Thursday, May 27, 2010

2010 Doorway to Dreams Event

Early Saturday morning I rousted the kids from bed and got them dressed. We loaded into the car and started the hour and a half drive down the road to Doorway to Dreams in Schaumburg, IL. Doorway to Dreams is a Disney Vacation Club sales center, there you can take a tour of a two bedroom villa, talk with a guide and find out all sorts of information about Disney’s “best kept secret”, the Disney Vacation Club. And while you’re there making the best Disney vacation decision ever (a purchase of course!) you’re kids can visit the supervised Disney kids club to play, do arts and crafts, and watch movies while noshing on refreshments as they wait for you. This wasn’t just any trip into D2D though, we were headed to sales event.

A sales event? Yes! Because when Disney holds an event it’s always done with style. Held at the Improve Comedy Club, Disney takes over the space for the weekend. We checked in and had a seat in the lounge as we waited to be let in to seating. Being that my BFF and I don’t see each other very often we headed over the cash bar and ordered up something fruity with an umbrella in it. This was the closest that we’ve ever gotten to a Disney trip together.

Are you interested in finding out more about Disney Vacation Club? If so, stop in for a visit, or give Laurie Bailie a call at (815) 969-4154 and tell her that Kristen sent you.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bakerella does it again.

I love, love, love the website Bakerella.com, but what I love even more is the adorable Winne the Pooh Cake Pops that they designed for Disney Family.com. Check out the cute Hunny Pots as well!

Can't get enough of the cuteness? Bakerella.com also shows off how to make Mickey and Minnie cake balls!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tokyo Adventure

Another paper from my hospitality class. This takes a peak at Toyko, and of course, Tokyo Disneyland. One day I hope to visit Tokyo Disney Resort and see for myself the great adventures that it offers.

Sitting in the North Pacific Ocean off the shore of the Korean Peninsula is the eastern island nation of Japan. Only by opening its doors to outside trading in 1854 has this country preserved a rich cultural heritage, and developed a vibrant travel and tourism industry.

Japan’s population has roughly 127,078,679 people, making it the tenth most populated country in the world. Sixty-four percent of the population is between the ages of 15 and 64, with the median age being 44.2 years, making Japan one of the few countries with a population that is considered young (World Factbook, 2010).

Dotted by volcanoes, this island nation has a rough, uneven terrain. The four main islands of Hokkaido, Honsu, Shikoku and Kyushu are the most populated, although many of the smaller islands surrounding these four are also habitable (About.com/Geography, 2010). The mountainous peaks in the country reach to the sky, with the highest peak being Mount Fuji at 3,776 meters above sea level (World Factbook, 2010). Halfway up the eastern coast, Japan’s capital city Tokyo lies in the shadow of this superior mountain. Tokyo’s climate is temperate with an average temperate ranging between 61.7 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity at an average 60% (JapanVisitor.com, 2010). Japan, in common with many island nations, puts a primary focus on developing travel and tourism destinations.

At the time of this writing, Japan had no travel alerts or notifications of danger to travelers. To help the American traveler feel even more comfortable, it’s good to know that Japan has six United States Embassies across the country including one in Tokyo. Foreign travelers to Japan must have a current passport and return ticket for business or pleasure visits up 90 days long. According to the U.S. State Department (2010) “All foreign nationals entering Japan ... are required to provide fingerprint scans and to be photographed at the port of entry.” Though there have been no major terrorist events since 1995, travelers should always be aware of the possibility when travel plans are being made. The medical facilities in Japan are good, but English-speaking doctors which meet American expectations are rare and expensive. Japan has national medical coverage, so travelers should be aware that payment, or proof of ability to pay is required before treatment. Prescriptions written in the United States are not honored in Japan so travelers should be prepared before they leave (Travel.State.Gov, 2010).

Because Japan is an island nation, air transport and international tourism is a crucial part of the economy. Tokyo is home to two airports, Haneda and Nirita, with Nirita holding the place of “Japan’s most important international airport” according to Japan-Guide.com (2010). Most major airlines offer international service to Japan. Airline giants American and United Airlines both offer service from Boston, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles to Japan. However, Japanese-based All Nippon Airlines and Japan Airlines each offer full service to many metropolitan cities worldwide. As with all air travel, prices for tickets can vary depending on the season and seating class. For the best prices on tickets, travelers should consider visiting outside peak seasons or going through a local Japanese tourism specialist (Japan-Guide.com, 2010).

If the luxury of time is available or if flying isn’t an option, it is possible to travel to Japan from the United States by sea. Cruising is an age-old mode of travel and its very nature commands the relaxation that’s a natural partner with being at sea for an extended period of time. Traversing more than 4,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, the Holland America Cruise Line offers 34-day or 69-day cruises which docks in several Japanese ports. Dates for these voyages are rare—Holland features each once yearly. (Holland America Line, 2010).

Once in the metropolis of Tokyo, travelers will find several modes of public transportation that fan out across the city and surrounding areas, including streetcars, subways, buses, monorails, limos, and taxis. The Tokyo Metro subway operates upwards of thirteen lines that crisscross the city to take travelers and commuters to their destination.

No matter where one intends to go, transportation runs throughout Tokyo’s twenty-three wards. Japan is one of the major countries that has used the monorail as part of a comprehensive rail transportation system. There are three lines of the monorail system using upwards of 66 kilometers in rail. The Tokyo monorail has the distinction of “being the busiest and most profitable in the world” (UrbanRail.net, 2010).

One of Japan’s most famous attractions is also a form of transportation. Stretching across the main island of Honshu runs the world’s first lightning fast bullet train or “Shinkansen.” Connecting most major cities throughout the country at speeds exceeding 300 kilometers per hour the Shinkansen has been of benefit to both travelers and commuters since it’s opening in 1964. Reserved and non-reserved seating is available with a number of ticketing options (Japan-Guide.com, 2010).

A comfortable room is something that every traveler can appreciate, and the Tokyo area has many options to choose from. Quaint and family owned, a “minshuku” is the Japanese equivalent of an American bed and breakfast. The cost of staying at a minshuku is generally less than staying with a major hotel chain, and often includes two meals a day. Getting off the beaten path and discovering the genuine face of Japan is what minshuku is all about. Zen Bed and Breakfast is a well-known minshuku, and is a tranquil retreat where you get a traditional Japanese room with a private bath and air conditioning just a short stroll from Tokyo’s famous Asakusa district. A night’s stay for two people costs roughly $142 (bed-breakfast-world.com, 2010).

Those looking for budget accommodations may try the Saukura Hotel in Tokyo’s Jimbocho district. Sakura boasts a “bilingual staff, internet cafe, and bar available 24 hours a day” (Sakura Hotel, 2010). Offering 43 rooms in four different configurations of twin beds, Sakura is basic but extremely popular with backpackers and foreign guests. At around $82 per night the Sakura Hotel is a great option for people watching their spending (EyeWitness Travel p.110).

Sheraton is a name known worldwide for quality. With 802 well-appointed rooms the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel offers a lush environment with the appointments of a full-service resort property. The OASIS wing of the hotel offers many amenities including a spa and beauty salon, a florist, massage treatments, shopping arcade, three pools, a game room, and fitness facilities. Four restaurants and lounges are available on-site to suit dining needs from breakfast to cocktails. The spacious standard rooms at the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay feature two full signature Sweet Sleeper beds. Room rates vary with the season but start around $265 a night and go up from there. The hotel’s website offers seasonal deals and a best price guarantee (Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay, 2010).

And then there’s the Disney Ambassador. In the midst of the Tokyo Disneyland Resort, the dramatic and elegant property has an art deco flair that sparkles and delights guests with plenty of Disney’s signature panache. Mickey’s hotels are not inexpensive but are always worth it as their service and amenities are beyond compare. The Misty Mountain Pool is an outdoor pool themed in the style of Peter Pan and is a delight to children of all ages. If swimming is not your cup of tea, shop in the arcade or stroll through the property’s four themed gardens. Standard room rates start at $300 a night. If money is no object, try Mickey’s Penthouse Suite for $3200 a night. Rooms with two, three, or four full sized beds can be reserved and are perfect for accommodating large families that wish to stay together. Five restaurants are on site for dinning needs. Chef Mickey’s is a casual buffet restaurant with a special magic twist. For around $40 (per adult, children receive a discounted rate) hotel guests can enjoy a meal where they laugh and start the day off cheerfully playing with characters from classic Disney favorites. Lunch and dinner seatings featuring this service are also available. The Ambassador is just one of three hotels that puts travelers right in the center of the Disneyland Resort property, each with a spectacular theme and the incomparable Disney service (Tokyo DisneyResort, 2010).

From historical to modern, facilities for travelers are widespread throughout Japan. Tokyo and the wards, cities, and villages that comprise this metropolis are home to an exciting array of attractions, and Disney is one of the biggest draws, especially for the domestic Japanese traveler.

Like this paper’s author, Japan has always had a love of all things Disney and in 2009 Tokyo Disneyland had the third highest attendance amongst theme parks worldwide (Themeparkinsider.com, 2010).

Sitting just outside the city of Tokyo in Urayasu on the shore of Tokyo Bay sits the heart of the Tokyo Disney Resort: Tokyo Disneyland. Offering classic Disney magic, Tokyo Disneyland is centered on the classic castle, which anchors the seven themed lands. Attractions and shows are familiar to anyone who has visited the Magic Kingdoms in the States, with thrilling rides, lively entertainment and character meet-n-greets. Casual dining is widely available throughout the park with a wide selection of buffet, counter service, and wagon establishments. One popular location is The Hungry Bear Restaurant, a counter service establishment in Westernland. With a wide variety of spacious seating options both indoor and out “This rustic, counter-service restaurant specializes in curry dishes and beef hash, offering larger portions for hearty appetites” (Tokyo Disney Resort, 2010).

Right next door to Tokyo Disneyland is Tokyo DisneySEA, the park that is widely regarded as the most spectacular of Disney’s many parks around the world. It was the first Disney park to open outside the United States that Disney built, and continues to be one of the top five most popular theme parks in the world with more than 12 million people through the gate in 2009 (Themeparkinsider.com, 2010). Tokyo DisneySEA takes guests on an adventurous journey to seven exotic ports of call packed with discovery and romance. Dozens of shows and attractions entertain guests that arrive from all over the world to visit (Tokyo DisneyResort, 2010).

Visitors who crave a look at Japan’s past can find it outside theme parks in the historic areas of Tokyo. In the Askusa neighborhood is Senso-ji, an ancient Temple built to honor Kannon, Goddess of Compassion. The temple has been destroyed many times since its first construction in the 7th century. Originally built in the seventh century to house a golden statue of Kannon, the temple as been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt. It remains a secret as to whether the golden statue of Kannon still exists (Yanagihara p.26). Senjo-ji is the only remaining Buddhist temple in Japan that holds strong focus in the community. The heart of this community, the living temple is visited by millions of faithful each year and should be on every Buddhist’s list of places to see while in Tokyo (Bornoff p.103). There’s a subway stop for specifically for the temple, so it’s easy to find and visit. Senso-ji subway station also offers other transportation options. Visitors can catch a rickshaw and take a tour of the historic area. Askusa is famous for tempura, and a stop at the well-known Edokko restaurant is a great choice for lunch. Inside the traditional wooden facade and white hanging curtains, guests find an authentic atmosphere and dine on local specialties such as “Tendon”, a shrimp tempura over rice (Yanagihara p. 79).

The Imperial Palace is a destination that shouldn’t be missed when traveling in Japan. It’s of special interest to the traveler who’s a history buff. Located in the Marunouchi district, and Home to the Emperor of Japan, the royal family has resided on the grounds since Edojo Castle was built in the 14th century. “The castle has been destroyed and rebuilt several times with the current structure built in 1969 after World War II” (Bornoff p. 59). Just inside the ceremonial gate is a special collection of art and artifacts from the Showa Emperor period. The east garden now occupies the original site of the historic Edojo Castle and is open free to the public except for Mondays and Fridays. Its elegant landscape is popular with joggers.

The Palace is opened for the public twice yearly, once on New Year and again on the Emperor’s birthday (Eyewitness Travel p. 43). Near by at the Shangri-La hotel, travelers can find elegant upscale dining at Piacere. This discerning Italian delight in the heart of Tokyo was created under the direction of Michelin Star Chef Andrea Accordi. With its unique interior seating guests can choose from over more than 200 fine wines as they dine while overlooking the Palace Gardens. Reservations are recommended at this one-of-a-kind luxury restaurant, where the prices match the high quality of the dishes (First Benefit, 2010).

Tokyo is a bustling modern city built on the strong roots of the Japanese culture. Attractions range from towering skyscrapers and iconic pop culture, to the Disney Resort, to luxurious gardens and spots of historic traditional charm. Dining in the area ranges from street carts to Michelin star cuisine. Tokyo Metropolis offers a wide variety of options for a wide range of travelers. For the budge-minded or the traveler to whom the finest is a way of life, a visit to Japan will not disappoint. This city a is a spectacular destination for all.

About.com/Geography (2010) Islands of Japan. Retrived from

Bornoff, Nicholas (2008). National Geographic Traveler. Washington, D.C.: Nat Geo.

Holland America Line. (2010). Find Cruises. Retrieved from http://www.hollandamerica.com

EyeWitness Travel. (2008). Tokyo. New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing.

First Benefit. (2010). Piacere. Retrieved from http://www.firstbenefit.jp/restaurants-bars/fine-dining/italian/piacere

Japan-Guide.com. (2010). International Air Travel. Retrieved from http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2034.html

Japan Tourist Info. (2010). Tokyo Facts. Retrieved from http://www.japanvisitor.com/index.php?cID=429&pID=1852

Sakura Hotel. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.sakura-hotel.co.jp

Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay. (2010). Overview. Retrieved from http://www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=361

Themeparkinsider.com. (2010). Tokyo DisneySEA. Retrieved from http://www.themeparkinsider.com/reviews/tokyo_disneysea/

UrbanRail.net. (2010). Tokyo. Retrieved from http://www.urbanrail.net/as/toky/tokyo.htm

US State Department Travel.State.Gov. (2010). Japan Country Specific Information. Retrieved from http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1148.html

World Factbook, The. (2010). East & Southeast Asia: Japan. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ja.html

Yanagihara, Wendy (2007). Tokyo Encounter. Melbourne: Lonley Planet Pty Ltd.

Zen Bed and Breakfast. (2010). Retrieved from http://homepage2.nifty.com/bedandbreakfastzen/

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Doorway to Dreams Sales Event

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010 at 4:00 PM we'll be attending a Disney Vacation Club sales event in Schaumburg, IL. The sales presentation is followed by a party full of Disney Magic and Pixie Dust. Come find out about how being a DVC member can work for your family!

More information can be found at http://dvcnews.com/index.php/

Disney Dream Updates

I can't wait until we set sail on the Disney Dream in May of 2011!

Civil War Days

Tori 2010 Katie & Tori 2010

This week my girls are volunteering at the local Museum Village as Junior Interpreters. Once a year the museum brings in reenactors to set up for the week and teach school kids all about the Civil War. My girls have experience with Civil War reenacting, and know a lot about what kids did during that time period. When looking at the group as a whole my girls are highly qualified for this, and I hope that the museum uses them to their advantage. This morning when I left they were teaching the other girls how to play Graces.

As I was dropping them off this morning a security guard said to me "We're going to have a lot of homeschoolers today." I smiled and agreed with him, but as I walked away his statement really gave me pause. My girls are home schooled and they learn about things by doing them. Reenacting and experimental archaeology let them experience how other people lived, not just hear about it. I guess you could say that it just proves that there are as many ways to homeschool as there are kids and parents out there doing it. As volunteers not only will the girls be learning about living during that time period for themselves, but they will be teaching younger kids about what it was like, and they're doing community service by helping make this experience possible for the hundreds of kids that will see them this week.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Celebrate with Sunday Supper

What's for Super? Tonight we celebrate with our Big Red Box Party! What better way to keep in the Disney spirit alive but to serve Uncle Walt's Own Chili? This delicious batch of hearty goodness serves 6 to 8.

2 lbs. coarse ground beef
2 onions, sliced
2 cloves garlic
cup oil
1 cup chopped celery
1 tsp. chili powder (depending on taste)
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 large can solid pack tomatoes
2 lbs. dry pink beans

Add a punch of the following spices:
1 little yellow Mexican chili pepper
Coriander seeds
Chili seeds
Cumin seeds
Fennel seeds
Dry ginger

Soak beans overnight in cold water. Drain, add water to cover (2 inches over beans), and simmer with onions until tender (about 4 hours). Meanwhile, prepare sauce by browning meat and minced garlic in oil. Add remaining ingredients, and simmer for 1 hour. When beans are tender, add sauce to beans and simmer for an hour.

This recipe can be found in "Cooking With Mickey" Vol 2 or on the web at D23, Walt's Own Chili

What Will You Celebrate?

Earlier this year I applied to become a member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel. The panel consists of about 20 dedicated Disney fans who share their real life experiences while responding to a myriad of questions about WDW from the general public. Well, I didn't make it onto the panel, but much to my delight I got the "consolation prize" of becoming an official member of the Mickey Moms Club. You see, in a brush of enlightenment realized that they had upwards of 20,000 men and women who were all Disney "experts" to their own communities. What better thing to do than tap their collective knowledge and enthusiasm by turning them into marketing testers? One opportunity that was presented to be through the Mickey Moms Club was the chance to host a Disney theme party.

Enter the Big Red Box. My party kit arrived in splendid condition on a sunny afternoon. Of course I had to open it right away to see what sort of swag I had been sent. Inside I found a delightful array of enough Disney themed gear to celebrate with 10 adults and 10 children. Disney had sent Mickey head balloons to Mickey Crazy straws, activity books and Fab Five magnets all in a neat little Disney Parks tote bag. The best part of the box was the beautiful print of all the Disney Princesses having Tea.

In the Big Red Box, Disney had sent instructions for the party. The Mouse made it clear that they weren't "sponsoring it" and we could celebrate as we liked Disney included party games, recipe ideas, a vacation DVD to watch, and raffle entry forms for a diamond necklace. They also provided an agenda to use if you like. The agenda included at least 20 minutes spent on talking to your guests about the importance of volunteering. Ahhhh... volunteering, at last I was beginning to see the purpose of the box.

Disney's Give a Day, Get a Free Disney Day was their HUGE promotion for this year. Disney Parks are celebrating volunteers by rewarding one million of them with a free day at one of the many fabulous Disney Parks in the United States. It was a great idea and there was a year worth of marketing planned around it. The problem Disney ran into was that they filled their quota for tickets to give away in just 10 weeks. So what is one to do with 1,000 Big Red Party Boxes sitting around to ship out in order to promote volunteering? Send them out to your market research crew AKA the Mickey Mom's Club and let them do their thing in promoting Disney Parks like no one else can.

Look for the video from my Big Red Box Party and the recipe for Uncle Walt's Chili coming soon!