May 31, 2012

Hail, No!

It hailed here today.  It's hailed about five significant times since we've lived here.  I think everyone in the neighborhood has a new roof now.

What made today's storm different was that our neighbor's palm tree was struck by lightning.  We saw a bright flash in our house, then before we could brace ourselves for the Crack! of thunder, we heard what sounded like a cannon go off.

Palm tree pieces were all over our backyard and all the hairy parts underneath the tree bark were exposed the full length of the tree.

Good thing we had just turned all the computers off or I wouldn't be typing this right now.

May 26, 2012



I've heard that word twice today regarding the design of Walt Disney World.  Listening to the most recent Unofficial Guide's Disney Dish with Jim Hill where Len Testa and Sam Gennawey are discussing the design of the Magic Kingdom, Sam mentions the "architecture of reassurance" when describing why people come back again and again.

Later on I was reading Since the World Began by Jeff Kurtti and he also mentioned this word 'reassurance' when explaining why the castle needs to be seen from outside the park.  He said that after folks leave the interstate and drive six additional miles onto Disney property, they need some reassurance that the park is actually there.

And I can think of a third mention of reassurance.  The mere title of Karal Ann Marling's book, Designing Disney's Theme Parks:  The Architecture of Reassurance, teases us that there is more to the buildings and their surroundings than we might assume.

May 22, 2012


We were still months away from our trip, but a friend of mine was to the point of counting down the days until her daughter's graduation trip.  Smart girl to choose Disney World for a graduation gift, huh?

She posted their countdown calendar on Facebook.  Cute!  Her daughters used the Mickey shaped paint chips from Home Depot, patterning theirs from an idea they read about on the DISboards.

Now, let me say that I am NOT a crafty person.  I don't have an "eye" for anything and I haven't been able to pick a paint color for over 10 years, but I knew this calendar was something we had to do.  The kids would love counting down the days, and personally, it would help me hustle to get all those last minute things in order.  Here's our rendition:

At the time, I had a tension rod in my kitchen window that served as a display for the kids' artwork.  It proved to be the perfect place for our countdown calendar.  The drapery clips are from either Ikea or Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

I went with black poster board because of the contrast with the colorful Mickeys and I really like the way it turned out.  Once I got all the supplies, I had to decide what order the Mickeys would go in, colorwise.  I laid out all of my chips, took out the duplicates, and realized I had too many dark colors.  Playing around with the brighter chips, I decided that a rainbow pattern would look best - ROY G. BIV!

Then I experimented with different ways to lay them out on the poster board.  Think outside the box.  It doesn't have to look like a calendar.  You could do a spiral.  Stagger the rows.  Columns.

As you can see, I stayed firmly inside the box.  Based on the range of colors I had, 28 days fit perfectly.  Four weeks.  Seven across.  Four down.  Nice 28 day countdown with plenty of room left around the border.

Here's what the paint chips from Home Depot look like:

I didn't want to stick the whole paint chip on the poster board, so I had to remove the Mickey head from the square backing.  I experimented with a couple of extras - oh, yeah, get extras.  It looks like they're stickers, right?  They're not.  I peeled from one side and then the other, ooching Mickey off carefully.

Using a ruler and my Mickey head, I measured off how big each square needed to be, lightly marked off my grid with a pencil, and then drew it on by hand using a white liquid chalk pen.  I thought hand-drawn lines would look better than straight ruled lines.  I've had the chalk pens for a while and never used them much until now.  They were not something I bought especially for this project.

After my lines were dry, I experimented with a couple of different glues for the Mickey heads - glue sticks, craft glue.  I ended up using craft glue, applying it with a Q-tip.  Here's close-up:

You can see how Mickey is glued down nicely on that top row and not-so-nicely on the lower rows.  Running the glue out to the edges of the Mickey head inevitably resulted in some oozing and I didn't like the way the dried glue looked on the black poster board.  After a couple, I didn't run it all the way out to the edges.  I also didn't want the Mickey head to bubble so I used a very thin layer of glue.  I did not obsess over this.  Some I got just right, but most weren't, plus the kids helped.

For the decorations around the border, I found images online, printed them off, glued them to cardstock, and then to the poster board.

You can also see that we used a black punched Mickey head to mark off the days as they passed.  I bought the paper punch at a local craft store with a coupon and used Hermafix tabs to stick them on.  The punch, the black construction paper, and the Hermafix stayed in my kitchen drawer for easy access.  The kids would call dibs every morning on who got to mark off the day.

We had a great time making this calendar together and haven't been able to throw it away yet.

May 9, 2012

Magic Our Way

We're a la carte when it comes to booking our vacation. We purchase everything separately - room, tickets, airfare, rental car.  And the room-only reservation is to blame.

Well, that and the Dining Plan.

Brownie Sundae at 50's Prime Time Cafe
The first time we went to WDW as a family we booked very late - just a month or so out.  We hadn't been to Disney World in over a decade, hadn't been with kids at all, had never stayed on property, so many options, so much money!  I can see why people opt to use a travel agent.  All the choices can be overwhelming.

So I called a friend of mine who is a Disney Specialist travel agent.  Kim quoted me prices for the Magic Your Way packages and mentioned the free dining promotion if we booked by June 15.

Hmm, did I mention we hadn't been to Disney World in over a decade?  In fact, we hadn't taken a big family vacation ever.  So many options!  So much  money!  We just couldn't commit.  June 15th came and went.

I know, I know.  I am hanging my head in shame, but that's just the way we are.  We had just lost the opportunity for free food, but I had to shake it off and move forward.  As it turned out, missing the free dining was a blessing.

After perusing many websites and reading my Unofficial Guide cover to cover, I decided I could plan and book our vacation.  So with a little confidence under my belt, I booked Old Key West with a room-only discount and it proved to put a little extra money in our pocket.  We saved more money on our room than we spent on food.  Granted, we ate a few meals in our room and split some in-park meals after we realized how big the portions were, but...
  1. Having a full kitchen in our hotel was an additional money-saver.  Sure, it meant we had to make a trip to the grocery store, but we actually think that's a fun Arrival Day Activity.
  2. We weren't locked into eating all those restaurant meals which we tire of after a while, giving us much more flexibility in our dining choices.
  3. We didn't have to factor in park time for breakfast and that meant we could sleep a little longer - hey, 30 minutes is critical.
  4. We started the day with a hearty meal - eggs, toast, milk, oj.
  5. The dinner advantage gave us the opportunity to wind down at the end of the day and enjoy a quiet meal, just our family.  We even played games after dinner a couple of nights.
Primo dining area at Old Key West.  Notice that balcony seating is also available!
So faced with free dining again for this trip, we opted for the Magic Our Way package (my invention).  Because we were staying in a deluxe villa, the room-only discount was 40% which more than paid for our food.  Plus, we had the choice of anything on the menu and could eat on our schedule.

We also liked the flexibility of the room-only reservation.  It requires a deposit of one night's stay and can be cancelled for a full refund up to 5 days prior to arrival.  Four days or less, you forfeit your deposit.  You can make changes any time up to 5 days prior to arrival at no additional cost.  We also asked about cancelling mid-trip and were told that you only pay for the days you're there. For example, if we had to check out three days early, they would refund the remainder in full.  Nice!

I made our reservation over the phone and wrote everything down in my spiral notebook - date, booking agent's name, deposit amount, confirmation number, cancellation rules.

Like I said, room-only fit us perfectly. Magic Your Way packages have different rules and may work better for you depending on your preferences, but a room-only is definitely worth looking into when Disney is running a special.

May 4, 2012

And The Answer Is...

Raise your hand if you were surprised.

Yep, we enjoyed it so much on our last trip, we decided to stay at Old Key West again.  Who wouldn't love a private master bedroom with a king sized bed?  And the ability to pack less clothes because you can wash a load or two?  A full kitchen?  Two bathrooms?  And again, great pool slide!

Aaah, transport me now!

May 1, 2012

Digging In - The Big Questions

When we set out to plan our vacation, there are several major questions to answer.

When are we going?  How are we getting there?  How long will we stay?  Where will we stay?  Will MawMaw go with us?

Let's start with that last one.

Will MawMaw go with us?  MawMaw loved going to Disney World with us and was looking forward to going again; however, my husband wanted this vacation to be just our family.  So, I had to make a very difficult phone call.  Not fun.  It was very hard to break the news and she was very disappointed that she wouldn't be going this time, but she understood.  Still.  She was very sad.

Next question, when are we going?  Even though the temperatures are sweltering, the best time for my husband is mid-September. So, we looked at the calendar and picked a week.

How are we getting there?  No question.  Flying.  My husband did not feel it necessary to drive all the way from Texas to Lake Buena Vista again.  And the good news is, flying would get us there quicker, giving us two more days than before.  Seven whole days in the parks!

As far as ground transportation, a rental car is a must for us. CB doesn't like to rely on others for his transportation which is fine by me.  Getting around WDW is very easy - I love those red and purple signs. We could be in the parking lot of any park within 10-15 minutes.  Yes, we might have to take the tram if we parked far enough away, but what's a trip to Disney World without a ride on the tram?

How long will we stay?  Our pattern is to suck all we can out of our vacation so we planned to arrive on Saturday and stay all week, leaving on the following Sunday.

Where will we stay?  We weren't quite sure.  We do have the mad love for Old Key West, but last trip we had lunch at Whispering Canyon at Wilderness Lodge and loved the look of that resort.  Chatting with my husband, we decided to give the Villas at Wilderness Lodge a try this time.  So, I got online to price it out and it showed that the resort was booked during our week.  How could that be?

I don't know what Disney does or why they do it, but their online reservation system will sometimes show that a resort is completely booked.  If this happens to you, don't let it deter you. Call them. That's what I did, and they had rooms available. So, I had them hold an 8-night stay in a 2-bedroom villa at Wilderness Lodge. That hold required no money down and I could either call and cancel it or it would expire on its own in a week.

You may be wondering why I didn't just go ahead and book the reservation.  The advantage to simply holding a reservation is that it let us live with the idea for a few days. We could think about things like:

how far would we have to walk to get to our car?

would we enjoy the resort pool?

what about the layout of the room?

what kinds of views are available?

what are we gaining by staying here?

what are we giving up by staying here?

are we okay with spending that much money?

Ultimately, we decided not to stay at Wilderness Lodge. We felt we'd have a longer walk to and from our car each day and the additional cost just wasn't worth it. We'd rather spend it somewhere else.

So, any guesses as to where we decided to stay?