Magical Memories – When Expedition Everest Opened

Sometimes we need the kind of getaway that only a Disney vacation can provide.  While I treasure the memories from all our family vacations, one trip in particular stands out in my mind as being especially cherished for several reasons.

When Expedition Everest Opened

Spring Break, 2006.  This vacation was unusually important to our family.  In December, 2005, we’d been terrified by a potentially serious health scare.  After a series of tests followed by a lymph node biopsy and a seemingly interminable wait for lab results, we found out that Raymond did not have cancer and was, in fact, perfectly fine.  Weeks of worry through the holiday season had taken a toll on all of us.  By mid-January, I knew we needed a Disney vacation as soon as possible.  The Disney Bubble beckoned.  As a family, we needed to regroup, recharge, and regain our equilibrium.  December had been incredibly stressful and we badly needed to shake off the lingering aftereffects.  The fastest I could manage to get us to Disney World was by Spring Break.

Megan was 15, Joseph 10 and they got along exceptionally well (and still do). While he’s a thrill ride junkie and she’s in love with all of Disney’s live shows, they compromised well enough that year for each to do and see everything they wanted.  We were completely blown away by Animal Kingdom and could not believe our good fortune when we found out that Expedition Everest was in soft-opening status.  We snagged FastPasses and also used the standby line which seemed to us an Imagineering marvel – such detail!  So incredibly entertaining and is still today my favorite queue at Disney World.  I remember when we boarded the tea train for the first time how tiny all the plants were on that first segment of the ride.  All in neat rows, we could tell they’d just been planted.

As we climbed the Forbidden Mountain and took in the view, we had no idea what to expect.  When we came to the broken tracks, flew backwards, saw the Yeti’s shadow and heard the Yeti’s “voice”, we were completely and utterly amazed by the perfect combination of thrilling ride and amazing details.  Then we saw the actual Yeti in all its glory!  Huge, entirely covered with brown dreadlocks and with an enormous simian arm that reached right out and took a swipe at us…we were in awe!  The experience was unforgettable – we’d found the YETI and we wanted to get back up that mountain immediately to see it all again!Expedition Everest Queue Yeti Museum Expedition Everest Train Platform Gear Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest

We rode multiple times that day and again later in the week.  Thanks to some kind strangers who gave us four FastPasses for Everest on their way out of the park, Megan and Joseph used all four to ride twice more.  They ended up riding this newest, most wonderful ride a total of seven times before we went home.

Disney magic has always worked wonders for our family, but Spring Break, 2006 is a particularly remarkable example.  Never had we needed a vacation more and our favorite vacation destination did not let us down.  As the week ended, we found ourselves soothed and tired (in a good way).  We were ready to get back on track with our busy lives when we got home.

Is Disney World your happy place?  What Disney vacation stands out most in your memory?


Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom – A Feast for the Senses

Welcome Show at Magic KingdomWhen I daydream about being at Walt Disney World – which I do often and for extended periods of time (Don’t you?) – Magic Kingdom is one of my favorite places to bring to mind.  It’s easy, thanks to my memories of those incredible, magical Disney details, to recall certain sounds, sights, smells, flavors and feelings.  What makes my family passionate about our favorite vacation destination is how easy it is to re-live (in our memories) our happiest Disney moments!

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom – A Feast for the Senses

Take all those favorite moments and add them together.  It’s easy to imagine myself in each of my favorite Magic Kingdom locations.  Here’s what’s going on in my mind:

The cool, humid air inside the queue for Pirates of the Caribbean – Often a welcome respite from the Florida sun, the smooth feel of the plastic seat when I board the boat, the smell (OH, that smell!) of the water as the deep, eerie voice warns, “Dead men tell no tales“.   Then I can see, perfectly in my mind, all the best (to me) moments of that attraction!  The dog with the jail key and the pirates behind bars whistling and coaxing him, the pirate on the bridge with his dirty food and hairy leg, so many great details!  “We wants the redhead!”IMG_4466

See how easy it is?  Engage all your senses in your memories and it’s the next best thing to being there!  Let me get you going with a few more iconic Magic Kingdom moments, categorized by sense involved!RM-Magic-Kingdom-Autumn

Sight – Main Street U.S.A.’s colors, signs, window decorations…the motion of the crowd and the Main Street Vehicles against the backdrop of Cinderella Castle.  Imagine the glint of light reflecting off the castle’s turrets or the details that are lit up in the queue for Space Mountain – oh, wait! How about Space Mountain itself – the exterior is an awesome sight.  As is the sheer magic of Big Thunder Mountain!!!RM-Space-Mountain-Sign

Sound – The Dapper Dans, Casey’s Corner piano player, the screams and booming whoosh of the Splash Mountain logs plunging into the briar patch!  Do you know that weird clicking sound in the first part of Haunted Mansion?  I love that sound!  How about the radio voice in the queue for Jungle Cruise?  Wonderful!  Doesn’t Jiminy Cricket’s voice make you SO happy during Wishes?  I also adore (beyond a reasonable amount) the prospector’s voice on Big Thunder – “…hang onto them hats and glasses, cause this here’s the wildest ride in the wilderness!” The Red Rock of Big Thunder Mountain

Touch – My kids have always made fun of me for my need to touch store merchandise as I shop.  I can’t help it – how things feel is part of the experience!  Take the seats on The PeopleMover – not only are they a beautiful blue, they feel great!  I also love the smoothness of those clam mobiles in Under the Sea – Voyage of the Little Mermaid in Fantasyland.  Have you ever noticed the contrast between the felt part and the ears on a classic Earhat?  Part of what makes a churro a great snack is the crunch when you bite into it!  Same with the outside of a Mickey Premium Ice Cream Bar.RM-Churro

Taste – Doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of Magic Kingdom popcorn, Dole Whip, Citrus Swirl, churro, ice cream, turkey leg, Mickey pretzel or hotdog – everyone has their favorite Disney foods and Magic Kingdom offers plenty of the good stuff!  Personal favorite – the sweet and spicy chicken waffle at Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square.RM-Sweet-&-Spicy-Chicken-Waffle-Sandwich

Smell – I’ve already mentioned the water smell in Pirates, but how about that delicious smell on Main Street? The exhaust from the Tomorrowland Speedway? The pies in Mickey’s PhilharMagic?  What are your favorite scents in Magic Kingdom?

Hopefully by now you’ve got the hang of this total Magic-Kingdom-memory-by-senses thing and are completely immersed in happy memories!  Now it’s your turn!  What special things make your pixie-dusted vacation memories special?   




7 Elements of a Great Disney Vacation

RM-BalloonsFor our family, after so many years of Disney vacations, there are certain aspects…particular elements I’ve identified that make each trip fantastic and unique.  So many things are the same – which is what brings us back, right?  Favorite rides, beloved snacks, c’mon! The pre-show dialogue for Soarin’ or MuppetVision3D, the upside-down singing ‘possums on Splash Mountain or hearing “We Wants the Redhead” on Pirates or even the smell of Rome burning on Spaceship Earth are all awesome and have each become an expected treasure on every trip!  Today I’m talking about the DIFFERENCES that are important.  Gee, this is harder to explain than I thought it would be.

There are very identifiable somethings on each and every Disney vacation that make a trip memorable.  If our vacations were all exactly the same, it would be hard for us to distinguish one trip from another – see where I’m going with this?  Every Disney vacation is memorable for a particular list of reasons – I’ve thought long and hard about this!  Here are the…

7 Elements of a Great Disney VacationRM-Fiesta-Donald

1. Characters – Because he’s my favorite, I’ll use Donald for this example.  On one trip to Disney World a few years back, Raymond and I ditched the kids allowed Megan and Joseph some time on their own one morning.  In Magic Kingdom, Raymond and I ran into Frontierland Donald and were able to have our picture taken with him – I remember how tiny he was and how I had to lean down to hug him.  During this year’s Princess Half Marathon Weekend, I met Fiesta Donald at the Mexican Pavilion in Epcot.  He was particularly funny and made ma laugh a lot.  And let’s not forget the Donald interaction that made me a fan for life.  All the same character – but each interaction was completely different and made unique memories for each vacation.

Cast Member in Norway Pavilion2. Cast Members – Some of them are generic – pleasant, but generally unmemorable.  I’m talking about the extra-special, Pixie-Dust-specialists that make your day, or even your entire trip, extra Disney-ish.  I talked about the critical importance of Cast Members in this post and I stand firm by my assessment – Disney Cast Members are crucial in making each vacation magical and memorable.

3. The Perfect Souvenir – Lots of times, it’s a single Disney pin trade that we remember because we found a particular pin we’d been hunting for.  Maybe it’s several pins – like the Orange Bird collection I started in 2012 and completed in 2014.  We fondly remember the Disney cruise we were on when we bought Remy for our kitchen.  Every time someone compliments my watch I think about our first Food & Wine Festival trip last year for our anniversary.  See?  Inexpensive or a splurge – the perfect souvenir can set one Disney vacation apart from another in your mind.

4. A Particularly Memorable Meal or Snack (or two or three) – Because it’s such an importantRM-Magic-Kingdom-Parade-Watching-1996 tradition to sit down together and relax at the end of the day, our family tends to remember particular table service dinners the most (Flying Fish comes to mind as one of the best memories).  Food and fun combos make me recall certain moments so clearly – having Mickey bars in Animal Kingdom just after getting completely soaked on Kali River Rapids.  Enjoying some Casey’s Corner fare while waiting for the parade on Main Street USA in Magic Kingdom – I remember it so well and that was 19 years ago!

5. Magical Details – There are always new discoveries to be made!  Hidden Mickeys, footprints in the walkways in Animal Kingdom, the windows on Main Street USA or in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, interactive queues…too many to name, but finding new and interesting, funny or clever Disney touches makes us happy – AND makes great vacation memories.

6. Live Entertainment – On a Disney cruise, on the Boardwalk, around Epcot’s World Showcase,Epcot's Voices of Liberty parades, musicians, comedians, magicians…For us, finding these unique and wonderful entertainers makes our vacations extra memorable.  I will remember the details of the first time I heard the Voices of Liberty forever.

7. A Hilarious Happening…that will later become an inside joke.  Megan’s face when she found out SHE was the Rebel Spy!  Joseph “getting engaged” to Drizella at 1900 Park Fare.  That snake in the China pavilion at Epcot…all these and dozens more unexpected, unplanned and perfectly wonderful moments are precious – like souvenirs in our memories that set each Disney vacation apart from the rest.

I really want to know!  What elements for a great Disney vacation are on your list? 

My Disney Best of 2014

Memory Maker Photo in Disney's Hollywood StudiosWhat a great year this has been!  I’d been looking forward to 2014 and it did not disappoint.  I can hardly believe it’s almost over!  Two trips to Walt Disney World – one of them a second honeymoon – and a full year of blogging about my love for all things Disney made for a great big bunch of fun!  Just in the last few weeks, even more exciting things have happened.  I could gush about the blessings of 2014 forever, but I want you guys to hang in with me all the way to the end of the list, so I’ll narrow my happy moments down to ten of the very best!

My Disney Best of 2014

10. Best Disney Recipe at Home – I had trying a couple of recipes on this year’s Disney New Year’s Resolutions list.  Hands down, those Maui Potatoes (formerly of ‘Ohana fame) were the most delicious Disney delicacy produced in my kitchen with my own little hands.'Ohana Cheesy Potatoes in Process 1

9. Most Popular Reviews – I wrote blog posts about a wide variety of topics, but by far the most popular of all those posts were the reviews of Disney’s Memory Maker.  We totally blew it on the first go (review here), but gave it another chance after we learned some important lessons and totally got our money’s worth on the second try.Character Meet-and-Greet with Sully

8. Most Relaxing Disney Moment – It was a tremendous, extravagant splurge, but worth every penny – the massage for two in the Senses Spa at the Grand Floridian.RM-Grand-Floridian-Senses-Sign

7. Best Disney Meal – This is TOUGH!  Raymond and I enjoyed Citricos (Grand Floridian) more than I can say, but because Megan and Joseph were with us for this incredible dining experience, I’m going to have to say the Flying Fish (Boardwalk) takes the top spot in this category.  The atmosphere, the food, and the service (Bob!) were all impeccable.  We couldn’t have had a better time anywhere on or off Disney property.Flying Fish Cafe Artisanal Cheeses

6. Best Disney Purchases – I bought some limited edition t-shirts and some great new pins and they were all pretty darn special, but my best Disney purchases this year were the new Christmas ornaments Raymond and I picked out together at Disney’s Days of Christmas in Downtown Disney.  We had a great time choosing just the right mementos of our vacation then enjoyed the memories those ornaments brought to mind as we decorated our tree.Haunted Mansion Mickey Ornament

5. Best Disney Snack – I’m only making this a category because I threw myself into Disney snack consumption this year with gusto!  I’m still reeling over the number of snacks I purchased and consumed in the name of research.  It’s no wonder I gained a few extra pounds!  The winner has to be the Croissant Donut (a.k.a. Cronut) from Epcot’s Refreshment Port.  It’s the perfect snack food…but not for sharing.IMG_3812

4. Best New Disney Endeavor: Hosting a New Podcast – If you haven’t heard, The Disney Exchange is a brand new Disney podcast.  Episodes 1 and 2 are available from all your favorite podcast sources.  Listen to me.  Really, go download an episode and listen to me and my buddies Nick and Dave while we debate, argue, laugh, and joke our way through discussions of our favorite Disney topics.  With over 80 years of combined Disney travel experience between the three of us, sooner or later we’re bound to say something useful to someone somewhere.  In the mean time, I am having a blast!TheDisneyExchangeLogo

3. Priceless Family Vacation Moments – It’s pretty challenging to coordinate schedules and get the four of us on vacation together, but we pulled it off in 2014 (and will do it one more time in 2015).  Those of you with small children will wonder if Disney vacations lose their magic when your kids grow up and I’m happy to tell you that in our family at least, Disney vacations have just gotten more fun.  I savored every moment of our May vacation, but enjoyed the evening meals we shared together the most.  Being together in the place where we’ve had so much fun through the years and created so many happy memories – looking across the table at our children and seeing the fun, happy, productive, well-adjusted adults they’ve become was indescribably special.Meg and Joe at Disney's Hollywood Studios

2. Best Disney-Induced Euphoria – Feeling Like a Kid Again – Even though I was about to turn 50 and Raymond had just turned 60, when the two of us were at Disney World in October, we were kids again.  We didn’t have to be anything to anyone, we just were.  Relaxed, go-with-the-flow, joking around, trying new things, meeting new people, doing what we wanted, when we wanted, soaking up the Disney magic and the joy of each other’s company.  It’s good to be married to your best friend – especially one who loves Disney as much as you do!Magic Shot at MNSSHP

1. Best Disney Gift – New Friends – I’ve said it many times this year in many different ways, but the Disney fan community is just amazing.  I’ve met some of the nicest, funniest, most caring people you could possibly imagine.  If I could change anything about this year, I would have used pixie dust to bring us all together at Disney World so I could meet everyone face to face!  I was lucky enough to meet Nick and Barbie (Disney Musings) and Jane and Heather (fellow Disney Divas) and a couple of dozen other fantastic folks, but there are scores of friends yet to meet!  Hello 2015!!!RM-Barbie-Nick-Lisa

What’s on your list?  What were your best Disney moments of 2014?