Welcome to the Williams Family Blog!

Now that you have found us, we invite you to return often for more adventures!


Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Sunday, October 28, 2012

2013--The Year of "Limited Time Magic"



Walt Disney World and Disneyland announced the theme for 2013—“Limited Time Magic” in New York’s Time Square complete with giant ice castles of park icons.  The idea is that there will be week-long celebrations throughout the year rather than a year long (or longer in the case of the Year of a Million Dreams) celebration with the overarching theme of “Limited Time Magic”.

Here are some of the week-long celebrations:

True Love:  Romance and enchantment will be on the menu along with prix fixe menus at select restaurants throughout Valentine’s Week—most likely to coincide with Valentine’s Day.  Disney Princes will join their Princesses for special meet and greets along with entertainment geared towards lovebirds.

Independence Week:  Planned to coincide with the 4th of July, this week will feature patriotic lighting on Disney castles at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland.  Expect to find Disney characters dressed in patriotic costumes along with limited-edition souvenirs.

Long Lost Friends Week will feature not-so-well known Disney characters finding the spotlight and meeting guests.  Characters could include Flik, Clarabelle Cow, Remy, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.  Disney guests will have the chance to vote online for the characters they want to see.  No word on when Long Lost Friends Week might occur.

Pirate Week:  The best guess as to when Pirate Week might be scheduled is mid-September to coincide with National Talk Like a Pirate day.  A bicoastal buccaneer bash is promised and will include pirate bands and pirate meet and greets.

Dapper Dans Sing Boy Bands:  Okay, The Dapper Dans are the male “Barber Shop” group performing on Main Street U.S.A. and will, for this celebration, add a special finale to their show with a medley of hits from One Direction, NSYNC, and the Backstreet Boys, declaring that they are the “Original Boy Band.”

Unleash the Villains is scheduled for Friday, September 13, 2013, and both Disneyland Park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be staying open until 1:00 am, the 13th hour.  Disney Villains will be on hand to host a dance party.

Golden Horseshoe Review will return to Disneyland park for one month and treat guests to corny jokes and songs from the original Frontierland.

Okay, the special week-long celebrations will be new, unique, and fun, but without knowing when the “Limited Time Magic” celebrations will occur, beyond the obvious ones, this theme may need to be titled Last Minute Magic. 

Disney Parks Official Blog indicates that more information will be posted in January regarding timing and other events.  Since most guests plan their trips in advance, I imagine that more guests will discover these themed weeks by surprise rather than on purpose unless.  Annual Passholders and guests within driving distance may have a better shot at timing their visit right for one or more of the special themed weeks.

I would anticipate that many of the “weeks” will be during non-peak travel periods to the parks other than the patriotic 4th of July “Independence Week.”  With the opening of the newly expanded Fantasyland expected at the end of 2012 and into 2013, guest attendance may get a boost, especially at the Magic Kingdom.  Therefore, the mini, week-long themes, could increase guest attendance at other times, especially non-peak travel periods, such as late August, September, and October.

The Williams Family would be interested in the Long Lost Friends Week and the week featuring Disney Villains, but alas, work and school schedules would prohibit a mid-September visit.

And, the short celebrations may give Disney the information they need to make decisions about future themes.  While Disney Villains wouldn’t be viable for a year-long theme, Disney may gather enough data through guest feedback during the week-long theme to come up with something more substantial. 

“Limited Time Magic” also has a ring of home shopping network with the feel that the clock is ticking away so you better grab this experience while you can that can also create guest stir.  Add limited edition collectibles and limited edition souvenirs to the mix and you’ve got some “I’d better get it now” mentality—a marketing technique to be sure.

I’m sure we will be hearing more about “Limited Time Magic” throughout the coming months, so we will have to wait and see what happens. 

What “Limited Time Magic” week-long theme would you and your family enjoy?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Message of Gratitude



It is time to send a message of gratitude into the universe.  The events of the last week or so have proven to me that there is much to be grateful for, even during times of loss, pain, and frustration.  And, appreciation and gratitude can make those uncomfortable feelings a bit more bearable.

I am grateful for my family.  The husband and boy, of course, top the list.  We are definitely a family unit, relying on each other, taking turns being the “rock” or “the soft place to land” when facing situations in the world.  Our extended family comes next, knowing that we can rely on them is a blessing.

I am grateful for our friends. . . near and far.  Their support, understanding, sense of humor, and compassion know no boundaries and for this I am thankful.

I am grateful for our involvement in various community wide activities and groups.  Reason being that it expands our circle of friends and acquaintances and gives us purpose and reason for what we do each day.

I am grateful for the Williams Family Blog readers.  Even though personally, the last few days have been hard, there were others finding great joy in our stories as they planned for magical Disney vacations.

I am grateful for Disney.  (You knew I would get it in there somewhere!)  Our next trip is a beacon of hope; the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel conveying us forward.  A few weeks ago, we were talking about the countdown to our next trip, and the husband said we would have to get through a lot of "#&*%" between now and then.  Little did he know!  I chided him in the last few days about putting that particular sarcastic message into the universe as it came back even bigger than we could have known at the time. 

As we were driving to my mom’s memorial service yesterday, the husband’s mom, Carol, and I were talking about our “unusual” passion for Disney.  Okay, unusual for her, I get that.  I told her how a colleague of mine had scoffed when she learned that 10,000 people apply to be Disney Mom’s each year with a comment of, “You mean there are 10,000 other crazy people like you?”  That, the mother-in-law understood.  I also said 32 million people travel to Walt Disney World every year, so I am definitely in good company.  That she got, it is just that we have a handful of “Disney friends” nearby.  One was jogging by our house the other morning when the husband was walking the dog and turned around in mid-jog to inform the husband that they were leaving today.  I can imagine the joy and anticipation that person was experiencing!  We are definitely not alone in our passion for Disney even if our family and close friends don’t “get it.”

The comforting messages continue to flow into our hearts and home.  And, it is with gratitude that we move forward on our journey with the simple, yet powerful, thank you.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Mom--A Tribute


My mom’s journey on earth has come to an end as she passed Saturday early in the afternoon.  Her husband rethought his decision to wait until Monday to remove care and I was supportive of his decision.  He didn’t want to see her suffer any more and I agreed.  And, while I wasn’t there for her, him, or me, I was at peace with the decision.

My mom came from humble beginnings, raised in a house with a dirt floor basement.  She witnessed indoor plumbing come to her childhood home.  Playing cards, smoking, and drinking were family past times.  Playing cards, fiercely, I might add, has carried on to this generation.  She was taught that even if you were poor you could still be clean. . . with something about the price of a bar of Ivory Soap that could be used on your body, hair, and clothing.

I watched her in two marriages, three careers, and a college degree.  She graduated from college the year I graduated from high school proving to me that it is never too late to learn.  It used to frustrate me that it took her 45 minutes to buy a loaf of bread at the grocery store as she stopped to talk to everybody—she had either done their hair, cleaned their teeth, or taught their child—and sometimes it was more than one of those. 

I don’t know if was the time working at the dentist office or the cost of braces, but I couldn’t leave the house without hearing something about being careful of my teeth.  As I watch my son play soccer as a goalie and land on the ball while others are still kicking I can’t help but think the same thing.  It makes me smile when I realize that I’m thinking it as I know a part of her is with me.

She had an eye for style and design and I was taught at a young age that your socks must match the rest of your clothing; even better if your socks matched your sweater and your headband—thanks to her friend Phyllis.  Then there were the craft years—macramé, crochet, knitting, cross-stitch, card making, etc.  I have many fruits of her labors.  Decorating went from baskets to P. Buckley Moss with an affinity for watermelons and snowmen.  She once told me that she wished she could buy things when she saw them that reminded her of other people’s desires and collections. 

My mom knew the value of a dollar and taught me to never pay full price for something that could go on sale.  This is something my family knows all too well as I can put my hands on the one shirt I did pay full price for and so can my husband.  She did enjoy hearing about other people’s shopping endeavors, though. 

Her fears and weaknesses became my strengths.  Her mom didn’t drive, and my mom wouldn’t drive on highways, freeways, or after dark.  I can say that I have driven on multi-lane interstates in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, Dallas, Houston, and throughout Iowa.  The cycle has been broken!

I told her on the phone that my “boys” were going to a Scout campout and I was going to have the house to myself.  She asked if I was going to be afraid to be home by myself.  That was her story, not mine.  I reminded her of all the years I lived alone and how I was looking forward to having the house to myself, even though I did sleep better the next night when my family returned.

As her physical world became smaller due to her illness, her mental world stayed beyond the confines of her bedroom as she took an interest in everyone’s activities via phone or visits.  While she couldn’t enjoy eating she watched cooking shows with great interest often sharing recipes or ideas.  I will miss the phone not ringing at 6:30 on Mondays for our weekly chat.


Eventually the morning tear stained pillow cases will lesson as the pain of her loss subsides.  I know she is in a better place with no pain, sickness, or fear.  And, as I understand, she has been given a job to do by her friends.  I know she is now dancing with the stars.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hard Lessons

My mom at our wedding--healthier times.



Faithful readers, I’m taking a time out. . . not from writing and posting, but from writing about Disney.  My heart is heavy with grief and sadness and those are the words coming to the page as writing typically brings me joy and now it is bringing me comfort.

I’ve often joked that there is a “book in me” meaning that someday I would write a book.  The title and front cover are clear in my head as are the opening lines and at least the “foreword.”  Interesting that I would compose the “foreword” before the rest of the book. . . And, while 700 plus blog posts don’t come anywhere near a book, it is a start.  The events of the last few days have propelled the notion of writing a book even farther.

You see, my mom has been very sick for a very long time and her most recent trip to the hospital and ICU will be her last.  He unresponsive, coma like state with no course of treatment is making for the tough decision of pulling her from life support.  I’m ready and so is my brother, but her husband wants to “buy her another day” and prolong the inevitable; hoping for some sort of miracle.  I tried to explain that even a miracle would not improve the quality of life for her as she was already living with various tubes and intravenous feedings in the bedroom of her home in a weakened state the didn’t allow for much movement beyond the confines of her bedroom.

If you knew me beyond the pages of the Williams Family Blog you would discover that I’m a “getter her done” type of person. Problems have solutions, questions have answers, etc.  So hand wringing and sitting vigil in the hospital are not my favorite things to do—I need and want action, movement, progress.  So, I am moving forward by making service arrangements, phoning friends and relatives, while my mom’s husband waits.

So what is next?  The husband, boy and I will make the 200 mile round trip to the hospital sometime this week-end so that they both can say good-bye.  I’m cautious about the potential ramifications of our soon to be 10 year old seeing his grandmother in that state, but because of her final wishes for cremation, this may be his only time to give her one last kiss.  We’ll play it by ear and follow his lead.

My mother’s husband called for another “team meeting” on Monday to make more decisions.  He needs the command of and audience of the doctors and nurses that have been providing her care over the last two weeks.  A decision will be made at this time to remove her from life support.  The team already indicated that once the tubes and ventilation are removed it won’t take long for her to pass as the vent accidently came out one night and her blood oxygen levels fell to 30% almost instantly.  I would like to be there when she passes.  I want to be a steel magnolia and give her strength and permission to go.  Go to a place where there is no pain, no tubes, no sickness. 

Service arrangements are already made for next week and while I have talked to the funeral home via phone twice in the last few days, it will need to be her husband that meets with them today to take care of the rest of the details with me being able to be reached by phone with any questions.  He did ask me if I wanted to speak at the service.  I gave an honest answer, “I don’t know.”  I do know I have words to say in honor of my mom’s generous life and may attempt to write them in this safe space before speaking them aloud.  I also don’t know where my emotions will be and I need to consider my son who will be at the service.  I was honored by the question and realized that my strength is recognized.

What I want is a shirt to wear that says “treat me gently” for the next few days as the turning of life smoothes out my rough edges and raw nerve endings like a rock tumbler.  I so appreciate being able to write as it is cathartic and healing.

A friend and colleague asked me so caringly the other day what I was doing for me and writing was at the top of the list.  Eating right, sleeping, and spending time with my family doing things I love are also on the list.

As I was making the drive home yesterday from the hospital, I phoned some friends.  Both got the details and nuances of the situation.  And while one was plotting and planning gifts, visits, meals, etc. to the other I was able to say that if there was a plan for a gift (not that I was asking for one, but I just know how they are) that I wanted a gift certificate for a massage in lieu of a plant, flower, or collectible.  The friend I was telling this to completely understood and said life would be much simpler if everyone made similar statements.  I also said that I didn’t want anyone to come—to the service—she laughed and said she knew that request was coming, too.  That’s how friends are. . . you know them well enough to predict how they will respond and they know that about you, too.  I am very grateful to have such good friends!

Since the title of my only imagined book is “Hard Lessons” I’ll conclude this post with a lesson learned thus far. 

People make it about them.  (Even me!).  Whatever the “it” is. In this case, my mom’s illness and inevitable death has become the “it” and when people are informed they make it about them.  I heard about medical procedures, knee replacements, general uncomfortable feelings in “situations like this” or not knowing “how one should respond”, when making contact with my mom’s friends and family yesterday.  I just listened and ended up telling them how sorry I was for their troubles and releasing them from any guilt they might have.  Maybe it is the fact that the news, situation, etc. are troubling and some humans aren’t as equipped to handle uncomfortable feelings or situations as others.  Just knowing that is how most people are going to respond to “it” makes for less disappointment or hard feelings.

Teaching and modeling for our son how to respond empathetically is a goal and he is well on his way!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

News and Innovation from Walt Disney World




News and tidbits from the most magical place on earth:

Splash Mountain, one of the three mountains at Magic Kingdom will be closed for a lengthy refurbishment January through March of 2013.

I have heard some guests say that Splash Mountain’s closing will greatly affect their trip.  While we would be disappointed to find one of our favorite mountains closed for repair, it wouldn’t put a damper on our touring.  Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was closed during one of our recent trips and knowing that ahead of time diminished the disappointment as we planned for other rides and attractions.

Much of the New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom is conducting “dress rehearsals” and will officially open soon.  The three tents in Storybook Circus are open including Pete’s Silly Sideshow character meet and greet location.

Many guests are excited at the new additions that they have been anxiously awaiting.  There are still more attractions coming to the New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom and we look forward to checking them out.  In the meantime, there’s speculation that the pork shank available at Gaston’s Tavern will become the “new” turkey leg.  I’m relying on the boy and the husband to confirm it that will be the case.

Test Track, a headliner attraction at EPCOT, is scheduled to re-open on December 6, 2012.  EPCOT’s Character Spot is scheduled to close for refurbishment as early as this coming Sunday.

With the opening of Pete’s Silly Sideshow and Town Square Theater in the Magic Kingdom, guests can meet most characters in covered meet and greet locations at the Magic Kingdom.  There is no time like the present to close EPCOT’s Character Spot for refurbishment.  I look forward to new backdrops for the characters!

Things are happening at Walt Disney World Resort!  There is now free wi-fi at all resort hotels and three of the four theme parks—Animal Kingdom is the last to have park wide wi-fi service.  RFID innovations are being added to resort room entry, ticket media, and the FCC is has been asked to give approval for a “magic band” with RFID capability that guests could wear with all information included in the band signal that could potentially replace Key to the World Cards.  Personally, I think the “magic band” is an ingenious idea.

Disney has historically been tops in innovation as well as guest experience.  The trend continues!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Maybe Third Time Is The Charm--Disney Moms Panel



Maybe third time is the charm!  A few weeks ago I submitted an application for the Disney Moms Panel—click here to read more.

Disney Moms Panel is an on-line presence of people chosen by Disney to help others plan Disney vacations.  Each year a new panel is chosen.  Would be Disney Moms (and dads, uncles, etc.) can apply for various categories such as Walt Disney World, Disney Vacation Club, runDisney, Adventures by Disney, etc.  I chose the category of Disney Cruise Line for my application.

The application process begins in mid-September and is open for one week or until 10,000 applications are submitted.  I got mine in on the first day.  (When I told this number to someone I work with they said, “You mean there are 10,000 crazy people like you?”  I took it as a compliment.) 

On Friday I opened my email to find “Congratulations You are Moving On to Round 2” of the Disney Moms Panel application process.  I nearly started dancing.  Thrilled begins to describe my response. 

I then had to settle down and read carefully.  The directions indicated that I had to complete the next submission by 11:59 pm EST on Tuesday, October 15.  No late submissions would be accepted.  I would then be notified via email about a phone interview in early November if I advanced to round 3.  Then I read through the rest of the application. . . five more questions to answer and a 60 video were required.  I read through the questions before going to bed so I could have some think time.  It also said not to construct responses on word processing software and then copy/paste into the on-line application.  (I had some suspicions as to why-but more on that later.)

On Saturday morning I listed to a PassPorter Moms Podcast featuring a current Disney Moms Panelist offering more information about the application process, selection, etc.  Again the issue of not copying from word processing came up and it was more about some of the encoding that happens making the receivers of the application unable to read it.  Okay, that’s important!  This particular Disney Mom (who was a dad) shared how the Disney Moms Panel becomes both an on-line community and a face-to-face community, which was something I hadn’t considered.  His best advice was to not get too invested in the process as some of it is a numbers game.  He also told how this year there were some new categories for panelists.

After the podcast, I started drafting my responses to the application questions—on word processing software—as word counts were important.

The first question was about my experiences with Disney Cruise Line.  No problem.  I just highlighted our four, soon to be five, sailings on the various ships and various itineraries.  99 out of 100 words.

The next question was how I have helped friends and family plan Disney Cruise Line vacations.  I told about how a friend of a friend had called me prior to their family’s holiday cruise, our hour long conversation, and how seemingly simple questions can weigh heavy on someone’s mind planning a Disney vacation.  100 out of 100 words used.

I then had to tell about me—this was a bit more difficult but included information about my work and various interests beyond Disney.  98 out of 100 words.

My favorite question was telling about my family.  When I read this response to the husband he said I made them sound better than they were.  I did not embellish; they are just that great.  I included the husband’s goal to go platinum for Disney Cruise Line’s Castaway Club and how the train garden in EPCOT is the son’s favorite Disney spot.  100 out of 100 words used.

Describing my favorite Disney memory was the last question.  Wow, there are so many to choose from.  This was also the category that I would have to create a video telling about my favorite Disney memory.  I recalled the time when a fellow guest told us we “glowed” and how that comment made my day.  Yes, I do believe there is such a thing as Disney glow.

We spent some time on Sunday taking various takes of the video.  I knew when I finally got it right and uploaded it onto the computer.

After printing my responses, I then typed them into the application.  (I know, you were worried about that, weren’t you?)  Uploaded the final version of the video and hit “Submit.”  It took a while for everything to go through but I got the “completed submission” message and took a deep breath.

Now, the waiting.  I will say that I was thrilled to make it to round 2 and I wish all current and future Disney Moms Panel applicants a bit of pixie dust!  Good luck!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pioneer Ridge's Annual Halloween Night Hike October 2012



Pioneer Ridge, part of the Wapello County Conservation Commission, hosted its annual Halloween Night Hike this week-end. 

Guests were treated to eight stations featuring portrayals of animals that fit this year’s theme “Don’t Wake The Bear!” or hibernation. 


When guests finished the tour they found sweet treats, hot chocolate, balloon animals and swords, face painting, and other activities in the Nature Center.


Let’s go on the hike. . .

The bears welcomed guests to the hike at station one.




A beautiful butterfly came next that is indigenous to Iowa and actually hibernates through the winter.


Frogs can actually freeze and thaw out within 10 hours.  This frog hibernates near water in the mud, in the brush, or under rocks.


The boy and husband portrayed Ornate Box Turtles.

Salamanders were next on the trail and told us about how their body parts can regenerate and the reason salamanders are know as fire lizards.



The skunks told us that they “spray” only when mortally threatened and empty their scent sacks when they wake up throughout the winter.

The groundhogs told their tale with a song.


Chipmunks are typically loners but were BFF’s for the night hike.

There were guests of all ages that enjoyed the hike!  To read more about previous years’ hikes click here and here.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Disney Husband




I was visiting with a fellow Disney fan, who is not married, the other day.  She said she was going to have to find a “Disney husband.”  That got me thinking about the possibility of singles meeting in the most magical place on earth and I’m going to do some research about that, but it also got me thinking about whether or not the husband was a “Disney husband”. . . when we got married.

When we got married our Disney trip score was 2 to 1.  Two trips for me to Walt Disney World, once in elementary school with my family and another family and then again on a senior spring break trip with my friend Teri (which was really a one day trip to Magic Kingdom just to be clear.)  The husband had been to Disneyland in California with his family and extended family that lived in the area as a child.  Over time, I had collected several Disney videos, a Mickey Mouse planner, a couple of sweatshirts, etc.  I had a fondness for Disney that had lasted through the decades, almost like a latent or dormant disease waiting to be unleashed.  There was no talk of Disney except that the husband had expressed a desire to someday visit Walt Disney World.

When our son was born, he and I both became transfixed by the Travel Channel during our late night feeding and rocking sessions.  And, while I remember pouring over the Big Red Boat brochure I picked up during spring break 1984, I fell for the Disney Cruise Line segment on the Travel Channel.  Knowing the husband was turning 40 and having funds available, we booked our first Disney cruise to celebrate the big 4-0.  It was June and our cruise wasn’t until March.  The more we dreamed, thought, and planned, it became crystal clear to me that we would get much more from our cruise if we had already visited Walt Disney World (don’t you just love my logic!?).  So, our first trip to Walt Disney World took place in November, just four months prior to  our cruise.

With two magical Disney vacations within four months of each other, our addiction was ignited.  We were certified Disney fans.  To calibrate our addiction, we took two “non Disney” vacations just to make sure.  Yep, we were certain that Disney was our thing as the whole time we were making comparisons, which was why we did it in the first place.  So, we were back to Disney and have stayed there ever since.  

So, is the husband a “Disney husband?”  Well, he wasn’t when I married him, but he sure is now.

How does a husband designate himself as a “Disney husband?”  This is more elusive, but I would have to say he goes to Disney to play.  He brings his game!  Even though he would love to sleep late, he gets up so we can be at rope drop at the parks.  He plans, sorts, and displays his pins for trading.  He wants to wear silly hats and smiles for all the photos.  He rides the rides with a smile and his hands in the air!  He stops for character autographs and talks to them like they are real.  He even gets and gives character hugs.  He will wear matching shirts even if they are pink!  He volunteers to be a part of the magic by being in various shows.

He also carries needed items in a backpack.  Each morning, he dutifully repacks the park touring bag to ensure any needed items are present and is able to whip out essentials in a moments notice. (I think that is from his Scout training!)

For me, it is fun to watch this normally reserved, quiet guy with a witty sense of humor come out of his shell to embrace all the magic that Disney has to offer.  He is happy at Disney, even when his feet hurt, and he is hot.  As he so eloquently puts it, “A hot day at Disney with sore feet beats any day not at Disney.” 

The husband has definitely evolved into a Disney husband and I hope that never goes away!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Debunking Myths and Misconceptions--Disney Cruise Line




Inexperienced cruisers, would-be cruisers, and never-will-be cruisers have no doubt heard and have many myths and misconceptions about cruising with Disney Cruise Line or cruising in general.  While the presidential campaign is targeted at swing states and undecided voters, this post is for would-be and inexperienced cruisers.

I will get seasick.
You might, but it’s not likely.  Today’s ships are equipped with baffles that do a lot to reduce rocking and swaying.  Having written that, if the seas do start to swell, you may feel some of the ship’s movement—most likely in open waters.  If you are prone to seasickness or motion sickness, head to an outside deck for fresh air and a horizon line to focus on.  There are also preventative medicines such as the prescription required patch and over the counter medicines.  Ginger is also known to reduce the effects of seasickness. 

We bring over the counter medicine with us and have used it once—on our first cruise.  Also, we have experienced some slightly rocky times on-board.  I can remember a 7 night cruise where one of the evenings the dining room was partially empty due to the rough seas.  We ate and enjoyed.   Personally, I love to feel the ship move and watch it glide through the water.  I’m great on the sea, it just takes me a few days to get my land legs back—maybe that is a sign that I’m meant to live on water!

The staterooms are too small.
Disney Cruise Line staterooms are 20-25% larger than the industry average.  We have never felt cramped or claustrophobic in our staterooms.  And, we don’t spend a lot of time there either—morning to get dressed, late afternoon to get changed for dinner, late evening to go to bed, then sleeping.

The bathrooms are “compact” but have enough space for everything you might need, including shelves for personal toiletries, etc.

The husband and I are big people and we have felt right at home in our various staterooms that we have experienced.  And the beds are comfy cozy!

Cruising is expensive, especially with Disney!
Other cruise lines do offer last minute specials and deals that Disney typically does not, however, Disney Cruise Line just released a special that children sail free on select itineraries sailing from Galveston, so deals can be had.  Also, the price Disney quotes is the price you will pay for an all inclusive vacation—food, entertainment, ports, etc.  Other cruise lines then add on for dining at various restaurants other than the buffet, soft drinks, additional fees for getting off the ship at ports, use of fitness facilities, kids’ clubs, etc.  I have heard it referred to as “nickeled and dimed” which ultimately increases your final cost for the cruise.

Disney only adds onto your bill if you dine at Palo or Remy—all other dining venues including Room Service are included with your cruise.  Soft drinks are available for free in the dining rooms and from the beverage station.  Participation in Kids’ clubs for children potty trained and 3 years and older are free.  Getting off at a port does not cost extra unless you are paying for a shore excursion.  Photos, spa services, and alcoholic beverages are extra.

Given the caliber of service, accommodations, entertainment, and dining options, a Disney Cruise is comparable in price to other cruise lines.  And, discounts and specials can be had, especially if booking far in advance.  We take advantage of rebooking while on-board to get the best discount as well as rate for a cruise 18 months to 2 years away.

I’ll be bored, or all there is to do is eat.
If a guest is bored on a Disney ship, it is their own fault.  The offerings of activities start in the morning and go into the wee hours of the night.  Shows, character greetings, tours, tastings, games, contests, movies, shopping, swimming, and classes—and that is just a sample of what is available on the ship!  We have yet to experience all of the activities that are offered.  Each evening a Personal Navigator –click here to read more—is delivered to your stateroom highlighting the events for the next day.  You can then use the Personal Navigator to plan your day or use it to just know what is available.  One of my favorite moments  on a Disney cruise is laying in bed reading the Personal Navigator for the next day and planning with the husband.  (While only one Personal Navigator is delivered to your stateroom, you can get another copy at Guest Services if you need more than one copy.)  Yes, food is available virtually 24/7 but there are many more things to do than eat.  Having said that, if a guest wanted to enjoy all of the dining options on board, they are welcome to.  What you won’t find on a Disney ship is a casino or a library.

Disney Cruise Line is only for kids or families with kids.
While Disney Cruise Line is a fantastic family vacation option, even a multi-generation family vacation option, each ship has designated “adult only” areas with a swimming pool, lounge area, spa, bars, and restaurant(s) reserved just for adult use.  If the trip is adults only, you will be accommodated on the ship and can interact as much as you like in the family areas or not.  If your trip is a family trip and you need some time away from the kids, take advantage of the adult only areas on board.

This particular myth and misconception is, in my opinion, one of the hardest ones for DCL to combat.  Targeted advertising helps and I think the word is getting out.  We certainly have bumped into adults cruising without children and enjoying themselves very much.  The boy, having experienced multiple Disney cruises and being aware of the adult only areas of the ship, encourages us to take advantage of them while he is in the club.

Disney Cruise Line is too much Disney.
The Disney influence on the ship is relatively subtle in terms of décor and design.  The service, cleanliness, safety, and entertainment are definitely Disney.  After that, guests can decide how much of Disney they want to be immersed in while cruising.  Character greetings, Disney movies, trivia games, and art work all have a distinctive Disney flavor but are choices for guests.  The “Disneyness” of DCL is part of why we choose to sail with them, but it isn’t the only reason.

Well, I hope some of the myths and misconceptions that would-be cruisers and inexperienced cruisers are battling have been debunked. 

For us, there is no easier vacation that a Disney Cruise Line vacation.  We get the “Disneyness” without the crowds or hurt feet from traversing the parks.  There is less packing required as less stuff is needed—no umbrellas, ponchos, or park touring bags.  And, we know cruising isn’t for everyone, but if you think it might be for you or your family, we encourage you to give it a try.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On-Line Ways to Earn and Save


Frugal, cheap, miserly may be some words to describe saving money.  I prefer savvy, bargain minded, and creative, especially when it comes to describing me and the various ways I have found to save.


Swagbucks
Swagbucks awards me when I use it to search on-line.  450 Swagbucks can be redeemed for a $5 Amazon.com gift card.  Right now, I have $100 in Amazon.com gift cards from using Swagbucks as my primary search engine—since July! ( I did have more but spent $19 on a gift for the boy that was a great deal!)

Just download the Swagbucks Toolbar and use Swagbucks when you search.  I typically earn Swagbucks twice a day, in the morning within the first 2-7 searches and again later in the day. 



Jingit
I was skeptical about Jingit at first, but have now figured it out.  Jingit.com pays you to watch/listen to commercials on-line.  The commercials run for a few seconds and there may be some questions to ask on the screen then your account is rewarded . . . a few cents per viewing.  Log into Jingit via your Facebook account.

When you reach $5 in your Jingit account, request a Jingit card sponsored by U.S. Bank.  The card will come in the mail in just a few days.  Register your card on-line and add your Jingit earnings to your card.  You can then use your Jingit card to pay for purchases.  In just a few days, we have $8 in the Jingit account and that is even after paying for the card (It was $3, but I believe the cost has now gone up to $5.)  A few clicks and a couple of minutes can earn money.


SavingStar
I just recently discovered SavingStar.  Find out if your local grocery store participates in SavingStar an on-line electronic coupon source.  If your grocery store does (In my area it is Hy-Vee) and request your SavingStar card from the grocery store—it is a little card that fits on your key ring and has a barcode that can be scanned.  Register your SavingStar card on-line using the barcode, an email, and a password.  Then load choose or “activate” the electronic coupons you want on your account.  A list of those coupons can be printed or emailed to you.

Then, when you shop and purchase the items with electronic coupons preselected and loaded on your SavingStar card, have the cashier scan your card at check-out.  Now, the total of your transaction won’t change, but in a few days you will notice that the amount of the electronic coupons has now been added to your SavingStar account.  Once you reach $5 you can select your pay-out option—donation, deposit to a bank account, Paypal credit, or Amazon. Com gift card.

In just a few weeks, I had $25.90 in my SavingStar account and chose an Amazon.com gift card.  The code for the gift card was delivered to my email within 48 hours of the request.  It was then easy to copy the code and add it to my Amazon.com account.

New electronic coupons are added to SavingStar regularly and there is a limit to the  number or “activations” and payouts for some electronic coupons so be vigilant as some coupons can be “sold out.”

On another note, you can still get full credit for your SavingStar account if you make the purchase using a manufacturer or store coupon.  So for example a SavingStar coupon I activated was save $5 after spending $10 on bottled Lipton Tea.  I purchased two 12 packs at the grocery store and even had a $1 off coupon reducing my purchase price.  I still got full price credit for the purchase on SavingStar and had $5 added to my SavingStar account. 

Oh, what fun it is to find ways to earn and save!  Go ahead, get started today!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Would I Ever Take a Solo Trip?




After a conversation with a fellow Disney fan the other day, I pondered whether or not I would venture to the most magical place on earth by myself, should the opportunity arise.  With much thought, contemplation, and reassuring the husband that I wouldn’t leave him in the dust every trip (and even this one was imaginary), the answer was. . . yes!

Just thinking about a solo trip gave me goose bumps.  Oh, the freedom, the solitude, the park touring, and shopping!  I grinned ear to ear just day dreaming about walking into a shop and actually looking and shopping rather than just scanning the merchandise as my real focal point was keeping an eye on the boy.  I could imagine spending hours in the various shops in EPCOT’s World Showcase.

But what would I really do on a solo trip?

I would take Disney’s Magical Express to my resort after flying by myself in an aisle seat.  No worrying about other’s things or bags.  I would make my way through security without having to watch two other people or hold their tickets or their ID’s. 

I would stay at a Deluxe Disney resort hotel.  Yep.  With only a solo traveler, the trip would be much less expensive.  One flight, one park ticket, one dining plan, and one deluxe resort room.  I would say the Polynesian or the Contemporary would be just fine or the Grand Floridian for some frills.

I would use Disney transportation to take me to and from the various Disney destinations on my itinerary.  I would chat with strangers and offer assistance to someone with their arms full or just in need of an extra hand.

I would pack and carry only the things I needed for the day without checking with others to make sure all items were accounted for.

I would still be at rope drop when the parks opened.  But, I wouldn’t rush to get Fastpasses.  I would stroll at my leisure to whatever ride or attraction suited my fancy.  I would sit and watch people while having a treat.  I would talk to Cast Members and other guests. I would get my picture taken while meeting characters by Photopass Photographers.  I would raise my hand to volunteer to be in shows.  I might even take a special tour.

I would dine at both table service and counter service locations.  I would make reservations at some of the restaurants that fill tables community style like Teppan Edo or the Beirgarten; no dining alone!  I would dine with characters and ask Cast Members to take my photo.

And, as much as I would savor the experience, I would look forward to returning to my family and sharing the adventures.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Uncle Bill's Pumpkin Farm--Formerly Carroll's Pumpkin Farm



We took our annual trek to Grinnell to visit what is now Uncle Bill’s Pumpkin Farm, formerly, Carroll’s Pumpkin Farm, located just Southwest of Grinnell at 244 400th Avenue, Grinnell, Iowa, 50112, phone 641-236-7043.  The farm is open September 17 through October 31 for 2012.  Hours are Monday through Friday 10:00 am – 7:00 pm with $6 admission for ages 3 and up.  Saturdays 10:00 am – 7:00 pm and Sundays 1:00 pm – 7:00 pm with $8 admission for ages 3 and up.  If you want to do the corn maze it is $1 more per person and the corn cannon is 5 shots for a $1.  Season passes are available for $15 per person.  We paid $24 for the three of us to spend the afternoon.

Guests who are familiar with Carroll’s Pumpkin Farm will only notice subtle changes since the change in ownership/management.  There are more signs saying Uncle Bill’s Farm, but the sign on the highway still says Carroll’s Pumpkin Farm as do many of the signs around the farm.

A new addition to the farm this year is one year old Lily, a white donkey who lives in the pen with the goats.  We found Lily to be quite friendly.  In addition to the goats, there were some gray kittens that found their way into my arms. 

Grandpa’s Barn which has historically been open to guests had its doors closed and the pretend milking cow was now outside—which is where I found the kittens.

A highlight of a trip to the farm is to ride the wagon into the fields of pumpkins, see the pumpkin catapult in action, and then pick your pumpkins.  See the videos below:







After finding your just right pumpkin in the field, take it back with you to the farm where you can wash and weigh your pumpkins.  We had 35 pounds of pumpkins and paid for them in the barn where the gift shop, snack counter, and show take place.



It just so happened that there was a display of Mickey Mouse and Disney memorabilia in the store.  The boy eye-spied it and I couldn’t resist taking a picture.  Disney is everywhere!



The rest of the afternoon was spent riding the Moo-Cow train, meeting Patch (it used to be Bingo), riding trikes, swinging on the tire swing, riding in and pushing wheelbarrows, and jumping on the Big Orange Jumping Pillow.


The husband and I found a glider lawn chair built for two and took turns napping in the sun while the boy jumped and played.  The nap was my second favorite part of the afternoon.


Some changes:  The seed corn play box is now located in the same building as the indoor trike course.  The layout of the trike tunnel makes it difficult to use, as the corner is now a sharp turn and full of adults standing to watch kids playing in the seed corn.  The tunnel needs to be turned back to its original location to make the turn into the tunnel more feasible AND give adults more room to stand.  Maybe the tunnel is holding up the side wall of the seed corn play box.

Another change is that while there is still a show upstairs in the main barn, there was no schedule of events posted or given to people entering the farm.  I remember the days of getting a map and list of events.  The lady at the ticket booth told us the shows would be at 1:30, 2:30, 3:30, etc.  I said, “On the half-hour.”  She said “no.”  Miscommunication I guess.  Well, actually, the first show was at 2:00 and guests were informed via loud speaker—which many missed if doing something beyond the reach of the loud speaker.  The next show was at 3:30 and again was announced via speaker.


The three pumpkins made it home just like the rest of us and are now on display on our front step.  We definitely enjoyed the crisp fall day, beautiful drive, and fun time at the pumpkin farm!



Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Holidays Are Coming!




Our Holiday cards for 2012 are ready to be mailed!  Yes, I know it is only October and it may seem that I am rushing the season a bit, but October is prime holiday shopping time, if you’re ready—and you can wait to give the gifts until Christmas, can hide them and find them again!

The cards were made and purchased at Walgreens which had a half-price card sale last week.  Okay, last year I was able to get our custom cards for free, so half-price is a bit more expensive.

I discovered last year that many specials and deals can be found in October for holiday gift giving.  Some of the items on the list last season were custom mugs, calendars, hats, and t-shirts—many of which I snagged for free or at a discounted price just by watching the October special offers and discounts.

One of our holiday traditions is to take a ride on the Polar Express.  Tickets for the North Pole Express go on-sale by mail in registration October 15.  Phone reservations begin Nov. 1.  Trains run the Saturday after Thanksgiving and the first two week-ends in December.  Click here to read more about the North Pole Express.

So enjoy the rustling of the fall leaves, but keep and eye and ear out for sleigh bells, as the winter holidays will be here before we know it!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Debunking Walt Disney World Myths and Misconceptions




It’s time to debunk the myths and misconceptions about Walt Disney World.  Trust me, many of them exist.  I have seen guests operate with misconceptions only to be fraught with frustration and confusion and still get questions about some of the myths and misconceptions.  It is time to set the record straight!

Can I add days to my park ticket and then use those days to park hop to another park on that same day?  No. 

It would be cheaper to do this and Disney knows this, so once a park ticket has been put through the turn styles and activated with your finger scan, it cannot be activated at another park on the same day unless the Park Hopper option has been added to the ticket.  You can leave the same park and return—no hand stamping required—your ticket will be good to go to get back into the same park on the same day if you leave. 

Now, having said that, Disney has recently changed some of the pricing structures for ticket add-ons, such as Park Hopper and Water Parks & More, making it more affordable for guests to add both onto their base tickets.

Walt Disney World is the Magic Kingdom, right?  Wrong!

You have no idea how many times we have heard that within the confines of the Walt Disney World Resort and beyond!  Walt Disney World has four theme parks, Magic Kingdom is one of them—EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom round out the rest, two water parks, twenty-two resorts hotels, two miniature golf courses (more depending on how you count them) and several regular golf courses, Downtown Disney, and the Wide World of Sports complex.  We are talking about 47 square miles of resort, larger than two Manhattans or about the size of San Francisco—much more than just the Magic Kingdom.

I can just show up at Walt Disney World and do everything I want without making any plans, right?  Yes. . . you CAN do that, but most likely you’ll leave not ever wanting to return.

If you do just “show up” like you would at smaller amusement parks—Six Flags, Cedar Point, etc, you will get to ride rides and maybe see a show, if you stumble upon it, and possibly bump into a few characters, but you most likely won’t eat at a table service location including character dining, etc.  And, most likely, you’ll miss some things you wished you had done. 

A prime example of this is the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular at Hollywood Studios.  We have seen and heard of guests making their way by the entrance only to be disappointed that they can’t go in—thinking it is a ride.  They get confused when they realize it is a show, with specific show times and now they have to rethink what they are doing and make a decision—come back when it is time and/or what to do now?  Had there been some advance planning or even looking at the Times Guide they picked up with their park map, they would now know it is a show and plan accordingly.

Guests who just show up at Walt Disney World without doing any planning or research prior to their trip are typically the folks that return home saying they “hated it” and “won’t ever go back.”  I used to try to change their minds, but have since given that up and have reframed my thinking into “okay, more room for me and my family when we go!”

Fastpasses cost extra.  Or, Fastpasses are only for guests staying on property.  False and False!

Fastpasses are FREE and can be obtained and used by any guests with their ticket media at Walt Disney World.  Guests who think this are meshing what they know about those other theme parks across town that offer an “Express” service for an extra fee or free for guests staying at their resorts.

If I am staying on property I get into any park an hour early.  No, but. . . there are AM Extra Magic Hours for on-site guests at certain parks on certain days.

Okay, this one is another meshing of info about the theme parks across town—as the above statement is true for them.

At Walt Disney World, certain parks have Extra Magic Hours either in the morning or after the park’s official closing time for guests staying on site.  There is a calendar informing guest which parks have Extra Magic Hours on which days.  So, a guest staying on property CAN get into a park with AM Extra Magic Hours on that particular day an hour prior to the park opening to the general public.

Photopass is expensive.  Photopass is FREE, purchasing Photopass products can be expensive.

Disney’s Photopass service allows photographers to take photos of guests and have them assigned to a specific account using a Photopass card.  Guests can then purchase prints, downloads, or other products from the pictures on the account.  While one photo download can cost $14.95, a pre-purchase Photopass CD at $119 with unlimited photos taken and then the ability to edit, add borders, signatures, etc. and copyright release can be a bargain depending on the number of photos taken.

Staying on property is expensive.  Yes, it can be.

The twenty-two on property resort hotels offer guests choices of value, moderate, and deluxe accommodations.  The size, location, and amenities will determine the cost.  And, yes, a cost per night comparison with off-site hotels will mean savings.  But, guests staying off-site then need to add on additional costs such as car/gas, taxi or shuttle service, and parking.  Guests choosing off-site accommodations do not have access to Extra Magic Hours or Disney Transportation which gets them closer to theme park entrances and can take to/from various parks, resorts, water parks, and Downtown Disney.  When considering these perks of staying on-site along with Disney’s Magical Express Service which is free transportation to and from Orlando International Airport and any Walt Disney World Resort and any potential discounts offered throughout the year, staying on-site can be a value.

We will go and do it all!  Okay, I want to hear about how you did that.

Doing it all, of course, is open to interpretation and requires clarification.  If it means seeing and doing all that Magic Kingdom has to offer, I would agree with the statement, but still with some skepticism.  Maybe they mean they rode all the rides at Magic Kingdom.  I would nod with agreement to that clarification.  Of course, it may mean that shows, character meet and greets, exploring Tom Sawyer’s Island, riding the Liberty Belle, seeing parades and fireworks weren’t on the agenda.

Even after 9 trips, we haven’t done “it all.”  There are still things we have missed, skipped, aren’t ready for, or just aren’t interested in.  That’s part of the magic that is Walt Disney World with something everyone can enjoy and always more to explore and experience. 

Take Hollywood Studios for example.  When you read the Times Guide you’ll notice that many of the shows are scheduled at the same time. . . Beauty and the Beast and Lights, Motors, Action for instance.  I have seen the Beauty and the Beast live show once—our very first trip—and most likely won’t see it again as testosterone has ruled our touring ever since and now Lights, Motors, Action gets the time slot.  We typically don’t even get to the part of Hollywood Studios where the Beauty and the Beast stage is except when it is time to go to Fantasmic as the boy is just now contemplating Tower of Terror and Rock-n-Roller Coaster continues to be a “no.”  The husband and I have both ridden Tower of Terror on separate occasions when the other parent and boy were occupied with other activities.  (Keeping our fingers crossed for a family go on Tower of Terror!)

EPCOT isn’t for kids.  Or. . . EPCOT is boring.  Really. . . well, you best not go then.

I’m being sarcastic with my reply, but really, there’s some honesty in the response as if a guest really does think or feel that EPCOT doesn’t have anything for kids or is boring, the park will be less crowded when we arrive to enjoy our time.

If EPCOT isn’t for kids then our son must be an anomaly as EPCOT is his favorite park.  Who wouldn’t love fast cars, Soarin’ over California, visiting Nemo’s world, interacting with Crush, traveling back in time to the age of Dinosaurs, watching Chinese acrobats, cruising through Mexico, listening to Japanese drummers, or watching French mimes balance and climb chairs?  As I have written before, EPCOT is not an “in your face” park as you can’t see the attractions just by walking by.  You have to go inside to find the gems and jewels.

I’m sure there are even more myths and misconceptions like Animal Kingdom is just a zoo, or you can refill your mugs in the parks, or I won't have to stand in line to meet characters, or I’ll just catch the next Magical Express bus, or Walt Disney World is just for kids and families all of which are not true.

It can be difficult to not let the ignorance reign for something that is near and dear to our hearts.  Sometimes we inform and correct.  Sometimes we ignore.  Sometimes we watch and learn.  And, sometimes we make mistakes when park touring and self-correct when it doesn’t go well.  As I said to someone just yesterday, there’s more than one way!