Square Life Round World

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

My Top 10 of 2020

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

New Job

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

Disney Cruise from New Orleans

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

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

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

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

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

My parents collected quite the Mardi Gras haul!

Scottsdale, Arizona

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

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

Old Town Scottsdale was so much fun!

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

Winemaking

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

My attempt at winemaking

Home Office

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

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

Home Bar

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

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

My Disney Trip with Dad

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

My trip with Dad was a gift!

eBay Fun

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

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

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

Bourbon Hunting

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

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

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

Old Rip Van Winkle luck

Being Diagnosed with a Chronic Disease

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

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

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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 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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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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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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Back to the Blog

Hey, everyone!  Remember me?  I just looked back and saw that I haven’t posted in, oh about 10 months.  Oops!  So, what have I been up to?  I have been through a life-changing event, which has been the subject of the majority of my focus.  More on that later.  I’ve been doing a few other things, too, though.

Since my last update, I finished the 2014 St. Jude Memphis Half Marathon.

I finished! It wasn't pretty but I finished!

I finished! It wasn’t pretty but I finished!

That deserves its own post.  The stories around that day are many.  I also finished a quilt for a friend,

Minecraft Quilt for a Friend

Minecraft Quilt for a Friend

had a December staycation,

Oshi Burger as part of my December staycation

Oshi Burger as part of my December staycation

celebrated Christmas with my family, quit my job (insert major life event), started my dream job

My first day on my new job

My first day on my new job

(reality is even better than the dream), registered for the 2015 St. Jude Memphis Half Marathon, spent time at Magic Kingdom Park with some girl friends,

Magic Kingdom before the family cruise

Magic Kingdom before the family cruise

tried out the new Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney’s Polynesian Resort,

Yes, I kept the glass!

Yes, I kept the glass!

went on my 3rd Disney cruise with my family aboard the Disney Fantasy (that deserves its own post, too, several of them, in fact),

Disney Fantasy docked at Castaway Cay

Disney Fantasy docked at Castaway Cay

registered for the Memphis Runners Track Club Road Race Series and registered for the 2016 runDisney Princess Half Marathon.  Oh!  And I’m on Periscope now, too.  I’m @myglasssneaker, same as Twitter.  I haven’t done much videoing yet, but that will change soon.

What have I not been up to?  Well, I haven’t done a ton of running.  This is a bad thing considering my upcoming race schedule.  I did complete the 2nd 5k

This was my first official race of the year.

This was my first official race of the year.

and the first 5 miler

Aaaaaand...my 2nd official race of the year

Aaaaaand…my 2nd official race of the year

in the Road Race Series, though.  The first 10k is coming up in less than a week.  The jury is out as to whether I am going to attempt it or wait until the 2nd 10k.  The reason (or excuse) for the struggle deserves its own post, too.

Based on the list above, it looks like I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.  Please hang in there with me.

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Throwback Thursday: Walking Down Disney Memory Lane

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

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

My sister and I at Epcot Center in 1987

My sister and I at Epcot Center in 1987

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

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

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

My dad in front of Pirates of the Caribbean in 1966

My dad in front of Pirates of the Caribbean in 1966

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

Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle, 1966

Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, 1966

 

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

Disneyland memorabilia from 1966

Disneyland memorabilia from 1966

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

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

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Feel the Force Premium Package

You all know that Walt Disney World is one of my favorite places on the planet.  One of the things they are famous for is coming up with a really unique thing (or TEN) that is season-specific, making me want to come back almost on a monthly basis.  Where’s my money tree?  I did go to the Rock Your Disney Side 24 Hour event in May as well as Star Wars Weekends.  

Star Wars Weekends

Star Wars Weekends

Yet there are also several other things they’ve come up with since then for the summer that I’d really love to go see including Harambe Nights held on Saturday nights in Animal Kingdom, the Hollywood Studios villains party coming up on August 23, and now Frozen summer fun also at Hollywood Studios, just to name a few.

The Frozen summer events particularly caught my attention because it seems as though they’ve created these using the same model they used for Star Wars Weekends.  They have a Frozen opening show, a Frozen parade followed by a show on the stage in front of the Sorcerer Mickey hat, Frozen sing-along shows throughout the day, a Frozen ending show at night capped off with Frozen fireworks, and there’s even a merchandise area in the same soundstage as the Star Wars merchandise for Star Wars Weekends.  Not only that, but there’s ICE SKATING in there, too!  For $10, you can ice skate for 30 minutes.  That is, if you can get in!  Really, the set up of all of these events is identical to Star Wars Weekends.  They have even brought back the Premium Package, which includes reserved viewing for the parade, guaranteed seating for one of the sing-alongs, and reserved viewing and dessert party for the fireworks.

Since I took advantage of the Feel the Force Premium Package during Star Wars Weekends, I thought now would be a good time to tell you about it since they are doing something similar right now.  Advance reservations were required, and I booked it the day it was announced.  It sold out very quickly.  Instructions told us to check in near Bill and Min’s Dockside Diner at 10:30 for the first part of the package, which was reserved parade viewing. 

Feel the Force check in

Feel the Force check in

I had read the previous weekend’s reviews and knew to arrive much earlier.  As I was walking towards the check in around 10 am I saw, just as I knew I would, people already camped out waiting for the parade but there were still several decent spots left.  The reason I knew to get there so early is because, even though there was plenty of reserved viewing, the area was very deep, meaning there was plenty of room to stack people but not very much room right at the ropes.  They also had a reserved area just for kids.  They let the people who had an even more inclusive VIP package in first, so by the time the rest of us were let in, there was no front row space left. 

Feel the Force Wristband

Feel the Force Wristband

Being short, I took up residence behind the kids.  I figured I had a better chance of seeing over the littles than I did the bigs. 

Highlights from the parade

Highlights from the parade

It was ok.  Mickey ice cream bars and strawberry bars were available as part of the package as were bottles of soda and water. 

Snacks for the parade viewing were included with the package.

Snacks for the parade viewing were included with the package.

Honestly, I would have had a much better view of the parade had I staked out my spot on the street at the same time I arrived at the package check in. 

The second part of the package was the Symphony in the Sky fireworks and dessert party. 

No seats were available for the dessert party, just tables for standing.

No seats were available for the dessert party, just tables for standing.

I was really excited for this because, hello!  Darth Vader cupcakes!  Seriously, though, the Magic Kingdom has done a Wishes dessert party for years, and I’ve always wanted to go.  Unfortunately my family does not share my enthusiasm for copious amounts of expensive desserts prior to watching fireworks obstructed by the roof of the building in which the party is held.  My family wasn’t with me this time so it was all mine!  I arrived a little after 8 to check in, and we were allowed in right around 8:30.  They had LOTS of desserts!  LOTS!  And plenty of each. 

This is just a sampling of what they had.  I somehow missed getting a pic of the Darth Vader cupcake tray.

This is just a sampling of what they had. I somehow missed getting a pic of the Darth Vader cupcake tray.

It was quite hot and humid so the icing melted off the cupcakes a wee bit, but they were all headed for my belly anyway so I was ok with that. 

The Darth Vader cupcake at the bottom is on its side because the icing fell off.

The Darth Vader cupcake at the bottom is on its side because the icing fell off.

It just meant my pictures weren’t going to be as good.  Also available were 2 different adult beverage options.  Now, one might think you could get your money’s worth on the alcohol alone, and I’m sure some did.  However, I learned really quickly that fruity adult bevs and lots of super sweet desserts don’t really mix very well.  So, I just had a few sips of each one. 

2 different adult beverage options

2 different adult beverage options

Shocker!  I stuck to water and Diet Coke instead.  Not long after I decided I was done with the goodies, it was time for the closing show to start.  The reserved viewing area had great views of the stage and show. 

We had great views of the stage!

We had great views of the stage!

The fireworks set to Star Wars music were what I was there to see and were the real reason I had paid the premium price for the Premium Package.  As soon as the fireworks started, I realized right away that the fireworks view was not good, not good at all!  Remember that stage that we had such a great view of?  Yeah, it pretty much blocked a lot of the fireworks. 

Not so great view of the fireworks

Not so great view of the fireworks

So for me, this killed the Premium Package.

In short, if I had one day for the individual elements, I would go the free (with admission) route and stake out my parade and fireworks viewing spots.  You are likely going to get better viewing with about the same amount of time waiting and standing so why not?  Just buy your ice cream, sodas and cupcakes, and you’ll come out way ahead, even if you throw in an adult beverage (or 3).  If I had multiple days, I might spring for the premium package just for the experience, but not for the views. 

The Frozen version of this has gone up $5 per adult but there’s the added element of the sing-along show.  From what I understand, Frozen Premium Package holders get seating in the first 4 rows, which is a really nice added feature.  Also, since there isn’t the even more inclusive VIP package for this event, it stands to reason that prime viewing along the ropes would be easier to get for package holders than it was for Star Wars Weekends.  The viewing for the Frozen fireworks is still going to stink, though. 

Have you experienced either Premium Package?  What were your thoughts?

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