Monthly Archives: February 2014

Run – Disney’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon

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Guys. Exciting news. Registration for Disney’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon opens on Tuesday, March 4th at noon EST….and I am signing up! I have heard so many fun things about this race.

The event weekend is November 8-9, 2014. My kids actually have the following Monday and Tuesday off from school, so we are going! I’m already planning my costume. Oh, yes. It’s gonna be awesome.

Who else plans to register for this one?

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Eat – Baked Avocados with Salsa

I have a new go-to for lunch. It’s healthy and yummy, and as an added bonus, it’s ready in less than 15 minutes. Bam!
Baked Avocado

I overheard someone talking about these babies the other day, and I knew I had to try them myself. They’d make a good, quick dinner too, maybe with a side of rice or black beans?

All you need is an avocado (or more if you’re feeding more than just yourself), pico de gallo or salsa (from the produce section of the grocery store – the good stuff), and some shredded cheese. I have a pizzeria mix that I combined with some cheddar.

Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. If the pit is small, use a spoon to carve out a little extra space for your salsa. Place the avocados in a baking dish, fill with salsa, and top with cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, and voila! Deliciousness.

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Magical Monday – Character Dining at Disney World

Let me tell you a secret. I have met a lot of characters in my Disney travels – Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White, Belle, Jasmine, Aurora, Tiana, the list goes on. I never hardly ever wait in those insane lines you see in the parks to meet them.

What’s my secret? Character dining. You get to relax and give your feet a break, enjoy a nice meal with your family, and your favorite characters come to you while you dine. In fact, I may have already spoiled my children with these experiences. On our last visit to Disney World, my daughter saw Goofy strolling through the park en route to his meet-up location. She smiled and waved, genuinely excited to see him. When I asked her if she’d like to wait in line to meet him, she looked at me like I was crazy.

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Character meals are also a good way to gauge whether or not your children are terrified of the characters or not. On our first family trip, Aidan was three, and Neely was barely over a year old. Our first stop after checking in was dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table. At the time, you’d meet Cinderella in the lobby, then Fairy Godmother and some of the mice put on a show during dinner. Those mice? Terrifying, apparently. Check the bottom right corner of that photo above – that’s a screaming baby. We didn’t bother with character meets the rest of our vacation.

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On our next visit, we ate dinner at Chef Mickey’s on our first night. By this time, Aidan was six, and Neely was three. Neely was in heaven meeting Mickey Mouse and company. Aidan pretended he could care less, but most of the characters could at least coax a smile from him. We repeated Cinderella’s Royal Table a few nights later, and meeting five of her favorite princesses at one meal was a highlight of the trip for Neely.

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Most kids enjoy meeting their favorite Disney characters. Character dining experiences make this less of a headache for parents.

Me & Minnie

Okay, some adults are a little nuts about it, too. 🙂

Where should you eat? What characters can you find at which restaurants? I’m glad you asked.

Restaurant Location Meals Characters
1900 Park Fare Grand Floridian Magic Kingdom area Breakfast

Dinner

Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, Mad Hatter at breakfast; Cinderella and Prince Charming at dinner
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall Norway Pavilion at EPCOT Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Snow White, Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, Princess Aurora, Mary Poppins
Cape May Café Beach Club Resort

EPCOT area

Breakfast Goofy & friends
Chef Mickey’s Contemporary Resort

Magic Kingdom area

Breakfast

Dinner

Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Donald Duck & Goofy
Cinderella’s Royal Table Magic Kingdom Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Cinderella and other Disney princesses
The Crystal Palace Magic Kingdom Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and friends
Garden Grill EPCOT Dinner Chip & Dale, Mickey Mouse, and others
Hollywood & Vine Hollywood Studios Breakfast

Lunch

Disney Junior Friends, such as Jake, Sofia, Handy Manny, and Doc McStuffins
Mickey’s Backyard BBQ The Campsites at Fort Wilderness Dinner Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Chip & Dale
‘Ohana Polynesian Resort

Magic Kingdom area

Breakfast Lilo & Stitch, Mickey Mouse, Pluto
Tusker House Animal Kingdom Breakfast

Lunch

Safari Donald Duck and friends

My family’s personal favorites are Chef Mickey’s and Cinderella’s Royal Table. Just know that if you are using Disney’s dining plan, it’ll cost you two of your table service credits to eat at Cindy’s. If princesses are a must, but you want to conserve meal credits, 1900 Park Fare and Akershus are great alternatives. If you’re planning your Disney vacation with me, I’ll help you get reservations for these fun places!

There really is a character meal for just about everyone, and you can’t beat the convenience of being able to skip some of those meet and greet lines.

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Tubing!

When I was a kid, we used to go tubing. It usually involved hunting down a sketchy backwoods mechanic with inner tubes to spare, questionable parking on the side of a winding, two-lane road, and hiking the same section of the Pigeon River (or was it the Little Pigeon River?) a time or fifty to ride the “rapids” over and over and over again.

Here in North Dakota, it means something totally different. Like everything else, it involves snow! Last weekend, it was warm enough to be outside without it being painful, so we gave it a go.

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There’s a place north of here called Bottineau Winter Park where you can have the whole Northern tubing experience. They have fun slides built, and you can rent tubes from them. Quite possibly the best part is the tube lift. I never knew there was such a thing. Each tube has a rope with a handle attached, and the lift has these hooks where they stick the handle. It drags you right up the hill!

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Here are my boys, waiting to be dragged up the hill.

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And my girl, also waiting.

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Me and my girl, about to slide down for the first time. Neely was actually terrified at the beginning. We started sliding down the first hill, and she was gripping my hands on the handles like her life depended on it. So I, being the good mother I am (or a total nut), started to yell, “Wheeeeeeeeee!” She started laughing at me and forgot about being scared. It was all downhill from there. Get it? 😉

Everyone had fun. Even Aidan, who claims to be afraid of heights. Except for that one time I ran over him at the bottom of the hill. Oops!

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Magical Monday – runDisney

I thought that, since there is a runDisney event coming up this weekend, this would be a great week to talk about Disney’s race weekends.

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This year, Disney is hosting a grand total of seven running event weekends at its parks – the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, Tinkerbell Half Marathon Weekend, Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend, the Expedition Everest Challenge, Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler Weekend, and the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend. All of these events have sold out, with the exception of Tower of Terror and Wine & Dine. At time of posting, Tower of Terror is 50% full, and registration for Wine & Dine has not yet opened.

In the last several years, Disney races have really increased in popularity. I registered for the 2013 Princess Half Marathon in October 2012, and registration had been open for a couple months. I recall the race being about 70% full when I finally committed. For 2014, this race sold out in a matter of hours. When registration for the Disneyland Half Marathon in late August opened a few weeks ago, it sold out in less than 12 hours.

Within the last year, runDisney has added a 10K to almost all of their event weekends, combining them with the 5K and half marathons already in place to form some sort of challenge. For the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend, it’s the Dopey Challenge – that’s a 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon run in four consecutive days for a total of 48.6 miles. Last year, the worst you could do was be “Goofy” and run the half and the full marathons back to back for a total of 39.3 miles.  The Princess Race weekend has now added the Glass Slipper Challenge, where you run a 10K and the half marathon within two days. The Disneyland Half Marathon weekend added a 10K last year, adding the Dumbo Double Dare if you finish both races. The addition of the 10K races and challenges seems to have amped up the race weekends’ popularity by leaps and bounds.

If you want to runDisney, you have to plan ahead. Way ahead. If you visit the runDisney website, each race has an e-mail signup where you enter your e-mail address and receive a reminder in your inbox with the date and time registration will open for that particular race. You need to be at the computer the moment registration opens if you want to guarantee a spot.

runDisney Charity Groups

However, if you forgot or didn’t get to the computer fast enough on registration day, there is still another way to participate in runDisney events. If you click into the event you’re interested in and choose the “Registration” tab, there is a subcategory that says “Charity Groups.” Here, you will see a list of charitable organizations that have reserved bibs for the race. Each has its own set of requirements for how you can run as part of their team. Usually, it’s a dollar amount that you commit to raise in funds for that charity in exchange for a spot in the race. The upside is that you are guaranteed a bib even if the race sells out. Most of these teams will also have special room discounts for the event weekend as well. Some will even pay for your room if you raise enough money for their cause.

I love runDisney events. As compared with other races, they are much more light-hearted. There will be some serious competitors, but most of the runners you’ll see on the course are mostly there to have a good time. I love the excuse to wear a fun Disney costume, and running through Cinderella’s castle cannot be beat. There are characters stationed along the route, so if you’re not aiming for a certain finish time, you can stop and take pictures. There is music and laughter. The spectators are having as much fun as the racers. It’s just wonderful.

I also love there are so many events to choose from – kids’ races, 5K’s, 10K’s, half marathons, marathons…there is really something for every kind of runner (or walker! as long as you stay ahead of the balloon ladies) out there.

Pre Race

If you have cheerleaders traveling to the race with you, I highly recommend the ChEAR squad packages. I brought a friend with me to the race last year, and I bought her the Gold ChEAR squad package. She got a t-shirt, blanket, Mickey clappers, reserved seating, private restroom access, and drinks. I figured it was the least I could do, since she was venturing out at 3:30am with me. 🙂

My biggest tips for future Disney runners?

1. Train, but don’t take yourself too seriously. It is Disney.

2. Wear a costume. (Definitely makes it hard to take yourself too seriously.)

3. Stay on property. Traffic on race days is super crazy. It is so nice to get on the bus from your resort and not have road rage by the time you arrive at the start line.

Need a room for your upcoming event? You know who to talk to. 🙂 audra@atimetotreasuretravel.com

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Disney Nostalgia

Nemo & FriendsI’ve been digging through my old Disney photos, trying to see what might be useful for upcoming posts. The photos from my kids’ first trip just make my heart melt. The Seas with Nemo & Friends at EPCOT has always been one of our favorites. Look at that fuzzy head! And those cheeks! And those chubby wubby legs! And let’s not forget my little guy making mischief in the background. Typical.

I have nothing but fond memories of this trip. Further proof that you can absolutely take babies to Disney World and have fun! 🙂

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It’s almost Valentine’s Day!

DSC_0188We’ve been getting ready for Valentine’s Day around here! This year, I have completely abandoned the Pinterest project boards. My feed has been bombarded with pink and red pretty much since the day after Christmas. And here’s the thing. I love Pinterest. I really do. Sometimes, though, spending too much time on the site does nothing but make me feel bad about myself for not taking time to assemble cute handmade goodies for both my kids’ classes. Other times, I fall in with the masses and am one of the four moms that hand out Reindeer Noses at Christmas. This Valentine’s Day, I resolved not to let all those uber-creative moms sharing their projects on the interwebs get me down. I spent $5 at Wal-Mart on boxed cards, and these little guys loved them. They had fun signing the cards and adding stickers, and that is all that matters.

We did put a little more effort into the boy’s Valentine box. BUT, I am proud to say, I did not use the internet to find an idea. We brainstormed, decided on a course of action, and I figured out a way to make it happen all by myself. It’s another good reminder that I don’t need to rely on other people to be creative for me.

What kind of box did he make?

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A Lego! I know. It’s really not that hard to execute. I’m proud of it anyway. He was proud of it too, until some jerk kid knocked one of the pegs off the top as soon as he got it to school. Sorry if it’s your jerk kid I’m talking about, but seriously? Who does that? Meany pants.

I’m trying not to dwell on it. I am getting excited about the heart-shaped pizzas that we’re celebrating with this year. Oh, yes. Valentine’s Day at our house is fancy. 🙂

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Magical Monday – When to Visit Disney World

It’s Monday, and you know what that means…it’s time to answer another of your questions!

The actual question was, “When is the cheapest time to visit with kiddos?” The cheapest times are in the off-season, and they’re also the least crowded times. Double bonus if you’re traveling to Disney World with children. Or at all.

The busiest times at Disney World are also the most expensive. If you’re trying to avoid crowds, you should absolutely not go to Disney World over Christmas Break, Spring Break, or as soon as school dismisses for the summer. If you can swing an off-season trip, it will save you a lot of time waiting in lines and a lot of dollars.

The least busy times at Walt Disney World parks are:

  • January until Presidents’ Day week in February – with the exceptions of New Year’s Day and the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend
  • September (after Labor Day) until the week prior to Thanksgiving
  • The week after Thanksgiving until the week before Christmas
WDW 2014 Crowd Calendar

Graphic from yourfirstvisit.net

Historically, Disney has released some of their best discounts during these time periods as well. There was a great room and ticket package available this January and February, as well as some room only discounts. In the past, there have also been free dining promotions released in the fall months. The rack rate for rooms is also at its lowest during these times of year.

If you can’t pull any of those off, there are some good secondary choices where crowd levels at Disney World are still pretty moderate.

  • After Presidents’ Day week in February through early March (before Spring Breakers begin to arrive)
  • Late April through early June (except for Memorial Day weekend)
  • The first half of Thanksgiving week

There will likely be discounts available for these more moderate times, too. Right now, there are room discounts for rooms at select hotels for stays most nights March 14 – April 12 and April 20 – June 15, 2014. (Trips using this discount must be booked by March 31, 2014.)

The summer is always busy at Disney World. If you must travel during the summer months, wait a few weeks after school dismisses. Those first few weeks will be the craziest.

Ticket prices do not change throughout the year. Disney usually releases their annual ticket price changes during the summer. The most expensive tickets (when you look at what you’ll be paying to enter a park each day) will be one-, two-, and three-day passes. After three days, the cost of the ticket only increases by about $12 per day. The longer you stay, the better the value. There is only about a $50 difference in cost between a 7-day ticket and a 3-day ticket.

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Our kids always decide it’s time to wrestle when we want a Cinderella Castle picture.

From personal experience, you can make the most of a trip to Disney World at any time of year if your expectations are in the right place and you manage your time well. The first time we took our kids to Disney World was Thanksgiving weekend in November, and there were 6 adults and 2 little ones in our group. My kids were still too small to ride any of Disney’s thrill rides, and those are the rides that generally have the longest lines. We went with the expectation that we wouldn’t be able to see and do everything in four days at Disney World with a 1 year old and a 3 year old. And we didn’t. And you know what? It was a wonderful trip anyway. I loved getting to spend time with my family over the holidays. I loved seeing the parks and hotel decorated for the holidays. It was truly magical.

Two years later, we took the kids back to Disney World. This time, they were 3 and 6 years old, and it was just our family of four traveling. We went in mid-June, so again, a higher crowd time. We used FastPasses, took advantage of Extra Magic Hours, went to the parks even when it poured rain (we showed up in the middle of a tropical storm), and again, we had a great time. We didn’t miss out on anything the kids wanted to do, and we were able to take a break most afternoons, which is a must when you still have a napper in the family.

My last visit was February of last year, and I didn’t take any kids with me. Instead, I ran the Princess Half Marathon and had a Disneymoon with my best friend. Since the trip before that had been in the summer, I could definitely tell a major difference in crowd levels. You can tour the parks at a very laid-back and leisurely pace in February, and we probably saw larger crowds than other dates because it was an event weekend.

All of that is simply to say, if you can visit Disney World in the off-season, do it. You will not regret it, and you will most likely be able to get a wonderful deal. If your kids aren’t in school yet, now’s the time to travel! (unless you don’t have a problem pulling your children out of school to go on vacation) If you can’t manage an off-season trip to Disney World, don’t stress. There is usually some kind of discount available, and I can give you tips for managing lines and crowds.

As always, if you have any specific questions or are ready to plan a trip, please e-mail me: audra@atimetotreasuretravel.com

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Puppy Love

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This little girl loves her dog. I love when I stumble upon sweet scenes like this.

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Magical Monday – What does a Disney travel planner do?

Hello, future Disney travelers!

Recently, I reached out on my Facebook page and asked what you want to know about traveling to Disney destinations. Most of the questions I received were with regard to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, so I will be posting here to answer those questions. I hope that as I do this, more of you will make suggestions for things you’d like to learn more about. Since I’m starting out on a Monday, I’ll try to make Monday the day I add new Disney posts. I think I’ll call it Magical Monday.

One of the first questions asked was what do I, as a Disney travel planner, actually do for you? I thought this would be an excellent place to start.

As a Disney travel planner, I have expertise regarding all of Disney’s different vacation options – Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Lines, Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii, and Adventures by Disney. I have hands-on experience at Disney World, Disneyland, and Aulani. (I hope to add Disney Cruise Lines to this list soon!)

When it’s time to plan your vacation, we’ll talk about who is traveling, your dreams and wishes for your trip, and begin making magic from there!

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If you’re planning to visit Florida, I can help you choose the best dates to travel and recommend which of Disney’s resorts fits your family’s preferences, needs, and of course, budget. Disney has resorts in every shape, size, and value to choose from. (I will post more about Disney’s resorts in the future, because I can go into great detail on this subject.) I can help you determine which Disney dining plan is a good fit for your family, and once we have a resort reservation in process, I will make any dining reservations your family needs. I also make any reservations you want for princess or pirate makeovers. I can help you navigate Disney’s new Magic Band and FastPass+ system and recommend touring plans based on the ages and preferences of those traveling in your party. If you’re flying into Orlando, I set up transportation for your family from the airport to your resort. It is my goal to make sure you have a magical, worry-free vacation.

Once we have all the details of your trip sorted, I put together an itinerary, so you can look at everything in one place. If you run into a snag or have a question while on vacation, I am still available to help. I want you to have a great time!

Disney discounts are constantly changing. If you book a vacation with me and a discount becomes available during your travel dates, I make sure you are getting the best deal possible. I’ll call and get the new discount applied to your rate, so you don’t have to. Did you get a Disney mailer with a PIN code discount inside? I can help you use it.

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I help in a similar way if you’re planning a trip to Disneyland in California. The biggest difference between Disney’s properties in California and Florida is size. Disneyland is much smaller, and there are only a few Disney hotels to choose from. If you are purchasing tickets through me but don’t want to stay at a Disneyland hotel, I can also help you find one of Disney’s Good Neighbor hotels that fits your budget. Disneyland does not offer a dining plan, but there are still several fun restaurants where we might make a reservation to make your trip special.

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Are you considering a Disney cruise? I’ll help you find the perfect stateroom for your family. I can help arrange flights and transportation between the airport and the ship. I’ll make sure you know what amenities are available on your cruise, so your family can have a wonderful vacation. I can even help choose excursions for while you’re in port. Based on the total cost of your cruise, I may even throw in a special bonus. 🙂

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Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii is truly a treat. It is located in Ko Olina, on the western shore of Oahu. This resort is far enough away from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu and Waikiki to be truly relaxing. The lagoons here are perfect for swimming and sunning on the beach; the water is nothing short of gorgeous. There are several pools and water play options for children at Aulani, and the resort boasts the island’s only private snorkeling lagoon. I have not had the pleasure of spending the night at Aulani, but I was able to spend an afternoon exploring with my children. We had a blast meeting Mickey and Minnie, feeding koi, and enjoying shave ice (one of my favorite things about Hawaii!) in the ocean breeze.

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Adventures by Disney offers guided tours of vacation destinations all over the world! Their tours of Italy, Germany, and Greece top my wish list. These trips are all family-friendly, but there are a few adult exclusive travel dates. There are even some adventures to be had right here in the U.S.

Every good vacation requires planning, and I can plan your Disney vacation so that your main concern is enjoying yourself.

Oh! I almost forgot to mention. My services are free!

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