Monday, January 31, 2011

Blog Post in my Inbox: Disney Parent Pulse

Every now and then, a topic just falls in my lap. This time it appeared in my inbox. I’ve agreed to receive promotional emails from every Disney subsidiary I’ve ever encountered so it’s totally common for me to receive messages for one Disney concept or another. This time it was something new-- Disney Parent Pulse. I’m sure my participation in the Moms Panel process flagged me for such a project. Basically, Disney is looking for parents willing to complete surveys to help share thoughts on new products, online content, and advertising. I’m game. (By the way, does anyone else love getting stopped by the survey team at the parks, or is that just me?)



Sign up for your chance to:

• Test new products and receive exclusive coupons or offers from Disney and our promotional partners

• Shape the Disney online experience with topics that matter most to parents today

• Be chosen as our Mom (or Dad) of the Month feature on

• Win in our Parent Pulse Sweepstakes where we are giving away over $10,000 this year

Join the ranks of our influential parents -- earn your first chance to win!


The Disney Parent Pulse Team



Thank you for your interest in joining the Disney Parent Pulse Panel, a select board of advisors focused on topics that matter most to parents.

This is your chance to tell us what you think about issues that matter most to you and your family– everything from healthcare to housewares, from parenthood to your neighborhood and everything in between. Through the Disney Parent Pulse Panel, you will be asked to share your thoughts on a wide variety of topics, your interests and preferences, as well as your thoughts about new products, Web sites, and advertising.

What’s in it for you?

*Real Input

You have the opportunity to help shape the Disney online experience -- our programming, messaging, and the topics that matter most to parents today. Plus, you may also have the chance to test new products and receive exclusive offers from Disney and our promotional partners.


A select group of influential parents will be rewarded with a trip to the Disney Studios in Los Angeles and honored in a live parenting panel with an audience that includes Disney executives and leaders from top Fortune 500 companies. Plus, one Parent Pulse Panelist will be selected every month to be featured in our “Mom (or Dad) of the Month” special on


What else? Just by joining the panel and completing the following registration, you will be entered into our Parent Pulse Sweepstakes which will give away over $10,000 in cash prizes this year. In addition, for every survey you complete while participating in our panel, you are entered for an additional chance to win. Ten lucky panelists will be awarded $100 every month just for participating. See official Sweepstakes Rules under the “Rewards” section of this Web site for more details.

Your opinions are very important to us. Today, you will be answering some questions that will help us select the most relevant and interesting surveys for you and your family. If you have any questions about the survey, feel free to e-mail us at

First, we will ask you some questions to ensure that you qualify for participation in the panel. Please click "next" to continue.


The survey itself took about 15 minutes and I have no idea what would disqualify a person. If this wasn’t from Disney and if I hadn’t already decided I’d blog about it, I’m not sure I would have completed this survey. It felt very personal. The first questions were about me such as age and education. They then wanted to know about our household income and what type of vehicles we drive and what electronics we own. There were quite a few questions about online habits asking how much time per week you spend on various activities and lots of “do you go to this site” types of questions. I’d never heard of most of the sites they were asking about but most of them seemed geared toward parents. They asked for ages of children in the household and their online habits. I really wished there was a “none of the above” option for that page since Tink is too young for the internet. The funniest question wanted to know if you were a Disney fan (scale of 1-10), a Barbie fan, or I think Nick Jr. The Barbie thing just caught me off guard and made me laugh out loud. Guess they see her as competition for the princesses. In addition to asking about how many times you have visited Disney Parks and your level of interest in returning (puh-lease), they wanted to know my opinion of Disney and other communications companies. Another humorous question was how much money you’ve spent in the last year on Disney character merchandise. Uh, I’ll take the highest category. Other questions included topics such as what I do in my “me time” and what my family enjoys doing together.

After this process, I received a second email which included a link that must be clicked in order to activate my participation.

The site itself is pretty bare bones for a Disney product. Maybe they were just going for a clean look. Anyway, they will post additional surveys there from time to time. I am hoping they send some sort of reminder email because the odds of me going back to this site unprompted are slim. I spent a few minutes looking around at the small amount of information available currently. I found it interesting that the potential “rewards” for participating are even better than advertised on the email or the initial survey.




*Real Input

You have the opportunity to help shape the Disney online experience -- our programming, messaging, and the topics that matter most to parents today. Plus, you may also have the chance to test new products and receive exclusive offers from Disney and our promotional partners.


A select group of influential parents will have the chance at a trip to the Disney Studios in Los Angeles to be honored in a live parenting panel with an audience that includes Disney executives and leaders from top Fortune 500 companies. Plus, one Parent Pulse Panelist will be selected every month to be featured in our "Mom (or Dad) of the Month" special on


What else? Just by joining the panel and completing the following registration, you will be entered into our Parent Pulse Sweepstakes which will give away over $10,000 in cash prizes this year. In addition, for every survey you complete while participating in our panel, you are entered for an additional chance to win. Ten lucky panelists will be awarded $100 every month just for participating.


That’s it for now. I’ll post again if this becomes anything interesting. If you didn’t get the original email, I believe you can volunteer by going to

Friday, January 28, 2011

Guest Post: Disney Dream Christening Cruise 2011

I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the Disney Cruise Line Disney Dream Christening Cruise from January 19th through January 21st, 2011. Disney knows how to throw a party and this was a pretty amazing celebration. There was a live show Wednesday morning and then we were able to board the Dream. The Dream was in a word---spectacular! I sailed on the Disney Wonder in the Spring of 2010 and it was so much fun but the Dream was, well, awesome to say the least. I was on deck 10 in a deluxe family stateroom with a verandah and it was beautiful. The red pillow that is on the bed is so nice and comfortable I wished DCL was selling it because I would have bought one! Here are some pictures of the stateroom:

I had the chance to dine at the following restaurants and all the food was excellent. The service everywhere we went was top notch.  DCL really does have some amazing cast members on board.

The Royal Palace for dinner was excellent. The food was delicious and the service was wonderful. The atmosphere was elegant and I loved all the details that were on the floors, walls, and the glass slippers around the lighting in the center of the room.

I had the lobster and shrimp for my appetizer and the chicken salad for the main course. Both were excellent and since I wasn’t feeling full I had the strawberry shortcake for dessert. All the food was delicious!

I had breakfast at the Enchanted Garden and it was tasty. It was a buffet and the service was great. The themeing is quite lovely here and the colors were soft greens and pale pinks, very relaxing. Here is the seating area right next to the Enchanted Garden:

Animator's Palate is where you will find Crush and he interacts with you while you eat. The good was great and so was the service. I had a slice of pizza one night from Flo’s Café and it was very good.  The Cove Café coffee bar has a great selection to choose from and coffee was excellent.

We ate at Cabanas when we boarded the Dream and also the morning that we arrived back at Port Canaveral. We toured the clubs, saw the shows, and did some shopping while on board. I had chance to meet up with some fellow Disney travel agents I have become very good friends with but had not had the chance to meet in person so that was wonderful.

Castaway Cay was fabulous as usual; it really is a spectacular place and one of my favorite parts of sailing on the Disney Cruise Line. The Aqua Duck was wet, fast, and fun! The line was long but fun was had by all.

I am sure you can guess where this was?

For more pictures of the stateroom, dining, Castaway Cay, the Pirate Party, and the Dream in general please check out the TWTM blog and Magic Chat Live. I have already posted a ton of pics on the Travel with the Magic facebook page and will be sending more to Amy as well.

Have a Magical Day!!

Contributed by Kelly H. Russo, owner of Travel with the Magic and one of our Minnie Moms.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Photo Flashback - Remember Minnie Moo?

Do you remember Minnie Moo?
In the early 1990's Mickey's Starland hosted a petting zoo at Grandma Duck's Farm where Minnie Moo lived. Mickey's Starland was located where you found Mickey's Toontown Fair at the Magic Kingdom. Minnie Moo was Holstein cow born with a Mickey head icon on her side. Born around 1984, she lived to be about 15 years old spending her last years at the Tri-Circle D Ranch in Fort Wilderness after leaving Mickey's Starland. I took this picture in August 1993.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Minnie Moms: Ideal Age for a Child's First WDW Visit

What is the best age for a child's first Walt Disney World vacation?  This is a personal decision for each family.  The Growing Up Disney family recently answered this question.  I wanted the Minnie Moms to address this as well to help provide food for thought for other families.  As usual, the Minnie Moms have come up with some very helpful ideas from their own experiences. ---Amy

Janine: I am in two minds about this post. My heart is telling me one answer whilst my head (and DH) tells me something else.

As most of you know, we have yet to take our DD11mths (UK Tink) to WDW yet. If I had my own way (and an endless amount of cash) we would have travelled to The World with her this summer when she was 6 months. We did travel to France (you can check out my earlier blog detailing this first holiday) which was hard enough but despite the issues with travelling just to the neighbouring country, I would have loved in my heart to take her to the US. She already recognised and loved Mickey at this age.

However, I know in my heart that the 9 hour flight, 5 hour time difference along with the heat and humidity would not have suited her at all. We were still at the stage of nursing every couple of hours and napping during most sessions. Plus she was not a baby who would nap in the stroller or in the car that often so I realise I would have spent an awful lot of an expensive vacation in the hotel room.

That being said, if we actually lived in the US and there was not such an issue with time and weather, then I would say that 6 months 'could' be an ok, but it hugely depends on your own child. At 11 months, I would still not be sure about taking Tink as she still nurses and still needs both a morning and afternoon nap. She also doesn't sleep well at night and is even more unsettled somewhere new. Just visiting family one weekend ended up with her waking ELEVEN times during the night. You do NOT want to pay for an expensive holiday only to feel like rubbish and be unable to make rope drop or stay out late as you're too tired from lack of sleep.

Amy et al covered many different options in their team post and I would really just reiterate what has already been said. If you own DVC and go to WDW every year, then bringing along a small person of almost any age is unlikely to be an issue. There are many articles on this site relating to tips travelling with babies and essentials such as the baby care centres in the Parks.

However, I am more of the opinion (going with my head rather than my heart) that as our next trip is likely to be the only one for a few years now that I have become a SAHM, then we have decided to wait until she is 4. We understand it will be more expensive to wait a little longer as we will miss out on certain things - not paying for a seat on the airplane if they're small enough to sit on your lap and under three's getting in free to WDW and at things like the buffets. But here is our reason why.

We think that this will be a nice age where she is young enough to really appreciate and be totally absorbed in the magic, but old enough to know what is going on. Yes, the flight will still be very long for a tot and she'll still need naps and a special schedule to take on board travelling with both a toddler and grandparents, but we will be well practiced by then and know our child's likes/dislikes and tired/hungry/fed up signals etc. She will also be old enough to do a lot of the rides and attractions and interact fully with the characters.

All in all, although we can all give our opinions and advice, I truly believe that you only know if your child is ready for WDW by how your child acts. Someone's one year old may be ready along time before someone else's five year old is.

And most importantly, 2014 will be the epic meeting of the Tinks as we plan to meet up with Amy and her family, yay!

Corby: Deciding on when the ideal age is to take a child to Disney is sort of a tricky one for me. Disney has something for everyone no matter what age you are which is one of the reasons I love it so much. I do seem to always go back to the first time we took our son. He had recently turned 3 years old and that to me was our favorite trip out of them all so far (they’ve all been wonderful, by the way). Seeing the magic and wonder through a 3 year old's eyes was an experience in itself and one that I will always treasure. Because of this, I would say the perfect age for a child’s first visit would be somewhere around 3-6 years of age. With Fantasyland, all of the characters, playgrounds, fireworks, and parades (just to name a few), it’s a preschooler’s paradise. Having said that, there are some things that a preschooler will not be able to do and if naps are still involved, breaks may be required. The older kids, ages 7 and up will probably love riding the more “thrilling” rides and although they may not admit it, some of the “tamer” ones as well. Some of the attractions that have restrictions or may be a bit frightening to young children won’t be an issue as they are older which is nice. With older children, you also don’t have to worry about going back to the hotel for break time since they can go from morning until fireworks. For children under 3, we brought our 6 month old recently and even she enjoyed looking around at everything. There are all kinds of sights and sounds that can be intriguing even to an infant. So, while I wouldn’t recommend bringing your first child as an infant, if they happen to have an older sibling, I certainly wouldn’t let it stop me. No matter when you decide to take your child, I can assure you, they will have a magical time. After all, it is considered to be the “Happiest Place on Earth“!

Beth: Even before becoming a mom, I always looked forward to the day I could bring my children to Walt Disney World. I believe that you can bring a child to Walt Disney World at any age. The question I heard a lot when planning each of my children’s first trips was: they aren’t even going to remember it, why not wait until they are older? The reality is they aren’t going to remember their first trip, but I am. I’ll always remember Joey beaming ear to ear when he first spotted Buzz Lightyear. I can say that at 14 months, he would have been perfectly content spending our entire day in Disney’s MGM Studios (that’s what it was called at the time) at Al’s Toy Barn, the meet and greet area for the Toy Story characters. I remember Hayley’s face when she was just two as she first spotted Mickey and Minnie at Chef Mickey’s on the first night of her first trip. She hugged and kissed them as many times as she could each time they came to our table. I remember Emily at just 10 months dancing in her stroller while in Adventureland, dancing in her high chair as the other children paraded around Crystal Palace and dancing yet again at Hoop Dee Doo to the point that one of the performers came to our table to tell us what a good dancer she was. So even though my children may not remember these moments, it doesn’t mean they didn’t learn from them or enjoy them.

The great thing about being on Disney property is that you are completely immersed in emotions, sights and sounds. Infants and toddlers learn through seeing and hearing what is happening around them, especially when it comes to the expression in people’s voices and the expressions those people show on their faces. Hayley was two on her first trip, and it is amazing how much her vocabulary began to grow when we returned home. With everything she experienced that week in Disney, it seemed as though something clicked. My nephew was about one and half on this trip and my sister in law commented on the same thing. He suddenly was using words he hadn’t before the trip and was talking much more.  (Amy's note: Beth, I couldn't agree more.  Audrey went to WDW for her first birthday and at 18 months.  Both times when we got home, I said there must be something special in those Mickey waffles.  She also seemed to learn many new words during our trips and walked much better after the first one.)

If I had to pick a perfect age, I would say it is when you, the parent, are ready to experience your most magical vacation. For us, we made the decision to not visit when the kids were newborns. Emily was 10 months on her first trip and she may not have ridden the rides or been able to walk around the park, but we know she loved it because there were a lot of smiles, laughing and dancing. Of course, I know that we will visit the parks every other year, as long as we can afford it, so I know we will be back. If you are planning your one and only trip to WDW,  I would recommend waiting until your child is five or older, so they will have the opportunity to really experience and remember their time in WDW. But I will warn you, on my first trip to WDW my parents said that it would be our one and only trip. Let’s just say, it was such an amazing family vacation they took my brother and I back every other year. Now, 25 years later, we all still visit together, though now instead of four of us there are eleven! So, you may say it is a once in a lifetime trip, but after experiencing Walt Disney World with your children, you just might not be able to stay away!

Amy: This is a question where the right answer varies for each family. 

• For families such as ours who are regular guests at Walt Disney World, as long as you are willing to slow down your trip and do the extra work required, you could take a child as early as your next normal vacation time. Personally, I don’t think I’d take a child under 6 months, but I’m in the camp that doesn’t like strangers near my infant. Tink’s first trip was for her first birthday but I think her little sibling on the way won’t make it until later. My children will be around two years apart and two small ones might be a bit much, even with wonderful grandparents and uncle to help. Right now, I don’t know when my husband and I will be ready to brave the World with two little ones. We are moving much closer to the World, but we'll need to meet the new princess and see when she's up to the trip.

• For families that visit once every two or three years, I’d suggest waiting until your child is two or three years old. By that age, everything (feeding, potty breaks, etc.) is a little easier. Airlines do require you to buy a seat beginning at age two but Disney considers under threes as free for park tickets and buffet meals. By this age, children have a few favorite characters and are better able to interact with attractions and shows.

• For those families planning the once in a lifetime or once in a decade trip, I’d wait until your child is at least five years old. Not “so they’ll remember it” as many say because we do things for our children every day that they won’t remember. My reasoning is an extension of the ease factor from above. If this is a rare vacation for you, you’re more likely to want to see and do everything. While that’s even tough for adults, an older child will have more stamina to walk around the park and hopefully a little more patience for waiting in lines.

• And within each of the categories above, you’d just have to judge if your child is ready for the crowds, lots of stimulation, and long days. More outgoing kids might enjoy a Disney vacation at an earlier age than those with a more reserved personality. Tink loves being the welcoming committee and greeting those who have visited her parks.

Thanks to our Minnie Moms for sharing such helpful tips! If you have a question for us or a topic you'd like us to cover, please leave a comment or email Amy. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Walk Around The World With Ridge--Staying A Kid

When at Walt Disney World, I like to spend the majority of my time having fun and acting childlike. Now I say childlike not childish, because I retain my senses but I give in to the joys of my youth, such as...The Arcade. The Disney resorts have them and even Magic Kingdom has one. The arcade at Old Key West is small but has a relatively good selection of machines. Racing games, action games and first person shooters were there last time I stopped by.

On my last trip I went to the arcade at the Contemporary Resort. The arcade is a mere shadow of its former self. Formerly housed on the ground floor, it occupied a large section in the north end of the building. In the early 90s cell phones weren't carried in everyone's pocket so all the games I have now on an iPhone could crush Pac-Man and Galaxian. The arcades were like casinos for kids. No windows and no one leaves with any money.

Each of the resorts have an arcade and kids now have the added fun of not needing to be bothered with pockets full of change. It's all housed on player cards where you can load money to a prepaid card and use it at all the resort arcades. Its a good way to keep your cash neat and tidy. However just like cash it is impossible to identify so if you lose it, that's all she wrote. With the last card I had, I figured the best I could do is write my name on it in magic marker.

Aside from all the hassles and bothers of touching the same things that everyone else touched with their quite possibly greasy, grimy, snotty, unwashed hands, going to the arcade is the perfect way to bring back all the joys of being a kid for at least the length of a game. So next time you are there, take a few minutes and play a game and remember what it was like to waste all of your time and parent's money if even for a moment.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Boy or Girl?

Here's how we announced the gender of our little one on the way to family and friends at Christmas.

Those are strawberry cheesecake cookies, BTW.

Everyone was surprised and very excited.


Cheesecake cookies:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces butter, softened
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 box (18.25 oz) cake mix (red velvet is awesome.)

Blend first four ingredients.  (Use a mixer for this recipe.  It makes a dense dough.)  Add cake mix. Drop by the spoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350.  Don't let them get too brown.

Photo Flashback! Mickey's Best Friend

Just in case Pluto ever gets lost, his tag lets you know how to get him home.  What a cute detail!  I took this picture in 2007 at the Garden Grill Restaurant in The Land pavilion at Epcot.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Disney Vacation Club: Vacation Planner

At the first of the New Year I always look forward to receiving 2 things from The Disney Vacation Club in the mail.

First, I watch for the small envelope with our annual dues bill. Yuck! While I don’t like paying the bill, it means we can make reservations for another year. Yea!! Dues cover everything from the front desk, Security, and bus service to property tax. Dues keep the properties running.

The second thing I actually look forward to receiving is a large envelope with the annual DVC Vacation Planner. This is the fun part of the first of the year mail. It lists all the DVC properties and how you can use your vacation points for the coming year.

The Vacation Planner has developed over the years. Originally DVC would send you new point charts every year for what is now Old Key West. Then it became point charts for Old Key West and Vero Beach. It has slowly grown into what we got this month. This year’s edition is almost a “coffee table” picture book that is 9” x 12” with lots of pretty pictures.

The first section is called Reservation Tools and is a synopsis of the rules and regulations that govern DVC and making reservations. Next comes the “fun” parts. The next section has point charts for all of the DVC properties.

First up is Aulani, or properly “Aulani, Disney Vacation Club Villas, Ko Olina, Hawai’i” DVC's newest member. Points here range from 18 points a night (126 for a week) for a Deluxe Studio (standard view) during Adventure Season to 184 point a night (1288 for a week) for a Grand Villa during Premier Season (ocean view). Next up is the new Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Points here range from 14-16 points per night or 102 points for a week (standard view Adventure Season) to 1287 for a week (Premier Season) in a Magic Kingdom view Grand Villa. These are followed by point charts of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas, Disney’s Beach Club Villas, Disney’s Boardwalk Villas, Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, Disney’s Old Key West Resort, Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, The Villas at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, and The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.

That now makes 11 Disney Vacation Club properties. A property you own points at is your “Home Resort” and you have a home resort priority where you may begin to make reservations 11 months from your arrival date. At resorts you do not own a membership you may only make a reservation 7 months out from your arrival date. This 4 month window is your Home Resort Priority.

Other Disney properties that you may use your membership to make reservations for are part of the “Disney Collection”. The Disney Collection includes Moderate and Deluxe resort accommodations at Walt Disney World as well as campsites at Fort Wilderness Campground. Also included here are accommodations at Disneyland in California, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, and Tokyo Disney Resort. The last section of the Disney Collection is cruises on Disney Cruise Line where for 2011 will go to The Bahamas, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Mexican Rivera, Alaska, Panama Canal and 2 Transatlantic crossings.
The Vacation Planner then shows you all the fantastic places you may go with Adventures by Disney, The World Passport Collection and the Concierge Collection where you may book reservations almost anywhere in the world.

We have been Disney Vacation Club members since 1993 and have used our membership mostly to stay at Walt Disney World. Our home resort is Old Key West. We stay there the most but have also stayed at Saratoga Springs, Boardwalk, and Beach Club resorts at WDW. There have also been stays at Vero Beach, Hilton Head Island, and 2 cruises on Disney Cruise Line. The Vacation Planner is a dream book of how else and where else we can use our membership. It’s like being a kid looking through the Sears Christmas Catalog to find what toys you want for Christmas. This is our dream catalog of vacations that we can take this year, or next, or the next. With Disney Vacation Club the possibilities are almost endless. Where do we go next? I think the next trip may be Ridge’s solo trip to take more WDW pictures to post here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Marble Soda!!!

At least that's what I call it. Its a product of Japan and found in Epcot's Japan pavilion. I went to a local Asian market to pick up something for a friend and to what did my wondering eyes appear but Ramuné melon flavor soda. Now I am as happy as a little girl.

- Posted by Ridge using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, January 14, 2011

Magical Blogorail: Welcome Home!

Welcome to those of you joining us from Meet the Magic.  This is the 2nd stop on our Magical Blogorail.


My favorite Walt Disney World Resort is definitely Old Key West. My parents bought into the Disney Vacation Club in 1993 and at the time, Old Key West WAS the Vacation Club. The other resorts didn’t come along until later. Even once other DVC properties became available, we still always prefer to stay at OKW.

Granted, Old Key West lacks some of the pizzazz other resorts offer. There aren’t huge waterslides, you can’t walk to Epcot or visit a rooftop bar with Magic Kingdom views, and no giraffes will pass your veranda. However, Old Key West appeals to those looking for a little more relaxed atmosphere. It is themed like Key West after all and relaxation certainly rules in the Keys. The buildings are painted in pastel shades with white gingerbread trim that occasionally includes everyone’s favorite mouse. The lush landscaping continues the tropical island vibe. Inside is the true asset of this resort. SPACE! Old Key West’s villas are substantially larger than the other DVC properties. The DVC studios/villas all include essentially the same amenities but OKW’s offer more floor space and room to spread out. My family stayed in a 2 bedroom at Saratoga Springs during part of our last trip. While this is still far larger than an average hotel room, it feels cramped in comparison to Old Key West.

I also enjoy visiting the table service restaurant at Old Key West, Olivia’s. Again, it’s nothing flashy, but I’ve always had a nice, relaxing meal here. Reservations are available and I would suggest them, just to be on the safe side, for larger groups but we’ve always been able to walk up and be seated fairly quickly. At dinner, they serve yummy coconut pineapple bread while you wait on your meal. Chris discovered a burger on this bread at lunch on our last trip. My toddler is really hard to feed on the go since she favors fresh fruit and vegetables above all else and she loves Olivia’s fruit salad and carrots/green beans. If you ask DisneyDad where he wants to go to dinner, he’ll usually say Olivia’s and I don’t just mean when we are at WDW. It’s his go-to answer for that question.

Old Key West is on the canal leading to Downtown Disney and you can take a boat to and from the shopping and dining area. I usually prefer to take a bus over and then return leisurely by boat. This proximity to Downtown Disney is also nice for joggers. The OKW grounds themselves are good for a workout or you can catch the path at the back of the property and head to Saratoga Springs and Downtown Disney. It’s interesting to see that area so quiet early in the morning.

One of Disney’s golf courses runs through the property and the buildings are situated so that the patios or balconies have pleasant views. I love when we get a villa overlooking a pond with a fountain. It’s so nice to go out and spend a few minutes on the patio/balcony listening to the water and drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. And speaking of coffee, like other DVC properties, Old Key West has a fully equipped kitchen in the villas (studios have a kitchenette.) We don’t cook much on vacation, but it’s helpful to have breakfast in the room before heading out for the day.

Living room of a Grand Villa
Over the years, we’ve stayed in all sizes of accommodations. Studios, one bedroom villas, two bedroom villas, and in 2010 the three bedroom grand villa. Each has its own advantages but of course, the grand villa outshines the rest. With two stories, three bedrooms, four full baths, a large kitchen and dining room, and a two story living room, it would be my choice for each trip if it didn’t cost so many points. We normally get a two bedroom and it’s so nice to stay in the same place each time. I know exactly where all my things should go and can get settled in quite quickly. It really feels like home away from home. I’m kinda sad that they are refurbishing the rooms. The new colors just don’t look right to me.

Aunt Suzie and Mom at the pre-wedding welcome party

With all these years of visits, there is also a sentimental component to my choice. I remember being a young teenager checking my look, complete with belt pack, in the full length mirror of the second bedroom and watching a friend mug for the camera in the entry way in his Steak N Shake hat on our high school graduation trip. I remember celebrating Christmas in the living room of an Old Key West villa during my semester of WDW College Program and giggling with three of my best college friends in a studio during our January break. I remember countless nights of wanting to throw a pillow at my brother sleeping in the next bed and taking a nap in my cozy queen bed after completing the WDW marathon. I remember Mom hosting a welcome party in the kitchen and living room for family who had arrived for our Disney wedding and having my hair and makeup done at the kitchen table by Rex. I remember taking a photo on the balcony before leaving for our honeymoon and another before leaving for dinner at Jiko for our fifth wedding anniversary. I remember sleeping on the pull-out bed on the trip when I told Mom and Dad I was expecting my first child and the look on their faces at the patio table at Olivia’s when I told them another was on the way. I remember Mom overfilling the dining area cabinet with our favorite goodies and making more sausage balls in the kitchen when we ran out of our favorite breakfast treat. I remember how delighted we were to get 2 two bedroom villas next to each other and directly across from the Hospitality House on the wedding trip and how much my in-laws enjoyed their villa. I remember having breakfast at Olivia’s with friends and family before leaving for our Disney cruise honeymoon and even remember the days when Olivia’s had Pooh and friends at a character breakfast. I remember my daughter making a huge mess of her first birthday cake at the dining table in the grand villa and biting into her first Mickey ice cream bar in the living room of the grand villa as if she did that all the time.

"Tink" and her Mickey Mouse 1st birthday cake

Old Key West is a special resort to me and my family and certainly one I would recommend to others. If you’d like a little extra breathing room at the end of the day, this just might become one of your favorites as well.

Click here for an index of DisneyDad's articles on Disney Vacation Club.

Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail Loop is A Disney Mom's Love of Disney.

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:

Here are our links for the week:

1st Stop - Meet the Magic
2nd Stop - Growing Up Disney
3rd Stop - A Disney Mom's Love of Disney
4th Stop - Days in the Park
5th Stop - Crystal and Bryan's Disney Blog
6th Stop - Disney Babies Blog
7th Stop - MousekeFoodie
Final Stop - Cooking with Mickey

Monday, January 10, 2011

Team Post: Favorite WDW Attraction EVER

What is your favorite attraction EVER at WDW whether it is still there or not?

DisneyDad: Thinking of my favorite attraction at Walt Disney World is difficult. There is so much I have enjoyed there over the years. The first thing that comes to mind that I still miss is the Mickey Mouse Revue. I enjoyed watching Mickey conducting that orchestra.

Next is the Haunted Mansion. Riding through a haunted house with your “ghost host” has always been fun… and at the end you hear a request to “come back” and “be sure to bring your death certificate” so you can join the 999 happy haunts.

One of my favorite “attractions” is still there, sort-of. I use to love to go to Cinderella’s Royal Table inside Cinderella Castle when it was King Stephan’s Banquet Hall. Of course the question was always “why would Sleeping Beauty’s father have a restaurant in Cinderella Castle?” I miss the pewter plates and water goblets they used back then. I love it because it was a restaurant of character, not a restaurant with characters. I loved the King’s Cut Prime Rib too. I believe it had already changed its name, but not its atmosphere, when my wife celebrated our 25th Anniversary there. Our daughter surprised my wife by coming to dinner with us to celebrate. After dinner the waitress brought out a gift I had purchased for my wife as well as presenting us with beautiful restaurant logo champagne glasses with lots of Pixie Dust (Mickey head confetti) on the table.

My absolute favorite attraction is the feeling I get when I walk down Main Street, hand-in-hand with my wife and remember. I remember coming with my parents when the park first opened. I remember our first trip on our honeymoon. I remember sitting on the curb watching the 3 o’clock parade with my daughter in my lap. I remember the wonder on my son’s face the first time he saw Cinderella Castle. I remember bringing my in-laws and my mother-in-law fun at getting on the first bus that came by just to see where it takes you. I remember my daughter’s wedding at the Wedding Pavilion and a Glass Slipper. I remember fireworks as Amy told us she was expecting. I remember walking hand-in-hand with Tink as she took her first steps on Main Street. I remember dinner at Olivia’s. And soon I hope to take Tink’s little brother or sister on a walk down Main Street so one day they can remember.

Ridge: Most of the attractions I started with are still intact but I would have to say I am a coaster fan. I love all the mountains: Space, Splash, Thunder, Everest, as well as Rockin' Roller Coaster and the awesome Tower of Terror.

Amy: My favorite attraction ever is American Adventure. This show combines the ultimate in my history nerd-dom and my Disney geekery. Dad and I took a tour once about architheming (Disney loves to create their own words. Can you imagine the buzzwords that must be commonplace in their corporate meetings?) The building is an excellent example of forced perspective. To accommodate the show inside, it needed to be about five stories tall however that would be too large for the colonial architecture. Stop and take a look next time you are in World Showcase. They’ve done a really convincing job of making the building appear to be three stories on the exterior. Once inside, the rotunda is beautiful and the acoustics are wonderful for the groups that perform there. Voices of Liberty is the group you’ll see most often there and American Vybe used to appear semi-regularly. (Geek moment: I once was thrilled to see Jennifer from MMC in American Vybe.) About the show itself, I love watching this brief (and relatively cheerful) telling of the history of our country. The audio-animatronics are impressive. Chris and I have been known to sit on the front row to get a better view of the figures. I was so proud that Tink sat still and watched the whole show during this fall’s trip. The montage at the end always gets me.

Other than American Adventure, I love the classics: Haunted Mansion and Small World and Disney’s newer attractions that have done a great job with theming: Kilamajaro Safaris and Expedition: Everest.

I've enjoyed the attractions that are no longer with us, but Walt Disney World will always be a place that is always changing.  And this is how Walt wanted it.  While I may miss the old, it's fun to see what the Imagineers will create for us next.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Walk Around The World With Ridge--Running the Disney Marathon….as a Spectator

Several years back Amy trained like a maniac and ran the Marathon at Walt Disney World. She had caught the running bug and took off; sadly I haven’t followed in those particular footsteps. Andy and I planned out our attack plan to be at as many of the spectator locations as possible to cheer on Amy and her running partner, Andrew, as possible.

This was a time before I carried a large camera so it’s partly my fault for not having many (or any) pictures from the event. No, this is more about the story of excellent timing and Disney transportation getting us right where we needed to be.

The race day for Andy and I started early much as it did for Amy however none of that carb loading or deep stretching. We accompanied Dad & Mom for the early morning wait to watch the start of the event at Epcot. After the start we were off, armed with the course map and a rough estimate of Amy's average time per mile. Also the chip she wore on her shoe sent times and positions to my phone via text message to help us gage our needed locations.

Andy and I rode with Mom and Dad to the Magic Kingdom Parking lot where we then hopped on the resort monorail to disembark at Grand Floridian. We made our way to the road to wait for the runners to head our way from the Magic Kingdom. Andy and I didn't go into the Magic Kingdom: we left that for the parents to enjoy.

After Amy and Andrew passed us at the GF, it was back to the Monorail and to the TTC to catch a bus over to Animal Kingdom to wait for our heroes. Andy and I had a bit of a time making it to Animal Kingdom, then a dilemma, since we were delayed with longer than expected bus wait. Do we try to head inside and wait for them or hold our position outside the park? We didn't want to run the risk of missing them, then adding more travel time to our next destination. Safety first is a good rule. We cautioned ourselves and waited outside which proved to be a smart play because the dynamic running duo were hot on our heels.

Once the runners passed on by and got a boost of cheer, Andy and I left the front of Animal Kingdom and now had a new question. Do we take the bus to the Studios or Epcot? Since our last travel time had taken longer than we expected, we decided that we wouldn't chance not seeing the finish and went to Epcot.

Once we arrived at Epcot, being the magic (and massive) place that it is and us not being in marathon shape, Andy and I decided to hit the small café outside of the then Club Cool. We’d only had some water prior to this point. After a snack and some math to figure where the runners should be, all things considered and going well, a venture to the front of the park and out the gate to the finish was in order to await the accomplishment of a personal milestone for thousands of participants.

When it was all over hugs, smiles and some bananas were handed out, stories were told of the race route and characters, and the walk to the car was started so that we could take Amy back to the room. The whole day from race start to finish was only 5 hours 34 minutes.

To all those running in the marathon this year I say good luck. Some will be faster than others but you are really in an elite group of athletes. If you have the chance to go and root for someone in the Disney Marathon, do so. Try and be as many places as you can to see them. It does a lot to boost the sprits of everyone involved.

Good Luck this weekend RUNNERS!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Photo Flashback - 25th Birthday "Cakestle"

From October 1996 to January 1998 the Imagineers at Walt Disney World transformed Cinderella Castle into a huge pink birthday cake. This picture was taken November 1997.

Wikipedia reports "It took more than 400 gallons (1514 l) of pink paint to cover the castle, which was decorated with multicolored "sprinkles," 26 candles, ranging in height from 20–40 feet (6.1-12.2 m) tall, 16 two-foot (61 cm) long candy stars, 16 five-foot (1.5 m) candy bears, 12 five-foot (1.5 m) gumdrops, four six-foot (1.8 m) stacks of Life Savers, 30 three-foot (91 cm) lollipops, and 50 two-foot (61 cm) gumballs. Additionally, more than 1000 feet (305 m) of pink and blue inflatable "icing" was needed to finish it off."

I still have a hard time looking at this. While memorable, to me this was not the best idea the Imagineers ever had.

Focused on the Magic