Square Life Round World

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

My Top 10 of 2020

I think most people would agree that 2020 was one crap year. That being said, it wasn’t all bad, and it had some really great parts to it, too. Instead of focusing on all that 2020 took from me, I’ve decided to highlight what it gave me. Here are my top 10 in chronological order, for the most part.

New Job

The year began full of promise. I started a new role at work in January, bringing new energy to my career aspirations. Despite the challenges that transitioning to full time remote work would bring a few short weeks later, it was the best move I could have made for my career at the time. It’s been a year of learning and growth, which is all I could ask for in any year, much less a global pandemic year.

Disney Cruise from New Orleans

If you know me, you know how much I love Disney, Disney Destinations, in particular, especially Disney Cruise Line. When Disney Cruise Line announced they would begin sailing from New Orleans, we did not hesitate to book. In fact, we booked the inaugural cruise from New Orleans, which sailed in February. We had never cruised that early in the year before. The timing wasn’t our favorite. It was in the height of flu season, and we were apprehensive of traveling during flu season. Weren’t we cute? It was also colder than we prefer. We boarded the ship in long pants and heavy coats. The horror! We had previously only cruised from Port Canaveral, Florida, and it was always warm and sunny. As we prepared to set sail, we all agreed never again that early in the year.

The Disney Wonder was warmly welcomed by New Orleans, even though the temps were chilly.

As the saying goes, man plans and God laughs. It turned out to be the perfect time because if we had cruised when we usually do, it would have been cancelled. It also turned out to be a really great trip. It warmed up quite nicely as we sailed south, and it was almost perfect overall.

It was warm and sunny by the time we made it to the Southernmost Point in Key West.

A fun bonus was staying in NOLA an extra night after the cruise to go to Mardi Gras. My parents had never been before, and seeing them experience it was another highlight of the year. They really got into catching all the beads and throws. We came home with four bags full!

My parents collected quite the Mardi Gras haul!

Scottsdale, Arizona

On the heels of the cruise vacation was a long weekend girls trip to Scottsdale, AZ for a bachelorette party to celebrate a dear friend. I always try to travel to at least one place a year I’ve never been before. If it hadn’t been for this trip, I would have broken my very long streak.

We booked a house through Airbnb with a heated pool, hot tub and enough bedrooms and bathrooms for all 11 of us. We brunched, some hiked (not me), played games by the pool, partied the night away and sipped and strolled our way through the town.

Old Town Scottsdale was so much fun!

I’ll never forget the last morning. That’s when it hit me the world was about to change. We were all packing up getting ready to leave for our flights home when those of us who work for ALSAC got an email about a change in business and personal travel policies. That was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Winemaking

Pretty soon, everyone was making bread, myself included. Yeast was a hot commodity, one that was in short supply. One day, I was perusing Amazon to find yeast, and my search yielded wine yeast. What?! What in the world does one do with wine yeast? I quickly went down that rabbit hole and found out one makes wine, of course! So I made wine. I made 2 gallons of strawberry wine, 1 1/2 gallons of blueberry wine, a gallon of peach wine and a gallon of banana wine. People ask me all the time how it turned out. It’s not bad, totally drinkable. It’s just not great and not really worth the effort, if I’m being totally honest. I think it probably takes a lot of patience and practice to get a stellar result, and I don’t have that much patience. Or desire. If things take a drastic turn for the worse and there’s a booze shortage, for example, I take great comfort in knowing I got this, though.

My attempt at winemaking

Home Office

Like so many others, working from home full time meant I found myself suddenly needing a dedicated work space. I already had a built-in desk my homebuilder installed, but I quickly figured out that wasn’t suitable for full time work. Luckily, I had a spare bedroom I had barely set foot in over the last 10 years. I spent a few weeks getting it all cleaned out, getting rid of the furniture, which included my childhood bed, and a bunch of junk I had stored in there. I created a gallery wall focal point consisting of Disney prints I had collected over the years from various promotions and gifts. I made good use of Michael’s curbside pick up when I bought all the frames for it. I added a desk and fancy office chair and moved in. I was quite proud of the result.

My new Disney themed home office. Who’s surprised?

Home Bar

After I vacated the builder grade built-in desk, I decided to turn it into a home bar with a subtle tiki theme. I installed glass racks under the cabinets and moved all of my bar glassware to the cabinets and the racks. I had no idea I had that many bottles until I started pulling them out of the various places all over my house where they were stored. In keeping with the theme, I ordered a Polynesian drum table from eBay that had been used in the guest rooms at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. I decided to display the few tiki glasses I have on it. I also have a piece of art to hang between the cabinets depicting Trader Sam’s, a tiki bar at the Disneyland Hotel in California and at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort in Florida. Additionally, I’m in the process of sourcing some light sconces, which were also used in the Polynesian guest rooms. They will hang on each side of the cabinets. Covid can’t close down this bar!

The beginnings of my home bar. I just need a few more touches and drinks are on me!

My Disney Trip with Dad

You can find a detailed recap of this trip a few posts back. It was a surprise last-minute fall trip that turned out to be, quite possibly, the best gift of 2020. This time with Dad truly was a gift, one that I will forever be grateful to have received.

My trip with Dad was a gift!

eBay Fun

A side effect of the travel industry coming to a screeching halt was that it gave Disney Cruise Line and the Walt Disney World Resort time do a little (a lot of) housekeeping. They sold finishes and furnishings off by the truckloads to a few dealers who then resold to the public. The Polynesian drum table I mentioned earlier wasn’t the only treasure I found on eBay and from those dealers directly. I’m practically on a first-name basis with some of the dealers now. I bought a trunk that was used in the Disney Cruise Line staterooms, some Disney Cruise Line lampshades, the fish hooks that hang outside the stateroom doors, a pillow from Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and a few other odds and ends. I’m still searching for a few additional pieces, too.

A storage trunk that was used in the staterooms of the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy cruise ships.

One of the great things about these pieces is that none of them is “in-your-face” Disney. That means you can rest assured that I have not fallen off the deep end, and my house does not look like a Disney theme park. It’s just that now I have a few subtle pieces scattered in that are sentimental to me because of the memories made from years of family vacations to these destinations. Well, my office isn’t that subtle, but if you can’t go a little crazy with a home office, where can you go a little crazy? Amiright?

Bourbon Hunting

Winemaking may not have panned out like I planned, but fall brought a new hobby – bourbon hunting. Technically, this started about a year ago. I was sitting at a bar waiting on a to go order (foreshadowing much?). I struck up a conversation with the patrons around me as well as the bartender. I was fascinated by the topic of conversation, Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. It was in that moment I realized there was a whole world I knew nothing about. I asked a very innocent question, where do I buy this bourbon? They all laughed at me and told me if I had to ask that question, I would never be able to. I internally thought, oh H-E-double-hockey-sticks no! I made it my mission to prove them wrong, even though I’d never see any of them again to show them. No one tells me I can’t do something or can’t have something. No one!

So I went to work. I assembled a small army of people who became equally invested in this mission, and we quickly found some hot leads. One friend’s mom knew someone who worked in a liquor store in a small town who promised to hold us back a bottle when they got theirs. However, she quit that job and went to work for the county jail just a few days before that fabled shipment came. Another friend’s husband’s uncle claimed to get a bottle every year that he gives to her husband’s cousin. He said he’d give it to her this year instead. Again, the mission was thwarted by a freak thing. Apparently someone died in his home around the time the shipment would have come, and he was too distraught to follow up on the bourbon, understandably so. I really can’t make this stuff up! That’s how it goes in the world of bourbon hunting, I learned. I decided it must be an urban myth. Everyone seemed to know someone who had a bottle or had almost gotten a bottle for themselves, but no one actually had a bottle. We failed miserably!

Fast forward to the fall of 2020. I was back on the hunt again, with a much smaller and much less enthusiastic army. There were no hot leads, no someone-who-might-know-someone. There were a few random Instagram contests, but the trail was mostly cold. There was this one bourbon lottery, though, at a small liquor store. I wasn’t eligible to participate, naturally. One of my friends was, however, and she isn’t into bourbon. So one Sunday morning, I brought us cups of mimosas to drink while standing in a cold parking lot waiting for her name to be called. It was a long shot, but a long shot is still a shot. As luck would have it, her name was called right around 10th. I figured all of the Van Winkle expressions would already be gone, but when it was our turn to choose, there it was, sitting on the table in all its glory – Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year. Yes, I know it’s not Pappy, but for the sake of conversation, most of the time all of the Van Winkle expressions are collectively referred to as Pappy. That was certainly the case in the original conversation that led to this wild goose chase in the first place. Throughout all of this I’ve also learned that I actually really like bourbon.

Old Rip Van Winkle luck

Being Diagnosed with a Chronic Disease

I hesitated to add this. It’s personal and private. However, it really was one of the best things that happened to me this year. Let me explain. I have been sick for a long time, probably around 10 years. I ignored it because in my mind, if I didn’t have a diagnosis, nothing was wrong. I managed my symptoms on my own for years. I pat myself on the back for this because I did a pretty darn good job of it, too. I hid it from everyone, even my family. Last year, it got bad enough that I had a full physical. I figured if there was a problem, a physical would find it. Wrong! I got a clean bill of health, which did nothing but feed into the story I was telling myself about nothing being wrong. It got exponentially worse this year, and I could no longer control the symptoms. It was time to see a specialist. Within a day of getting a definitive diagnosis and starting medicine, I felt normal again. I didn’t even realize how sick I was until I re-learned what normal felt like. Taking ownership of my health and starting treatment has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. While I’m not jazzed to have a chronic disease, I am jazzed that I have answers and that I feel good again. I say all of this to encourage anyone dealing with nagging illness to get it checked out, even if it seems insignificant.

There are also some honorable mentions that didn’t get their own feature. I’ve loved being with my dog all day, every day. I’ve loved working from home and being able to work from my parents’ house during extended visits. I’ve really enjoyed less crowded restaurants the few times I’ve been out. Middle seats open on flights were REALLY nice! Curbside pickup needs to stay forever, as does alcohol to go from restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, though. I could easily come up with 10, 20 or 100 reasons why 2020 stunk, too. But that’s not what this is about. It’s about finding the rainbow after the rain, the silver lining, the laughter through the tears. Happy New Year, everyone!

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Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes Comparison – I Took One for the Team

Disclosure: this post is not sponsored. I just thought it would be fun to compare.

‘Tis the season!

Y’all, I did it for you. And by you, I mean me. I thought you might be curious, too, though, so this post really is for you. I’m talking about Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes. Did you know they introduced a Big Pack this year? I get these tiny, taste-bud-tantalizing, Tannenbaum-shaped treats every year that I can find them, which is almost every year. I actually had not planned on looking this year because, Covid, but when I heard about the Big Packs, I was on a mission. I needed to know. Which one is better? So, I took one for the team and embarked on a hunt.

I started off thinking the classic version would be easier to find, so I did a quick Google search to figure out who had them. I was also recovering from a procedure and needed groceries so I concentrated my efforts on retailers who met three criteria: 1) partner with Instacart so I wouldn’t have to get out, 2) have groceries and 3) have the cakes. Target was the only one that met all three; Target it was!

That turned out to be a near disaster of epic proportions. One thing you should know about me is that I never do anything on a small scale. I was planning to buy those little beauties in bulk. If they lasted until Christmas in July, well, so be it. I’m always down to let freedom jingle. I ordered six boxes of vanilla and six chocolate, fully prepared to give some as stocking stuffers, too. Or not. Don’t judge!

Y’all! They were out of the cakes! And the shopper substituted Swiss Cake Rolls instead, even though I didn’t authorize substitutions. So, then I had 12 boxes of Swiss Cake Rolls coming my way! TWELVE! I love me some Swiss Cake Rolls, but not 12 boxes’ worth. I quickly messaged him to please put those back and refund the cakes. Disaster averted! Whew!

I don’t usually do my grocery shopping at Target, and it turns out, it really isn’t the best idea. They were out of approximately half of my groceries, and somehow my half and half for my coffee got subbed out for flavorless Spindrift?! I dunno. I also ended up not getting some of the things I paid for and had to submit a claim. All was not derailed, though. I do not give up that easily.

Another Google search later, and I learned that Wal Mart had them AND they had the Big Packs. The trail was hot, y’all! There was just one problem. They were only available for in-store shopping. So, I rallied, got myself dressed and ventured out to complete my mission. It took some searching, but I was successful. The classic cakes had their own display, and the Big Packs were hidden in plain sight amongst the every day Little Debbie Snack Cakes. Again, I purchased as though I was prepping for Armageddon (who knows, I might truly be) and bought in bulk. They only had the vanilla, so I had to double-down on those. For shame, for shame!

Notice how the smaller one has the points on the tree, giving the shape more detail. The larger one looks just like a triangle on a block.

Now that I had my bounty in my possession, it was time to compare. I expected the Big Pack cakes to be bigger, duh, but the shape was also a little different. The classic cakes had a little bit more detail with more points on the trees. I also expected them to taste exactly the same. Boy, was I wrong! I do think the cake part was the same, but not the filling. The Big Pack cake had a much higher filling-to-cake ratio, and the higher the better in my book. Yum!

See that filling-to-cake ratio on the Big Pack cake compared to the classic size? It’s almost a 1:1 ratio, whereas the smaller size has about twice as much cake as filling.

The filling tasted a little different, too. The classic cake tasted just as I expected, as it always has, sweet with hints of vanilla, but still very snack cake-like. The filling in the Big Pack cake tasted more like real buttercream and hit me right in my smile as soon as I bit into it. While the classic cake had a more refined shape, the Big Pack cake had a more refined flavor. Let’s be real, though. We are still talking about snack cakes here. And I do love a snack cake, all the better when it’s in the shape of a Christmas tree. What was the final verdict? No contest. Spring for the Big Pack all day, every day if you can find it.

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Walt Disney World During a Pandemic? Let’s Boo This! Day 4

Topolino’s Terrace

We woke up early on our last morning even though our flight home wasn’t until the middle of the afternoon. Why? We had a very special breakfast planned at Topolino’s Terrace atop Disney’s Riviera Resort. This was at the top of my list of things I wanted to do on this trip. One reason is that I really wanted to see the Riviera, Disney’s newest resort. I had considered tacking on a couple of nights to stay there and have some resort time, but I ultimately couldn’t justify the cost, especially since this was a spontaneous trip. I also just really wanted to try the latest and greatest new restaurant.

Disney’s Riviera Resort

When Walt Disney World opened back up post-Covid, breakfast at Topolino’s was the only character meal that was offered. They’ve since expanded character availability for dining, but this one arguably remains the most sought-after. After stalking the website for a few weeks and setting up unsuccessful dining alerts, I finally snagged a reservation just days before our trip. Score!

The entrance to the restaurant

Our reservation was at 8:50. Even though the Riviera is on the Skyliner route, this was prior to the Skyliner opening time, so we took an Uber. I watched as our driver pulled in to pick us up before my app even told me I was connected to a driver. He patiently waited for me to figure out he was ours, and after confirming that fact with him, we were off. The whole trip took about 6 minutes and cost less than $3 before tip. Best use of an Uber ever!

We were about an hour early, so we weren’t able to check in for our reservation on the My Disney Experience app. We inquired about being seated early, and they were able to accommodate us. Not only that, but they gave us what I would consider to be the best table for viewing characters, as we had a direct view of their dining room entrance.

The service was phenomenal! Our server immediately brought us some POG juice (pineapple, orange, guava) and took our drink orders. She then directed us to the QR code on the table to retrieve the menu on our phones. Within moments she was back to drop off our drinks and a basket of pastries.

Yummy POG juice
There was a maple danish in this basket that was life!

She also took our entrée orders at this time. I ordered the ham and cheese quiche, which came with a side of roasted potatoes and a mixed green salad. I really wanted to try to waffles, too, so I asked our server if I could have one on the side. She happily obliged. Dad ordered the eggs and bacon with potatoes and got a quiche on the side. This breakfast is not marketed as all you care to eat, but it is fixed price. We found that they will bring whatever you’d like to try. Basically, it’s impossible to not get enough to eat.

The quiche was a stand out, and those potatoes were some of the best I’ve ever had.
These waffles with orange maple syrup were a close second.
Eggs, bacon and potatoes

Everything was delicious! We were really happy with all of our choices. The quiche was my favorite, but the waffles were a very close second. They came with an orange maple syrup. That syrup was like drizzled sunshine.

Character interaction was as great as it could be considering the Covid circumstances. Their costumes are unique to this location and on theme. Each character shows his/her artistic side as they are dressed according to their art specialty. They all came out individually and made the rounds of the dining room. Then they came out together for a celebration song. While Covid rules prevent them from stopping at each table, our server shared with us that they will pose for a distanced selfie if we stand in front of our table. However, we were happy to just enjoy them from our seat, no selfies needed.

Painter Mickey
Poet Minnie
Sculptor Donald
Ballerina Daisy

Once we paid our bill, we made our way out to the terrace to take in the views. Breathtaking! We could see Epcot and Hollywood Studios on the horizon.

The views from the terrace

Fun fact, Topolino is the Italian word for Mickey Mouse, and there is definitely an Italian vibe going on between the music and the costumes. The entire resort is themed beautifully, reminiscent of the French and Italian Riviera. While I’ve never been to the Italian Riviera, I have been to the French Riviera, and the seating around the pool area definitely reminded me of the swanky beach resorts in Nice, France.

The Riviera theming, blending the Italian and French Riviera is outstanding.

We then meandered around the gift shop for a few minutes before heading back to our resort by way of the Skyliner.

The beautiful entrance to the Skyliner.

A short time later, it was time to say, “See ya real soon!” One final “vacationy” thing was a visit to Shake Shack between flights home.

Airport snacks on the way home

With that, our mini vacation had come to an end.

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Walt Disney World During a Pandemic? Let’s Boo This! Day 3

Day 3 was Epcot day, which is always my favorite. We were happy to be able to sleep in a little bit later with Epcot opening at 11. We had a leisurely breakfast in the room before heading out before 10 to hit up the Skyliner to Epcot. We knew early morning Skyliner traffic was congested during the rush hour to get to Hollywood Studios, which opened at 10, but we hoped it would be mostly cleared out for the Epcot shift. We were partially correct.

My favorite Skyliner cabin

The line to board at our resort was non-existent, but when we got to the switch-off at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, it was very well controlled mass chaos. Everyone had to get in one big line regardless of destination. Then, after about 25 minutes in that line, a Cast Member directed everyone to a different line depending on whether they were heading to Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Epcot. We were somewhat surprised when a Cast Member asked us if we would be willing to share a cabin with another party in exchange for a shorter wait in line at that point. We politely declined. In total, we waited about 40 minutes, and most of that was in the larger line, which consisted of a lot of people still trying to get to Hollywood Studios.

There’s magic in the air! Dad and I aboard the Skyliner
We had already been in line about 25 minutes by the time we got to this point.

Once we arrived at Epcot shortly before 11, we quickly went through temperature check and security. We had planned on a very leisurely day of food, wine and a few rides. Even though they permitted entry to guests prior to park opening, we found the festival marketplaces were not open prior to 11. The first open booth we came to was the Citrus Blossom marketplace, and so we stopped. There were a few things I wanted to try here, and I’ve learned from many years of past festivals, if you want it, get it when you have the chance because you might be too full later. I got the Lobster Tail with Meyer Lemon Emulsion and Grilled Lemon, the Orange Sunshine Wine Slushy and the Orange Cream Shake in the souvenir Orange Bird sipper. I had wanted that sipper since it first debuted at the 2019 Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival so I was excited they still had them available. I didn’t really want the orange cream shake and asked the Cast Members to leave that part off. They offered to put it in a separate cup so we could at least taste it. I agreed, and I’m so glad I did. That was the star of this booth.

Citrus Blossom marketplace was yummy!

After finishing off my snacks, we headed to the Land pavilion to ride Soarin’ and Listen to the Land. Safety protocols meant plexi glass dividers in the lines and on the ride vehicles.

Dad and I all strapped in ready for our flight on Soarin’
Living with the Land has all sorts of Mickey shaped vegetation.

After that, we walked right on to Journey Into Imagination. Then, we wanted to take one last voyage aboard Space Ship Earth before it gets reimagined.

Thanking the Phoenicians one last time

I knew a good bit of Future World was under construction due to Epcot reimagined, but I was not prepared for what that looked and felt like in person. Gracious! We walked for what seemed like eternity to get back to World Showcase for more food and drinks. We were rewarded by a cute Mickey and Minnie cavalcade when we arrived. We had also worked up quite an appetite by then and were ready for more noshing.

A cute Mickey and Minnie cavalcade

One drink I really wanted to try was the Bloomin’ Blueberry Lemon and Ginger Tea with Tito’s Vodka from Earth Eats. It was so refreshing and did not disappoint. The recipe for the non-alcoholic version was printed on the back of the signage of the booth. I snapped a photo so I could recreate this at home with blueberries from my parents’ garden. It will be perfect for summertime sippin’ next year.

So refreshing! Notice the cup is left over from the flower and garden festival.
Just add vodka!

While I was in line for my tea, my dad hopped in the Mexico line for the Ribeye Taco and the Mexican Craft Beer. I asked him to also get me the Pork Tostada and the Clasica Margarita. The description of the margarita said it included chile poblano liqueur so I was hoping it would have a spicy kick to it. I detected no kick. In fact, it tasted more like salt water. The Pork Tostada was a star, though.

The Pork Tostada was the star here.

By then, I needed a Diet Coke, and it was getting close to time to check in for our flight home. So we found an open table at the Refreshment Outpost, and I ordered my Diet Coke. It came in this cute little cup, so on brand for me.

Another cute cup. Do you see a trend here?

While we were sitting there, we decided to share some things from Germany, so I got us the Pasta Gratin with Ham, Onions and Cheese and the Apple Strudel with Vanilla Sauce. They were both outstanding and more than enough to share.

Apple Strudel with Vanilla Sauce and Pasta Gratin with Ham, Onions and Cheese from Germany were the standouts of the day.

After finishing those snacks, we backtracked a bit to ride the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros and more plexi glass in the line and on the ride. I still would prefer to refer to it as El Rio del Tiempo, which is the version I grew up with. However, instead, I usually just call it the Mexican boat ride.

We were still both pretty full from Germany, and Dad was getting tired. So we decided to make our way back to the International Gateway to catch the Skyliner back to our resort. On the way, I stopped in Canada to get some maple popcorn to take home. Since I was going to be traveling with it, I ordered the souvenir bucket. Covid rules meant the Cast Member could not fill the bucket, even though it was still in their possession. So, she filled a paper box and handed me the bucket. This ended up being a much better value because, guess what! The box holds way more than the bucket.

Princess cavalcade

I also wanted to stop in France to see if there were any of the macaron ears in stock. There weren’t. Sadness! I tried to talk Dad into stopping at L’Artisan des Glaces because he hadn’t been able to get his ice cream that he always likes due to Covid closures. However, he was still too full and too tired. So, with that, we exited and boarded the Skyliner back to our resort to pack and call it a day. This was our last night, but there was still a little bit more fun to be had.

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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 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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Disney Cruise Line Chocolate and Liquor Tasting

That groundhog really pulled a fast one this year, didn’t he? Winter keeps holding on for dear life and just won’t let go! As the temperatures creep ever so slowly upward and as daylight shifts from morning to evening (because it’s not really an extra hour of daylight), I’m dreaming of warm, tropical weather.

I thought I’d share a favorite activity aboard a Disney Cruise – tastings. As part of their onboard fun offerings, tastings are available for a nominal fee. You can either prebook when you schedule other activities in advance or visit Guest Services to sign up on board.

One of their more popular tastings is Mixology. At $25 per person, five drinks are prepared by participants taking turns under the tutelage of a bartender.

Disney Cruise Line Mixology

In Mixology, all of the glasses are set up at the bar and each person takes a turn making some drinks. Everyone ends up with five different drinks made by fellow participants.

I have to admit, this one’s not my favorite. In my experience, you either have the timid folks who only pour in a splash of alcohol or the jokesters who think it’s funny to dump half the bottle in. Either way, I’d rather the bartender just do it as a demonstration class instead of hands-on. After doing this one twice, I’m good to skip it going forward.

One that I really did enjoy, though, was the Chocolate and Liquor Tasting.

Disney Cruise Line Chocolate and Liquor Tasting

Each person gets their own set up of wines and liquors paired with different types of solid and melted chocolate bliss and Parmesan cheese.

This one was $35 and included a champagne (real stuff from France), a red wine, a port and a fairly high end scotch. In fact, the bartender told us our pour of scotch would cost $38 on its own in the bars on the ship, making it a bargain as part of the class if scotch is your thing.

Paired with the liquors were various types of solid and melted chocolate and chunks of Parmesan cheese, which we were instructed to taste with each liquor. I don’t recall having a favorite combination, but it was interesting to experience how the notes of each liquor changed with different pairings.

Each person got his/her own set up, which is great for those who don’t like to share. The class was set up for a full group, even though it wasn’t full. The scotch, chocolate and cheese were already on the tray when the class started, and the wines were poured as they were presented. Since the class wasn’t full, that meant some of the scotch, chocolate and cheese went untouched. That simply was not acceptable so the bartender offered up the extras to the rest of us. One scotch fan was very happy as he got several extra glasses.

One thing to note is that I did not book this in advance. I don’t even recall this particular class being available to book in advance on my sailing. In fact, I didn’t sign up until about 5 minutes prior to start time. So, if you find all tastings sold out in advance, never fear! Head to Guest Services and check availability.

For my next cruise, I already have the Champagne Tasting, Stem to Stern (a wine tasting), Martinis and Tequila and Margaritas booked. I probably won’t keep all of them, depending on what other activities I find on the Navigator once I’m on board. I just have to cancel 24 hours in advance to avoid being charged.

Do you have a favorite on board activity? Please share it in the comments.

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I Broke Up with Running

This week thousands of princesses will converge upon Walt Disney World Resort for Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. Normally, I’d be one of them. Right about now I’d be stalking the weather and making any needed adjustments to my costume, packing, messaging with my fellow princess friends and excitedly making any last minute plans. I’d be studying the course map, meticulously calculating how much extra time I would have for photo stops and strategizing my potty breaks. I’d be filled with nostalgia of races gone by, almost teary-eyed thinking of seeing my fellow princesses again. Not this year, though.

Disney Princess Half Marathon 2013

It was “A Whole New World” in 2013 when I finished my first Disney Princess Half Marathon.

I broke up with running. After seven years, we called it quits with a clean break after last year’s race.

My relationship with running started off hot and heavy as all great relationships do. We met multiple times a week, consistently and faithfully for the first few years. We had good days and bad days, and some of our dates were longer than others. Some days I was giddy with love for the sport and others I questioned my sanity. I was committed to making it work, however, and I did just that for several years.

Then running hurt me. I developed Achilles tendinitis and went through months of physical therapy. We took a break. We grew apart, and I lost that loving feeling.

Disney Princess Half Marathon 2016

I finished in 2016, even though my training had been a little “sad.”

I tried hard to find my love again, mostly because of my love for my princesses, which never wavered. We were on again, off again for the next few years, but running continued to hurt me. I developed mild arthritic knee pain that showed its ugly face with distances over 5 miles. However, I decided I could still enjoy my princess weekends by dropping my distance down to the 10k. This was a great idea and served me well in 2017.

Enchanted 10k 2017

The Enchanted 10k of 2017 was just the right distance.

Then in 2018, I succumbed to peer pressure and registered for the half again.

I had plenty of time to train and tried really hard to talk myself into it. Time passed all too quickly and before I knew it, I was packing, having logged zero miles since the Enchanted 10k of 2017. Zero! Yet, I found myself at the starting line willing to accept whatever the course had in store for me that day.

Disney Princess Half Marathon Finish Line

I snapped this photo of the finish line before the race started because I thought there was a real chance this was the only time I would see it that day.

I do not recommend this. At all! If you are reading this and thinking, hey I can do a half marathon with no training at all, please pay close attention to what I’m about to say next. Don’t do it! Just don’t.

I finished. Miserably. But I finished. I legit thought I might never walk again by the time I made it back to our hotel room. The pain, though! Oh, the pain!

Princess Half Marathon 2018

Smiling through the pain

One of my roomies and I had prepaid reservations to the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party later that night, and I didn’t think there was any way possible I was going to make it. She was my cheerleader and helped me rally by feeding me a steady stream of wine coupled with Tylenol alternated with Advil. I made it to the party by keeping myself as numbed as I could.

Star Wars Galactic Spectacular Dessert Party

Thankfully, Tinkerbell sprinkled me with Pixie Dust and I made it to the party.

Disney Princess Half Marathon Medal

It was a great way to celebrate the end of my running chapter.

I vowed that day to never run again. I was done with the on again, off again relationship. I knew a clean break was in order. Yes, I’m aware that if I had actually trained, my experience would have been better. Yet, I couldn’t even make myself like it enough, even a little, to do it. So, with that, we were done.

It’s now been a year, and these days I’m in a new relationship. Orangetheory Fitness and I have been together for over a year now, and we are seeing each other much more frequently than running and I ever did. I get more out of it than I ever got from running, too. I have muscle definition I’ve never had, and I’m at the lowest weight I’ve been since my 20s.

Orangetheory Fitness

Orangetheory Fitness is my new love, along with the amazing coaches there.

Every now and then thoughts of running start to creep back into my head, as exes often do. I think about lacing my shoes up and heading out for a few miles just to see how the asphalt feels beneath my feet. That’s a slippery slope, though.

Still, the thing I never accomplished continues to nag at me at times, the marathon. Unfortunately, so does my arthritic knee pain. I know running and I don’t have a future.

Newbie princesses, perfect princesses and all princesses in between are going to have the time of their lives this weekend. I’ll be following along on social media from the comfort of my couch. I’m excited for everyone who will be there and look forward to living vicariously through them. I can honestly say, though, that I do not have FOMO. That chapter in my life is over, and I’m totally ok with that.

The Incredibles photo stop at Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend

An “Incredible” photo stop on course. Also, who is this girl? I barely recognize her now.

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runDisney Releases 2016 Race Schedule

runDisney released its 2016 race schedule, complete with registration dates yesterday. A few things to note are the races which have been the subjects of many rumors lately. 

 

The Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend is returning, thus squelching all rumors that 2015 is the last year. Almost certainly it will feature a new course due to the impending extensive construction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. One of the highlights of this race, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, is in its last year, however, so it will be interesting to see what changes the organizers have in store.  

 Notably absent for the second year is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10 Miler Weekend. Rumors continue that this will return at some point in the future as another half marathon weekend, possibly with a challenge. It makes sense, right? 13.1 miles for a 13-story drop.  

 Currently, my only runDisney race plans for 2016 include Princess Half Marathon Weekend. Some friends and I have a huge girls weekend planned around that. After all, runDisney races are perfect for that. 

What are your runDisney race plans for next year?

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