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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 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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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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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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A Lucky Thing Happened…

…and I’m going to Disneyland!!

 

Melanie, you just won a sweepstakes. What are you going to do next? I’m going to Disneyland!

 
Back in May, I entered a sweepstakes. I don’t remember if I got an email, saw it on Facebook or saw it on Twitter, but DirectTV was promoting the On Demand debut of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by giving away a trip to Disneyland to one of its subscribers. You could enter daily, and I had the best intentions of doing so. I even saved the website on my phone’s browser. Alas, I only entered that one time and promptly forgot all about it.

Until June 9. My phone blew up that day. An unknown caller called. And kept calling. And kept calling. I never answer calls from unknown callers, but finally, on my way home from work, I decided to take the call. The conversation went a little something like this:

Is this Melanie Adams?

Yes

Do you recall entering the Star Wars Awakens Sweepstakes from DirectTV?

Yes

You have been identified as a potential winner and I have some qualifying questions to ask. 

Ok

Are you a U.S. Resident?

Yes

Were you over the age of 18 on the date of your entry, May (something, I don’t remember), 2016?

Yes

I’m not going to ask you what it is but do you have a social security number?

Yes

I’m going to read a paragraph and I need you to answer yes or no. Do you work for any of the following companies? (Proceeds to read off all the Disney companies, PR firms and DirectTV companies)

No

So I can confirm this, what is the name of the company where you do work?

St. Jude CRH

That’s wonderful!

I have some paperwork that I need to send out to you. Do you remember the prize?

I hope it’s a trip because that’s what I entered for. 

Yes! A 4 night trip to a Disneyland Resort Hotel, park hoppers and air for you and up to 3 additional guests, a VIP tour guide and a $500 Disney gift card. I will be sending paperwork out to you tomorrow. Should I mail them or email?

Email

I have your email as (proceeds to read it out). Is that correct?

Yes

I will include a FedEx label for return and we need it back in 5 days.  Congratulations. 

And then I started shaking. Did that really just happen? As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for my skepticism to set in. I tried to tune up my spidey senses so I could make sure I wasn’t being scammed in some way. Remember when I said I saved the sweepstakes website on my phone? This came in handy as I began my investigation into the legitimacy of my sweepstakes win. 

I read the official rules word-for-word, and everything matched up with what I was told on the call. I noted the name of the company administering the sweepstakes, and that’s the company that called me. I looked the company up on the Better Business Bureau and confirmed the phone number the representative gave me to reach them with questions. I looked her name up on LinkedIn to confirm she works for that company. Satisfied that this was legit, the next step was for me to complete my paperwork and send my affidavit of eligibility back in. This was for real, y’all!

The thing about winning a sweepstakes, however, is that there isn’t much information out there about what to expect. I knew I was responsible for paying the taxes, and I’d calculated approximately how much that would be prior to accepting the prize, but I was clueless about how to actually claim it. I assumed it would be a quick, easy thing, but as it turns out, there was quite a bit of waiting involved. 

Stay tuned for more about that later. For now, though, I have the trip booked, and I’m so excited I can barely stand it. 

Have you ever won a trip in a sweepstakes?

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What I Ate (and Drank) at Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Runners and walkers from all over the world will soon converge at Walt Disney World Resort for runDisney’s Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend.  The only fall east coast runDisney event is also not-so-coincidentally the final weekend of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.  Given that it’s fast-approaching, I thought now would be a good time to share what I enjoyed at this year’s Festival. 

 

Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

 
Let’s start with my faves beginning with a cocktail, shall we?  My favorite beverage just happened to hail from France, La Passion Martini Slush.  This comes as no surprise since the France Pavilion is known for their martini slushes. In fact, I’ve never met a French martini slush I didn’t like. They do them up right!  The Festival edition consists of Grey Goose Le Citron vodka and cranberry and passion fruit juices. Tre bien!

 

La Passion Martini Slush from France


Up next is my favorite savory item, the Grilled Beef Skewer with Romaine, Apricots and Feta Cheese. This one comes from the Chew Collective.  This is one that I would love to recreate at home. The beef was tender and full of flavor with a light marinade. The apricots were grilled and caramelized, and their sweetness was perfectly offset by the saltiness of the feta cheese. 

 

Grilled beef skewer

 
And my favorite dessert goes to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Raspberry Torte from The Chocolate Studio. This was a very generous portion that could easily be shared. Thankfully, I didn’t have to. This was a rich and creamy dark chocolate ganache filling a crisp chocolate crust with a few whole raspberries sprinkled in. Y’all, this was definitely one of the top ten desserts I’ve had in my life. 

 

Ghirardelli Chocolate Raspberry Torte from The Chocolate Studio

 
As I was basking in my chocolate heaven, wondering how on earth I was ever going to recreate this at home, I noticed this. 

 

Ahhhh…the recipe!

 
Um, that’s the recipe, y’all! Even better, it looks pretty easy. I will be attempting this. 

Also found in The Chocolate Studio was probably my biggest disappointment of the Festival, the Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel.  

 

It’s science!

 
It’s basically chocolate mousse flash-frozen right before your very eyes in a bath of liquid nitrogen, drizzled with warm caramel and sprinkled with an almond nougat crumble. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? And it might have been had it not been my most anticipated dish from last year.  This was my very favorite thing last year. I craved it all year and was thrilled when I saw it back in the line-up. However, it didn’t live up to my memory and was quickly replaced by the torte. 

Rounding out The Chocolate Studio offerings was the Red Wine Chocolate Truffle. 

 

Red Wine Truffle

 
As you can see, this thing was coated in cocoa powder. Waaaaaaaaaay too much cocoa powder. The truffle within was a quality dark chocolate truffle with a smooth, yet dense center. I could not detect the red wine, however. I enjoyed it, although it’s not something I would repeat if given the chance. 

Back in France, I’m never disappointed, not by the food, the drink or the Cast Members. I had the Beef Bourguignon with Mashed Potatoes. Can’t you just hear Julia Child say, “boof?”

 

“Boof”

 
The beef was tender and savory with a rich wine sauce that I would have been perfectly happy drinking out of a glass. The potatoes were nothing to write home about, but nicely helped offset the richness of the “boof.”  

Since I mentioned how nice the French Cast Members are, here’s this gem of a CM handing me a St. Germain Sparkling Kir, sparkling wine with St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur. Doesn’t he look super nice and friendly? 

 

Such a nice Cast Member!

 

Brazil, in the spirit of the Olympics, was represented this year, and I tried this Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans and Tomato. It was rich but oh, so tasty. 

 

Brazil represented with Crispy Pork Belly

 
To wash it down, I tried this Kaiser Brewery Xingu Black Beer. It was very dark and full of smoky flavor but very smooth. Yummy!

 

Black Beer

 
Rounding out what I was able to try at the Festival was the Loaded Mac and Cheese with Nueske’s Pepper Bacon, Cheddar Cheese, Peppers and Green Onions. 

 

Loaded Mac and Cheese

 
This was rich and creamy, with a bit of a kick. It was a very generous portion that I recommend sharing. 

With it, I ordered the Florida Orange Groves Mango Mama Wine. What a fun name! It tasted exactly as I expected, very sweet and light with a hint of mango. 

 

Mango Mama Wine

 
All good things must come to an end and such is the case with the Festival. I never get to enjoy as much of it as I want, but it’s always a joy. As I left the park one night, this was my sight. 

 

Goodnight, Epcot! Until next time!

 
I was reminded how lucky I am to live in a free country where all this fancy food is a real luxury, as is the vacation itself. 

What was your favorite Festival dish?

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