting it out there for everyone to see I am forcing myself to stick with it this time.  I know I need to make myself accountable but if the prospect of public embarrassment is what it takes I’ll do it.

I’m lucky enough to be married to my best friend for 20 years this summer and have tentatively booked a Disney cruise to celebrate but I hope to run the Wine and Dine Half Marathon while we are in Florida just before our cruise.

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Well, now that I have a goal and a date it’s time to get started with the training plan and deal with my 2 biggest excuses.

Firstly, running for me (and many others) is a mental game as much or more than it is a physical game.  In this game I have realized that it doesn’t take much to distract me from my runs so my husband came to my rescue and bought me a treadmill for Christmas.  Why does this help? Because I get bored when I run and then the mind games start.  On the treadmill I can put a movie in the DVD player and lose myself in the story while running.  This means I don’t get bored and want to quit.

Secondly the treadmill is inside.  I know this sounds silly, but to state the obvious, inside means warm.  I truly dislike winter and since I live in Canada winter is long and cold.  With the treadmill I don’t have the excuse that I can’t run because it’s too cold, dark and slippery to run outside.

Well now that I have those excuses defeated I have no reason not to train for a half marathon.

Wish me luck.

I will do it.

Eating Quick-Service at Walt Disney World Resort

Over the years I have purchased most of the different Dining Plans available at Walt Disney World Resort (“WDW”).  I prefer to purchase the Dining Plans because I like to have my costs figured out ahead of time and I don’t want to think about how much I’m spending on each meal.  The great thing about the Dining Plans are all the choices available depending on what style of restaurant you prefer and how many meals a day you want to eat.

With all the different Disney Dining Plans available at WDW the one that I seem to keep returning to is the Quick-Service Dining Plan.  This plan consists of two Quick-Service meals and one snack each day.

Now some people have told me I’m crazy to want to eat “fast food”  for an entire week but these are the people who don’t understand the vast array of options available for Quick-Service at WDW.  I’ve spent entire weeks at WDW and never eaten a single hamburger, which truly amazes some people.

Quick-Service at WDW basically means you eat cafeteria style instead of being waited on.  It has nothing to do with the quality of the food or options offered.

The following is a sample of the Quick-Service meals offered and some of my personal favorites:

Salmon with Couscous and Broccoli from Columbia Harbour House;

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Photo courtesy of Mary Morales of Disney Food Fans Group on FB.

Beef Udon or Tokyo Sushi Combo from Katsura Grill;

Ginger Chicken Salad from Yak & Yeti Local Food Cafes;

Barbeque Pork Sandwich from Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Café;

Half Rotisserie Chicken from Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café;

Beet and Goat Cheese Salad from Sunshine Seasons.

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Photo courtesy of Mary Morales of Disney Food Fans Group on FB.

All this choice and no need to figure out and book reservations months ahead of time is why I keep returning to the Quick-Service Dining Plan.

Don’t get me wrong the Table-Service restaurants are fabulous too but after having purchased the Deluxe Dining Plan  a few years ago and booking reservations for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day for a week, it felt like all my family did was run from reservation to reservation.  There was no spontaneity and it was far too scheduled.

With the Quick-Service restaurants you just stop to eat when you are hungry and see something on the menu that looks appealing to you at that moment.  No planning needed.

I still book the occasional Table-Service restaurant for special occasions but am more than happy with the less expensive Quick-Service options and I don’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone who asks.

I Love Disney’s FastPass+

I’ll admit I was skeptical when Disney rolled out its FastPass+ program.  It just seemed like this was one more thing I would have to plan long before we actually arrived at WDW and as much as I like planning for our vacations, my family doesn’t like to have every element of our holidays “scheduled” in advance.

For instance, after purchasing the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan one visit and booking dining reservations for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, it felt like all we did was run from one reservation to the next and it took some of the fun out of the visit for us. Now I only book one or two Table-Service meals per week to avoid the dreaded “schedule”.

If you are staying at a WDW Resort you can book your FastPass+ experiences 60 days in advance of your check-in date and if you have purchased advance tickets (without a WDW Resort stay) you can book FastPass+ experiences 30 days in advance of your use date.

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From either your computer or your smart phone you can access the My Disney Experience web page or App to set up your FastPass+ experiences. You select 3 choices from the available attractions and the system will provide you with a number of time slot options for you to select from. It’s so easy.

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I liked the fact that for most experiences you get a one hour time slot and not just a specific time.  This one hour time slot provides a lot more flexibility to arrive at the attraction at a time that works for you within the hour window.

The hardest part about the whole process was deciding which 3 attractions/experiences are your favorites that you want to guarantee a time slot for.   We have a few must do’s every vacation that do not normally have very long lines so we decided to forgo using FastPass+ on those rides and used them for the rides that traditionally have longer lines (such as Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Toy Story Midway Mania)  so we didn’t have to wait as long.

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When all was said and done I loved the FastPass+ system and being able to book 3 attractions ahead of time.  I hadn’t realized before this trip just how much my family likes to sleep in.  We aren’t early risers.  We would much rather sleep in and then stay at the Parks until they close.  Under the old system, by not getting to the Parks early we were often too late to get a FastPass for our favorite attractions and would just have to wait in line.  The new system shortened our overall wait time immensely.  I loved it and can’t wait to use it again.

WDW Radio Dinner Inside the Great Movie Ride

Our first trip to WDW without the kids since they were born was for the 2013 Tower of Terror Race weekend. As luck would have it WDW Radio was hosting a dinner inside The Great Movie Ride on the Friday night and as soon as I heard about it I knew I wanted to attend. How often do you get a chance to wander around inside the ride and get an up close and personal look at all the displays?

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All the attendees met up in Animation Courtyard to await our host, Lou Mongello. It was interesting talking to all the other people in line to see where they were from. Of those I spoke with I think we were amongst those who had travelled the farthest to get there.

If didn’t take long to be ushered to the front door of the Chinese Theatre where we met our “Producer” guide for the evening. He was truly a character and very entertaining.

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We entered the theatre and watched the short film before the doors opened up and we started the walk along the ride route. It was wonderful to be able to stop and take pictures when you wanted to instead of rushing to snap them before the ride passed out of range. The lighting was still dim and a few pictures where hard to get due to the screens they had in front of some of the scenes but it was still so much better than the ride for picture taking.

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As we entered the gangster scene we were greeted by two actors who played their parts perfectly and an old time piano player. This is also where dinner was served, for some; for others they continued along and took seats at the tables in the western scene where there was another actress and some musicians playing banjos.

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Dinner was buffet style with a decent array of items to choose from including salads, veggies and a choice of meats. Everything I tried was tasty but the whipped potatoes in particular were wonderful as was the lemonade.  Although I’m a bit of a foodie I still appreciate the classics, when done correctly.

We were given plenty of time to eat, mingle with the other guests and check things out before off we were whisked away to another genre. Next came the tribute to scary movies section where Wayne snapped a picture of me and it looks like Sigourney Weaver (Ripley) has her gun to my head.

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We progressed along to our last stop in the land of OZ, where desert was served; a wonderful array of tasty tiny treats. While we were sampling the goodies Glinda arrived to add to the atmosphere and entertainment. Unfortunately I did not manage to get a photo with her as she was very popular and had quite a crowd to contend with.

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treats

If you ever get a chance to attend an event inside the Great Movie Ride I would highly recommend it and I thank the WDW Radio team for arranging the event for us. It was a wonderful way to kick off our weekend.

A Most Empowering Day!

Well after months of training “sort of” it was finally here, the Tower of Terror 10 mile race weekend (race day was October 5, 2013) and I was so looking forward to it.

I said training “sort of” because I started out training a lot but then I joined roller derby and my runs seemed to get fewer and farther in between.  My longest training run to date had been just less than 8 miles and here I was heading off to run 10.  It was a daunting thought but I was up for the challenge or at least I hoped so.

This was also going to be the first trip to Walt Disney World Resort (“WDW”) for my husband and I without the kids. It was a novel experience planning it without first considering what the kids wanted.  We could finally do some of those adults only things we’d talked about.

As luck would have it that weekend WDW Radio was hosting an event with dinner inside the Great Movie Ride, but that is a story for another day.   1gangsters

My husband is a bit of a daredevil and has bungee jumped before but I am terrified of heights and would never consider such an adventure.  Well, somehow I talked myself into conquering my fear of heights and going parasailing. It was one of those things my husband had always wanted to do so I signed us up as part of my anniversary present to him.

The day we were to parasail dawned clear and bright and with it my fears returned with vengeance.  Could I really do this?  Could I allow myself to go 400 feet up in the air and watch my feet dangle with nothing below me but Bay Lake?

Wayne was determined, he was going with or without me so off we went and checked in at our scheduled time.  I was so scared at this point but knew I could back out up until the last possible moment on the boat.  I allowed myself to be put in the harness and listened to all the instructions.  It was suddenly go time and it all happened so fast I didn’t have time to think about chickening out.  We were attached to the parasail which was already deployed out behind the boat and up we were going.

It was surreal.  I still get chills thinking about it.  We were on the deck of the boat and literally 10 seconds later we were 400 feet up in the air.  The ascent was fast, but not shockingly so, and it was so smooth.   I admit I was hanging on pretty tightly at first but I managed to relax somewhat as time went on.  Looking around and seeing Magic Kingdom Park from that point of view made all the nerves worthwhile.  It was an experience I will never forget.  Unfortunately our GoPro camera died that day so we didn’t get any pictures from up in the air of the amazing view.  IMG_6689

I’m not sure I would have gone up had it not been for Wayne and his support that day.  However, having done it once now, I would gladly do it again.   To anyone who is thinking about parasailing at WDW I would highly recommend it.  The staff at Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Centre were professional and amazing.  They seemed to realize the more time they gave me to think about it the bigger the chance I would back out.

Parasailing day also happened to be race day.  We had decided early on that after parasailing we would take it easy so I wasn’t exhausted before the race even started but there was just no way I could be that close to Magic Kingdom Park and not go in to ride at least a few rides.  One of the rides we decided to tackle was Big Thunder Mountain.  For me this was another scary proposition.  I am not a fan of roller coasters, but again I mustered up my courage and plunged head first into an abandoned mine on a runaway train car.  When it was done I was pleasantly surprised.  It had not been that bad after all.

As race time approached I put on my running costume, Minnie Mouse.  For the third time that day I was getting nervous about doing something I’d never done before.  10 miles is not exactly a short race.  While I realize it’s certainly not a marathon, it’s nothing to look down your nose at either.  Having never done a runDisney race before, or any race with more than 100 participants, I did not know what to expect and decided to head to the staging area early.  This was probably the only thing I would do differently next time.  I did not need as much time to get organized as I allowed myself.   Hopping on the bus and heading to the staging area was an experience all its own. I never expected to see 80% or more of the runners dressed in costumes.  A few crazies like me but not almost everyone. Me before the race

The build up to the race was great, with all the music and fireworks.  Based on race times I submitted for previous 10km races I’d run I was placed in corral D which rather surprised me but I was happy to not be in the last corrals and have to worry about keeping ahead of the balloon ladies.   I was not expecting this to be a fast race for me for a few reasons:  1. I’d never run this far before; 2. I knew I was going to stop and take a lot of pictures along the way;  and 3. I’d never run in such heat. It was still 27°C with high humidity at 10pm when the race started.

The race started out well and I was pretty happy with my pacing. The character stops for pictures were almost perfectly timed for when I needed to slow down and take a break.   me and stitch2

By about mile six I was starting to fade and the heat was getting to me but I was drinking lots to stay hydrated. I think this was the point in the race where we were on a dirt/gravel path headed into the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.  The lights had gone out on part of this path and it was rather difficult to see.  A rock got wedged up in the sole of my shoe and I had to get out of the way of other runners so I could stop and remove it, all in the dark.   me and kript keepers2

At mile eight I hit “the wall”.  I thought about quitting but knew I would hate myself if I did so I pushed on.  My husband who was getting status updates on my time told me later that he was starting to worry a little as he watched my interval times get slower.

Somewhere around mile nine we were entering Hollywood Studios and I knew the end was near so I caught a second, third or maybe even fourth wind at that point.  I ran around a corner by the back lot and there was Wayne cheering me on.  I was so happy to see him I almost cried.  I remember thinking I must really be getting close to being done and around the next corner must be the end, but it wasn’t.  There were still more photo ops to stop for before the finish line. me and lotso2

It seemed like the run through Hollywood Studios would never end but alas it finally did.  My time was 2 hours 20 minutes.  I accepted my medal and box of snacks and made my way to bag pick up while eating my banana.  Never had a banana tasted so good to me.

I did it.  I had run my first runDisney race and my first 10 mile race.  I was exhausted and a little sore but overall happy with my performance based on the conditions and my now very apparent lack of training.

Actually I was thrilled with myself.   I was 41 and not even a full 10 months earlier I ran for the very first time after leading a rather sedentary life for quite a number of years.  I was pretty damn proud of myself.

After the race I met up with Wayne and we headed to the Toy Story Midway Mania ride.  It is one of my favorites and the lines are usually long so I had to take advantage of the chance at a short line.  The line was not short (or fast) enough for Wayne.  Imagine if you will, an enclosed building with 100’s if not 1,000’s of sweaty racers who were either in line or had recently been in line.  Me, being one of those sweaty racers hardly noticed the “aroma” present as we waiting in line but Wayne, who has a super sensitive nose and who did not run was quite literally gagging every time we entered a confined hallway and there was movement making the scent waft around us. He could not get out of there fast enough.  I must admit at 1am after having run 10 miles I found his discomfort rather amusing.

We didn’t stick around long at the after party as it had been a very long eventful day.  Back in our room as exhausted as I was I just could not sleep.  I was so exhilarated with everything I had done and accomplished.

I’d conquered by fear of heights and parasailed.  I’d set aside my fear of roller coasters and ridden Big Thunder Mountain and I’d not given up and run my first ever 10 mile race.    It was the most empowering day I think I’d ever had.  I felt like I could take on the world.  I can’t sufficiently put into words just how emotional I was that night and what all I was feeling but suffice it to say I was amazed at myself.

I sincerely hope a trend started that day and I can continue to face my fears that have been holding me back and continue to enjoy all that life has to offer.

My Disney Addiction

ME & Minnie

My “Disney addiction”, as some have called it, started when I was five years old.

After two years of battling cancer my baby brother, Robbie, finally succumbed to his brain tumour.  A few months later my parents felt it would be a good time to get away from the stresses of real life so we all headed to Walt Disney World (WDW).  It was a wonderful, magical experience for me and where I felt happy for the first time since Robbie’s death.   I learned to smile and laugh again on that trip as I made my parents nauseous spinning my cup as fast as possible on the Mad Tea Party ride.

One of the few pictures I have of Robbie smiling was of him in his walker with a pink stuffed elephant.  At the tender age of five I equated that elephant with Dumbo and absolutely had to go on that ride as well.  Both of these rides are now a must do on every trip I take to WDW.

Since that first visit I was hooked and have gone back to WDW so many times I’ve lost count.  As a kid I travelled each summer with my grandparents and they would ask me where I wanted to go.  The answer was always the same, WDW.  Being Canadian it is no quick trip to drive to Orlando and back so I didn’t manage to convince them every year but more times than not I was successful.

I remember one particularly boisterous trip when I was sixteen.  My mother agreed to drive 4 giggling, teenage girls to Florida for a week and we absolutely had to visit WDW.  All the other girls had never been before so it was fun acting as a sort of tour guide around Magic Kingdom.  I thank my mother for her courage to brave that trip even when everyone thought she was crazy; including the border guard who took one look in our van on the return trip and decided there was no way he was searching through our mass (or more accurately mess) of stuff.

I now have two kids of my own and will never forget that look of wonder in their eyes as they walked down Main Street for the first time and saw Cinderella Castle. My husband was equally excited since he never had the good fortune to visit when he was a child.

All these cherished memories and so many more that were created at WDW with my family are the biggest reasons I keep returning.   Things and people come and go but memories stay with you forever; and there is no better place for making memories than at Walt Disney World.