Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Magical Grand Adventure - Memories!

Disney paid for my family's trip to 
Walt Disney World® Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.

Savoring the happy hustle and burgeoning bustle of Main Street U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom® Park, I overhead a wistful conversation between a pair of young stroller-pushers. "I just wish we could ride a few of these as a couple." "Tsk, tsk," I mused, "Why didn't you people invite grandma along?" A while later, I witnessed an epic meltdown by a tired and frustrated toddler. "Well, tsk, tsk, again! Where's grandma?"

Not a single one of the grand-ladies (or gentlemen!) I know would miss an opportunity to pass out mouse-eared ice cream treats and relish a break in the shade with restless mini-guests, leaving mommy and daddy free to enjoy the park for awhile as a carefree couple. In fact, I met fellow grandmas who joined me to do exactly that on our recent venture. One of my bench companions had accompanied her family ever since the kids were very young. Today, her nine and ten year old grandchildren don't need her as a babysitter anymore, but their annual trip to Walt Disney World® Resort just wouldn't be the same without grandma!

Grandma's premium-stroller-patrol-service! My grandson, Ryan, totally enraptured with a hat to twist and a sock to savor!

Grandpa and I, plus the family of my oldest daughter, Mary Jo, comprised a group of eight who recently enjoyed a five day, four night dream vacation to this magical wonderland. We were guests of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort as part of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest promotion.We also included, at our expense, the families of two additional daughters, bringing our three-generation party to a total of sixteen. At one point in my life, I would have regarded such a trip as impractical. Weird, even. But I know better now! Because Walt Disney World® Resort offers such a wide range of experiences for every age, multi-generational/multi-family trips create unique benefits and memories for each member. Join forces as a team and everybody comes home happy and satisfied! Here are a few of my own reflections:

Night life. You may be different, but for this grandma the best time of day is often at night! Late evening romantic dinners at Epcot® are for mommy and daddy! I prefer to keep a watchful eye - and an earlier bedtime - back home at the hotel with the little ones. We hop into our jammies, nestle together, and relive the best moments of the day. We chatter about what we'll do tomorrow and animatedly describe something we spotted through a gift shop window. Then, we drift off together, smiling away in anticipation of the next day. When mommy and daddy slip in later on, relaxed and happy, they find us soundly asleep. It's then they realize that vacations don't get any better than this!

Okay, shared babysitting. That's one reason to travel in a multi-generational pack! But what about others? I'm not saying you have to be a techno-wizard to enjoy a day at Walt Disney World® Resort, but millennials (that's mommy and daddy!) instinctively know how to handle all the cool stuff you can do directly from your "magic wristband!" Enter the Park (with valid theme park tickets). Load pictures to Disney PhotoPass® service. Operate the My Disney Experience app to reserve meals, and use Disney FastPass+ service to select character greeting experiences. You'll enjoy each day without the worry of making a bad choice. How's that for a benefit?!

And here's another one....

Sharing the tab! Everyone's circumstances are as diverse as the bottom line on your own Walt Disney World® Resort vacation budget, but a few things tend to be true with a grandparent lifestyle. We've got all the "stuff" we need. (Just check out our closets!) Most of us don't need things from our families to be happy. We just want to do things with them! And we've been around long enough to know that what experts say is true - the best value from a dollar is an experience enjoyed - not another thing purchased! Memories. That's what we want to invest in!

But I should clarify that we grandparents do like to buy some things! Like dated, keepsake Christmas ornaments for each individual family. My wish is that the ones I bought will trigger annual revisits to the fond memories we brought home together this year. ("Merry Chris-Mouse??!")

This last one is personal to me. It's my own favorite benefit of our multi-generational/multi-family trip to Walt Disney World® Resort:

We wait in line to ride, and all I know is that I'm part of a "group of eight." A little hand reaches for mine, our fingers lace together proprietorially, and suddenly, I'm half of a "party of two." "I want to ride with you, grandma." Long after many scenes from this magical journey have faded into the mist of senior years that lie ahead, I will always feel those little hands and hear those little voices. And my reply will always be the same. "Grandma wants to ride with you, too, sweetie. I will always want to ride with you!"

My sincere, most heartfelt gratitude to Mara VanGeldern, Associate Marketing Manager at Better Homes and Gardens, and to the Cast Members of Walt Disney World® Resort. Together, you made our multi-generational vacation to Walt Disney World® Resort one beyond magical!

Here is where you'll find details and links you'll need to enter for a chance to win a multi-generational family vacation for eight of your own at Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest. 

And here, at "Magical Grand Adventure!" is where my five part series on multi-generational travel to Walt Disney World® Resort begins.

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort. 

2017 Update: Continue filling your pre-trip info file with a look at this post written for AARP by Teresa Kindred, another grandma blogger who has also experienced Disney World with grandchildren!

Magical Grand Adventure - Entertainment!

Disney paid for my family's trip to 
Walt Disney World® Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.

Explosions of sound! Of light! Of color! Of dance! And song! The best magic of Walt Disney World® Resort comes alive on the streets and stages of its theatrical productions. And an even more heartwarming vision? The faces of your children and grandchildren, star struck with wonder as they gaze in awe at the spectacles before them!

My family recently enjoyed a five day, four night dream vacation to this magical wonderland. We were guests of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort as part of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest promotion. Here's where you'll find details and the links you'll need to enter for a chance to win a multi-generational trip for eight of your own from Better Homes and Gardens! Then, prepare to be swept off your feet with a whisk of Cinderella's broom to the adventure of a lifetime!

Besides the stunning suitable-for-most-ages entertainment factor, I appreciated parades and shows for the opportunity to take a break from the brisk pace of each day. In vivid contrast to the energetic hustling bustle of each Walt Disney World® Resort Theme Park, indoor theaters are cool and dark - a great place for grandparents - and kids! - to refresh.

If you've only room for one show, allow me to suggest that it be Festival of the Lion King. This indoor, live stage performance features giant puppets, dancers, and acrobats plus familiar, beloved music of the original Disney movie. You'll find shows at Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park.

The production is striking in its beauty - of performers and costuming, vocals, and majestic animal puppets. I loved the dancers who gyrated agilely on stilts, the display of fire twirling and the constant presence and movement of eye-popping brilliance!

The "circle of life" is present not only on stage. Can any other scene warm a grandma's heart more fully than one like this?

Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park is also home to the It's Tough to be a Bug® attraction. The theater setting for this 3-D film is deep below the roots of a tree. (Who but Disney could manage that?) I don't have photos because they're not allowed, so you'll have to use your imagination here. The glasses you'll wear bring everything to life. Bugs flit and flutter inches before your eyes. They peer down from openings in the ceiling. There's a huge scary one, a locust, I believe, who narrates on the stage, and he's not that friendly. Bugs are everywhere! And they're busy! And loud! When it turns completely dark, prepare to feel drops of moisture when you're "sprayed" with insect repellent. You'll smell a stink bug, too! It's intense. And wonderfully done. But is it for young kids? Possibly not. My seven year old grandsons loved it. Bree, at age five, was scared. Year old Austin burst into tears and mommy took him out. Cast members explain right from the beginning that the show may be too much for some little ones, and they make it easy to exit if that's the case with you. I'd definitely see this one again. With older kids.

When the weather is picture-perfect, there's nothing like an outdoor show to revel in the sunny warmth of it. Magic Kingdom® Park is known for its iconic Festival of Fantasy Parade. This visual spectacular overwhelms Main Street. Grandchildren who are character fans will relish the way they just keep coming! Ariel! Mickey Mouse! Minnie Mouse! Peter Pan! The Seven Dwarfs! Fantastic color and sound. I'd say that it is, by far, the most energetic focal point in all four theme parks!

Here's what it feels like to be on Main Street at Walt Disney World® Resort!

And here's what it looks like when your grandchildren are enjoying the time of their lives - and you are there to witness it all!......

But how much do kids take home with them from a magical vacation at Walt Disney World® Resort? I didn't see the Voyage of The Little Mermaid show at Disney's Hollywood Studios®, but five year old Brielle did. After we arrived back home, my daughters and I exchanged a flurry of messages - our fondest and funniest moments and memories. I haven't changed many words in this email from Christy. Picture Bree performing as mommy narrates:

"It feels like I actually never left Walt Disney World® Resort. I would have sent a video of this show, but Bree gave us rules! NO flash photography! She wears her Little Mermaid costume, the play room is re-arranged, she's singing, and if she does not know the words she continues on with babble, but promptly tells us that it is actually Spanish. She claimed Austin (little brother) was Ursula, but then later he was the prince and Sneakers (cat) was Ursula. She had a fork out, combing her hair and labeled that the correct name - "dinglehopper." She pretended she was eating fish (?) and then the show went on and on and on and on and on and I suddenly realized that I had told her after "the show" she would need to go up for quiet time. So that might explain why it lasted 2 full hours! We ALL fell asleep after that."

And here she is - grandma's own little mermaid/ actress/producer - "feathered up" as a parrot at Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park!

Fantasmic! is another outdoor venue performance that we enjoyed together - all sixteen of us. Mickey Mouse is the hero of this dramatic laser light and fireworks extravaganza that takes place after dark, on select days, weather permitting. But lots of villains show up before he triumphs - this fearsome dragon among them. I liked the slithery snake too! Catch this one at Disney's Hollywood Studios® .

The show is smoke and fire and music and boats that round the bend loaded with favorite characters. All of them, I believe, aboard the steamboat that makes a concluding appearance. It's piloted by Mickey Mouse - the original "Steamboat Willie!" I wondered, the second I recognized that version of him, if anyone but grandparents would note that. And I wondered too, if somewhere, somehow Mister Walt Disney himself realizes today how much joy his creativity has brought to so many of us for so many years. I wonder if he knows that I join him in marveling how "it all began with a mouse!"

And, one more reminder! Be sure to enter the Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest for a chance to win a multi-generational family trip for eight to Walt Disney World® Resort! Links and details right here!

Continue reading for more! "Magical Grand Adventure - Memories!" is right here!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Magical Grand Adventure - Dining!

Disney paid for my family's trip to Walt Disney World® Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.

My family of sixteen recently enjoyed a five day, four night vacation to Walt Disney World® Resort. Eight of us were guests of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine and Walt Disney World® Resort as part of the Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest promotion. Enter for your own chance to win a multi-generational family trip for eight! Contest details and links found here!

Dining at Walt Disney World® Resort!

We didn't show up at Walt Disney World® Resort just to eat, although I've heard that some people do exactly that. I'm not surprised. If there ever was a showcase of fabulous food to please practically every single taste at every single price point, it's right here! We discovered for ourselves that the wide range of prices and flavors has one consistent quality - delish! Here's a sampling of what we experienced......

Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park:

The Walt Disney World® Resort manages to infuse every one of its sites with heaping platters of atmosphere. Often, that extends to the area outside of the dining room, too. Like this one. While waiting for breakfast seating at the African flavored Tusker House Restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park, we admired ceremonial masks and had fun choosing our favorites. I liked that silver one next to Nick's head!

Step inside to the warm embrace of feasting! - this rich marketplace visual, and an equally amazing culinary one both greet you! Tusker House serves buffet style dining all day long. Classic items that kids will enjoy join a large selection of African specialties. Characters dressed for safari mingle about; it's a lively, exotic experience! We loved it!

 "Where does Walt Disney World® Resort find all this cool stuff?" In this case, I know the answer: Mexico! Permanently parked along the lush path that winds though the Asian area of Disney's Animal Kingdom®Theme Park is the Anandapur Ice Cream Truck. If ever a picture spoke a thousand words, I wouldn't have to make another peep!....but I will!....

"Step right up for tasty frozen treat
window service!"

When we were hungry for lunch, Restaurantosaurus beckoned us! Oh, it was as busy as a manic bee hive when we arrived at peak lunch hour, but tables to snatch and hold opened up continually. Mommy and daddy lined up to order our food - simple and good - fries, burgers, and apple slices served in cute sand pails. Not one of us had to be coerced to "shovel it in!"

Every vacationing Mouseketeer appreciates dining that's easily accessible. Guests of Disney's Beach Club Villas enjoy a bounty of that convenience. Let's start with what's right under our ears and move outward from there!

Disney's Beach Club Villas:

Two casual, family friendly eateries anchor the main lobby of the Villas. (Isn't she a beauty? Just couldn't stop taking pictures of her, inside and out - morning, noon and night! :) ) We frequented Beach Club Marketplace during our stay for quick sandwiches, early morning coffee, and the mini Disney merchandise shopping area. Time didn't allow us to poke into Cape May Cafe, but character buffet breakfast dining is featured - something you'd normally have to leave the building to enjoy. Next time, for sure!

Disney's BoardWalk entertainment district:

I've mentioned in a previous post that this lodging location is in the "backyard" of both Epcot® and Disney's BoardWalk entertainment district. That means a brisk few moments walk delivers you back in time to the BoardWalk Bakery. I recommend sending your son-in-law for take-out breakfast croissants if in-room morning dining is your pleasure. Worked for us! Scrumptious! - and a great time-saver!

My favorite Walt Disney World® Resort-dinner-to-remember will always be Italian. At Disney's BoardWalk entertainment district. At Trattoria al Forno. Best food. Best wine. Best company! (You know who you are!:)) Step right in! "Be our guest!"

Meet our handsome, talented and attentive chef!

My grandsons were fascinated with the open kitchen and the flaming pizza oven.

Since I've been home, I've read independent reviews of this restaurant; plenty of people think it offers the best, most authentic food of any Walt Disney World® Resort restaurant! I was also impressed with the generous portions.

Use your My Disney Experience app to view complete menus for all restaurants and make reservations.

Indulge in an authentic Italian appetizer platter at Trattoria al Forno!
Cheeses! Breads! Olives! Prosciutto! Calamari!

Mussels, too! This is a delicacy I'd not tasted before. I'm a fan for life now!

Epcot®! So many delicious countries, such limited digesting capacity! Nonetheless, our best, most relaxed moments were those spent together in enjoyment of ethnic food. And Walt Disney World® Resort does think of everything! No matter the cultural theme, there is always a "kid section" on the menu or in the buffet line. And that includes the Biergarten Restaurant.

It might as well be Oktober! Here's a beautiful slice of Germany outside the restaurant, under the watchful gaze of Spaceship Earth® attraction.

The Biergarten Restaurant offers a sumptuous buffet of authentic German food coupled with towering mugs of beer. Multiple offerings, specializing in sausages and potatoes, with sides of sauerkraut and marinated veggies.

And, when it's time for dessert, the cheesecake is out of this world!

Entertainment! Authentic and lively. This is where grandchildren will enjoy a sense of the world outside of their own. Next time, I'm sure we'll opt to sample another culture, but this festive visit will always remain special to us.

Magic Kingdom® Park:

Table for sixteen? We managed to do it! The Crystal Palace at Magic Kingdom® Park is a wonderland of beauty, great food, and characters hailing from the Hundred-Acre Wood. This evening simply warmed my heart. Characters table hop, hug, and lead a kid parade. The dining is buffet style and it's delicious!

Here's Kaylee taking a break from pursuing cuddly characters. Food choices for kids are healthy and appealing.

The Crystal Palace serves three meals each day, but an evening dinner reservation assures you of quick access to the best fireworks watching location once you've eaten!

I'd recommend one elegant dining experience per park to create the best multi-generational family memories. Reserve in advance on My Disney Experience!

We found day time Magic Kingdom® Park attractions so involving and exciting that eating just wasn't a priority! If that's the case with you too, quick counter service works well, although we would have benefited from the oft-given advice to avoid rush hours! The places we chose for lunch were crazy-busy at noon, but proved yet another reason to travel with grandma and grandpa. We served as table-spotters, taking the kids with us to make the wait in line more tolerable for mommy and daddy. When lunch finally arrived, kids were relaxed and happy, ready for the serious business of eating!

I didn't find this out until I returned home and read reviews, but Columbia Harbour House is an acclaimed venue for its seafood focused menu, including the lobster rolls we ordered! Delicious! Generously sized and reasonably priced, chips included!

Here's another choice for quick stop refueling - The Friar's Nook. Hot dogs, mac and cheese in several flavors - pot roast and barbecue among them - and more!

Disney's Hollywood Studios®:

Disney Junior Play n Dine is a lively spot, appropriately named. It was our last stop on the final day of our vacation. I secretly wondered if the kids would be "character-weary" by then, but they proved me wrong. Lots of hugs remained for Handy Manny, Doc McStuffins, Sophia the First and Jake and the Neverland Pirates in between bites from a healthy and satisfying buffet that pleased both adults and kids.

Below: Can you guess who'd just visited Disney's Hollywood Studios® gift shops before lunch?

Just had to include a final farewell to "Gertie" even though we didn't partake of her "Ice Cream of Extinction." Next time, for sure!

Bloggers and others who give travel advice often suggest packing portable snacks for kids. I agree with them. Even if you're not visiting Walt Disney World® Resort on a budget, it makes sense. I stuffed the corners of my suitcase with cheese cracker packs as my own contribution. My daughters did more. In the days before departure, texts and emails flew between us at a furious pace. What were we bringing? How much of it? How would we transport it all? It seemed a wise choice to bring peanut butter and a loaf of bread. "Bread?" read one text, "It'll get squished!" 

We pondered that dilemma until Christy's husband stepped up. "Just put the loaf in a shoe box!" Ahhhh! We breathed a sigh of deep relief. "Shoe Box Bread" was born that day, courtesy of my innovative son-in-law, Keenon. And you can be sure that he is, to this day, hailed as our family hero, the well admired inventor of "Shoe Box Bread!"

One more reminder! Be sure to enter the Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest for a chance to win a multi-generational family trip for eight to Walt Disney World® Resort! Links and details right here!

Continue reading for more! "Magical Grand Adventure - Entertainment!" is right here!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Magical Grand Adventure - Characters!

Disney paid for my family's trip to Walt Disney World® Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.

Characters! The streets of Walt Disney World® Resort are full of them. Some reside there. And others? Well, they arrive as guests, bursting through welcoming gates on magical mornings of every day of the week. Our family recently contributed sixteen of the latter to the daily count!

Grandpa and I, plus the family of my oldest daughter, Mary Jo, comprised a group of eight who recently enjoyed a five day, four night dream vacation to this magical wonderland. We were guests of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort as part of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest promotion. Here's where you'll find details and the links you'll need to enter for a chance to win a multi-generational trip for eight of your own! Then, start picturing yourself bursting through those gates with the best loved characters from your own world - like we did!

I'm not suggesting that you travel Walt Disney World® Resort in a marauding pack of one dozen+ (we didn't!) - but I am going to offer that a multi-generational/multi-family trip is the ultimate sibling and cousin bonding experience! That's why we invited, at our expense, two additional daughters' families to join our adventure, bringing our total "character count" to sixteen! 

That's an unwieldy amount of people to manage, but as long as everyone's in the same park on the same day, you can meet up occasionally - for lunch, to swap child-watching, or to ride as a group on favorite attractions - like we did! And this is where loading up fun and sharing it all on the My Disney Experience* app really makes sense!

Middle daughter, Christy, her husband, Keenon, five year old Brielle and year old Austin...

...and youngest daughter, Karen, her husband, Joe, and their cute-as-a-button offspring, three year old "character-obsessed!" Kaylee and nine month baby brother, Ryan

Both these pictures were taken with the Disney PhotoPass®  service** option you'll be offered when you purchase a park ticket - a totally cool "hands-and-worry-free" way to record the best moments of your vacation!

I couldn't help but notice how most kids simply melt into the arms of the characters they meet. We had a few exceptions, though - ones I think we'll enjoy telling about for years! Brielle, for example. She made sure her autograph book was methodically filled - sending daddy out on those missions! This little gal, who fearlessly conquered Big Thunder Mountain Railroad® attraction, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train® attraction, and Splash Mountain® attraction, demanding seconds and thirds on each of them, recoiled at all things large and cuddly! No Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, or Sophia for her! (Still scratchin' my head over that one!)

Meanwhile, back at the castle, cousin Kaylee couldn't stop smiling at, hugging, and loving every character and princess she met!

Dreams - and pictures of them! - really do come true here! Each meeting room is handsomely decorated to match a theme. Your wait in line is rewarded with unhurried personal attention and individual and group posing for shots of your own, or, more conveniently, from Disney PhotoPass® 

Cousins met Elsa and Anna!

So, where do you find these resident characters? A great reference is this site where each one is pinpointed. At Magic Kingdom® Park, you'll note that some are out and about periodically on Town Square. Others have their own greeting sites - see Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater; Cinderella and Rapunzel, among others, at Princess Fairy Tale Hall. Epcot® and Disney's Hollywood Studios® host their own array; so does Disney's Animal Kingdom® Park. The site also tells you if Disney FastPass+*** option is applicable; in that case, advance reservations - up to 60 days ahead if you stay at select Walt Disney World®  Resort hotels - are allowed on your My Disney Experience app.

Finally, many characters show their winsome faces at select Walt Disney World® Resort restaurants, table hopping while grandkids munch away, anticipating their own turn to chat up and snuggle with their favorites! My fondest experience in that category was dinner at Crystal Palace where beloved characters beckoned kids to join them in a jovial parade that wound through tables in a spacious, amazingly beautiful setting. Couple that experience with a sumptuous buffet, and the word "magical" simply comes to life here!

Here's another family story we'll enjoy for years ahead. Our Disney's Animal Kingdom® breakfast at Tusker House Restaurant included characters garbed for safari: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, and Goofy. Good old Goofy! The kids sank into the open arms of each one of these "larger-and-cuddlier-than-life" personalities. As Goofy made his rounds, he encouraged kids to follow along, imitating his swaying arms and prancing feet. Ava and Angeline were delighted to do that, laughing away at the goofiness of it all. Until Goofy abruptly stopped. And turned around to look at them! Both girls came to a screeching halt, screamed, and fled to the safety of our table!

The business of collecting character autographs is a serious one in our family! Some 25 years ago, when Kaylee's mommy was five, (years before the endearing Doc McStuffins was "born!") she filled a book of her own here, and we still have it!

Each character willingly accommodated every request for a signature, In fact, we never once encountered a grumpy cast member - Oh no. Wait! There actually was one!......

But we only crossed paths with him briefly! - deep inside the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train® attraction, and while he grumped along in a snooty snit at the Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade!

*My Disney Experience app is the ultimate Walt Disney World® Resort trip planner. Download your free account here, then access information on every opportunity at every park - shows, characters, attractions, etc. View wait times and menus. Make reservations and manage Disney FastPass+ and Disney PhotoPass® service options. Link to friends and family to share it all!

**Disney PhotoPass® service option (offered at ticket purchase point) captures your memories in unlimited digital downloads, delighting you with group shots, high speed thrill ride moments, and heartwarming character encounters. Here's where you discover what it's all about!

***Disney FastPass+  Tis true. Your day at Walt Disney World® Resort will probably include some waiting. But not for some attractions when you utilize this handy service. It's included with ticket purchase. You'll select up to three experiences in one theme park per day. Arrive during your designated window to enter a separate line with a shorter wait time. Redeem all three selections and reload more on your phone or at convenient kiosks! Here's where you'll find full details!

And, one more reminder! Be sure to enter the Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical" contest for a chance to win a multi-generational family trip for eight to Walt Disney World® Resort! Links and details right here!

Continue reading for more! "Magical Grand Adventure - Dining!" is right here!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Magical Grand Adventure!

Disney paid for my family's trip to 
Walt Disney World® Resort. As always, all opinions are my own.

I've been home for a few days, but I'm still whirling about in a cloud of excitement over the five day, four night multi-generational trip to Walt Disney World® Resort provided to my family of eight by Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort as part of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine "Making Memories Magical Contest" promotion. And I can't help but think of how much I'd love to have you - yes! YOU! - win a trip similar to mine after entering a "Grand Adventure" moment on social media using #MagicalMemoriesContest or on Here's where you'll find complete details and a link to everything you need to know!

Our own adventure began at Orlando's airport with a meeting of "the happiest people on earth!" Grandpa and I greeted our six fellow adventurers with wall-to-wall smiles and a little touch of goofiness!

Here's my beautiful daughter, Mary Jo, with one of her three year old twins, Angeline. We'll meet Ava in a sec!

Grandma's most stringent discipline to kids bouncing off the walls with exuberant anticipation? "Hey, guys! Let's not be goofy! That's Goofy's job!"

(Compliance rate? Well below average! :) )

Equally happy to be here is son-in-law, Tom, surrounded by seven year old twin brothers, Nick and Sae.

"So, anybody want to be back home in school today instead of on their way to Walt Disney World® Resort?......Hello? Anybody?"

(Nobody! :) )

First stop! Checking in at our villa, just steps from Epcot®, at Disney's Beach Club Villas....
This lovely lady is gorgeous, both inside......

and out!.......

View from our balcony....
Casual, elegant New England atmosphere!
Tempting on-site restaurants!
Spacious suites with kitchenettes and in-room laundry facilities!
Plus....a sandy-bottomed, heated swimming pool (not shown) with a mammoth "gotta-see-it-to-believe-it" pirate ship slide!

See the Spaceship Earth® attraction in the distance? You can walk to Epcot® and then hop the monorail to the Magic Kingdom® Park!
Convenient buses also take you from the front door to all four Walt Disney World® parks and the airport.

This is the place, grandparents, that makes sense for a multi-generational visit! The common living area between bedrooms/baths in the villa includes not only a comfortable pull-out sofa bed, but a third television set for early morning Mickey Mouse cartoon watching. Plenty of space to sit down together and eat. A large entry area easily accommodates strollers and luggage. We're a lively bunch of eight and we enjoyed an easy fit! And the staff? Three words: helpful, friendly, welcoming! Highly recommended!

Here's a Resort option guaranteed to embrace your grandchildren in open-armed, perky-eared style! Make arrangements ahead to delight them with a solid vanilla chocolate Mickey Mouse and a delectable tray of dipped strawberries! Mmmmm!

Our Ava came here to eat strawberries and meet princesses!
Neither task was left undone!

We stashed our bags in the whisk of a mouse's tail and set out to explore. A picturesque five minute walk from our front door brought us to Disney's BoardWalk entertainment district. Music! Food! Shopping! A Dance Hall! Here, again, I noted the convenience of this location. One could easily spend an entire enchanted evening along the glistening waterfront, leisurely strolling to and from the resort without need for transportation.

See the round "Trattoria al Forno" sign? We stopped in for an Italian family atmosphere dinner that pleased us all. Grandchildren enjoyed cheese pizza from the kid menu and daddy and grandpa had no trouble putting away ginormous t-bone steaks! Amazing appetizer platters, too! We'll return here with more detail in a later post focusing on food, but for now, just know that delicious dining, both casual and fancy, abound here at Disney's BoardWalk entertainment district!

My dinner of sea bass and roasted vegetables was so filling that I felt like this guy afterwards! But our adventure was only beginning. The next morning we gathered at Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park for a family photo shoot followed by a character breakfast at Tusker House Restaurant and a tour of the park.

This happy hippo is a source of endless fascination to those black birds. They perch on him for a better view and bask in his warmth or cool off in his shade!

I truly respect the global conservation efforts made on behalf of animals and the environment by Walt Disney World® Resort. The enormously popular Kilimanjaro Safaris® Expedition allows you to see that dedication for yourself. Open air vehicles bump along through the natural habitat of dozens of animals while an animated driver describes what you're viewing - sometimes at very close range!

This beautiful, well cared for creature intently watched us as we passed; other family members didn't think we were worth the glancing-up trouble!

By day's end, we had ventured on a rockin' and rollin' ride into prehistoric times in pursuit of dinosaurs, strolled through streets designed as Tibet and Africa, witnessed two brave family members conquer the fearsome Yeti on the Expedition Everest® attraction, taken a break to view the fabulous Festival of the Lion King Show and met Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Daisy Duck at breakfast. Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park has something for everybody! An interesting fact is that the temperature inside is eight degrees warmer than outside due to extensive foliage cover. I'm going to speculate, too, that the happy smiles of grandparents and kids contribute to that level of coziness!

"Over-the-top" animal lover, Angeline, on safari! Giraffes are her fave - and she was rewarded with a nearly face-to-face encounter!

This is what it feels like to meander the streets of Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park at Walt Disney World® Resort.

Yowzers! The towering Expedition Everest® attraction houses a roller coaster that I was more than adequately "thrilled" to watch on video! It's not for me! ("skeerd!") But my daughter and son-in-law faced the fury of a roving Yeti, a monster of a mischief maker who tore up tracks ahead of them as they plunged backwards and forward at breathtaking speed! See those hanging fabric squares? Tibetans display them as a placating gesture to their own Yeti - a force to be reckoned with both here and at home!

Next stop: Epcot®. The adventure continues!

Here's the place where brave souls can whisk along a thrilling Test Track attraction after designing a car to personal specifications. Here's the place to be glad you added Memory Maker* to your Walt Disney World® Resort experience, giving you high speed action shots otherwise unavailable. And finally, here's where grandma was delighted to stay behind with little sisters who didn't meet the height requirement!

*"Memory Maker" details in a later post. There's no way I could have taken such a great shot of grandpa, mommy and daddy, and the boys enjoying this experience without the Disney PhotoPass®  service!

I don't want to give the impression that I was afraid of everything the Walt Disney World® Resort has to offer! I certainly didn't mind traveling the history of communication from prehistoric times to the modern era. The Epcot® "giant golf ball" is Spaceship Earth® attraction, and it's home to a gently moving ride through a visual feast of human achievement. Tired of walking? Sit back and enjoy the star studded sky while drifting along through a dark, cool, and soothing educational experience! But don't think for one second this ride is just a stodgy old boring excuse to escape the sun! My seven year old grandson, Nick - who the next day would personally defeat the insidious Darth Vader in laser-to-laser combat - declared it was his favorite ride to that point!

Epcot® is known as a world showcase. My family often exclaimed how Disney does everything so authentically. We strolled the streets of many countries, magically transported there to enjoy sights, sounds, and food. Our choice for dinner that evening was Germany's Biergarten Restaurant; for several hours, we were in Germany, savoring authentic choices from a bountiful buffet! The atmosphere was both relaxed and lively, with spirited entertainment. Again, further details in a later post on places to eat!

Anyone ready to meet our Disney VIP guide, Frank, early the next morning for yet another day of adventure? These two little Mousketeers are!

Away we zoomed! To Magic Kingdom® Park! And this time, good old grandma wasn't "skeerd" of Tomorrowland's Speedway® attraction! Here's where you'll wait to jump in, as driver or passenger. I rode once with each grandson - pressing the speed pedal was my job - steering belonged to the boys. But don't worry, grandma, you'll handle the top limit easily, enjoying the breeze in your hair and the sun on your face as you go round and round and round the oval track. Oh sure, your seat-side buddy will try to impress you with wild maneuvers, but there's zero chance for a pile up here - Disney looks out for us grandmas with safety precautions galore!

The Dumbo The Flying Elephant attraction has been here forever. This beloved classic is so popular that Disney has refurbished and installed two rides to shorten wait time. I took this shot of mommy and the girls as I waited with Sae, a few Dumbos ahead, for those giant ears to launch our flight!

We watched the daily 3 PM Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade and witnessed sights both ferocious......

Yes! That's a fire breathing dragon!!!!!

........and friendly!

We met Mickey Mouse, too!

Each park has characters to meet. I've got an overview waiting for you in a future post!

We rode, we ate, we rested. There's time and a place for everything in this magical space. When you travel in a multi-generational group, there's always someone at hand to supervise the littles while adults and older siblings succumb to the Haunted Mansion®  attraction, cruise Pirates of the Caribbean®  attraction or rattle along on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad®  attraction and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train® attraction. When it's time to take a break, there's the easy-going and visually stunning It's a Small World® attraction for everyone to pile in and enjoy together.

Planning a Disney Parks trip is just as exciting a time as the weeks before Christmas! The grandkids and I had chattered away about what we'd be riding side-by-side, and "Pirates" was at the top of our list. I'd promised the boys each a play sword and was happy to deliver. Theme Park shopping is convenient, the merchandise is appealing, and there's even a package delivery service available to guests staying at select Walt Disney World®  Resort hotels!

Our Magic Kingdom® Park day concluded with fireworks.We nestled together to watch them, warmed by cups of hot cocoa delivered by our thoughtful guide, Frank. What a day. What a night. Exhausted, happy,
and still not finished with this magical place!

Looming ominously over Disney's Hollywood Studios®  is a structure that literally screams from inside its own body. Those who dare venture onto abandoned freight elevators in this Disney thrill masterpiece plunge not once, not twice, but seven times from the precipice inside The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction! I was one of them. And I'd go back again and again and again, if I could! Once again, thank goodness for Disney's PhotoPass® service! Now I've got proof I'm not the world class scaredy cat my family considers me to be! (But I doubt you'd want to see that photo! - mouth wide open, hair flying...naw! I'll spare you!)

Another park favorite - for all ages - is the colorful and fun Toy Story Mania!® attraction. Riders spin along on a crazy path blasting numbered targets as they go. Cars keep track of scores, allowing grandkids nearly one tenth your age to beat you soundly and brag about it forever! :) Happened to me. Will probably happen to you, too, grandma! Embrace it! - and them, too! This one's a family "must-do!"

"Whoa!" Let's pause a sec to address what you might be asking now. "How did they manage to do all that stuff? Where did they find out what's available and how did they coordinate everything so well?" Three word answer: My Disney Experience - an app to download right here. After that, you'll use your phone to view every opportunity at every park. You'll see ride wait times, find shows and characters, view menus, and book (or revise) reservations. From this convenient planner, you'll manage Disney FastPass+ and Disney PhotoPass® service accounts, plus more! If you link to family and friends, you'll share it all to keep in touch, dreaming and planning together well in advance of your trip! Simply stated, My Disney Experience will allow you to make the most out of every second of your visit!

Meanwhile, planted firmly on their places in line...

Nick and Sae are super-fans of Star Wars, but none of their excitement has ever come close to the on-stage experience, Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple. The boys became part of a dramatic theatrical production climaxed by the appearance of Darth Vader himself. Each trained warrior took a turn to battle him individually. To enjoy the right to brag that your own grandchild (age 4-12) defeated Darth, be at Disney's Hollywood Studios® at opening to grab a spot in one of the frequent day long show times!

We also enjoyed a 3-D, Motion-simulated space flight and met both the huggable, endearing Chewbacca and the intimidating Kylo Ren. And these great attractions are only the beginning of the commitment to indulge galactic-sized appetites for Star Wars entertainment! Much more to come in the eons that lie ahead!

Saturday. Booooo! Our last day. One final foray into the Magic Kingdom® Park for souvenirs and revisits to our favorite rides before heading to the airport. Good bye palm trees, good bye Mickey Mouse, good bye sunny skies and endless smiles and zipping around tracks and lumbering along paths, good bye pretty princesses and demure dwarfs and pouting pirates and gleaming laser light swords. Good bye vacation of a lifetime!

Grandparents! Stay tuned for additional posts! I've got lots more to tell in every category to help you plan a multi-generational trip. And be sure to enter the "Making Memories Magical" contest sponsored by Better Homes and Gardens Magazine for a chance to win a vacation for eight of your own! Again, here's where you'll find the links you need to get started on your own "Grand Adventure!"

My sincere, most heartfelt gratitude to Mara VanGeldern, Associate Marketing Manager at Better Homes and Gardens, and to the Cast Members of Walt Disney World® Resort. Together, you made our multi-generational vacation to Walt Disney World® Resort one beyond magical! Someday, somehow, someone may invent a word that adequately describes our gratitude for what you did for us - but I think it will have to arrive from a "galaxy far, far away!" Because, for today, I've run out of earthly words of my own to say "thank you!"

Continue reading for more! "Magical Grand Adventure - Characters!" is right here!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Better Homes and Gardens and Walt Disney World® Resort.