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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Sunday, November 27, 2011

How Did You Get Started with Disney Travel?

The husband celebrating his 40th on the Disney Wonder.


We’ve been asked about how we first got started, and eventually hooked, on Disney vacations.  It actually started with a Disney cruise. . .

Let’s turn back time about 9 years or so to when the boy was little.  He would get his nightly bottle and rock to sleep in our living room with the Travel Channel telling us about all the places in the world to visit.  The deep, lulling voice on the TV would help put the boy to sleep.  So much so that we videotaped several hours worth to take with us on a trip when he was 18 months old just in case where we were headed didn’t have the Travel Channel or we were in desperate need of helping him get to sleep in a new location.

We spent many hours watching exciting vacation destinations flash before us and dreamed of someday visiting ourselves.  This included many shows about Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line.  You know the one, where they interview kids and parents, show the pools, entertainment areas, even the engine room.  Yep, I still have it DVR’d and watched a bit of it just the other day!

Now, let’s add on the fact that the boy’s first flight was at three weeks old.  We traveled to Houston to see family for Thanksgiving.  We learned a lot that trip about traveling with a child.  We continued to fly to Houston when the boy was an infant, toddler, and preschooler.  He had lots of frequent flier miles by the time he was 3 and was a great traveler.  And, we were pretty seasoned travelers, too.

The husband was about to be 40 in March of 2007.  So, in June of 2006, I phoned, what is now our favorite travel agent, and inquired about a Disney Cruise for March of 2007—during Spring Break.  She set us up with a reasonably priced 4 night cruise on board the Disney Wonder.  We were very excited!  We got our Passports, booked our flights, etc.  We spent hours pouring over the Disney Cruise Line vacation planning CD.

Then, a sort of sinking feeling came over us.  Would a Disney cruise be as magical as we had hoped when we hadn’t yet visited the parks?  Would the boy understand the characters and have a sense of Disney when we had not been to Walt Disney World?  Hmm. . . This was a dilemma.

We eventually solved the dilemma by giving in to our questions and planning a trip to Walt Disney World for November of 2006!  The boy had just turned 4.  Traveling with him was much easier at this point as he could use the bathroom (I think we were still using Pull-ups at night at this point), use a fork, and sleep in a regular bed. 

We fell in love with Walt Disney World and our visit added that much more excitement to our Disney cruise coming in the months ahead.

We enjoyed visits to Walt Disney World in September of 2007, September 2008, March 2009, November 2009, March 2010, November 2010, and July 2011.

We regretted two things from our first Disney cruise:  Not purchasing pictures, and not rebooking on board.  We spent the next few months upon our return, dreaming of another Disney cruise.  That’s when I made a call to our travel agent.  Could we swing a Disney cruise in July of 2008, for our anniversary? 

Yes, we could.  A 7 night aboard the Disney Magic sailing its Mexican Riviera itinerary out of San Pedro, California—our 2nd Disney cruise!  There were no regrets from this trip.  We purchased a photo package and rebooked our next cruise on board.

Our 3rd sailing was 18 months later on board the Disney Magic for New Years in December of 2009.  What a relaxing voyage!  Again, we rebooked on board for 19 months later, or our most recent cruise, a 5 night voyage on the Disney Dream this past July.  The boy will be 10 for our next cruise scheduled for December of 2012.

We were bitten by the Disney bug and wanted to expand our travel opportunities with Disney.  I had been aware of Adventures by Disney for a while and would phone our travel agent often with two questions when various ABD tours popped up:  1) How much?  And 2) What’s the minimum age? The answers we needed converged for our first Adventures by Disney tour to the Southwest in July of 2009.  We took an off road jeep tour in Sedona, Arizona, flew over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter when staying on the South Rim, hiked Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, and rafted down the Colorado River.  It was amazing!  Again, another magical vacation! 

We discovered that all of the 40 guests on our Adventures by Disney tour had also cruised with Disney.  That was interesting.  Seems that once people travel with Disney they want to continue traveling with Disney but not just to the parks and resorts.  Disney has capitalized on this and is now offering their guests, literally, the world with various Adventures by Disney tours as well as Disney cruises.

We are smitten with Disney travel.  And, it all began while watching the Travel Channel when rocking our sweet boy to sleep each night.  We are only limited by time and money.  We are able to visit the World more often, as this is the least expensive travel option.  A cruise is the next expensive option.  (Note:  This is due to the times we can travel—school vacations and holidays.  There are less expensive itineraries other times of the year.)  Adventures by Disney, which is more personalized and limited to 40 guests per tour, is the most expensive for us a family.  We will keep saving our pennies!

And, while it is important to remember that it all started with a mouse, for us, it all started with the dream of a Disney Cruise!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Ticket to Ride to the North Pole



We took our 6th trip to the North Pole to visit Santa, just like the story of The Polar Express via the North Pole Express which departs during the first two week-ends in December from McMillan Park in Mount Pleasant.  This year, three trains were added for the Saturday after Thanksgiving and we took advantage of the new offering.


It was a rainy day to ride the train.  We’ve experienced cold, warm, dry, even snowy, but this was the first time we’ve experienced rain.  It didn’t stop the train or dampen our spirits.




Soon we were on board the Rudolph Coach and ready for our trip to the North Pole.  The train ride takes about 15 minutes.  In other years, the audio version of The Polar Express is piped into the speakers for all to listen to while on the train.  Not this year.  We later discovered it was both a wiring issue on the train as well as human error—confusion about whether the button gets pushed in the front of the train or in the back.  Being that it was the first train of the season, we can forgive the oversight, especially since we have done this before.



Upon arrival at the North Pole, we headed straight for Santa’s red caboose and were the first to see Santa!  Each of us received a shiny bell which rings for all who truly believe.

The Snow Princess was next.  She was passing out toys for the youngsters and coupons for free french fries at the local Hardees. (Hardees is one of the sponsors of the event.)


We then stopped for cookies and hot chocolate. Yummy!  The boy went back for seconds, and the husband had thirds—on cookies!





The Red Caboose Gift Shop is located next to the cookie stand, so we took a tour.  A store devoted to trains.  We left the store the first time without making a purchase, but we returned later and this time, came out with a bag containing two Lego type trains.



Guests at the North Pole are offered a complimentary picture to commemorate the event.  We had our picture taken.  The photos are available for pick up in a nice folded card prior to leaving the North Pole. 



Next up—more trains!  New this year were two wooden toy train layouts—one on the floor and one on a train table.  Carpet was put underneath both to protect children from the gravel and dust on the floor.
 


And, back again this year, the huge electric train layout that gives guests an opportunity to operate the trains.  We spend quite a bit of time in this area of the North Pole.

The craft room offered a place to warm up, bathrooms, and a chance to make an ornament.  We spent a few minutes making the craft.

We then gathered the conductors for a group photo.  This is one of our traditions.  As soon as we took our photo, guests were behind us asking for a photo opportunity.  I guess we started something!

Our time at the North Pole was about an hour and 15 minutes.  Soon it was time to load the train and head back to Mount Pleasant



When we got off our coach, the boy headed to the locomotive and was greeted by one of the firemen on the train. 



He had soon made his way into the cab of the train! 



And, when the boy climbed down, another parent asked for a similar opportunity for their child.  We had started something again!


The rain did not keep us away and we look forward to next year!  In the meantime, on of our bells will receive an ornament hook and be hung on our Christmas tree with the other five bells from our previous visits to the North Pole.


Some hints and tips for getting the most out of your trip to the North Pole:
  • Purchase your tickets early!  Mail in registration begins the middle of October with phone in purchases starting on Nov. 1.  All trains sell out within one week of Nov. 1.
  • Know that snow, rain, ice, etc. won’t stop the Shay, so plan accordingly.



  • Dress for the weather.  It can be cold to wait for the train and the North Pole has limited warming opportunities, even though it is sheltered from the elements.  The trains are not heated either.  We saw some pretty uncomfortable people because they weren’t dressed appropriately.  Comfy shoes or boots fit in this category, too.
  • If going to the North Pole with small children, bring anything they might need for a two hour jaunt.  This includes bottles, diapers, etc.  No strollers are allowed on the train.  You’ll be carrying little ones for the duration.
  • Get to Santa’s caboose early!  The line can get quite long for Santa.  Guests are given a note with their tickets that explains the happenings at the North Pole, along with a map.  Take some time to read it and become familiar with the area.  Then, have a plan.  We had decided to see Santa first and were actually, the first to see Santa.




  • Enjoy!  A trip to the North Pole can add magic to your holiday season.


Here’s the web-site for the North Pole Express.  If you are able to, register your e-mail, so that you can receive an e-mail when mail in registrations begin.  Then, mark your calendar for mid-October and check out the site.  It will have directions for you to get your tickets to ride on the North Pole Express!


Are You Worthy of a Disney Cruise?



Are you worthy of a Disney Cruise?  The short answer is “yes.”

This topic has been percolating in my head for a few days.  Maybe it was my sick day when I was home in bed and watched the Oprah Lifeclass shows I had DVR’d.  Maybe it was hearing about others’ Disney cruising experiences or reading trip reports.  Or, maybe it was thinking ahead to our next Disney cruise.

Are you worthy of a Disney Cruise?  Definitely.

Do you feel worthy?  That is another question entirely.

Being pampered and served on board a luxurious vessel equipped to provide you food, fun, and entertainment literally around the clock requires that you are able to accept that service.  The Cast Members on board see serving you as their number one mission; their reason for being a Cast Member on a Disney Cruise ship.  Guests who are unable or unwilling to receive their service either won’t enjoy their trip, will make Cast Members uncomfortable or frustrated, or both.

I’m not talking about going overboard (pun intended) with requests or special service, just the everyday assistance of a stateroom host/hostess visiting your stateroom at least twice daily to tidy up, refresh your towels, make and turn down your bed, and restock your toiletry supply.  Or your dining room servers who quickly learn your drink and dining preferences so that they can anticipate your needs.  Or the shop clerk who answers your questions about products and purchasing.  Or the entertainment staff member who helps you navigate the line or schedule to meet characters.  Or, the guest services attendant who helps you settle your account or answers your questions with a smile even if it is the 100th time they have answered that same question that day.  I could go on and on. . .

Trust me, we’ve seen and heard the overboard requests and they aren’t pretty.  We’ve witnessed a mom telling her child in a shop on board a Disney ship something like this, “see, sometimes it pays not to be nice.”  We later saw that same parent arguing with a lifeguard supervising the Mickey pool about her child’s diaper.  She then whipped the diaper off, threw it, and put her child back in the Mickey pool.  We’ve see a dad arguing with a ship’s officer because his child wasn’t tall enough to go on the Aqua Duck and of course, the dad had promised his child that he would be able to ride—no matter safety issues and rules.  I was glad to see the officer didn’t back down.  I’m wondering if these people felt worthy of their Disney cruise.

There can be lots of feelings attached to a Disney cruise, and after 4 cruises, we’ve probably run the gamete.  I can remember trying to get to our first Disney Cruise.  We flew the day before, but had flights with minimal time in between and went rushing from one gate to another at an airport.  We then arrived to a packed Hyatt at Orlando International—due to a snowstorm on the East Coast that had flight passengers stranded.  We got up the next morning and eventually made it to Port Canaveral using Disney transports, but by the time we got on board, the husband needed a time out!  Not literally, figuratively.  We had anticipated getting into our stateroom right away—now we know better!  And, plan better!  The whole process of getting to your ship and in a timely smooth manner can be overwhelming!

Disney Cruise Line does its best to help guests with that overwhelmed feeling by streamlining the check-in process, limiting choices when guests first come on board, etc.  Yet, nevertheless, those feelings can take over, almost hijack you, for lack of a better word, and require some time to pull yourself together.  Even on our last cruise, the husband went to a “shopping in Nassau” session by himself after we got on board.  He needed some time away from us (yes, that happens) and it gave the boy and I time to explore the ship—and eat ice cream! 

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, it is difficult to feel worthy of the experience.

Keeping a family on track at home, is difficult—with varying schedules, priorities, etc.  Routines take over some of the decision making and smoothes out differences in expectations.  All bets are off when that same family goes on vacation.  There are no routines to fall back on, rely on, or predict what will happen.  It is all about making decisions.  Decisions that not everyone may want, enjoy, or agree with.  This is where some Disney Cruise planning comes into play and helps build positive anticipation for an upcoming trip.  Many of our conversations center around what people want to do (click here to read about one of our top 10 lists).  Then, it is usually my job, to put those priorities into our vacation.  Luckily, and thankfully, many are the same—characters, dining, and port adventures combined with relaxation.  The photo taking priority is mine and the husband the boy go along, as they know they are going to get to do what they want—like pin trading, or going to the kids’ club. 

Making all of those decisions while on vacation can be taxing and sometimes, downright exhausting.  There are times when I tell the husband that I’m done deciding;  done leading.  We know then it is time to take a break or “another goose needs to fly to the front of the V” to lead the flock so to speak.  And, this is after many Disney trips!

That’s why we try to make as many decisions ahead of time as we can.  We then adjust as needed.  No need to feel like air traffic controllers—who make tons of decisions—while we are on vacation.  Again, this can lead to not feeling worthy of your Disney cruise.

So, are you worthy of a Disney Cruise?  You bet!

Do you feel worthy of a Disney Cruise?  Of course!  You are willing to accept and appreciate the service on board the beautiful ship and shake off any uneasiness or anxiety getting to the ship brought on.  You have planned, made decisions, and compromised with your family prior to arrival so that everyone has a clear picture or vision of your Disney Cruise Line vacation.  And, yet, you are willing to accept any magical surprises that may appear and adjust your plans.  You’re going to be in the moment and enjoy rather than keep your mind racing to the next event or portion of your vacation.  I can put myself at Castaway Cay right now, relaxing on a float at Pelican Point while the husband pushed and pulled me through the water.  Ah, I can feel the sun, the breeze, the water . . .  Okay, I’m back.  That’s my point.  Allow yourself to be totally immersed in those moments!

Are you ready to enjoy your Disney Cruise?  I am!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pilgrims and a Disney Cruise--Yes, There is a Connection



“My teacher knows I go on cruises, Mom.”

“How does your teacher know that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what did she say that let you know that?”

What followed was very interesting.  Seems that the boy’s class was learning about the Pilgrims and their voyage to America on not one ship, but two.  Excellent timing for this learning as it was about to be Thanksgiving and all.  The teacher wanted the students to make the connection about what it was like to be on a ship in the middle of the ocean.  So, I asked, “what is it like to be on a ship in the middle of the ocean?”

“Peaceful,” was the boy’s reply.

He then went on to tell me that the Pilgrims had it pretty tough on their voyage.  He told me that they could only drink beer and ate stale bread and had to be careful not to start a fire on the ship.

We chatted a bit, comparing our recent Disney cruise with the voyage the Pilgrims made.  The boy was quick to point out that we really didn’t have any hardships on our journey, which gave him even more empathy for what the Pilgrims experienced while sailing.  And, reasons to be grateful. . . for our freedoms;  our luxuries.

The connection between the Pilgrims’ voyage and cruising with Disney is solidified in the boy’s mind and now in mine.  And, once again, Disney has crept in and will be a part of our Thanksgiving Celebration.

‘Tis the season for giving thanks.  We have much to be grateful for.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Santa Paws



Santa Paws is an annual fundraising event for our local animal shelter, Heartland Humane Society.  Heartland Humane Society has a special place in our hearts, as that is where we found our dog almost 10 years ago.

Pet owners get to bring their pets to our local Earl May Garden Center which provides for a great backdrop for the event.  This year, Leslie Heemsbergen donated her time and photography talents to capture the animals with Santa.  Leslie has lots of experience photographing animals--click here to read more. The Photo Shop donates the photo processing and David Lowe donated his time to portray Santa.

Each 5 X 7 photo is a $10 donation to Heartland Humane Society.  Photos are available for pick-up three days after the event.  We can't wait to see ours!  

Photos can be reprinted, enlarged, and made into gifts or cards for an addition cost through The Photo Shop.

Santa Paws has become a tradition for our family with two of our family members being photographed with Santa.  And, it’s a great event to help other animals and reconnect with our friends at Heartland Humane Society.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Festival of the Trees For Habitat for Humanity


Habitat for Humanity hosts a fundraiser each November called Festival of the Trees at Pennsylvania Place, a local retirement community.  The festivities last the week-end.


Friday evening, guests can purchase tickets for a lovely meal and get first dibs to purchase the beautifully decorated trees.

Individuals and businesses donate the decorated trees, wreaths, and garlands to be sold at the event.  All proceeds benefit Habitat for Humanity.


On Saturday, Santa Claus is present to greet young or young at heart guests.  And, kids get to decorate cookies, make a craft, hear a story and receive a gift, and get their face painted.  Admission is $3 per person.

The creativity behind the decorated Christmas trees is amazing and something we look forward to seeing each year. 

On the way there in the car, we were trying to guess what themed trees we would see.  I wondered about a dinosaur tree.  Sure enough, there was a Dinosaur Train Christmas tree.



Pennsylvania Place is a grand backdrop to this festive event with plenty of space for all the trees.  And, the residents volunteer their time at various locations throughout the week-end.  Grandma Carol lives at Pennsylvania Place and she was working later that day in the Pennsylvania Room.

Those who purchase trees, wreaths, or garlands get to pick them up on Sunday.

There's a holiday store with lovely items to purchase along with a "cookie walk" where guests can select various cookies and other sweet yummies to put in their container.  The price is by the size of the container.  The sweet treats are all donated.


Festival of the Trees is one way we kick off the holiday season.  The boy came home with an ornament in his gift bag and can’t wait to put it on our tree!

And, we even found a bit of Disney at Festival of the Trees with a Christmas tree dedicated to the Disney Princesses.  Check it out:

Hiking Holiday Nights and Lights


Holiday Nights and Lights sponsored by our local Chamber of Commerce is typically a “drive through” experience to view the sparkling and dancing lights of the holiday season.  But each year, before the path opens to vehicles, guests are invited to walk or hike through the lights.

The cost is $5 per person and proceeds help support the Wapello County Trails.

We have hiked the lights for several years and enjoy it each time.  It was particularly enjoyable this year, as temperatures were in the 50’s even after the sun went down.  This made it very nice as we’ve had some pretty cold hikes, too.

Guests wishing to hike the lights can find the entrance to the walking path behind our local mall.  Hot snacks are also available for purchase—chili, hot chocolate, etc.  Guests needing to toast their fingers or their nose will find a camp fire near the start of the trail.

The trail is illuminated with candles in milk cartons and the path is well marked.  We bring a flashlight, too.

What’s great about hiking the lights is that you can take your time and experience the lights at your pace.  A favorite display makes some holiday sounds, check it out:



The only thing missing when you hike the lights, as opposed to driving, is that Santa hasn’t arrived yet and his little house stands empty.

It took us an hour—start to finish—and that included visiting with people before, during, and after the hike.  We took our time and enjoyed the sights. (There’s a port-a-potty along the trail.)

(All the tunnel of lights needs is music!)

Since hiking the lights has become one of our family traditions at the holiday, the boy has certainly remembered that I sing the “12 days of Christmas” when we are near that display.  This year, he advertised this to any one nearby and I was directed to sing louder.  Check it out:


We’re grateful for our local Chamber of Commerce’s dedication to the Holiday Nights and Lights and the Wapello County Trails group for hosting this great event each year.  We’ll see you next year!

Click here to read about last year.

Kidsymphony



Southeast Iowa Symphony hosts a special event each November—Kidsymphony—with three performances on the second Saturday in November—Ottumwa, Mt Pleasant, and Burlington.  Tickets are $3 for kids and $5 for adults.

Each year, there is a different theme for Kidsymphony.  We’ve enjoyed a “Super Hero” theme and this year, it was Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. 

Each child selects an instrument—finger cymbals or a triangle—to play along at certain portions of the concert, when they enter the auditorium.  Now, the rule is supposed to be that the parents hold onto the instruments until it is time to play, but that rarely happens.  So, if you are expecting a civilized and quiet symphony audience, this performance is not for you.  It’s more of an interactive, noisy, diaper wearing, symphony audience. 

We took Grandma Carol along for the fun.

The conductor introduced the instrument families and the musicians provided demonstrations of the various instruments.  The symphony played one song, then it was time for the main feature—Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.

Interestingly, the conductor connected the theme of the story—unwillingness to try something new—to our current political climate. 

The portion of the story when she will “not eat them on a train” is the boy’s favorite part.  He even anticipates that it’s coming.  Check it out:

After the main performance, it was time to rehearse chiming along with the music.


Then, the audience robustly chimed along with a Sousa March as the finale of the performance.


The concert lasted about 45 minutes.

Children deposited their instruments in boxes on the way out, as the musicians packed up their instruments and headed East for their next performance.

While we have missed Kidsymphony the last two years—it coincided with the week-end we were at Walt Disney World in November—we were happy to be back.  It’s a great way to introduce kids to the symphony and the various instruments and catch some parents who might be interested, too.

Bravo for a great performance!