Category Archives: All Things Disney

It’s perfectly normal to plan your next trip to Disney while you are still there…

Because, who really goes to Disney and doesn’t start thinking of when they might get back for another magical visit.  Yes, that was the underlying rhythm of my time at Disney Social Media Moms.  “It’s ok if we can’t do that because we’ll be back in November.”  “Won’t IT Boy enjoying doing that…in November!”

In December of last year, I started looking to 2012 to try and plan a vacation for the family to WDW.  I knew that Grandma and the kids were in, I just had to work on Mr. IT.  Once I got consensus from the whole crew, I started looking for a hotel.

At first, we thought staying at one of the Disney Vacation Club villas was the way to go.  A one bedroom would give us a good amount of room…and beds…for the family.  Unfortunately, since I didn’t want the kids out of school for a long time, we were going during Thanksgiving week and that means peak season rates.  The villas were just crazy expensive.  So I checked out Art of Animation, where they have family suites.  At this point, the resort wasn’t open and I knew little about it.  But it sounded nice, so I looked.  I could get a suite for a decent rate.

My last step was to check out the Swan and Dolphin.  We’ve stayed here a lot.  So much so that Soccer Girl and I are truthfully a little burnt out on them.  They are lovely properties in an ideal location, but they aren’t Disney.  They’re operated by Starwood, which means they are top notch hotels, but a little lacking in the pixie dust.  They also cater to a convention crowd, which means their peak times aren’t necessarily in sync with Disney properties, and sometimes you can use it to your advantage.  I was able to do just that, securing two rooms for about what the Art of Animation suite would run.

However, once Soccer Girl saw the Art of Animation resort, she was determined to stay there.  And I really couldn’t blame her.  It’s new, it’s stunning, and it’s dripping in pixie dust.  But I kept thinking about how our ROOMS at the Dolphin offered 4 beds for 5 people – nice heavenly beds too.

Leave it to K, who has the office next to me at work, to come up with a solution.  She patiently listened to my dilema and suggested we stay one or two nights at the Art of Animation to give us a feel for the place, and then transfer to the Dolphin.  I initiatlly resisted, because I just hate packing and unpacking.  But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.  One day would be enough to allow IT Boy the time to climb on every car in the Cars area, and allow Soccer Girl to soak up all that the Nemo pool has to offer.  It would also provide us with the Magic Express service to Disney, which you don’t get at the Swan and Dolphin hotels.

In the end, I think we’ll be really happy with that compromise.

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort – Cars!

In my previous posts, I showed you a bit of the inside and outside of the Finding Nemo areas of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.  Soccer Girl and I were completely falling in love with this place.  She desperately wanted to change our November vacation plans to stay at this resort.  I, tho a fan as well, felt the resort might be a bit better for a family that wasn’t 5 people including a grandmother.

She dragged me over to the Cars area to help make up my mind in her favor.  While not open and a little dark, the area could be viewed through some barriers.  You could see that this was something special.

This was the path away from Animation Hall and the Nemo area leading to Cars.

The pool wasn’t visible, but just hearing it called “Cozy Cone” made me smile.

Good thing IT Boy wasn’t there or he would have been climbing all over Doc Hudson.

Even though it was dark and hard to photograph, it was plain to see that you were in a completely different world from Nemo.  You felt like you were walking right into the set of Cars.  As if there were a set.  Which, as a digitally animated movie, there wasn’t.  But you knew that, right?

So, what to do, what to do?  Soccer Girl was making her case, and continuing to make her case all the way home to NY.  It wasn’t until I put on my Winnie the Pooh think think think hat that I came up with what I think is a brilliant solution.  Oh yeah, and I also got the idea from my neighbor at work.  Giving credit where credit is due.  More about that in my next post.

Where do you like to stay at WDW?  What are your priorities when it comes to accommodations? Location?  Transportation?  Themes?  Let me know in the comments below.

Disclosure: As an attendee of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, I received for a fee hotel accommodations, park tickets, many meals and access to special events not made available to the public.  Disney did not ask me or anyone to blog about this event, but being a fan of the company I can’t help myself. This post originally ran on ConfessionsofanITGirl.com.  

 

Disney’s Art of Animation Resort – The Suites

In a previous post, I started my sneak-peak at the new Art of Animation Resort at Walt Disney World.  Art of Animation is a new value resort featuring family suites and standard rooms that put you in the world of some of your favorite Disney animated films.

The closing night party of Disney Social Media Moms was held at the resort.  As you can see, we had a great time.

But as great as the resort was from the outside, we couldn’t wait to see what the rooms look like.  I haven’t stayed in the value resort properties, so I had never experienced what Disney considered a “family suite.”

This is what you see when you first walk into the room.  It’s in the small entry area of the suite.  You think, oh, it’s a a table and chairs.  But it’s more than that, as you will soon see.

Off to the right, at least in the room I looked at, was the living area.  You can see some drawers for storage, a TV and all the way on the left is a rack for hanging clothes.  These rooms certainly make the most out of the space.

This is the other side of the living room area.  Anyone who has seen Nemo even half as much as I have will get a kick out of all the cute touches like the hanging school of fish.

To the right of the couch is this “kitchenette”.  It’s a microwave, sink and a fridge.  You’re not doing any real cooking here, but it’s great for snacks and light meals.

Here’s the bedroom and the queen sized bed.  Notice the special Mickey towel sculpture.

The rooms also have TVs and dressers – behind the door is another clothing rack for storage.

Remember the dining room table earlier in the post?  Voila – it folds down to be a second bed in the room.

I had to try it out.  It was pretty comfy all things considered.

The couch in the living area also folds out to be a bed.  Overall, the suites can sleep 5 – two in the queen bed in the bedroom, 2 in the pull down bed, and 1 on the couch.

The suites have two full bathrooms, which is a big selling point for me.

Themeing, as you can expect, is really everywhere.

We were all wowed by the attention to detail in these rooms.  You really felt like you were living in Nemo’s world.

I still had some reservations about us changing our vacation plans to stay here, as Soccer Girl was begging and pleading me to do.  I think the rooms are perfect for a family who might otherwise consider getting 2 rooms to fit everyone and all their stuff.  If it was just our family going, this would be perfect.  But Grandma was coming on this trip, and the sleeping arrangements would be complicated to say the least.

To persuade me further, Soccer Girl walked me into the still under-construction Cars area.  Cars is one of IT Boy’s favorite movies, and she knew that if she were going to plead her case, the Boy was the way to my heart.  Stay tuned…

Where do you like to stay at WDW?  What are your priorities when it comes to accommodations? Location?  Transportation?  Themes?  Let me know in the comments below.

Disclosure: As an attendee of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, I received for a fee hotel accommodations, park tickets, many meals and access to special events not made available to the public.  Disney did not ask me or anyone to blog about this event, but being a fan of the company I can’t help myself. This post originally ran on ConfessionsofanITGirl.com.  

First Impressions of Disney’s Art of Animation Resort

The closing night party of Disney Social Media Moms was held at the soon-to-open Art of Animation resort.  We were all so excited to see what magic Disney had in store for us, but no one was prepared for how amazing this resort is turning out.

Here’s the view when we pulled up on the buses, and would probably be your first view of the resort as an arriving guest.  Right away, I knew we were in for some fun.

The resort celebrates Disney’s history of leadership and creativity in animation.   That’s on display right away when you enter “Animation Hall.”

Animation Hall traces the history of animation as only Disney could.  When you come through the doors, you see very simple pencil sketches lining the walls. You may also notice that the floor is black and white.  But as you walk along, the sketches start to evolve into more finishes images.

The floor too changes from monochrome to brush strokes and rich colors, finally to the pixels that represent digital animation.


This shot gives you a wide view of the other side of the reception area as it leads away from the entrance.

Once you’ve checked in, guests can head to their rooms, or get a bit to eat at the food court on the other end of Animation Hall.  It’s not functioning yet, but I got a few shots of the dining area.

Disney really knows how to roll out the welcome mat.  When we showed up at the hotel, there was a line of cast members who broke out into applause.  As if *we* had done anything to create this magic resort!  Plus, they had cocktails for us.  I liked these people immediately.

We soon left Animation Hall, because as lovely as it was, it was only the beginning…

There was FOOD!  Around the most beautiful sight you could imagine.  This is the Finding Nemo themed pool, and once open it will be the largest pool on Disney property.  The theming and imagery was OFF THE HOOK.

Soccer Girl was walking around with her mouth wide open in amazement.  Or maybe that was from the food.  Whatever it was, this place was winning her over.

If you have a kid who is into the animated films, specifically The Lion King, Finding Nemo, The Little Mermaid or Cars, you have got to consider Art of Animation when making your Disney travel plans.  It’s as if your favorite movies have come to life.

Soccer Girl was in heaven, and she knew her little brother would be too.  But I already had confirmed reservations at another resort on property and wasn’t sure we wanted to change.

In my next post, I take you on a tour of one of the family suites at Art of Animation.  You’re going to see how an already tough decision got tougher.

Disclosure: As an attendee of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, I received for a fee hotel accommodations, park tickets, many meals and access to special events not made available to the public.  Disney did not ask me or anyone to blog about this event, but being a fan of the company I can’t help myself. This post previously ran on Confessions Of An It Girl.  

Disney on Ice Presents TREASURE TROVE – Giveaway!

345 x 276 Art

It’s that time of year again!  Disney on Ice is coming to a city near you.  Well, in this case, near me.

I’m sure I went to see the show once or twice when I was a kid.  I never took Sarah when she was young, but I did get the chance a few years ago to take her and her brother J.  He was a bit nervous when the show first started.  The arena was BIG and CROWDED and LOUD and he didn’t know what to expect.  When the show started, he was sitting firmly in my lap, head buried in my shoulder.  It took him a little while to become comfortable with the concept, but as soon as he saw Donald Duck out on the ice, he warmed up to the concept.  By the end, he was complaining that he had to leave, he had such a great time.

I’m thrilled to have the chance to take J and Sarah to Disney On Ice next month.  Treasure Trove is this year’s show, and it features new characters like Rapunzel and Flynn from TANGLED along with old favorites like Tiana, Cinderella, Jasmine, Ariel, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Mulan and of course, the one who started it all, Snow White.  In case your boy is not a princess fan (my boy LOVES the ladies), he’ll be thrilled to set sail with Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and that sneaky pirate Captain Hook and his pirate pals on an adventure beyond Never Land.  In our case, we don’t have a character that isn’t a favorite.

The shows are the perfect length for young attention spans.  As a former ice skater, I always appreciate the talent and skill that the performers bring to the production.  I could barely skate holding a tissue in my hand, and in this show you have people doing it in wigs, costumes and Mickey heads.  Impressive indeed.

There are some great opening night specials available for the venues if you want to experience Disney On Ice: Treasure Trove for yourself.  Check them out at the links below:

IZOD Center: http://www.ticketmaster.com/event/00004935C5CEE7E9?artistid=1606655&majorcatid=10003&minorcatid=22?camefrom=cfc_feld_momsc

Nassau Coliseum: http://www.ticketmaster.com/event/0000493586A1677D?artistid=1606655&majorcatid=10003&minorcatid=22?camefrom=cfc_feld_momsc

 

And now, A GIVEWAY!  Thanks to Feld Entertainment, one lucky reader of PIXIE DUST GIRLS is going to win a family 4 pack of tickets to one of the NYC area Disney On Ice: Treasure Trove shows (Nassau Coliseum, Barclay’s Center, Izod Center, or Prudential Center) – here’s how it is going to go down…

1. To enter, you must leave a comment on this post telling me what  your favorite Disney character is.

2. Optional: Become a fan of PIXIE DUST GIRLS on Facebook (and leave a separate comment that you have done this)

3. Winners will be chosen by random number generator on 1/3/2013 at 9pm EST.  You will have 48 hours to respond to me acknowledging the win, or will pick another winner.

Good luck!

Disclosure: I received my tickets and the giveaway tickets from Feld Entertainment.  No other compensation was given.  

 

Photo Memories with Photo Pass Plus

This post was originally published on ConfessionsofanITGirl.com

Attendees of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration got a surprise on opening night when we were all given Photo Pass Plus kits.

If you’ve been to a Disney park, you’re probably familiar with the Disney Photo Pass photographers in key photogenic locations around the parks.  They take your picture in front of Cinderella’s Castle…

or the Eiffel Tower in EPCOT…

and then they beam your photos onto a plastic card.  The card is reusable, allowing you to load all your pictures on for safe keeping.  At the end of your trip, you can take the card to a Photo Plus station and get prints made or order a CD of all your pictures, for a fee.  You can also do this at home from the Photo Pass online site.

Photo Pass Plus is a little different.  With PhotoPass+ you get access to digital files of all your PhotoPass photos, attraction photos, and Dining photos taken within a 14 day visit to Walt Disney as well as print packages at select dining locations.  Once you arrive home from your vacation, you can view your photos and order a PhotoCD with all the high resolution photos plus a limited license agreement, which allows you to print photos at any local photo processing center.

Photo Pass Plus kits are sold at PhotoPass View Stations located throughout Walt Disney World – you can’t buy them online.  They are currently priced at $199.  I won’t say that’s cheap, but if you are the type of person that likes to have a lot of pictures, especially the ones from attractions and the dining packages, this might be for you.

Soccer Girl and I were on a such a quick trip it was hard to get the most out of it.  But I know what when we bring the whole family back in November, this is definitely something we will want.

I’d never take the time and spend the money to buy this picture on it’s own.  But, it’s included with Photo Pass Plus.  As soon as we realized it, we started getting photos from all participating attractions.

Who WOULDN’T want this beauty?  We didn’t do any Character Meals, but knowing that we could get those pictures added to the Photo Pass Plus would certainly appeal to me.

With the regular photo pass, you can get all the photos loaded onto a CD either during or after your visit.  If you do it during, they usually give you some free printouts along with your CD.  If you do it after, you get to add all sorts of cool photo borders to your pictures.  I love these and hence prefer to do it after the trip through mail order.

So, while we hardly had enough of time to make proper use of this, I was super grateful for the opportunity to give it a test drive.  I definitetly would consider it for future trips because I like that kind of “all you can eat” option.  For more information, visit the Disney PhotoPass site.

Disclosure: As an attendee of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, I received for a fee hotel accommodations, a Photo Pass Plus, park tickets, many meals and access to special events not made available to the public.  Disney did not ask me or anyone to blog about this event, but being a fan of the company I can’t help myself. 

 

Traveling to WDW with food allergies? Read on!

This post originally ran on Trueconfessions.wordpress.com.  

My mom, Soccer Girl, and I just got back from a one week vacation to Walt Disney World. It’s certainly among our favorite places to visit, and not just because of all the great rides and attractions. Most visitors walk around Disney in amazement, marveling about how they think of just everything. Thankfully, that goes for food allergies too. One of the reasons that I enjoy going is the great attention they pay to the needs of those with special diets.

Soccer Girl has a food allergy.   As such, the world can be a scary place. Ever since she was diagnosed 6 years ago, we’ve put an allergy plan into place for her. It’s kind of a like a “WWSGD” that helps her cope with any situation where food is involved.

Disney too has it’s own food allergy action plan. Based on my experiences, during this trip and prior ones, it works and can make your vacation a whole lot more relaxing.  I’ve put together a list of do’s and dont’s for anyone planning on going to Disney who has to deal with food allergies.  I hope you find it helpful in planning your visit to WDW.

DO be sure to tell people at any restaurant that you have a food allergy. The Disney protocol seems to be to have you talk directly with a manager or chef, and this works fairly well.

DO read lists of ingredients, just like you do at home. At the counter service places, the front desk cashiers have “the book” that lists ingredients for all menu items, and in some cases has ingredient lists and nutritional information pulled directly from the packaging. Yes, this is one sad way to learn that Toy Story Pizza Planet serves frozen pizza from distributor, but you know with confidence that you are getting food that works for you.

DO plan in advance. You can make restaurant reservations (currently) 90 days before your visit. Tell your reservationist that you have allergies so it’s noted on your reservation. In most cases, they will have access to the phone numbers so you can call the restaurant directly and talk to the chef about any special needs you might have. This is important because…

DO call restaurants in advance if you are visiting because of a certain menu item. For instance, at Le Cellier in the Canada pavilion at EPCOT, SG was prepared to have the dish she had last year, their most yummy Portobello Mushroom Ravioli. However, when the chef came out during the meal to go over menu options, this was off her list because the dish now contains pine nuts. She was most disappointed, and while she willingly had the prime rib, it really wasn’t what she wanted. Lesson learned, I walked into the Morocco pavilion a couple of days before our planned meal there to ask if the dish she’s been obsessed with was ok to eat. Wouldn’t want to take the chance of breaking her heart again, so in the future, I will definitely call ahead to discuss menu items. I assume this is the way you would want to go if you had more complex allergy issues because they can do things for you if you give them enough advance warning.

DON’T assume that there is not a menu option for you. I met a woman from Venezuela on line at Pizza Planet who had a son with celiac. She had been relying on food she brought from home or bought locally, supplemented by fruit and other things on the regular menu. Unfortunately, that night she forgot to bring something for him, and was anxious about having him see pizzas for everyone and not being able to partake. She had no idea that you could get a gluten-free pizza there if you specially requested it. I knew because I saw the Amy’s label in the allergy book there. I got to chat with her and give her some advice about how to find gluten free items for him. The boy was so happy to find a pizza he could eat – a pizza, I might add, that looked way better than the ones we had.  Ask at every counter service, and when you make dining reservations, call ahead and see what the options are.

DON’T be surprised when hiccups happen.   At Pizza Planet, I assumed the front cashier needed to mark “allergy” on our order. However, because the manager and I agreed there were no nuts/chance of nuts in the pizza, and they didn’t have any nut products in the restaurant, eliminating the chance for cross-contamination, we were just going to get a regular pizza. By marking allergy, I ended up spending time waiting for a special pizza that wasn’t coming. But that was my fault as much as anyone else’s!  We also had the experience in the Germany pavilion where SG decided she wanted a pretzel. The woman working at the pretzel cart wouldn’t confirm or deny nuts in the pretzel, insisting I seek out a manager, who was working at the back of the pavilion. I headed back there, and looked for him, but he wasn’t around. They called him on walkie-talkie, but after 10 minutes, he was a no-show and I gave up. She ended up with popcorn, and was just as happy.  In one counter service place, the chef made a special batch of chicken nuggets for us, and told us to only take the food from him directly.   A staff member kept trying to place nuggets on our tray, but we told him no, and another staff member corrected him, reminding him of the protocol.   Thankfully, these hiccups showed that Disney tends to err more on the side of safe, avoiding sorry wherever possible.

DO bring your epi-pen, benadryl, or whatever other medical precautions you have to deal with a reaction.  Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean you give up following your usual protocols for your allergies.

DON’T be rude.  Be pleasant, say please and thank you.  This may sound stupid and obvious, but these people are going the extra mile for you.   Let them know their efforts are appreciated.   We got wonderful service at some of the counter service places, the aforementioned Le Cellier and Restaurant Marrakesh, Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge (where the chef walked us through the buffet and offered to make a special dessert for SG) and Fresh at the Dolphin.  Special mention must be made of Kona Grill, where the chef made a special “Big Kahuna” for our little Kahuna, and Tutta Italia at EPCOT, because they didn’t give up in helping SG find a dessert that worked for her.  They seemed happy to do it, and I was certainly happy to have it happen.  So often kids with food allergies feel alienated and left out at mealtime.  It was great to have her feel special at mealtime.

DISCLAIMER: There are my experiences at WDW, and mine alone. Your mileage may vary. I encourage you to do your own research to help meet your own individual needs.  For more inforomation on food allergies, visit the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.  Disney also maintains their own food allergy page you can check out for more info.

Going FREE-RANGE at EPCOT

Are you familiar with Lenore Skenazy and her movement (and Wiley book of the same name) “Free Range Kids”?  Lenore is the mom who wrote the article for the New York Sun on how she let her 9 year old son take the subway home alone, a ride that he had taken with her many, many times.   She got a huge amount of media attention, for and against, and used it to launch her Free Range platform.

I felt a lot like Lenore while I was at Disney Social Media Moms.  You see, the celebration is very much a professional business conference.  As such, on day 2, there was a full line up of speakers for us to learn from and be inspired by.  This action packed day was just for attendees – the assumption was that family members would tour the parks or hit the pool while we were getting our learning on.

For most families, that was not an issue.  But for me, I didn’t have my spouse or partner with me to look after my 12 year old daughter.  I didn’t want to try and bring her to the conference – it was clearly not allowed, and even if I could get an exception, she’d be bored out of her mind listening to the speakers, which would make me miserable.  Disney does offer “kids clubs” and in-room babysitting, but since the age ranges was listed as 4-12, I felt silly considering it for someone at the top of the range.

While it seems like I debated this issue, I really didn’t.  As soon as I realized she and I would be going to Disney Social Media Moms, I assumed she would tour a park by herself while I attended the conference.  And with that, you would think I put her on the subway herself the first time.

I heard from a number of friends, and Mr. IT about how this was NOT a good idea.  That “things could happen.”  That she wasn’t to be trusted by herself.

Hogwash, I thought.  First off, she’s been to Disney more times than I can count.  She knows her way around better than most adults.  Secondly, it’s not as if I wasn’t close by and reachable by cell phone.  And lastly, she’s a good kid and I trust her.

We came up with a plan, and I was so impressed to see her doing most of the planning.

We decided that it was best for her to go to EPCOT.  The Disney conference was at the Yacht and Beach Club Convention Center, and EPCOT was the park that was closest and within walking distance.  I mean, it’s not like Disney transportation is dangerous, far from it.  I just wanted to know that if something happened that she couldn’t handle, I could walk to her.  She seemed ok with that, and understood my concern.

She was to carry her cell phone and Epi pen (food allergic) with her in a small purse.  She was NOT to lose her room key, park pass or anything else – on penalty of extreme mom rage as these were not replaceable.  She could buy food, within reason, and had to have the discussion about food allergies with the staff at the food service places herself.  She was not permitted to buy expensive souvenirs or do any shopping.  That had to wait for me, so I could join in the fun.  I also asked that she text me every once in a while, partly to make sure I knew where she was, but also so I could vicariously live the day through her. She researched the park online and used apps to view maps so she could remember where everything was.  She knew she could do it, and I was going to cheer her on.

When I settled into my seat to begin the day at the conference, I kept my iPhone on the desk waiting for texts.  She kept to her word and texted about every hour.  I learned that she road “Soarin'” about 6 times and visited Figment at “Journey to Imagination”.   Breakfast was easy – she got some sort of breakfast sandwich at the food court in “Living with the Land.”  Lunch was not so easy – there were a couple of places she wanted to go, having researched all the menus on her iPod app beforehand, but she really wanted to find a place with good seating.  As she said, she didn’t want to be “that person eating with their tray perched on a garbage can.”  What a great image.  She ended up in Mexico after walking through several of the pavilions in World Showcase.  Seemed to be a good choice for her.

I was thrilled when I viewed our PhotoPass pictures and saw that she went through the Character Spot in EPCOT all by herself, autograph book and pen in hand.

She also tracked down a PhotoPass photographer to do some fun outside shots.

When we reunited at the end of the conference sessions, I planned for us to head straight to Animal Kingdom where our dinner was that night.  Nice idea, but she had other plans.  It was hot, she was tired and she ran herself ragged.  While she agreed to go to AK with me because I wanted to go, I knew she really wanted to head to the pool.  Which we did.  She had a new-found confidence about her that was so great to see. I’m glad she had the opportunity to go “free range” that day. She learned a lot about herself and what she was capable of.  She learned to trust her gut and make the right choices.  Now, I am left to wonder if she will want “me time” on our next visits – I hope my coaster buddy still wants to hang out with me!

Disclosure: As an attendee of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, I received for a fee hotel accommodations, park tickets, many meals and access to special events not made available to the public.  Disney did not ask me or anyone to blog about this event, but being a fan of the company I can’t help myself.  It was originally published on ConfessionsofanITgirl.com on May 24, 2012