Saturday, July 23, 2016

Mickey Mouse in the Kitchen Giveaway

Whistle while you work! And that you will when your Disney adventures follow you home and set up shop in your kitchen. We have relived some of our favorite magical memories over a breakfast of homemade Mickey Mouse waffles at our own kitchen table.

Now you can do the same (and more) with this fabulous giveaway!  We've got breakfast, lunch, and snacking covered with these decorative, EAR-enhanced gadgets.

Up close and personal:

Thanks to our Pixie-Dusted crew (Open Suitcase, Can Do It Mom, Sherry, Dawn's Dorky DiaryLola Lambchops, Sweet Crazy Life, Motherhood and Beyond, My Small World , and Journeys with Jenn) all this could be yours if your entry is right!!

Open to residents of U.S. only, 18 years of age and over. An Open Suitcase is responsible for shipment of prize. All entries will be verified. Winner has 48 hours to claim prize after notification. Starts on Sunday July 24 (actually at midnight on Saturday night) and runs for 2 weeks through midnight on August 7.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 14, 2016

8 Things Americans Will NOT Find in Disneyland Paris

Bienvenue!  In preparation for the quickly approaching inaugural Disneyland Paris Half Marathon Weekend, I thought I would kick-off a new series on Bastille Day! My Guide to Disneyland Paris will share tidbits I picked up on my last trip to this French resort and will be a primer for newcomers.  To start at the beginning, I thought I would highlight items that stood out to me as a Walt Disney World/Disneyland regular.  As I have said before, the differences found at each Disney Park are not good or bad, yet simply magic of a different color.

1.  Disney's Magical Express

Orlando vacationers have become used to (and love) this free shuttle service from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World Resort; not having to worry about gathering your luggage from the baggage carousel or navigating the 30-minute drive to your hotel is certainly a dream come true.  Though you won't find this service at Disneyland Resort either, it sure would be a welcome addition to the Disneyland Paris experience.  There, your choices of transportation are:
-  Magic Shuttle  (Not a Disney-owned company)
 Roundtrip coach bus service from Paris-Charles de Gaulle or Orly Airports will cost approximately 36 Euro.
-   TGV high-speed train between CDG Airport Terminal 2 and Disneyland Paris takes about 12 minutes and tickets start at 18 Euro for a one-way, second-class trip.
-   RER trains will require a transfer in Paris proper, take approximately 90 minutes, and start at 17 Euro for a one-way trip.
**  Be aware, that if you lug giant, multiple suitcases (like I always do) there is a significant outdoor walk from Marne-la-Vallee /Chessy station to your on-site hotel; Disneyland Hotel Paris is the closest and Disney's Newport Bay Club the farthest.  If the weather is not ideal, (and as I describe later, ioftenen is not) it may be a chore.
Disney's Sequoia Lodge
2.  Pixie Dusted Hotels

I've been fortunate to have stayed at all three Disneyland Resort hotels, and 75% of those at Walt Disney World Resort; the hotels at Disneyland Paris are... different.  (Read Disneyland Hotel Paris | An American's Review.)  Granted, a couple of the hotels have undergone refurbishment since I was there last, but in general, they appeared worn and not as "sparkly" as what we in the US are used to.  The Cast Members are a bit more reserved, the rooms lacking attention to detail (when we stayed at Disney's Sequoia Lodge last, there was a hole- literally a hole I could put my finger through- to the outside!), and overall, lacked that reliable pixie dust.   There are seven Disney Hotels on-property, ranging from "five-keys" of quality to zero-keys, and priced commensurately.  Be aware, the nightly prices include park tickets and breakfast, but one night at Disneyland Paris Hotel with a Classic Room starts at $1,424.  By contrast, a one-night package with tickets at its Walt Disney World Resort cousin- Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa-  will cost $638.  I think the numbers speak for themselves!  Nearby, you can find eight less expensive Partner Hotels, but unlike Disneyland Resort, these off-property hotels are not in walking distance of the parks.

3.  FastPass+

You will not find FastPass+ nor MagicBands, but you will find a FASTPASS system similar to that of Disneyland Resort.  Unlike the USA parks, there are two extra tiers of tickets:
-  Disney Hotel FASTPASS
One given for each day of their stay to each Guest staying in a Classic or Deluxe Room at Disneyland Hotel Paris, and Club Rooms at Disney's Hotel New York, Disney's Newport Bay Club, and Disney's Sequoia Lodge.  (Not valid between the hours of  1:00 pm and 4:00 pm.)
Unlimited access to all FASTPASS queues for Guests staying in suites and the Castle Club at Disneyland Hotel Paris, Disney's Hotel New York, Disney's Newport Bay Club, and Disney's Sequoia Lodge.
Restaurant Agrabah Cafe
4.  Fine French Dining?

This was possibly the most disappointing part of our 12-day trip to Disneyland Paris, and I would not have had such high expectations had I been warned.  I will not let you suffer a similar fate!  Though we dined at every table-service restaurant in both parks (with the exception of  Bistro Chez Remy, which was not yet open), and most of the resort hotels, we had but one standout meal.  (Walt's- an American Restaurant)  Most meals ranged from fair to good, and many of the menus seemed limited in scope.  As you may have heard, alcohol is served at both parks, so perhaps you will not mind a lackluster dinner or two.

Disney Village
5.  An Expansive Downtown Disney Area

While there can be no comparisons made to the new Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort, most Disney Parks fans in the US have come to expect a shopping, dining, recreation and entertainment area that supplements their experience outside the parks.  Disney Village is a smaller-scale region that hosts the Rainforest Cafe, Starbucks, and Earl of Sandwich, along with American favorites such as McDonald's and Planet Hollywood; Cafe Mickey is also located here.  You will find a cinema and "PanoraMagique" (same operator as Characters in Flight) and the requisite Disney Store!  If you are staying at any of the on-property hotels (with the exception of Disneyland Hotel Paris and Disney's Davy Crockett Ranch), you will need to walk through Disney Village on your way to Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park.

6.   Extra Magic Hours at Night

Guests staying at a Disney Hotel will be permitted up to two-hour early access into designated parks on assigned days.  There are no evening Magic Hours at Disneyland Paris.  In fact, if you are traveling in the off-season, you may find very abbreviated operating hours; certainly not what we have become accustomed to in the states.  (During our June stay, both parks regularly closed at 6:00 pm, which prevented us from appreciating the evening lights and setting.)

Disney's Hotel New York Ice Skating Rink on "Rockefeller Plaza"
7.  Magical Weather

Far from the subtropical zones of California and Florida, Paris weather can be persnickety.  In fact, other regions of Europe were considered for EuroDisney's location for exactly this reason.  The temperate climate found in Disneyland Paris can be unpredictable, so be prepared for a wide range of weather factors- including snow.  During that same June visit, the skating rink at Disney's Hotel New York was still open for business.  I don't believe I took my thick coat off  once during those twelve summer days!  If you are running the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon, the expected low temperature is 55 degrees and the average high temperature 70 degrees.  Runners will consider this temperate climate ideal for racing!

8.  Enforced Smoking Areas

Though I am encouraged to encounter less and less smoking every time I visit Europe, expect to find a significant amount of smoking in Disneyland Paris proper- and not necessarily in the designated smoking areas.  This is a cultural difference that Americans will just have to get used to.  For now.

Vive la difference!!  I don't intend to be overly critical, but I do feel that forewarned is forearmed.  If you manage your magical expectations, you will be pleasantly surprised by the true beauty and wonder of our European cousin; my return to run through Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant will be un reve!!


Friday, July 8, 2016

The Ultimate Guide to an Affordable Disney World Vacation | The Ultimate Book Review

Is there anything in the World better than wrapping your hands around a good Disney guide book?  For my forty-five years of Walt Disney World Resort planning, I say "NO."  Sure, I blog, I research other blogs, websites, and yes, even the Disney Parks Moms Panel site ln a regular basis.  BUT I still, after all these years, (or maybe because of them!) need a good tome to kick-start my trip research.  And so, I jumped at the chance to review former Magical Blogorail pilot's new publication: The Ultimate Guide to an Affordable Disney World Vacation.  In it, Kevin Barry tackles what is for many the biggest obstacle between their family and pixie dust- finances.

Getting to Disney
Here the author excels; he outlines strategies that this frequent traveler has never considered.
He includes subchapters on flight price tracking tools, frequent flier program nuances, even how to bid on your rental car pricing! Who knew??

Park Tickets
Often the largest part of a Walt Disney World family vacation budget, this purchase should receive a fair amount of your planning attention.  Even us Disney "pros" are tempted to blindly buy ticket packages- Park Hopper Option included (the ability to roam between all four parks- Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom- in one day.)  Barry gives us the pros and cons, tips and tricks to purchasing the right park ticket for your needs, while balancing its ultimate cost to your vacation.  To hop or not to hop, that is now your question!

Resorts and Hotels
The "On-Site vs Off-Site" debate rages on.  In full disclosure, I have not in my forty-four years of travel to this resort stayed off-site.  Yet.  I simply cannot break away from the magic for a second.  Or mile.  Therefore, I can't personally recommend anyone else doing so.  BUT, I am a huge fan of the author's tip regarding the use of hotel points.  We are solid Starwood Hotel & Resorts (SPG) customers, and have received free nights at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels many times.  Save money AND stay on-property?  I'm all-in for this tip!!

This is a tough one for my family.  Being in the "biz" almost requires that we work any vacation around Signature Dining "research."  Certainly never the cheapest option, so, I was particularly drawn to the author's suggestions for the "Best Option for Sit-Down Restaurants." Additionally, he reiterates one of my favorite tips: eating a late lunch as your early dinner helps with these inflated dinnertime prices.
Disney Pin Codes?  I haven't gotten one in about 15 years.  Read Barry's tips on how to put yourself on Disney's radar.

I see value in this book for Walt Disney World newcomers as well as seasoned Mouseketeers.  And at about $12, The Ultimate Guide to an Affordable Disney World Vacation is a bargain in its own right!

*** I received a free copy of this publication for this review; these tips and thoughts are 100% mine!

Friday, June 24, 2016

5 BIG Things You Should Know About Disney's The BFG

Time to relive the bedtime story.  That's what I billed Tuesday's screening of Disney's The BFG as.  With my husband on one arm and my oldest son on the other, I stepped between the pages of Roald Dahl's favorite story.  (And perhaps, one of ours.) We were eager to see if Walt Disney Studios and Director Steven Spielberg would bring this story a screen life that matched the one in our heads and hearts.  In a word, The BFG was "scrumdiddlyumptious."  It was touching and irreverent, mysterious and laugh-out-loud funny.  The tale of a ten-year-old London orphan, the Big Friendly Giant she befriends, and their common quest is fairly true to the novel.  I won't spoil the movie or retell the book's story, but I will share 5 BIG Things You Should Know About Disney's The BFG that I think will enhance your trip to Giant Country.

1.  Walt Disney

I was floored to find out that Walt Disney actually met and was working with Roald Dahl in April of 1943 to bring his first story, The Gremlins, to the screen. That project never came to fruition, but Disney and Random House did release the book that eventually inspired the 1984 film.  (Guess who produced that movie?  Yup, Steven Spielberg.)  Imagine, after all these decades, Walt STILL has a personal connection to his company and its artistic direction.  Imagine!!

2.  Roald Dahl

The British author of James and the Giant PeachCharlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Fantastic Mr. Fox would have turned 100 this September; talk about a "delumptious" year!  Dahl was a Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, sustained injuries due to a crash in the Libyan, and took up writing as a distraction.  I believe we can safely surmise that he made the absolute most of a bad situation; perhaps we can also deduce that this lesson influenced his work?

3.  Steven Spielberg

How can it be that this four-time Oscar-winning movie maker who has been working in film for over forty years has never directed a project with Walt Disney Studios??  I am happy that I will never be able to write that again.  In many ways, this film brought me back to some of his early work. To the E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial plot; a lonely youngster befriends the most unlikely of pals and ultimately saves them.  And to the playful silliness of Goonies!  I can easily see why Spielberg was drawn to The BFG story.  He is no stranger to young, "save the day" heroes!

4.  Light VS. Dark

No, not the Star Wars kind, but the fairytale variety.  Roald Dahl is a master of navigating the shadows and lighthearted wonder.  Walt Disney certainly embraced the darkness in works such as Bambi and Dumbo, and saw value in combining life's sadder realities with ultimate redemption.  Steven Spielberg, who has identified Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as his favorite Disney movie, recognizes that without the factor of fear, the happy ending would not be as cherished.  In The BFG, the nightmare does coexist with the dream, and for my popcorn, does it with just the right mix of each for both "childlers" and adults.

5.  Embracing Differences

My friends and readers will know that I have a deep, personal affinity for the underdog.  I acknowledge that in many of the recent offerings from Walt Disney Studios- Finding Dory, and Zootopia particularly- have lifted up some very special heroes and heroines.  In The BFG, our friendly giant is the runt of his family's litter of Cannybully and Murderful Giants" and is picked on unmercifully by his bigger, badder brothers.  He is a loner who is resigned to a life where delivering dreams for others is the best he will ever achieve.  Leave it to an insomniac little girl to help him (and her) find salvation.  Once again, special abilities lead to special things!!!

Enough of my "Gobblefunk."  Go see The BFG.  The first-time meeting of three giants- Walt Disney, Roald Dahl, and Steven Spielberg- is reason enough!

**  I received a complimentary ticket for the screening of this film.  No post or compliment was required!