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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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Mix It! Make It! Celebrate It! Starring Bronwen Weber

Most people who are interested in attending the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival know about the kiosks located all around the World Showcase. For a few bucks per bite and sip, foodies can nosh their way around the World to their hearts’ content.  

Welcome to the Festival from the International Gateway

 

However, special events are also a huge part of the Festival. When I visited a few weeks ago, I attended one of the Mix It! Make It! Celebrate It! workshops. 

Admittedly, I didn’t do a ton of planning for this trip like I usually do. A few dining reservations and FastPass+ selections pretty much summed up all I put into it. About 2 weeks before the trip (last minute, much?), I began to peruse the list of special events taking place during my trip and found this new workshop. Even better, there was one with Bronwen Weber, celebrity cake artist from Dallas who frequents the Food Network. I was sure it was sold out, as all celebrity special events do, but thought I’d call just to be sure. Imagine my surprise when the Cast Member I spoke with told me spaces were still available. Sweet (pun intended)! 

Spaces were still available two weeks before the event.

Since this was a brand new event and I was visiting toward the beginning of the Festival, I couldn’t find out very much in advance about what I could expect for my $49. All the website said was we would leave with our very own edible masterpiece. What does that meeeeeeeeaaaaaannnn??? Still, I was optimistic that the Disney folks would do it up right, and I was not disappointed!

I arrived about 45 minutes in advance, and people were already beginning to line up. They started letting us take our seats 15 minutes prior to the event. I was lucky enough to score a seat at the front and center table, and I was thrilled. At each place setting was some colored fondant, a small pastry brush, child’s safety scissors, a skewer, a tiny bit of water, cornstarch and a cup for water.  

Place setting for the Mix It! Make It! Celebrate It! workshop.


There were also a few pages of instructions, which hinted at what we would be doing. They were hand illustrated by Bronwen herself, no less!  

Bronwen Weber hand illustrated our instructions.

Yet, I was beginning to wonder if I would find the value to be worth the cost. 

Soon after Bronwen took the stage, glasses of Prosecco were passed out.  

A bit of bubbly to set the mood

Ahhhh…much better! Then, we began to work on our masterpieces. Bronwen was an absolute doll, walking us step-by-step through each creation. We made a pumpkin, ghost and bat, all out of fondant.  

Fondant pumpkin made by yours truly

 

My ghost-my fondant skills are a bit scary!

 

My bat–clearly I don’t need to quit my day job.


I’ve never worked with fondant before because I don’t like the taste, and the workshop didn’t inspire me to change that. However, Bronwen was very entertaining and personable.  

Bronwen Weber and Pam Smith, Festival hostess


About halfway through the workshop, huge pieces of neopolitan cake were passed out.  

So delicious!

The cake was made by Bronwen and her bakers in her Dallas bakery, Frosted Art Bakery. I have to admit it was the very best cake I’ve ever had!

As the workshop concluded, bakery boxes were passed out to transport our fondant figures home. We also each received a packet of recipes from Bronwen and a bamboo cutting board featuring the Festival logo as a very nice take-away gift.  

Each attendee received this bamboo cutting board as a take-away gift.

My conclusion? I found the workshop to be, not only an excellent value, but a fun way to spend the afternoon. I can’t say that I will use any of the skills I learned (I use that term loosely), but I was thoroughly entertained. With so many of the Festival special events rising significantly in cost year-over-year, I say bravo to Disney for offering a new, high-quality, mid-level priced event. 

What’s your favorite Festival special event?

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Freebies at Disney

The words “free” and “Disney” are not exactly synonymous with each other. Quite the opposite, in fact. Using them together in a sentence will often incite laughter among Disney veterans. However, I received several freebies last week when visiting Walt Disney World Resort, and I thought I’d let you know about them.

First off, when we entered our room at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, these little beauties were waiting for us.

These little beauties were waiting for us in our room when we arrived.

They are a set of pins as a gift for tolerating all the construction happening at the Lodge as they build new Disney Vacation Club cabins on the property. Mickey in a hard hat is just too cute! Wouldn’t you agree?

The next day, this was placed in our room along with an offer to receive a $100 Disney gift card for attending a Disney Vacation Club open house and tour.

This in-room gift was accompanied by another offer.

So, naturally I had to take them up on that offer. $100 Disney gift card for an hour of my time (which ended up only being 38 minutes)? Yes, please!

Thank you, Disney Vacation Club!

And at the open house, they gave me this.

I received this Disney Vacation Club tote bag at the open house.

I also attended a Mix It! Make It! Celebrate It! This is a new offering as part of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Attendees received this bamboo cutting board as a parting gift.

This parting gift was given to attendees of the Mix It! Make It! Celebrate It!

Technically, I did pay for this hands-on workshop, but I did not expect to receive a gift for attending and truly feel the cost of the workshop was worth it even without the gift.

Speaking of the Festival, as an Annual Passholder, I received this very nice glass tumbler for attending the Festival on three separate days.

Passholders can pick up this free glass tumbler for attending the Festival on three separate days.

In even more Festival news, all attendees can pick up a free Festival passport with stickers you can place on pages as you visit each location. In previous years, you had to wait in line to get a stamp, so I think this new method is much-improved.

All Festival attendees can receive a free passport.

Here are all of my freebies together as one big, happy family.

All the freebies I received last week.

Not pictured are the 3 extra fast passes I also received for each member of our party for attending the DVC open house.

And it didn’t end there! When I returned home, this gem was sitting in my mailbox.

I won this The Jungle Book combo pack from the Disney Parks Blog.

This was a Disney Parks Blog sweepstakes prize I won. They conduct a few fun sweepstakes throughout the year, and in the past, I’ve won several posters, a tote bag and now this!

What freebies have you received while visiting a Disney park?

Disclosure: This post does not contain affiliate links.

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runDisney Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10 Miler Race Recap Part 1

It’s hard to believe that the runDisney Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10 Miler (#Tower10Miler) was over a month ago!  This was the second time I’ve been lucky enough to run this one, and it stands as the only runDisney event I’ve ever repeated.  In fact, other than this, there are only 2 local 5ks I’ve repeated.  I guess I’m not really one to repeat races, but my experience in 2012 with the #Tower10Miler was so bad it almost made me stop running.  I needed redemption.  Did I find it?  Hmmmmm, I’m not too sure, but I did have a much better experience so there’s that.

My issues with this race in 2012 were partly runDisney’s fault and partly not.  The expo was awesome and more than exceeded my expectations!  It was a great first impression as this was my first runDisney event.  The event staging area and event transportation were also huge hits!  The corrals were much more organized and closer to the drop-off than I thought they would be.  There were even port-a-potties in each corral, which was awesome.  However, it was all downhill from there.  The heat and humidity really got to me and made for a miserable night.  Also, I felt the entertainment and course theming were lacking, even for a newbie like me.  Fast forward to 2013, and from reports I read and heard, course theming and entertainment had really been stepped up.  When registration opened for 2014, the event date coincided with an already-planned family vacation so adding this on to the beginning seemed like a good idea.

I went into this event ridiculously under trained.  I considered bailing at least a hundred times.  I just couldn’t let it go, though, and I’m so glad I didn’t.

I didn’t arrive until Saturday morning, so the expo had already been open for a day when I got there. 

The expo was practically empty when I got there Saturday morning.

The expo was practically empty when I got there Saturday morning.

I did arrive shortly after it opened on Saturday, which was right after the Happy Haunted 5k.  I enjoyed seeing all those runners with their cute Hitchhiking Ghosts medallions and all the cute costumes.  The kids races were about to get underway, too, so there was a lot of hustle, bustle, and excitement in the air, perfect for setting the stage.  The expo, on the other hand, was completely empty.  This worked to my benefit because my first order of business was getting the special runDisney New Balance shoes.  I wanted both the Minnie and the Cinderella ones and anticipated long lines.  However, I walked right up and 5 minutes later had my shoes in hand!  Next up was merchandise.  My only complaint about the event is that they were out of almost all merchandise.  I only got an “I Did It!” t-shirt, and had to settle for men’s at that.  I don’t understand why they can’t get the merchandise right.  They either have way too much and lots ends up in the outlets weeks later or they run out very early, and late-comers don’t get anything.  I’ve even heard reports of things being sold out at the expo, only to show up in the outlets weeks later.  What’s up with that?  I digress.  My next stop was the KT booth for the special Minnie KT tape.  I’m a sucker for all the things I can only get at a runDisney expo.  I needed tape anyway, so what of it?  Next I stopped at the Florida Hospital booth to pick up my free draw string bag.  Have I mentioned I love bags?  I do.  All types of drink ware and bags are totally my thing!  My dad came to the expo on a later bus than I did, so next I met up with him, picked up my bib, had a cute runDisney Instagram photo taken, picked up my shirt, and started to make our way back to the buses. 

I love that runDisney offers these special photo ops for free.  You just have to show them you follow runDisney on Instagram.

I love that runDisney offers these special photo ops for free. You just have to show them you follow runDisney on Instagram.

On the way back, I noticed the beer carts were selling beer in cute runDisney cups.  I didn’t want beer at 9 am on the morning of a long race so I stopped to see if they would sell me just the cup (hello, drink ware!).  They did, and $4 later we were on our way back to the buses for real this time.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll share my experience with the race itself.

Have you ever seen an almost-empty runDisney expo?

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runDisney #Tower10Miler Costume Reveal

It’s here, y’all!  The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10 Miler is this Saturday!  Squeeeee!!!!  Costumes are a HUGE part of any runDisney race, and this one is unique because of the villains theme.

I tossed around several costume options before landing on my final one.  I really wanted to do a group theme with my Princess Posse girls but our initial idea wasn’t coming together.  So, I decided to go out on my own and go as one of the villains.  I had already purchased most of the elements for my costume when my group came up with a really cute matching outfit idea.  We had skirts custom-made by our friend Vicky with RUNWay Gear and we ordered super cute matching shirts.  So, I ended up with TWO costumes and ONE race!  It was such a hard decision to make but I ultimately could not let go of my villain.  I really have no plans to ever run this race again (yes, I’ve said that before but I mean it this time, I think) and since this is the only villains themed race at present, it’s either now or never.  I will have the opportunity to wear the other outfit in the future, even if I won’t be with my girls then.

So without further ado, I give you…………………………………………………………………………….

I'll be Hades at the runDisney #Tower10Miler.

I’ll be Hades at the runDisney #Tower10Miler.

Hades!

I purchased the running skirt online and got the gray tech top from a mall department store.  I bought the blue wig online and made all of the embellishments out of different colors of felt.  Yes, I sewed them on myself.  I’m no seamstress but I have a sewing machine and I’m not afraid to use it.

Since we are on the subject of costumes, I have a bonus one for you.  I also plan to attend Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, which is one of the few times adults are allowed in the parks dressed in costume.  Because I had already purchased TWO running outfits for ONE race, I didn’t want to buy yet ANOTHER costume.  So, that could only mean one thing, that it was time to dig in the closet and see what I could make with what I already owned.

I give you……………………………………………………………………………………………………….

I'll be Sulley at the Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.

I’ll be Sulley at the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.

Sulley!

You may recognize the base of this as my Jasmine costume for Princess Half Marathon 2013.  I spent a total of $2 on more felt with which to make purple polka dots to sew onto the skirt and top.  My friend Bettina had this Sulley hat she no longer needed and gave it to me for the cost of shipping, $6.  Mission: accomplished!

What are your costume plans?

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Take a Lunchcation

Everyone knows what vacations are.  Now we also have runcations, which are basically just destination races, staycations, which are taking a few days off but staying home, and daycations, which are when you take a trip somewhere but don’t spend the night.  I have a new one for you: lunchcations.

I love to travel.  If I don’t have a trip planned, it’s pretty safe to say I have wanderlust and am thinking about planning my next trip.  Sometimes that’s just not enough.  Sometimes, I need a break, like, NOW!!!  This is pretty common in the fall.  Oftentimes summer vacations are just a memory, and spring vacations are only a dream.  So, for pretty much all of my professional life, I’ve taken lunchcations from time-to-time.  A lunchcation is a one hour break from work that leaves you feeling refreshed and energized.

I can hear you now saying, “Wait a minute!  I get a one hour lunch break everyday.  What’s so special about that?”  Yes, you get a lunch break, but is it a lunchcation?  When is the last time you came back from your lunch break feeling refreshed, energized, and eager to tackle the rest of your day and week?

Most of us take our lunch breaks and either eat at our desk while catching up on emails, run errands, eat fast food in our cars, or the like.  A lunchcation is more than that.  It’s taking that hour and truly emersing yourself in a vacation-like experience that leaves you feeling de-stressed, lighter, happier, just like you would if you had taken an actual vacation.  But how?

Here are a few ideas to get you started on your own lunchcation.

  • Get a massage.  I don’t know about you but a massage is a real treat for me.  It is something I typically only indulge in when I’m on vacation.  However, there are so many massage franchises around that it’s not hard to find a quick, inexpensive one.  I’ve seen packages as short as 30 minutes, the perfect length for a lunchcation.  Make sure you grab that cucumber water on your way out so you can extend the experience all the way back to your office.
  • Dine at a local, chef-driven restaurant.  Most metro areas have them.  This is not your chain restaurant.  I’m talking locally-owned, often offering seasonal, farm-to-table cuisine.  You might think of this as your special occasion restaurant, for anniversaries and birthdays.  It’s also an ideal destination for your lunchcation.  These types of places often have lunch menus featuring smaller, more affordable portions.  You’ll go back to the office feeling like you’ve been somewhere special, because you have.
  • Read a book in a coffee shop.  Books aren’t just for the beach, you know.  Reading can be relaxing and good for the soul!  Redirecting your thoughts away from work, even for just an hour, can be surprisingly freeing.  It’s the stuff great lunchcations are made of!  Lots of coffee shops are even offering artisanal sandwiches to go along with their brews now, too.  You have to eat, right?
  • Have coffee in a book store.  All of the same from above applies here, too.  Sure, these mega book stores have thinned out with the growing success of certain mega websites but there are a few around still, and many of them offer a great café-style lunch, too, perfect for a lunchcation.  Fruit tea anyone?
  • Splurge on dessert.  You treat your kids to their faves when they stay green for the whole week, get all As, and clean their room.  You juggle your company’s budget, your kids’ carpool, and your husband’s meeting schedule.  Buy yourself a cupcake, for crying out loud!  I don’t mean one from your grocery counter, either.  I know you have one of those specialty bakeries somewhere near you.  Go!  Get one! And savor every last crumb!  After all, you are on lunchcation!
  • Get a mani/pedi.  There is little in life that makes me feel like I’m on vacation more than a mani/pedi.  With all those pop-up nail places on every corner, a mani/pedi lunchcation is more feasible than ever before.  As long as you are making it a lunchcation, spring for the sea salt rub, too!

The best part about lunchcations is that you can take them at any time, as often as you want, with little to no planning.  Give them a try!  See how much easier they will make your afternoon tasks.

Share your lunchcation ideas in the comments.

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