Friday, August 31, 2012

Magic Kingdom Silhouettes, A Family Tradition

Silhouettes are one of the unique souvenirs available to you at Walt Disney World.  The one on the left above is of me at age 3 on my first WDW vacation.  The one on the right is of my daughters and was done in May 2012.  Tink was also three years old and Minnie was 11 months and enjoying her first visit.  I plan on having the girls sit for these from time to time.  It will be a fun way to watch them grow.

I was surprised at how quickly the artist worked.  We didn't have to wait long at all and with two squirmy little girls right before a parade in wicked heat, that was a blessing.

The silhouette of two faces is about $17 and you get two mirror image copies.  That's not bad for such a personalized item.  If you'd like their oval frame, it is reasonably priced but I chose to frame it myself.  The backing paper is a standard 5x7.  

Our silhouette was done near the Christmas shop in Liberty Square.  There is also a cart on Main Street and I believe one in France at Epcot and at Downtown Disney. 

The Disney Parks Blog had a nice post on this topic including a video.

Have you had a silhouette done of yourself or your family? Is this a must-have souvenir for you?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Photo Flashback! Peek-A-Boo

A baby bat from the enclosure at Animal Kingdom.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Double Stroller with Options for Walt Disney World

Before Minnie was born, I started shopping for a doublestroller.  We already had two single strollers (Maclaren Volo and Bob Revolution) that we loved but with the girls only 25 months apart, Tink would still be young enough to need a seat too.  I wanted one stroller that would do it all but alas, that just doesn’t seem to exist.  We live in North Carolina with nice weather and lots of festivals so a Bob Dualie (clearance priced!) won out.  Bob makes a fantastic stroller.  They are easy to push with large seats, huge canopies, excellent suspension, and infant car seat compatible.  The weight isn’t really that bad since most double strollers are heavy; but it’s the overall size that makes it a less than ideal Walt Disney World or general travel stroller in my opinion.  Granted, we saw lots of Big Bobs at the parks in May but mine won’t be joining their ranks.  We now drive to WDW and we own a minivan but even with the wheels removed, Big Bob still eats up a lot of space.  I take it shopping but it’s really designed to be an outdoor stroller.  While jogging, it doesn’t feel nearly as tank-like as it does in the post office.  Plus, even on sale, Bobs are pricey and stroller theft does occasionally happen.

These concerns sent me back to stroller shopping around Christmas.  I knew we would be going to Walt Disney World this year and in years to come.  Minnie didn’t need much so if I found THE smaller double stroller, I’d put it on her Christmas wish list.  I found several great models but with so much already invested in the three strollers we had, it seemed wasteful to buy another. I still keep an eye out for a steal on a Maclaren Twin Triumph, a City Mini Double, a Combi Twin Sport, or maybe a Joovy Caboose Ultralight. 

One morning in December, I checked Craigslist and happened to find a used Maclaren Quest listed for $20.  Needless to say, I called.  The seller told me about the stroller and said she had received another call on it but she would be home that morning if I wanted the first look at it.  I rounded up the girls and drove the hour to her house.  The stroller definitely showed some wear and tear but the frame and seat were in good shape and I handed over the money.  The Quest has a reclining seatback and extendable footrest, both of which make it great for my smaller child.  It weighs about 12 pounds before accessories.  The foam on one handle has some damage and I’m thinking about wrapping the handles with bike tape in a bright color before our next WDW trip.  That will serve double duty as it will also help us find it faster in the stroller corrals.  I already owned a seat liner that fit nicely, provided a bit more padding and covered the sunscreen stains I couldn’t wash off.  I bought a sunshade and cupholder from Amazon.  We've used this stroller quite a bit for preschool, errands, etc.

So why did I buy another single stroller? Well, I also purchased stroller connectors from Amazon for $10 and viola, a double stroller.  The connectors work best when the stroller frames are alike or very similar in size.  Since my original travel stroller is a Maclaren Volo, it matched up nearly perfectly with the Maclaren Quest.  Now we have a lightweight double stroller for travel that gives us flexibility.  Tink is three and most of the time thinks she is too big for a stroller.  Minnie is 14 months old and while she is a great little walker, a stroller is a must for Disney days.  For shorter outings, we can just take one stroller.  In May, we went to Downtown Disney on our first night and left Tink’s stroller behind in the room.  We only took one stroller to Disney’s Hollywood Studios as well since most of what we would do with the kiddos was toward the front of the park.  The caveat with that statement is that my mom gets around Disney World on her scooter and Tink thinks riding with Granny is the best thing ever. 

Why have the second stroller when it is empty most of the time?  One word: naptime.  Tink still needs an afternoon nap but won’t take one willingly.  We won’t be making the trek back to Old Key West for an afternoon break because it would be a waste of time for my family.   We do take a break, but it’s either a visit to a resort or pushing the girls until they fall asleep in the stroller and then relaxing wherever we happen to be.  We normally travel with a group so there is always someone willing to sit with the sleeping child and people watch. That brings me back to another benefit of the two-stroller system.  It’s likely that the girls will nap at different times.  If we want to go in separate directions with strollers, we have that option.

The stroller connectors come in a set of three and the instructions show where to place them.  Inevitably the front wheels will occasionally tangle up.  I found this happened much less frequently when both girls where riding and therefore there was weight in the stroller.  It just takes a little time to get used to taking turns a little easier to keep the wheels apart.  However, it’s simple to disconnect them by leaning the stroller back a bit and gently shaking.

Two single strollers connected together is wider than a standard double stroller but you can rarely take a stroller inside at WDW so it wasn’t an issue.  We kept them separate until after we entered each park.  It was easier to go through the front turnstiles with my dad and I each taking a girl and her stroller.  Tink hated riding in the stroller on those mornings but it was nice to have her safely contained as we waited through bag check and entrance lines, as well as on a packed ferry to Magic Kingdom.  We also split the strollers and Dad and I each pushed a girl one day to lunch when we had all gotten too hot, tired and hungry.  I did run into a couple of spots where the combined strollers were either a little too big or just barely fit.  In those cases, we got through but it’s really not a big deal since I could always just unhook them and push them through separately if I had really needed to do so.

My dad was kind enough to do most of the stroller pushing during our trip in May.  Toward the end of the week, I asked him if he would have preferred the double Bob over the connected Maclarens.  He’s a tall man, so his answer was just “which has the highest handles?”  I’m closer to 5’5” so all of our strollers work for me height-wise.   I was pleasantly surprised with how well the connected stroller handled.  Other than the occasional wheel lock-up, it pushed great. 

Our next vacation is planned for November and this time we’ll have 5 adults and 2 kids.  If Tink doesn’t want to sit in her stroller as we enter the park, that’s fine because we will have enough hands to take care of kids and gear.  We’ll still have her stroller for nap purposes.  I wish we could figure out a way to attach one folded stroller to either the open stroller or Mom’s scooter but it’s just too big.   With the stroller connectors in place, the extra stroller rides like a sidecar to Minnie’s stroller and can always carry my backpack. 

I’ve recently scheduled a trip for January for myself, my two girls, and one of my best friends, also named Amy.  She and I will be using Disney transportation for the whole trip so we’ll need to get the two girls and two strollers on and off buses, etc.  Thankfully the Maclaren strollers are lightweight at 8 and 12 pounds and I think I can handle that better than one behemoth.  I’m flying and meeting Amy in Orlando so I’ll have the girls by myself in the airports and on the plane.   I have flown alone with Tink before so I am aware of how I’ll need to prepare.  I’m planning on checking the heavier of our two strollers with our suitcases.  We’ll take the smaller one with us through security and gate check it.  I have considered checking them both or just renting a double stroller for this trip but I think it will be worth it to be able to corral at least one of the girls in the airports.  Tink will get out a little energy by walking, which will hopefully help her sit still on the plane.  I can keep her close by having her hold her handle on the stroller.

I’ve really been thinking about a sit and stand type stroller for flying, visiting family in DC, errands, etc.  Again, I can’t justify buying another stroller but I have gone to test drive some just for the fun of it.  I didn’t care for the Baby Trend or Graco versions for my purposes.  I’d like to test out the Joovy Caboose Ultralight but I’ll have to do that some time when I am over in Charlotte as there isn’t a nearby store that sells them.  We tend to travel with the single Bob and Tink has figured out that she can jump on the front for a ride.  Minnie's legs are getting too long for this to work much longer since she's discovered that she can kick big sister.  Which brings me to another bonus of traveling to WDW with two single strollers...separating the kids.  The stroller connectors keep the seats apart so it's like having two captains chairs in a van.

We've been taking more family walks getting ready for our November trip.  I've taken the single/double stroller, which reminds me just how much I like this set up.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Walk Around The World With Ridge-- What to do with those pictures?

Me in action!
With my continually growing love of photography, managing my files is a real concern. I love to come in from the parks and get that immediate gratification of viewing the fruits of my photographic labors before I sleep.  When I am at home I load my pictures to my main PC (yes I have more than one computer, nerd alert!) then back them up to my external hard drive. But what will you do on a vacation? Take a laptop, iPad or android-based tablet or just leave them on your memory cards until you get home? While there is no right or wrong answer, I’ll tell you how I get by and keep up with my work.
Old Key West Lighthouse

When I drive to WDW space isn’t really a concern and I will bring my laptop along. This is a handy thing since in our world of instant connections and the interwebz staying plugged in is just a hazard of living. However, I do like to disconnect sometimes. But this isn’t helpful for the topic at hand. With rooms at the resorts having internet access and most of them having free wifi now you can post to twitter, Facebook, tumbler or anywhere else pretty easily. I don’t know about everyone else but I collect memory cards for my camera. I find them on sale and horde them. I have about 128 gig worth of them and I could never worry about downloading them till I get home, but as mentioned before we have to get posting to the internet!

Not only is my laptop good for storage but Photoshop is a tool to make good photos great. Sometimes you just can’t get those images right in the camera so I will want to clean up the keepers and show them to the world!

Flying to WDW has become more and more frequent for me and I bought myself a new toy to rival the iPad for those trips. I have an AsusTransformer Prime, with the detachable key board and built in SD card reader. This is a 32 gig internal storage that also has a mini SD card expansion that I put an additional 32 gig of space. There are lots of Photoshop mobile apps that do a pretty good job of emulating the desktop version. Before I bought the Asus, I borrowed my parent’s iPad but it requires an additional device to transfer your pictures however it really doesn’t take anything away from the experience. Both of these devices are fantastic at letting you review your work in stunning high definition. 
Product Image

What do you like to do with your photos while you are away from home? What is your device of choice for travel?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Disney and Fisher-Price Toys

I had a rare chance to go shopping alone this evening.  I went to my local big box store to get the usual: milk, bread, princess stuff.  What? You don't buy bread?  Kidding.  I don't really know what drew me to the toy section.  Seriously, I just cleaned out toys this week and now have a fabulous rotation system.  Thanks to this project I know that my girls own 6 Little People sets: dollhouse, Noah's ark, school, airplane, princess building kit, and fairy house, as well as a few assorted individual people and animals. And this Christmas, I am pretty sure I will finally break down and buy the nativity set too.  So, we're big fans. I was very excited to see that our favorite princesses were now available in their F-P Little People version.  Are these cute or what? 

I can definitely see some of these joining our collection.  I'll be flying alone with the girls in January.  A couple of sets may be surprise gifts once we are onboard, probably Belle & Beast and Rapunzel & Tiana.

The dolls interact with the castle playset.  Unfortunately you have to buy the castle to get Snow White at all or Cinderella in her ballgown.

If you'd like Ariel in her mermaid form, then this is the set for you.

LOVE these for the younger kiddos!

Also from Disney Baby, cute bath toys.

And no, I didn't get a thing for this.  Just wanted to share.  Goodnight!
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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Photo Flashback! This Morning is Looking Up

Doesn't just the thought of the balloons on Main Street U.S.A bring a smile to your face?
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Monday, August 20, 2012

Minnie Moms: Tips for a Child's First WDW Vacation

One of our own Minnie Moms, Janine, asked for some help from the rest of the gang this month.  In late September, she and her husband will be bringing their two and a half year old daughter to Walt Disney World for her first visit.  Nine requested the other ladies offer their advice for this journey.  

A bit of background in case you've not read Nine's planning blog.  She and her husband live in the UK and have visited WDW many times so she knows what to do to prepare the adults, plan the trip, etc.  Hotel and airline reservations have been made, park hopper tickets have been purchased, international travel paperwork has been filed.  They visited Disneyland Paris this summer.  But like most moms taking her child to a new place far from home, Nine would like a little reassurance from her friends.

Amy:  Nine, I didn't send you a list of tips because, well, we've talked so much in the last couple of years that I can't imagine what else I would say.  I know you will have a fantastic time.  Overprepare before you go, expect that not everthing will go as planned, and relax once the vacation is underway.  I know you and you'll make it all about F's amazing smile.  I hope you get some time to truly relax as a family. Please take lots of pictures for Auntie Amy!!

Natalie: You may want to verify that the 14 day Disney World Tickets are available for purchase in the United States. There is a possibility that they may only be available in England since they are not available to US Citizens.

You will be here for Food and Wine Festival. Do you have plans to visit that event while in EPCOT during your travels? There are also many events you can take part in during the festival, both free and paid. Also taking place during that timeframe is Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party. This is a great event that Tink would appreciate. Everyone can dress up and enjoy an evening of candy, Halloween-themed parade and fireworks, as well as reduced attraction line waits!

What is ESTA and API?

Nine's reply: Thank you for your suggestions and questions!

We've already pre-purchased the 14 day Disney tickets because you assumed correctly they are just for guests from the UK.

Yes we most certainly do have plans to visit EPCOT during the Food and Wine Festival especially as they have opened a veggie friendly vegan Marketplace this year, yummy.

We have decided not to do MNSSHP this year. We are not sure how long it'll take Tink to adjust to Florida time, so for a few days she may well be going to bed very early. She does not nap in her stroller so that wouldn't be an option either, too nosey. It's the same reason we are not planning any fireworks this year, we just don't want the pressure of whether she'll be able to stay up or get over-tired and cranky.

As for ESTA and API, the ESTA is the American Visa that we have to apply for electronically now rather than fill out a piece of paper on the plane, and pay for $14 each. API equals Advanced Passenger Information and is just extra info that your Travel Agent or flight company require before you can fly.  This is mainly just repetitive info such as your passport number.

Danielle: Hi Janine! Congrats on taking Tink on her first magical trip to WDW! She will absolutely love it. I say this because you seem to be planning this vacation with the perfect goal in mind: relaxation. With a toddler it's just not feasible to do commando park-touring. An over-tired kid will not be fun for anyone! Your plan of returning to the hotel after lunch is a good one. That's what we always do with our little ones and it works great. It gives them a chance to unwind and then they are ready to go for a fun evening! Arriving for rope drop is also brilliant (sounds like you know what you are doing!) As you know, toddlers do NOT like waiting for anything so arriving early will ensure only minimal waiting, if any, at that time of year. You seem to have a good handle on everything, so my main advice would be to stop and smell the roses! I'm not familiar with your hotel, but I'm sure it has a lovely pool. Take a couple of "break" days and let Tink eat a leisurely breakfast, and enjoy the hotel pool. If being in the Parks every day is a must-do for you, then allow a couple of low-key park days. For example, browse the gift shops, let Tink play in the playgrounds (ie. The Laughing Place outside of Splash Mountain), or water features (ie. the Tiki Men in Adventureland), and watch the entertainment (parades or street entertainment). This will avoid burn-out but instead ensure you all appreciate the "little things" that WDW has to offer!!

Nine's Reply: This is all great advice thank you and exactly what we are planning for this trip. As we are not first timers to WDW and we know we will be back, we don't feel the need to rush about this time. This is also our first trip where we will be concentrating solely on the Disney parks which again puts less of a pressure on us to have to do stuff every day. We are totally going to let Tink dictate the timings with most of the holiday, she is only 2 and with a 5 hour time difference it'll be a struggle for a few days. So if it means just a couple of park hours in the morning, a midday rest and sleep then an afternoon in the pool for a few days then so be it. This holiday will be about being together as a family and we're looking forward to wandering around the parks enjoying the atmosphere and scenery rather than rushing for Fast Passes!

Corby:  Tips for Nine

  • Get to the parks as early as possible!
  • Take advantage of Disney's FASTPASS system.
  • If possible, take a break in the afternoon (if hotel is nearby) and return in the evening for evening entertainment. It will be less hot and less crowded than in the middle of the afternoon.
  • Meet princesses early at Town Hall at Magic Kingdom. Wait times get long and FASTPASSES may run out.
  • Enjoy seeing the enjoyment through Tink's eyes. If she prefers to stand in line for meet and greets all day or swim at the pool for example, try not to get frustrated.
  • Start off with baby steps when it comes to attractions and then work your way up. If Tink is apprehensive about a certain attraction, skip it or use the rider swap option. More than likely, she won't want to ride anything else afterwards if she gets scared.
  • Bring a change of clothes so Tink can get wet, especially for the new sprayground in Storybook Circus Land. It's a real soaker!
  • Take advantage of Disney's Photopass photographers. They will use your camera to take pictures as well so you have your entire family in the photo. If you think you'll order photos, order Photopass CD in advance to get a discount.
  • Mark your stroller so it's easy to find.
  • If there is rain in the forecast at all, bring ponchos. You may want to wear them on Splash Mountain or Kali River Rapids so you don't get too soaked.
  • Bring your sense of humor and patience. It's easy to lose it at times but try to remember you are at Disney World!
  • Treasure each moment and HAVE FUN! :) 

Nine's Reply: Corby, wow, where do I start? Have you written the book on Tips for Kids at WDW?
  • We will definitely be early mainly due to the 5 hour time difference.
  • We will totally use Fast Pass, always do!
  • Afternoon naps are a MUST our good neighbour hotel is just a 13.5 minute drive from Magic Kingdom.
  • Love idea to meet Princesses early, guess that applies to Mickey too?
  • We will do whatever Tink wants so long as it is not IASW 100 times ;)
  • As long as it's IASW we will be ok ... All other rides so far she's said I don't like it. But we'll work on it
  • My child loves to get wet. I'd better bring 2 changes of clothes!
  • Love Photopass, always get a ton, especially Magic pictures 
  • Stroller marking is a fab idea, we have a Maclaren Volo which is popular in the US too so better think of something to make it stand out, an inexpensive scarf maybe?
  • Remember we are British, we ALWAYS have a poncho/raincoat/rain cover/umbrella etc ;)
  • I'll try to remember to pack my patience ...
  • We will have fun, thank you so much!

Thank you to Natalie, Danielle, Corby and Janine for joining me on this month's post.  Please check out past articles from these and the rest of our Minnie Moms team.

Nine, we all wish you a wonderful, magical, relaxing vacation!  ~Amy

Friday, August 17, 2012

Magical Blogorail: What's that Smell? WDW Scents We Love and Loathe

Welcome to the first stop aboard Magical Blogorail Red.  Enjoy the ride as we discuss the Disney scents that have ingrained themselves in our memories, either for good or bad.

At Walt Disney World, the Imagineers try to engage as many senses as possible.  You are encouraged to see, hear, and touch the attractions to really take in the story.  Some parts of the World also include scents, intentional or otherwise, that are an important part of the experience.

When I started training as a Cast Member in Disney College Program, we took a walking tour of the Magic Kingdom as a part of a course known as Traditions.  I thought it was so cool (and just a little sneaky) that the aroma of freshly baked cookies from the Main Street Bakery as you walk down the sidewalk really comes from cinnamon and vanilla oils.  Think giant air freshener.

My family spends most of our vacations at Walt Disney World and we adore Disney transportation.  No, it's not super fast but we love letting someone else do the driving, getting dropped off at the front, riding the monorail and boats, and just generally relaxing.  As such, diesel bus fumes smell like vacation to me.  Doesn't matter where I am, if a bus goes by, instead of hating the stench, I'm wishing I was getting on a Disney bus to anywhere.  Along those lines, that kind of musty smell in the monorail welcomes me home as I say "por favor mantenganse alejado de las puertas."

I hope my Oklahoma friends aren't offended by this one because I say it with love.  Prior to marrying my husband and moving near Tulsa, Oklahoma, for his new job, I can't say that I had ever smelled a skunk other than when Figment causes trouble at the Imagination pavilion.  Our house in Oklahoma was in an area where growing suburb meets pasture land and the smell of skunk was frequently in the air.  (Tip for life: if you ever accidentally hit a skunk with your car, go straight to the nearest car wash.) So now when Figment is being a little stinker, I get a little homesick for my Oklahomies.

Disney isn't known for their coffee but on our trip when I was expecting Minnie, I could not tolerate the smell of coffee at all, despite normally being a coffee junkie.  I remember having to literally run past a coffee cart in Animal Kingdom because the aroma was so strong.

I asked DisneyDad what scents would make his list and he answered with the following:
Spaceship Earth - Rome burning
The Land boat ride- citrus
Pirates- water
Main Street - popcorn
It's Tough to Be a Bug- Clair de Roome
I'd add the pie fragrance in Mickey's Philharmagic to this list as well as the citrus scent in Soarin'.  Also the roasted nuts carts anywhere.

A dear friend answered the same question for me.  She said:
"I love the smell when you first walk onto Main Street.  The smell of sweets and innocence!"
"Animal Kingdom used to have this really 'wild' smell like you were really in Africa."
"The smell walking into the Polynesian lobby is like walking into paradise. Smells flowery and relaxing."

The idea for this month's topic came from Disney's recent announcement of air fresheners for your car based on favorite Disney Parks snacks.  These include turkey leg, candy apple, Mickey ice cream bar and Mickey waffle and they are scheduled for release in August.  I find these amusing but I know I won't be buying one on my upcoming trips.  What do you think of the air fresheners?  Do you have one?  What scents have I left out of my article above that always remind you of happy times or send you running far away?
Air freshener photos from Disney Parks Blog

Thank you for joining me today. Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail Loop is My Dreams 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:
1st Stop ~ Growing Up Disney
2nd Stop ~ My Dreams Of Disney
3rd Stop ~ Disney Donna Kay
4th Stop ~ Colorado Mountain Mom
Final Stop ~ A World View

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Photo Flashback! Winter Summerland

Disney's Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course

Walt Disney World
Mom's Favorite Passtime at WDW

Mom in the swing!

Hole in One!!
Mom's favorite thing to do outside of the Parks is to visit Disney's Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course.  She especially enjoys it when she wins!  These were from a trip in October 2006 while taking a break from the EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Bringing the Magic Home: Carrot Cake Cookies (RECIPE)

I love carrot cake cookies from Writer's Stop at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  The Growing Up Disney family first discovered them a few years back and they have been a "must do" for us ever since.  We even hosted a meet at Writer's Stop and had a great time sharing cookies and conversation.  If you haven't tried one yet, this confection consists of yummy cream cheese icing sandwiched between two huge carrot cake cookies.  Definitely a treat to share with a couple of friends or tuck in your bag to finish later.

carrot cake cookie recipe, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Writer's Stop

I have a great recipe for cheesecake cookies that I have shared here before.  It makes delicious cookies, is really easy and is simple to vary since it it is based on a cake mix.  One day I had the idea to try to recreate Writer's Stop carrot cake cookies at home using this recipe.  Truth be told, I was also annoyed with myself that I hadn't thought of it before.

I picked up a Duncan Hines cake mix and icing.  Yes, you could make the icing yourself but I wanted to keep this quick and simple.  You know, the kind of thing you could make on a Friday night when you wish you were heading off to the parks the next morning.  

carrot cake cookie recipe, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Writer's Stop

This cake mix includes dried carrots and raisins.  They add a nice touch to the finished cookies.
carrot cake cookie recipe, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Writer's Stop

I'd recommend busting out the mixer for this recipe, carrot cake version or not.  It makes a dough that is too dense to mix by hand.
carrot cake cookie recipe, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Writer's Stop

I make considerably smaller cookies than they do at WDW.  A cookie scoop makes this process much faster and less messy.  If your dough is too sticky, pop it in the fridge for a few minutes.  
carrot cake cookie recipe, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Writer's Stop

The hardest part....waiting
carrot cake cookie recipe, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Writer's Stop

The finished product.  My mom says she prefers the flavor of this cookie over Disney's.  Let me know what you think when you make them yourself. 
carrot cake cookie recipe, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Writer's Stop 

Carrot Cake Cookies

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces butter, softened
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 cup hot water
1 box (18.25 oz) carrot cake mix (I suggest Duncan Hines)
1 container cream cheese icing or your own favorite recipe

Measure one cup very hot tap water in a glass measuring cup.  Soak carrot/raisin mixture for 5 minutes and then drain well, reserving the liquid.  Set aside to cool.  Blend first four ingredients.  (Use a mixer for this recipe.  It makes a dense dough.)  Gradually add cake mix, carrot/raisin mixture, and one to two tablespoons of the reserved soaking liquid. Drop by the spoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350.  Don't let them get too brown.  Cool for 3 minutes on cookie sheet and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.  Makes 3-4 dozen cookies.  Add a dollop of cream cheese icing to a cookie and top with another to make a sandwich.  Enjoy!

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Friday, August 10, 2012

A Walk Around the World With Ridge -- On or Off Property

I'm sure that I have in some way covered this topic several times in the past but it was asked of me today at work. I'm the "Disney Guy" as I'm sure many of you have the moniker in your own circles. So the question asked of me is can they save money by staying off property?  It is a couple with a 4 year old son and they'd like to visit at Thanksgiving. The crux of the whole thing is money. We all want to save a dollar when we travel, and especially with gas prices so high it becomes a real issue. Anywho I quickly rattled off the two things I myself do when looking to book on cash.

·         Check the internet for prices (Priceline,, Kayak, Orbitz, etc.)

·         Call an Authorized Disney Travel Agent

Starting with Priceline and other web services:  I've used Priceline pretty often and can usually get what I would feel like is a good deal.  However something to remember with online shopping, no matter which service you use, are the hotel fees that are not included in the price of the room. You'll be paying those when you get there. Some hotels have parking fees and room amenity fees; it can be a mess but not too bad a hassle. There are several little tips for using services like Priceline that can help you work around some of the features that limit how many times you can bid in a day. Just by changing a couple of your criteria you can keep trying for rooms. I think that WDW Today has done a great job of talking about booking and I suggest giving them a listen. Try Episode 1066 - Priceline. Another thing to remember about staying off property is parking ON property. Some of the hotels off property will run a shuttle over to the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) but if you drive yourself it is 14 dollars a day.

Personally having stayed both on and off property, I very much prefer on, but I have an Annual Pass that gives me free parking and room discounts. The Value Resorts for Disney tend to be only slightly higher than those outside property but if there is a deal or a special running you can get a package that will bring everything back inline price wise. This is where an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner comes in. I wish I had the time to become one myself.  You discuss your plans, goals, dreams or what have you and they do all the leg work to accomplish it for you for the best price they can. Also it costs you nothing to use their services. I personally have used friends of the site Travel With the Magic when I have booked stays on cash rather than with DVC points.  I can go on about my day and someone else gets to run around and book stays, ADRs and any other services that are available.

Having a little one changes up the situation just a little. I myself not having anything but my Boston Terrier, Lily, know next to nothing about travel with children. From being around my sister with two little ones and having already made several goes at it at Disney with them. I can say that research is going to be key. Use the internet and telephone and call up some of the hotels that you might find on some of the barging hunting sites. Find out what is standard and what comes at a price. I feel like as far as some of the accommodations and kid friendliness, Disney is going to win that hands down. When in the parks stick to a schedule as much as possible for eating and napping. It's going to be hard because everyone is out of their usual comfort zone and excited to be at Disney. However try as you might you can't do it all everyday or else someone is going to be very cranky. As I people watch I see it most often being the adults that lose their cool first.

So the moral of the story is research. To learn about Disney there are lots of informational sites and as I have said many times before my favorite general information site is Hotels, restaurants, services, you name it something probably exists about it on that site. For park planning I prefer and the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. There is so much information available that it is silly not to know what you are getting into before you go. Everyone will have good and bad trips and almost everyone knows someone that has been. Reach out to those friends as well, listen to the good and the bad, read up on it and make the best decisions you can.

For more, please visit Around the World with Ridge

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Monday, August 6, 2012

Nine's Disney Adventures Continue: Up Next, WDW!

So, here we are at 47 days to go until our next and (UK) Tink's first visit to WDW.  We've ticked a few more things off our to-do list so things are coming along nicely.

In case you didn't follow my Disneyland Paris plans, here is a brief synopsis.

First trip together
Myself, my husband (DH) and our 2 year-old daughter (DD), Tink, will be travelling to Florida on 22nd Sept thru Oct 6th. It will be DH's 7th and my 5th trip to WDW but the first time in America for DD. We took her to DLP in June and she loved it. She adores everything Disney and talks about the upcoming trip on a daily basis.

So far we have -

Booked flights and upgraded to Premium seats. This comes with all the usual First Class perks, extra room, first on/off the plane, dedicated check-in, extra luggage allowance, more food and unlimited drinks etc. The sole reason we've upgraded is the time we hope it'll save at the airports. We also have use of the lounge for free at Sanford coming home which will make leaving the US a little easier.

Booked the hotel. The Clarion Inn in Lake Buena Vista which is a Disney 'Good Neighbour' hotel. I still need to email them this week to confirm the request for a ground floor, car park facing room, rather than the I-4. It's our first time staying in LBV but we've heard only good things about this family style hotel.
Janine and Felicity at Disneyland Paris

Booked car hire and upgraded to Fully Inclusive insurance package and intermediate sized car.

Booked Disney park tickets - we've got the 14 day park hopper tickets which are only available in the UK. Tink is still free as only 2 years old.

Got our ESTAs (Visas) as we now have to apply online before we travel. We have thankfully been approved, phew!

Got some dollars and are busy saving every penny to get some more.

Checked all passports are in date.

Travel insurance sorted.

Made sure we've got plenty of shorts and tee-shirts to wear. I don't know about the US, but the UK shops now have their winter stock for sale ie jeans, sweaters, coats etc. Not good when you suddenly realize you only have one pair of shorts to take to Orlando in the September heat ... Luckily anything we haven't got now we know we can buy Stateside, and it gives us the perfect excuse for a shopping trip. I can't wait to visit those Outlet Malls!. Tink of course has several new outfits bought especially for this holiday including a couple of gorgeous Minnie dresses for when she meets her. I'm still trying to find a Princess outfit to fit and not too fussy for the parks.

Most toiletries purchased already, courtesy of working for Avon and getting some great bargains!

New 'park' bag bought - a Kipling ... Not sure if these are available in the US but they are very popular amongst UK WDW fans as they have so many pockets and seem to be just like Mary Poppins bag, seriously, the stuff you can shove in them is awesome!

New waterproof sun hat and sunglasses for Tink. She'll be getting some new trainers (sneakers) but we'll leave those until just before we go as her feet grow all the time.

Touring Plans and The Dibb Busy Day Guide consulted. We have made a MAJOR decision. We are not doing Magic Kingdom on our first day. The reason? When we did DLP Tink loved the Disneyland Park so much she cried when we went to the Studios. So we have decided to leave MK until last, so she can experience each of the other parks first before she becomes obsessed with MK, Fantasyland and it's a small world in particular! It will be tough for me not to see The Castle on my first morning though *gulp*. We've decided to do Hollywood Studios first as we know Tink will love Toy Story Mania (DH will run straight there after rope drop), Playhouse Disney Live and Beauty and the Beast. We plan to just spend a couple of hours there on the first morning, it'll no doubt be tiring (there is a 5 hour time difference) and overwhelming for Tink to start with.

And that is going to be the theme of the holiday really. We will try to get to the parks for rope drop each day because we know that madam will be up early for a while whilst she adjusts to US time. Therefore it makes sense to get to the parks as early as possible. But because she still has a daytime nap, and only does this in her crib (never sleeps in stroller and very rarely in the car) we plan to just spend a couple of hours in Disney then head back to the hotel for a rest. We will then pop back out in the afternoon but this might be to a mall or DTD, something less hectic than a park again for the first few days. As she gets used to the time difference and the heat we hope to extend the time we spend in the parks or go back in the afternoon but there is no pressure. We just want to enjoy ourselves in our Happy Place and get some great memories of Tink's First Visit to The Mouse.

Check back with me next month when I talk about what attractions we hope Tink will enjoy and what dining arrangements we are making!

Contributed by Janine P. of Swindon, England. She is a proud wife, mommy to Felicity and one of our Minnie Moms.  Check out her  monthly series which followed her as she planned her family's first trip to Disneyland Paris.  Learn more about Janine here.