Square Life Round World

I'm navigating through this round world while living a square life, and it fits exactly as it should.

Walt Disney World During a Pandemic? Let’s Boo This! Day 2, Part 2

After leaving Magic Kingdom, the plan was to head to Disney Springs. Because transportation to and from Disney Springs isn’t available from the parks, we knew we had to catch a bus at a resort. To save time, we planned on doing this at one of the Magic Kingdom resorts. It would have been fastest to take the Monorail to Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, but since we left Magic Kingdom earlier than planned and we love Disney’s Wilderness Lodge so much, we decided to go there instead. It felt like home, and we moseyed through the Mercantile before heading to catch a bus to Disney Springs.

I just love the Wilderness Lodge lobby!
We had to rub Humphrey’s nose as we entered the Mercantile.

We had a 7:45 dinner reservation at Wine Bar George. I made the reservation through Open Table a few weeks prior to the trip when I found none available in My Disney Experience. Because they aren’t owned or operated by Disney, I knew many of the restaurants at Disney Springs also offer reservations through Open Table. That’s your Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah tip for today!

Because we were early arriving at Disney Springs, we did a little browsing before heading to dinner. This was my first visit since the World of Disney remodel, and I loved what they’ve done with the place! It’s so open and much easier to navigate.

After killing a little time, we decided to see if Wine Bar George would seat us early, and, as luck would have it, they quickly found us a table. I was really looking forward to trying this place out, and it did not disappoint. I found Wine Bar George to be right up my alley! To say the wine list is extensive is a major understatement. They also specialize in the meats and the cheeses, and I do love the meats and the cheeses. Even though I love wine, I also love a good novelty cocktail so I decided to go with one of their frozen concoctions in one of their signature Corkcicle tumblers. I got the Friezling made with Dole Whip lime, Riesling and vodka. It was delicious!

The Friezling–it was tart and refreshing.

We decided to get the Big Board for dinner, which is pretty much all the meats, cheeses and accompaniments. I was in heaven! I also ordered a glass of pinot noir from Macedonia because in my book, meats and cheeses call for wine. I’d also never had a pinot from Macedonia so I was curious. It was a bit spicy but also delicious. We had thought we might get a few warm appetizers, too. The meatballs and mac and cheese bites looked incredible, but the Big Board was more than enough. In fact, we took leftovers with us.

The Big Board had all my favorite things.

Each time I visit Disney Springs, I have to stop by the Ganachery to pick up chocolates to take home, and this trip was no different. As I get older, I find that I want fewer “things” from my vacations, so lately I’ve been gravitating toward what I like to call consumable souvenirs. These are things like snacks or coffee beans, beer and wine, also called liquid souvenirs, to help extend the vacation a bit further after I’m home. I loaded up on consumable souvenirs at the Ganachery with a box of 16 chocolates and some chocolate skulls for Halloween.

These are made fresh daily in the store. Each design is a different flavor of chocolate covered ganache. I will be enjoying these at home for several days.

I also had my sights set on their homemade smores. They make every part of them, even the graham crackers, right there in the store. We were still pretty full from dinner so Dad and I split one. It was definitely enough to share, really gooey and messy, though.

Each component of their smores is made in house and assembled in front of you.
Gotta love anything garnished with a Mickey head!

By then, we were ready to call it a night. We caught the bus back to our resort and turned in so we’d be rested and primed for Epcot the next day.

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Walt Disney World During a Pandemic? Let’s Boo This! Day 2, Part 1

Day 2 began with an early (for me) wake up at 6 am for a day at Magic Kingdom. Because the parks’ hours are reduced right now, it seems like everyone is trying to arrive at opening. This means transportation first thing in the morning is chaotic, to say the least. I’m a researchaholic when it comes to trip planning, so I already knew this. My original plan was to be at the bus stop at 7:30 for the 9 am opening, but we didn’t quite make it. We arrived around 7:50, and the scene was already overwhelming.

The entire bus stop area was filled with Guests heading to Magic Kingdom just like us.

Cast Members had the line well under control, however, and we quickly were directed to the end of the line. At 8 am on the dot, busses started rolling in one right after the other, and we were on a bus by 8:35. As you can tell, 7:30 would have been the much better plan.

There were busses lined up as far as the eye could see ready to clear out the crowds.

We arrived at Magic Kingdom just before 9 and got our temperatures checked before leaving the bus stop. We then made our way through the much-improved security area where they scan you and your bags instead of searching everything manually. The whole process was super fast and efficient.

Health and safety protocols helped put us at ease so we could have a fun few days.

Upon stepping onto Main Street, USA we were greeted by characters in their Halloween costumes from the train station platform. Since there are no one-on-one character greets during the pandemic, Disney is doing the best they can to weave these impromptu character sightings in wherever they can, and they are adorable!

Super cute distanced character greeting in Magic Kingdom

We made our way toward Cinderella Castle for our first view of her all dressed up in her 50th anniversary finery. She’s a beaut in her bright blue and rose gold.

We decided to start in Liberty Square. Madame Leota sippers were back in stock at Sleepy Hollow after selling out quickly when they were debuted for Halloween, and my sister and mom wanted one. There was no line so we stopped there first.

We then headed over to Haunted Mansion where there was no wait at all. We found they were bypassing both the first holding area and the stretching room as part of the health and safety modifications.

We made our way over to Frontierland next to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, one of my absolute faves. That line stretched all the way to Pecos Bill’s but only ended up being about 30 minutes long. All of the lines looked super intimidating because keeping parties spaced out 6 feet apart takes up more real estate than one might think.

Only one party per train car is being loaded on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. This is a big reason for the long lines, but I’m completely ok with this in order to keep everyone as safe as possible.

We really wanted to ride Splash Mountain since it’s soon going to be fitted with a new overlay. Truth be told, that’s one of the main motivators for my decision to take this trip. I wanted one last ride on the original. Unfortunately, it was down all morning. I kept monitoring the app to see when it would be open, but so far, there was no luck.

So we headed to Adventureland instead. Pirates of the Caribbean was next on the list, and this, too, had a very winding line. The entire time we were in line, winding back and forth, I smelled some amazing deliciousness coming from Pecos Bill’s. I was getting really hungry so after Pirates, that was our next stop for lunch.

Mobile ordering through the app was required, and like our resort restaurant, we weren’t allowed into the dining room until our order was ready. They also kept telling everyone to refrain from taking a table until you had your food. This system worked great. We had no trouble finding a table. Only about half the tables were available to be used, allowing for easy distancing. Signs clearly marked those that were out of service. Cast Members were doing a great job of cleaning and disinfecting tables as soon as people left. The food was delicious, some of the best nachos I’ve ever had in my life! The only thing they needed was a frozen margarita to wash them down. But alas, those are nowhere to be found in Magic Kingdom since it’s a dry park other than the full service “sit down” restaurants.

Delicious nachos at Pecos Bill’s. Prior to the pandemic, all the toppings would be self-serve on a toppings bar, which is currently unavailable. Instead, toppings are served with the entrées in individual containers.

After lunch, we stepped out to find a surprise character cavalcade coming by. Parades aren’t a thing right now, but in order to sprinkle in a little magic, unscheduled, short cavalcades can be found throughout the day. So fun!

Cute princess cavalcade

By then, Splash was open so we headed that way. That line was long, y’all, both in distance and in time.

One final visit with Brer Bear, Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox

As we were in line, we noticed clouds and wind increasing and knew something was about to blow up. After about 90 minutes in line, we were almost to the front when a Cast Member announced that a storm was in the area and riders might get wet from rain. They also said it might be necessary to close again, but they would keep it running as long as they could. We unfortunately didn’t have time to put our ponchos on before it was our turn to load. Well, the bottom fell out just as we were meandering around one of the outdoor bends on the ride. We. Got. Soaked! Thankfully, it had cleared by the time the ride was over, and we were optimistic that we would dry out soon.

We headed to get a Dole Whip next at Aloha Isle. It started raining again as I placed our order, but we were able to find a seating area under cover. Score!

On the left is the Kakamora Float, which is coconut soft serve, pineapple juice and blue curacao syrup with a chocolate cake pop. Pineapple and raspberry swirl is on the right.

Up next was Jungle Cruise to pay homage to the backside of water and, you guessed it, more rain.

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the back side of water!

Then Peter Pan’s Flight and more rain. We had plans at Disney Springs later, and the rain was wearing us out so we decided to wrap up our day at Magic Kingdom. After meandering through the Emporium on our way out, we took a boat ride over to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, our favorite resort, to catch a bus to Disney Springs.

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Walt Disney World During a Pandemic? Let’s Boo This! Day 1

Here’s a little background about how my pandemic experience has gone so far this year. I’ve been working from home since early March. I order my groceries and either have them delivered or I pick them up curbside. All of my shopping has been either online or curbside. I’ve been inside Costco a handful of times, and I’ve been to restaurants four times, two of those on patios. Up until now, I’ve had makeup on exactly five times, those four restaurant visits and a very socially distant wedding with an outside reception. When it was announced that Walt Disney World Resort would be reopening in July, I was all the nope about that. My stance was that no vacation was worth risking the lives of myself, my family or anyone else. I was prepped to dig my heels in and wait until this thing was all over, whatever that meant.

While I totally get that the luxury of working from home during a pandemic is a privilege, one that I feel so incredibly fortunate to have, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t taking its toll on me. I needed a break. I tried taking a few days off, but that didn’t cut it. I saw friend after friend going on vacation, and no one got sick from it. All over my newsfeeds, I kept seeing the rhetoric that theme parks and air travel were not making people sick. So I decided to roll the dice and take a super short, three day trip to my happy place.

Once my Dad caught wind of this, he couldn’t stand it and decided he wanted to go, too. At 76 years old, I was a little apprehensive, but hey! If it’s safe enough for me, I figured it’s safe enough for him, and he’s old enough to make up his own mind about what he wants to do. So, flights were booked, hotel was booked, tickets were bought, theme park reservations were made (’cause that’s a thing now), and we were ready.

We flew on Southwest, and let me tell ya, middle seats open are soooo nice! Before I left, I had heard that keeping the air vents wide open on the plane would help keep any viral particles away, and on all of our flights, they were either already open or the flight attendants made an announcement for everyone to open them. We felt really good about everything we experienced while traveling.

Dad and I were feelin’ the luv aboard Southwest Airlines.

We landed around 3:45 and headed straight for Disney’s Magical Express. We were told there would be a 45 minute wait for a bus, even though the area was completely empty.

A completely empty Disney’s Magical Express area

Luckily, we only waited about 20 minutes before we were loaded and on our way. We got a kick out of getting to ride in a Disney Cruise Line bus. Since the ships aren’t sailing right now, it’s not surprising to see more of them being used for other purposes.

I sure do miss Disney Cruise Line. It was so exciting to get to ride this bus.

We arrived at Disney’s Pop Century Resort a little before 5, and we received a text that our room was not ready. We didn’t have much luggage so we decided to keep it with us as we headed out to the pool bar for a beverage. I had the special Halloween cocktail, Pop Potion. It was fun with layers of colors and gummy worms, but was quite syrupy. I’m a sucker for specialty anything, especially cocktails, yet I always end up wishing I had stuck to something simple like wine or beer. This was no different.

By then, it was 6 o’clock, and still the room was not ready. I decided to head to the front desk to inquire. The Cast Member assisting me said the problem was that I had requested a room in the 50’s buildings, and special requests always slow them down. Ok, but I had also checked the box to prioritize a room being ready over my request. That doesn’t matter, they told me, but not to worry because they were going to find me a ready room, just not one in the 50’s. After a few pecks at the keyboard, we had our room assignment…in one of the 50’s buildings. Insert pretend hard eye roll here because I didn’t actually roll my eyes. I thanked him very much for his hard work in finding a room and honoring our request.

Off to our room we went to get settled in for the next few days and acclimate ourselves to the lay of the land. We were happy to have a view of the bowling pin pool beneath us and the Skyliner to our right.

Once we got settled in, we decided to head back down to the main building for dinner at Everything Pop. The modified experience for health and safety protocols meant that they were limiting the number of people in the gift shop and/or dining room at any given time, and mobile ordering food was required. In fact, we weren’t permitted to enter the dining room until our food was ready, and even then, there was sometimes a line to gain entrance. The menu was also very limited, but adequate for our needs.

Shopping to the left, dining to the right

We always get the refillable mugs because we like “popping” in for a beverage as we are heading to and fro. One thing that was different with the new protocols that I had not heard about was that they wouldn’t fill the mug. We just had to show it, and a Cast Member at the beverage station would give us a fresh beverage in a paper cup. We also learned that if you just want a drink, all you have to do is show your mug to bypass the line and gain entrance to the dining room. Talk about VIP! Ok, not really, but I’ll take any chance to bypass a line.

I ordered the chicken parmesan. It was not stellar but served its purpose.

After finishing our meals, we headed back to the room to call it a night since the next day involved an early wake up call to visit Magic Kingdom.

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Star Wars Dark Side 5k Flashback

Star Wars Rival Run Weekend

Welcome to Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend!

It’s runDisney race week again! This time it’s the Star Wars Rival Run Weekend, and no, I’m not going. I broke up with running, remember? However, since I never shared my race recap, I thought it was high time for a flashback to the only time I’ve ever participated in this weekend. Allow me to take you back to the 2017 Dark Side 5k.

2017 Dark Side 5k

I love these photo opportunities at the expo.

This is one runDisney weekend that was never really on my radar. I don’t know why because I’ve been a fan of Star Wars for as long as I can remember, starting way back with A New Hope. I remember being terrified of Darth Vader as a child. To help calm me down, my parents told me the ones in white are the heroes and always win. The ones in black are the bad guys and always lose. I was confused because, Stormtroopers. They had to explain they were the exception. I wasn’t so sure.

Anyway, back to the race. Flashback to two years ago. At some point before the 5k sold out, it dawned on me that I was going to be there for the 5k and 10k. We had a cruise booked (shocker!) that was leaving the day of the 10k and we had planned on going to Epcot the day before, which was the same day as the 5k. Wait, what?! Hello, lightbulb! I thought long and hard about both races but ultimately settled on the 5k only. We like to get to the port as early as they will let us in the parking garage, and I didn’t want to hold us back.

So, Operation Costume Planning was in full swing. This was one of my favorite costumes ever, and soooooo cheap, too! I was Captain Phasma. It was a Dark Side race after all, back in the day.

Captain Phasma Running Costume

“Flat me” as Captain Phasma

My approach to runDisney race costumes has evolved to become a nod to the character I’m trying to represent as opposed to a dead ringer, so to speak. I already had the Sparkle Skirt from my Hades costume for the final Tower of Terror 10 Miler (can we please take a moment of silence in memory of this awesome event?) as well as the gray tech shirt. I purchased a child’s Captain Phasma costume on the Shop Disney website during one of their Twice Upon A Year sales for super cheap, like $10 or something, essentially free. Disney math, yo! From that, I attached the mask to a Sparkle Athletic visor and used the cape. I also took the belt from the costume and pinned it to the waistline of my skirt. I found out my friend Andrea was also registered, and I shared what I had planned with her so we could be matchy-matchy. I do love when people are matchy-matchy at these events, and I love it even more when I get to be matchy-matchy!

The morning of the race came, and I got up in the middle of the night, as runDisney racers do.

Star Wars 5k Start

Zero dark thirty, the worst part of these races

I was thrilled to see my girl, Captain Phasma as a pre-race photo character.

Captain Phasma at the Dark Side 5k

Me as Captain Phasma with Captain Phasma

I found Andrea, and we collectively became a trio of Phasmas.

A Trio of Captain Phasmas

Andrea and I together with Captain Phasma collectively became a trio of Phasmas.

That line was looooooong, y’all! That was the only pre-race photo I got. That’s ok, though, because I stopped for ALL the photos on course.

Ewoks

The first stop was the Ewoks. I die of the cuteness!

Emperor’s Chair

Up next was the Emperor’s Chair.

R2D2

R2D2 was next and had the longest line. Also, I have no clue what’s happening here.

Chewbacca

Up next was Chewbacca and another long line.

Ezra and Sabine

Next came Ezra and Sabine. I got an oddly placed shadow as a bonus.

Spaceship Earth

Next came a photo opp in front of Spaceship Earth. There was a Photopass Photographer here, otherwise I would have skipped it.

Stormtroopers

Finally, Stormtroopers. There was no Photopass Photographer here so I was glad I had my phone.

Stopping for ALL the photos means a lot of stop and go, and a really looooooong 5k. I think it took me around 2 hours to finish.

After the race, it was time to get cleaned up and meet my family for a fun day at Epcot.

Epcot Character Spot

Fun with Mickey and family

One of the best things about race weekends is seeing friends you don’t get to see throughout the year. My friend Aimee was in town for the other races, and I met her later for dinner at Flying Fish at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn and Villas.

Flying Fish

Pre-dinner drinks at Abracadabar and dinner at Flying Fish was a delicious way to celebrate the day.

Later, we strolled around World Showcase in Epcot tasting a few of the libations from the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival.

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

Drinking around World Showcase is always a good idea.

It really was the best day ever, and I think the fact that the race was so impromptu, as impromptu as a runDisney race can be, made it even better.

Star Wars Dark Side 5k Medal

My attempt at an artsy medal photo

As always, I’ll be following along, living vicariously through the participants from the comfort of my couch. I wish the best of luck and lots of fun to everyone making their way to the Galaxy. May the Force be with you!

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Tales of a Castaway Cay Cabana Convert

This is the time of year when I start dreaming of tropical beaches, citrus sunsets and colorful umbrella drinks. January and February are my least favorite months, and I can’t be alone in that. Lately, my thoughts have been wandering to the paradise that is Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, only accessible via a Disney Cruise Line ship.

The Disney Wonder

The Disney Wonder docked at Castaway Cay

More specifically, I’ve been dreaming of my private cabana on Serenity Bay, the adults only beach on the island. It took me seven years of cruising Disney before I finally bought into all the hype. For years I thought they were an over-the-top extravagance that couldn’t possibly be worth the high price tag. Less than five minutes after setting foot into our precious piece of real estate for a day, I knew my past thoughts had been misguided. Wayyyyy misguided.

Serenity Bay Cabana 25

Cabana 25 on Serenity Bay

Getting a cabana on the island had never been on my radar, partly because they are almost impossible to get but mostly because of the high costs. As of now, Serenity Bay cabanas are $399 for up to 4 guests before tax. Family beach cabanas are $599 from September 25, 2018-March 17, 2019 and $649 from March 18, 2019-September 24, 2019. These prices are also before tax and are for up to 6 guests. On both beaches, you can have up to 10 guests in the cabana for an additional charge of $50 per guest over the number already included in the price. Not exactly cheap!

So, how did I get from there to here? It’s pretty simple, actually. I mainly wanted a more comfortable beach experience for my parents, my mom in particular. They are both in their seventies, and over the years I’ve watched as my mom has increasingly struggled with the beach. It’s harder for her to walk on the sand, and the beach chairs hurt her back. She also is sun-sensitive. While there are plenty of umbrellas on both beaches, getting full coverage from the sun is easier said than done. In 2017, my parents stayed on the beach just long enough for lunch to be served. It was hard to watch them not enjoy this highlight of the trip. I thought a cabana might be the answer and rationalized the cost by thinking of it as an all-day excursion. Per person, it’s really not that much more than other all-day excursions. Disney math at its finest!

Sign at the entrance of the private cabana area

So, after I made up my mind I wanted one for our 2018 cruise, how on earth was I going to get one? Let’s first break down why they are hard to get. First, there are only 24 of these beauties on the island (numbering goes up to 25 but 13 doesn’t exist); 20 are on the family beach (one is a double sized Grand Cabana at, you guessed it, an even higher cost) and 4 are on the adult beach. So, there aren’t a lot to go around. Second, Disney has a tiered system for booking activities, cabanas included, based on number of cruises you’ve taken and room category. Concierge guests (top room categories) get first dibs at them. There are more rooms in this category than there are cabanas. Often, they are all snatched up by this group first. Then, Platinum (10+ cruises) cruisers get a shot, followed by Gold (6-10 cruises), Silver (1-5 cruises) and finally, the newbies can try.

As a Silver cruiser not staying in Concierge, my chances were slim-to-none. As expected, they were all gone when it was our time to book. I stalked the site daily for cancellations to no avail. My next plan was to immediately go to Guest Services after boarding the ship and get on the wait list.

On the day of embarkation, something magical happened! We were on our way to the port when we learned of a change in our itinerary. We were supposed to go to St. Maarten, but due to a storm in the Caribbean, we weren’t going to make it. Instead, we would be making two stops at Castaway Cay. Thank you, Mickey! Many people were disappointed to miss St. Maarten, and I can totally understand that. I was elated, however! Immediately my brain went to the cabanas. A surprise stop meant all cabanas were available for the bonus stop, and I was determined to get one. Or so I thought.

I went straight to Guest Services when we boarded, thinking I would just book one right there on the spot. Not so fast! I learned that the cabana list is owned by the Concierge staff on board. That means Concierge guests still get first dibs. The Concierge staff would call me if there were any available after they were offered to their guests.

A few hours later, we got a call that there were two left, and one had my name on it! Success! Later that night, we received our wrist bands and cabana check in information.

Castaway Cay Cabana Wristbands

Our wristbands! We were official!

The next day, we docked at Castaway Cay for our bonus stop. We could not get off that ship fast enough to head to our private slice of paradise! Upon arrival at Serenity Bay, we headed straight for cabana check in. We were greeted by our cabana host for the day and taken via golf cart to Cabana 25. They were clearly expecting us as we found our name on the welcome sign.

Welcome Sign

What a warm welcome!

Our host showed us around our cabana, where we found very comfy chairs and loungers, a ceiling fan, changing area, bar menu, snack basket, fridge stocked with sodas, water, fruit and cold towels, outdoor shower, floats and tubes, a hammock and sunscreen. The most important feature was the button to push in order to call our host. All was included in the cabana cost except drinks on the bar menu.

Cabana 25

The back entrance to Cabana 25

Inside the Cabana

The cozy interior of the cabana

Cabana Interior

So inviting!

Cabana Lounge Chair

Super comfy lounge chairs

Cabana Lounge Chair

Another comfy chair. I tried them all out.

Cabana Ceiling Fan

It was a little chilly so we didn’t end up using the ceiling fan. It would have come in handy on a warm day, though.

Castaway Cay Bar Menu

If we wanted something from the bar menu, our cabana host was a push of a button away.

Snacks

Snacks

Stocked Fridge

Fully stocked fridge

Floats and Rafts

Floats and rafts right next to the cabana

Personal Hammock

We had our own personal hammock.

Complimentary Sunscreen

Complimentary sunscreen

We lounged around the cabana for a bit before taking a walk on the beach. It was kind of chilly that day (March) so the water was much too cold to enjoy. We went back to the cabana where we agreed it was nice to be shielded from the cool air. I found a sunny spot on the cabana porch and relaxed in the sun until it was time for lunch.

Beach Selfie

The obligatory beach selfie

We called our cabana host to come get us for lunch. Within moments he arrived to whisk us off in the golf cart. While we could have brought lunch back to our cabana, we chose to eat there. After lunch, I picked up my favorite drink there, the Konk Kooler, and we headed back to our tiny home.

We decided we could almost live there, it was so nice! Before we knew it, they were announcing that it was time to leave. Our cabana host came to collect us, and we enjoyed the biggest surprise of all! The cabana host drove us back to the ship, past the customs check, and dropped us off right at the gangplank. No extra walking for my mom! She was all smiles! It was then that I realized this was the first trip to Castaway Cay that my parents were able to enjoy the island for the entire day. Mission accomplished!

Happy Parents

Seeing how much my parents enjoyed the day made it all worth it.

Four days later, we got another call from Concierge. One of their guests had cancelled their cabana for the second visit, and they were calling to see if we wanted it. Without much hesitation, we wholeheartedly said yes! The next day, we got to do it all over again in Cabana 22.

Cabana 22

We got Cabana 22 for our second day.

Cabana 22

The back entrance to Cabana 22

We are now cabana spoiled! I’m happy to say that we’ve already secured Cabana 25 once again for our next cruise. We are Gold this time, and we got lucky. I found a Platinum cruiser on our cruise who kept monitoring the available inventory for me until our booking window opened. I knew there was one available on the adult beach, and I was laser-focused on getting it! Luckily, I had fast fingers and a fast internet connection. We can hardly wait to visit our little haven in paradise once again.

Cabana 22 Sign

We are looking forward to once again calling Cabana 25 home for the day.

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Sorority Initiation 26 Years Later – A Square Life Round World Moment 

It’s been a few years since I’ve written anything. Hold up! That’s not entirely true. It’s been a few years since I’ve clicked the publish button on anything. However, I’m having a Square Life Round World moment and I need to talk about it. 

What exactly is a Square Life Round World moment, you ask? Allow me to explain. It’s any moment in which you feel the need to circle yourself out. What in the world does that mean? Circle yourself out is a phrase I picked up from my friend Christy. Hey, friend! I know she’s reading this. She may be the only person who’s reading this so super shout out to her! Remember Sesame Street, like old school Sesame Street? They had a segment in which you had to pick the thing which was different. I can still hear the song in my head. “One of these things is not like the other.” Likewise, do you ever have moments when you feel different than everyone else around you? That, my friends, is circling yourself out and is a Square Life Round World moment. 

I feel the need to clarify that I don’t always feel different and not all of my moments are Square Life Round World. The times that I do and the moments that are, though, are what inspire the title of my blog. Those are the moments that magnify my differences and give me a unique perspective to share. 

So what is this current Square Life Round World moment I speak of today? Sorority initiation. It’s been 26 years since my own sorority initiation, but I recently got the opportunity to attend one for the first time since I graduated, and I was elated. I think every sorority girl secretly dreams of the day when she gets to pin her legacy. I even had my pin made into a ring, which could easily be converted back to a pin should the need ever arise. However, since I didn’t have any kids, let alone daughters, I gave up on that dream many years ago. Still, somehow, here I was. My time had come. I was about to pin my legacy, except I wasn’t the mother. I was the aunt. 

 

I had my pin made into a ring, but it’s convertible back into a pin.

 

I hadn’t even considered that I might be about to walk into a Square Life Round World moment until I stepped into the staging room, a room full of mothers and sisters. If one woman asked me the name of my daughter, at least a dozen did. I got a few puzzled looks when I explained that I was an aunt. Even so, my name was on the list, and I was supposed to be there, gosh darn it!

As I listened to stories from the mothers of daughters who had grown up knowing they wanted to follow in their mothers’ footsteps, I began to wonder if I really was supposed to be there. My niece didn’t choose that sorority because of me. She wasn’t following in anyone’s footsteps, unlike the other legacies. I had been invited, but should I have accepted? Would my niece even want me there? I began to think about her Big Sister. Was I stealing her thunder? Sure, mothers, grandmothers and sisters are obviously allowed to, but are aunts?

 

See? I was invited! Really, I was!

 

“Does her Big know I’m here?,” I asked the girl managing the staging area. She replied, “I’m pretty sure. I mean, she knows she’s a legacy so she should know.” I wasn’t convinced. Is a niece even considered a legacy? Would her Big make that connection? 

I began to get really nervous. I had been looking forward to this day for weeks, since Bid Day. At the same time, I had just driven four and a half hours, and I was no longer sure I should be there. Her Big probably had no clue I was coming and was probably looking forward to pinning her. My niece definitely had no clue I was coming and possibly would rather get pinned by her Big. 

Judging by the look on her Big’s face when she saw me trying to get into place, I knew I was right. She wasn’t expecting me. She was gracious about it, however, and conceded her spot to me. I felt terrible, though. She looked confused and maybe even a little disappointed. 

My heart was racing. I didn’t want to ruin this moment for my niece. My instincts were right about her Big not knowing I was coming. What if I was right about my niece not wanting me there, too? 

Any thoughts of that were quickly erased when she turned around and saw me. Complete surprise and delight were all over her face as she exclaimed, “What?! I didn’t know you were coming!” She gave me the biggest hug I think I’ve ever received from anyone. I then pinned her. More hugs. Just like that, it was over. 

I didn’t see any of the other legacies’ reactions because I was too much in our own moment to notice. I can’t imagine any of them being more special, though. That one moment was well worth the trip.

 

After the ceremony was over, we were both so happy.

 

Yes, I was the only aunt in a room full of mothers and sisters. To my niece, it didn’t matter, though, and she’s the one I was there for, anyway. It no longer mattered to me, either. I had made my niece’s initiation even more special, and she had made my secret dream come true. Sometimes Square Life Round World moments turn out to be the best. This was one of those moments. 

 

Since it was such a far drive, I got a room for the night. I was amused to find that it overlooked Fraternity Row. That’s the ATO house right outside my window.

 

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Thanksgiving and My Award-Winning Peanut Butter Pie

Happy Thanksgiving!  This is one of my favorite days of the year.  Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, football, food, family, shopping, and the start of the holiday season are just a few of my favorite things about this day.

For most people, Thanksgiving is all about turkey and trimmings, but it’s also all about the desserts.  Judging by my Facebook and Instagram feeds, I think most people would agree.  Get your stretchy pants ready because I’m finally about to share with you a Thanksgiving staple in my family, my award-winning Flutter Nutter Peanut Butter Candy Bar Pie.

Back in January of 2010, I saw a program on Food Network about the Crisco National Pie Championship held each year in Celebration, Florida.  That’s the cute, quaint town right outside of Walt Disney World Resort so naturally, my ears perked up.  The winners all got huge gift baskets.  I wanted a gift basket.  Seriously, that’s how this whole thing got started.  After a little research, I learned the competition was in April and was open to everyone who could submit an original, not previously published, not previously submitted for other competitions, pie recipe.  There was just one problem.  I had never made a pie, much less developed my own recipe.  That didn’t stop me, so I began experimenting with flavor combinations and different types of pies.  After many failed attempts at made-from-scratch pie crusts and fillings, I quickly realized a no-bake pie was my best bet.  After much experimentation, I finally came up with one I liked, and my Flutter Nutter Peanut Butter Candy Bar Pie was born.

The competition itself was really fun.  I chose the bake on-site option, and I had so much fun talking to all the spectators and explaining what I was doing step-by-step, almost as though I was hosting my own show.

Me and my pie at the competition

Me and my pie at the competition

I really didn’t think I had any chance of winning, so my goal was to have as much fun as possible, and I did!

The next day was the awards ceremony.  When I saw all the lovely gift baskets lined up on stage, I remembered why I wanted to do this in the first place.  I realized I really wanted to win.  I can honestly say I was completely shocked when they called my pie as the first place winner of the peanut butter category.  I got my gift basket!  I also got a sweet cash prize to go along with it, but the gift basket!  Be still my heart!

It's a major award!

It’s a major award!

So, here it is.  Now, I realize most food blogs give you a step-by-step explanation of how to do everything in the recipe before giving the recipe itself.  Well, I’m not a food blogger, and truthfully, I usually just look at the photos and skip to the recipe anyway so that’s what I’m giving you.

I do want to toss in a little disclosure here first, though.  As a previous winner in the Crisco National Pie Championship, this recipe is the property of me and the American Pie Council.  It is published in America’s Best Pies, a cook book produced by the American Pie Council.  So, publishing this recipe or producing it for remuneration (money) is prohibited without the written consent of the American Pie Council.

Now that we have that out of the way, on to the yummy stuff!

Really, could anything that starts out with this be bad?  I think not!

Really, could anything that starts out with this be bad? I think not!

Nutter Butter cookie crust

Nutter Butter cookie crust

Next is the Nutella layer.

Next is the Nutella layer.

Chopped up Reese's go on top of the Nutella.

Chopped up Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups Miniatures go on top of the Nutella.

Yummy peanut butter mousse filling

Yummy peanut butter mousse filling

Finally, more Nutter Butters and Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures get chopped up to garnish the pie.

Finally, more Nutter Butters and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures get chopped up to garnish the pie.

Flutter Nutter Peanut Butter Candy Bar Pie

Ingredients
Crust
12 peanut butter sandwich cookies, such as Nutter Butters
1/4 cup granulated sugar
6 T butter, melted

Candy Bar Layer
1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread, such as Nutella
8 miniature peanut butter cups, coarsely chopped

Filling
1 8 oz package cream cheese
1 7 oz jar marshmallow cream
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 8 oz container frozen whipped topping, thawed

Garnish
2 coarsely chopped peanut butter sandwich cookies, such as Nutter Butters
3 coarsely chopped miniature peanut butter cups

To Make Pie
For the crust, process the peanut butter sandwich cookies in a food processor until fine crumbs are formed. Add in melted butter and sugar and process until blended, about 30 seconds. The mixture will resemble wet sand. Press mixture into a 9 inch pie plate. For the candy bar layer, spread chocolate hazelnut spread on top of the crust and sprinkle with the coarsely chopped miniature peanut butter cups. For the filling, blend the cream cheese, marshmallow cream and peanut butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Add in the whipped topping and mix with an electric mixer until blended. Spoon the filling on top of the candy bar mixture and smooth out so that it is evenly distributed. Garnish by sprinkling the remaining coarsely chopped peanut butter sandwich cookies and miniature peanut butter cups. Chill for a minimum of 2 hours. Serves 10.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

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Disney Parks Moms Panel 2015–When Failing Isn’t Failing

If you follow me on Twitter and Instagram, you may know that for the past couple of months I have been a candidate to become a member of the 2015 Disney Parks Moms Panel.

Disney Parks Moms Panel

Disney Parks Moms Panel

Why have I not been more vocal about this here?  It’s simple.  I’m not a mom.  Some might think it’s quite silly for a childless person to want to be a part of something called a Moms Panel.  However, the Disney Parks Moms Panel really has very little to do with being a mom.  More than anything, it’s about helping Disney Parks Guests plan their vacations.  Anyone who knows me well knows that something like this is right up my alley.  Still, for years I have applied and the selection committee has never even blinked at me twice.  I always assumed it was because I lacked the whole kids thing, but this time was different!

See, looking back, I really think the reason I never advanced past the first round of applications had less to do with my lack of children and more to do with my lack of effort.  As much as I wanted to be a part of the panel, deep down inside I never really tried.  I think somewhere in the dark recesses of my psyche, I thought if I didn’t really take it seriously, it would be easy to assume my failure was due to my childless state and not because of me.  It would also be really easy to get that rejection, and it was.

This time I did something else.  I tried.  I tried really hard!  I put everything I had into the process.  Not only that, but I liked the work I submitted.  I still assumed that as soon as the selection committee found out I didn’t have kids, I would be done, but I was going to ride that wave for as long as they would let me.

The first round did not contain any questions that would give it away that I wasn’t a mom.  We did have to submit a Disney family photo, but my favorite family photo is of our whole clan, my parents, my sister, her husband, and their 4 kids.  It wasn’t obvious in the photo that none of the kids were mine so even my Disney Side photo didn’t give it away.

Disney Side Family Photo

Disney Side Family Photo

We often travel to Disney the same week each year, and we’ve been on a Disney Cruise Line cruise together.  So, it’s not like I don’t know what it’s like to travel with kids or even plan a trip with their needs in mind.  About 5 weeks later, I got a magical email!  For the first time in forever, I had advanced to Round 2!

Round 2 Email

Round 2 Email

My elation quickly turned to panic when I saw what Round 2 entailed.  There were 8 essay questions and a 71 second video that had to be submitted.  Two of the questions were the source of my panic.  I had to tell the committee about myself in 100 words or less and I had to tell about my family in 200 words or less.  There was no way around it.  They would know my secret and surely toss me to the curb.  I agonized for days about this.  Do I talk about my nieces and nephew without referring to them as such and let them draw their own conclusions?  Do I skip over the fact that I have no kids and pretend it’s not there?  What I finally decided to do is wear it like a badge.  I dealt with it head-on.  I wanted them to know I am childless and I wanted them to want me anyway.  Guess what!?  They did!  About 3 weeks later another magical email arrived inviting me to Round 3!

Round 3 email

Round 3 Email

I really started believing this could be possible.  I began to want it more than I think I’ve ever wanted anything.  I knew I was still a long shot, but the thing about being a long shot is you still get a shot.

Round 3 consisted of a 15 minute phone interview with Gary Buchanan, a man I admire and respect a great deal.  For me, he embodies the spirit of Walt Disney himself.  When I found out I was actually going to get to talk to him, I felt like I had already won.  Following the interview was a Round 4 Moms Panel question that had to be answered in 45 minutes or less.  Then came the longest week of my life.

Yesterday was announcement day, and was filled with enormous anticipation!  Finally, my email came, and for the first time in this year’s process, it was not what I had hoped it would be.

The nicest rejection letter I have ever gotten

The nicest rejection letter I have ever gotten

I cannot even begin to explain the emotions I felt.  Sadness for not making it, pride for being a finalist, pain for others who didn’t make it, pain for Gary because it wasn’t easy for him either, excitement for those who did make it, confusion over what I could have done differently, emptiness for something I tried so hard to get but didn’t, love from friends and family who supported me are just a few of the emotions I went through.

So, why is failing not failing?  What I got out of this may be worth more than a spot on the panel.  I got validation.  I’m an easy one to say no to.  I don’t even fit the profile of what they are looking for.  Yet, members of the Disney marketing and PR team noticed me.  Me!  They noticed my writing ability.  They noticed my passion.  They may not have ultimately picked me, but I know I made them pause and think about it.

Would I still like a spot on the panel?  Absolutely!  At the same time, I wouldn’t trade what I’ve learned about myself through all of this for one.  Don’t think for a second I won’t be trying again next year, though.

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Throwback Thursday: Walking Down Disney Memory Lane

I don’t always participate in Throwback Thursday but this week I thought it was appropriate.  I’ve been looking at a lot of old photos lately triggering multiple walks down memory lane. 

Currently, there are several fun Disney contests going on with trips up for grabs.  One is Relive the Magic.  Disney is looking for pics from trips to Walt Disney World taken in the 70s and 80s.  From this little exercise, I’ve learned that my parents didn’t take a lot of vacation pictures when we were growing up.  However, I did find a couple of pics that put me right back in the year of our first trip, 1987.

My sister and I at Epcot Center in 1987

My sister and I at Epcot Center in 1987

My sister and I at the France pavilion at Epcot Center (it was still called that then) in 1987

My sister and I at the France pavilion at Epcot Center (it was still called that then) in 1987

Another contest is Disneyland Through the Decades, in preparation for Disneyland’s 60th Birthday celebration next year.  They are looking for Disneyland photos from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s.  Sadly, I’ve never been to Disneyland.  My dad, however, went in 1966 after completing his service in the Air Force. 

My dad in front of Pirates of the Caribbean in 1966

My dad in front of Pirates of the Caribbean in 1966

He had been stationed at Nellis Air Base in Las Vegas, and once he was discharged, before heading home to start the rest of his life, he and one of his Air Force buddies headed to Disneyland.  I can almost hear the conversation now.  “Guys, now that you’ve finished your duty in the Air Force what are you going to do next?”  “I’m going to Disneyland!”  Ok, it probably didn’t go exactly like that.  Still, I’ve loved looking at the photos from that trip.

Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle, 1966

Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, 1966

 

One thing that has made me really happy is the memorabilia my dad kept from his trip, like this stir stick from the Tiki Gardens and his guide book from the park. 

Disneyland memorabilia from 1966

Disneyland memorabilia from 1966

Walt was alive and well at that time and knowing he had more of a hand in these items than anything I’ve ever experienced at Walt Disney World makes them even more special.  So I think this photo is fitting for the 3rd contest they have going on right now, the Disneyland Get Happier contest.  They are looking for Disneyland photos that make you happy. 

I can’t think of anything that makes me happier than walking down memory lane with the people I love starring in those memories.

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Independence Day Slush

Happy July 4th, everyone!  I don’t know about you, but I’m thrilled to have a 3 day weekend!  I’m also super thrilled with the weather!  It’s July.  In the south.  And there’s actually a chill in the air.  Ahhhhh, bliss!  That’s a far cry from 2 years ago when we were melting with over 100 degree temps!  No matter what the weather is, though, more than anything I’m just so happy to live in a free country where we can celebrate the hard work and dedication our forefathers put into securing our freedom.

Now getting back to that 100+ degree Independence Day 2 years ago, I made up a great slush recipe for that day and I wanted to share it with you.  But first, a little back story.  Here in Memphis, we have a Spring Market every year.  Do you have anything like that where you live?  It’s where vendors can buy booth space to sell merchandise.  It’s mostly clothes, jewelry, monogrammed gifts, dip mixes and the like.  Patrons pay admission to get in and shop.  Yep!  We pay money to spend money.  Capitalism at its finest!  That year, I had bought this drink mix called Wine-a-Rita.  You put the powder in a blender, mix it with wine, vodka or tequila, fill the blender with ice and you have a quick adult frozen concoction.  Instructions on the side of the box also said it could be mixed with Sprite or ginger ale for a non-alcoholic version.  I had bought some of it to take to the beach that year.  When I made it up for the first time, I realized it was really very similar to powdered drink mix like Kool Aid, and the wheels in my head got to turning.

This plus ice is all you need for a quick, frozen slushie drink.

This plus ice is all you need for a quick, frozen slushie drink.

I made a few modifications and the result was the most perfect frozen slushy drink!  I made these for our family July 4 party and they were such I hit that I couldn’t keep enough of them made up!  It’s so simple and you might even already have the ingredients to make it at home.  So, here’s the recipe

Independence Day Slush

1/2 cup powdered drink mix (like Kool Aid or Countrytime)

1 can Sprite or Ginger Ale

Ice to fill blender

Place the drink mix and soda in the blender and blend until drink mix is dissolved.  Add ice, at least double in quantity to amount of liquid in blender.  Blend until the ice is completely broken up and drink is slushy.  Add more ice according to your desired thickness.

The blender blending

The blender blending

 

Just add ice.

Just add ice.

Blend a little more.

Blend a little more.

Just a few moments later you have this.

Just a few moments later you have this.

Yes, that’s it!  I like mine to be pretty thick and frozen so I usually end up filling the blender almost all the way with ice.  However, I add it in stages to help it incorporate better.  I will often use sugar-free soda to reduce the amount of sugar in the slush.  You could probably even try it with sugar-free drink mixes to keep it from having any sugar.  I’ve never tested it that way, so I’m not sure what the quantity of drink mix would be for that, though.  If you give this a try, let me know what you think about it in the comments below.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe 4th of July!

There is still time to enter my giveaway for a headband from RUNway Gear.  Click here for deets on how to enter.

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