Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Memorial Day

The Folded Flag
This amazing photo is by Brett Kiger

Take this time to remember friends, family and colleagues who have passed away in service to their country; To thank those fine young men and women who are currently serving the land of the free; and to encourage those brave youth who will become the soldiers and sailors of tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Castle Edition

Sweetheart Bridge at Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Focused on the Magic

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

DVC Member Services hours extended:

To better meet Members' needs, starting on July 1, 2012 Member Services will extend operating hours to 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m. on weekdays (previously 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.), while maintaining its 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekend hours.

The added hours are just the latest enhancement to Members' vacation-planning options, following the debut of the new Vacation Center at DVCMember.com. Accessible almost 24 hours a day (minus 30 minutes of scheduled maintenance from 2-2:30 a.m. Eastern daily), the Vacation Center includes the online-booking system, which lets Members book available Disney Vacation Club Resorts using Vacation Points, check available vacation points for any and all contracts, create and view wait lists, access records of past trips, add Disney Dining Plans and Magical Celebrations, and use the Disney Online Check-in Service. Members also may use the Vacation Center to purchase tickets and travel insurance, add Disney's Magical Express transportation and make dining reservations.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Random Wordless Wednesday

Random... but there you have it.

Pirate Treasure

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tips for Travel with Kids and Anxiety

Hello Friends! My daughter Katie asked me if I would share a post or two during vacation that were from her point of view. It’s my hope that sharing her point of view will help other Moms when it comes to traveling with their kids. Airports and airplanes can be stressful places, when you’re not used to them, and Katie has some great tips to make things go a little smoother. ~ Kristen

Katie in her luggage fort, creating space and separation from the airport crowds.

Hi. I’m @NDK_49, also known as Katie. I am 12 years old and I have anxiety disorder. Having anxiety makes traveling hard for me. When I am going to Walt Disney World, or Disneyland, I have a really hard time at the airport and then on the plane.

What happens to me while in the airport is that I begin to freak out over how many people are there, a lot of the time I have to make a barricade with all of the luggage that we have brought. We do this so I feel like I am apart from all of the thousands of other people. So I feel safe! It happens a lot, in fact, it happens almost every time I am traveling. Sometimes it gets so bad that I have a hard time breathing because I am freaking out. My mom gets worried about me when this happens, but I get through it.

The situation that happens on the plane is different from the situation that happens in the airport it’s self. On the plane, there are always these movies about what happens if you crash, right? Well that always gets me to begin to freak out and worry about what happens if we have to make a crash landing and that kind of things. Then take-off is another thing. It just makes me feel ill, but I get though it. Normally it takes me to the half-way point of the flight until I begin to be comfortable in the airplane, but after that half-way point it is easy.

Katie's Airport Fort
Focusing on a good book or game can distract from the crowds and pass the time.

Thing I do to help me get through my anxiety while traveling:
  • In the airport, I use the luggage that was brought along to create a barrier.
  • I focus on my breathing so I don’t hyperventilate.
  • I wrap up in a blanket, or a jacket, because I’ve found that being wrapped up, or covered up tends to make me feel safer.
  • I go through the security check-in first, so I don’t get lost. Losing sight of my family ( Or friends, depending whom I am traveling with. ) makes me scared.
  • Because of my anxiety, my mom always asks the gate attendants if I can board first so I can get settled in before everyone else starts filing in.  Almost every time we’ve traveled, we’ve asked if we could, and they let us.
Some things parents might not know is that the TSA has been doing stuff for children to make security easier.  Children who are 12 and under do NOT have to take their shoes off while going through security, nor do they have to go through the full body scan. I was asked my age when I was in line for the full body scan because I though everyone had to, nope! I was wrong. Children 12 and under just go through the regular metal detector.  Also, children under 18 have to have a parent there if the TSA needs to pat them down.

I hope this post gives you some good ideas with your kids while traveling, and I know that I am ready for vacation because knowing this stuff helps me enjoy it more!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar

For our first meal at the Disneyland Resort we headed over to the Disneyland Hotel to give one of the newest dining options a try, Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar.

Disney Geeks will delight in their journey to what's so much more than a mere bar or restaurant.  Inspired by the legends and lore of the world-famous Jungle Cruise and other popular Disney attractions, Trader Sam's is not only named for the "head" salesman of the Amazon, but features some of the exotic wares he has collected over the years.  Disney Imagineers had a field day collecting relevant treasures and trinkets that fill this establishment with fun.

DSC00230 DSC00222

Though Disney calls the menu here "American" my picky Katie had a little had trouble finding something to eat.  I would call the menu more "Asian Pacific" inspired.

Pictured from front to back, we ordered a PuPu Platter had Tamarind-glazed Island Pork 'Wings', Sweet and Spicy Asian Wings, Panko-crusted Chinese Long Beans, Green Papaya Slaw, and Sriracha Aioli ($15.99)

Kalua Pork Flatbread - with Pulled Pork, Red Onion, Cilantro, Barbecue Sauce, and Mozzarella. $8.99

I also ordered Panko-Crusted Chinese Long Beans because I hoped that Katie would like them. They were served with Sriracha Aioli ($7.99)

And finally Lettuce Wraps with Sauteed Chicken and Hoisin Ginger Sauce ($9.99)

DSC00237 DSC00239

There is an incredible custom drink menu at Trader Sams that drives the spirit of this fun and entertaining eatery. Guests soon discover that what they say may anger the Gods, as the ordering of certain menu items triggers careful imagineered responses within the restaurant. It's truly an exciting adventure that's a little different every time you go.

DSC00231 DSC00235

I wanted to order the amazing, flaming Uh Oa! cocktail, that comes complete with elaborate ceremony to apease the gods. However, being the only person over 21 on our trip, I thought twice of ordering this drink that's designed for 2 or more people. Instead I asked my server for a "Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Rum" which is a cocktail made with Reserve Rum, Cream of Coconut, and Pineapple and Orange Juices then dusted with Cinnamon and Nutmeg.

Everyone had a fantastic time, and we'll be back!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Free Cone Day! Häagen-Dazs at Downtown Disney District

Free Ice Cream Day
We were so excited to discover that our first day at the Disneyland Resort was also Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream Shops Free Cone Day! What a brilliant stroke of luck that the store in the Downtown Disney District just happened to be one of the participating shops. From 4pm-8pm everyone who came in was able to sample of one scoop cone of their scrumptious flavors of rich, decedent ice cream or sorbet.

DSC00273 DSC00277

After checking in at the beautiful Grand Californian Resort and Spa the kids and I headed to Downtown Disney. Unlike taking the bus system at Walt Disney World, we literally stepped out the Hotel's side door and were in the middle of the action.  It was just a short stroll to find the ice cream shop.


I had mint chocolate chip and it was amazing!


We discovered Free Cone Day by checking the Disneyland Daily Calendar before we left home.  It has a great listing of all the fun stuff happening around every part of the resort including special events at shops and entertainment all over the Downtown Disney District.  It's a great planning tool, and this was a great way to start off our vacation!

2 Bedroom Villa at Disney's Grand Californian

DSC00311One of the reasons that I truly love being part of the Disney Vacation Club is because  it gives us the opportunity to stay in a category of room that we may not have in years prior to our membership.  Having the opportunity to spread out a little, yet still keep the family together has a great value to me.  For the first four nights of our vacation, our base camp is a 2 bedroom villa at Disney's Grand Californian Resort and Spa.  The Villas at the Grand Californian opened in the fall of 2009 as the first Disney Vacation Club Villas on the West Coast.  One of the smallest DVC properties, it can sometimes be difficult to reserve a villa any less than 11 months out.  Our family was lucky and we were able to reserve our room at just 4 months out from our vacation dates.

The suite of rooms is decorated in Arts and Crafts Style theme with rich wood, warm colors and patterns reminiscent of William Morris' work.  Stained glass lamps softly illuminate the rooms with a golden light, and pounded iron fixtures add the subtle detailing that finishes off overall design style.

The spacious Livingroom offers the kids and I a place to relax while in hanging out on this trip.  The clever "murphy" bed beneath the TV was quickly claimed by Katie.

DSC00363 DSC00362

At the time we made our reservations we asked for a theme park view, and we also faxed a room request stating the same a few days before our arrival.  40% of the DVC rooms at the Grand Californian have a theme park view and overlook Disney's California Adventure. Check out what we got!


Yep, go ahead... hate me... it's okay... I understand. This is the best room EVER.

We'll be getting good use out of the Full Kitchen on this trip!


The Master Bedroom has a King sized bed, private bathroom, and large desk area.  Being that this is a working vacation for me, the desk area was really important.


Tori and Kirk took the second 2nd Bedroom.  It also had a desk where we plugged in a second computer station for the kids' use.  One computer never cuts it in our family, not even when traveling.


With Three Bathrooms there shouldn't be any struggle at all to get ready in the morning.
DSC00339 DSC00343 DSC00330

DSC00320 DSC00347

I could live here easily... seriously... I so don't want to leave.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

5:00 AM Wake Up Call

Mama Hook Knows Best
Up and Ready to go!  Not that anyone really slept at all last night. Katie spent the night on the couch snoozing between Disney Channel shows and I tossed and turned looking at the clock every half hour. We were more than ready to hop up and start a pot of coffee when the alarms went off!

It's going to be a very long travel day, and I hope the kids are ready. It's about 9 hours in travel time from our front door in Rockford, Illinois to Disney's Grand California Resort & Spa in Anaheim, California. Even though my kids are teens that sort of time takes a little planning to keep them busy.

Tori, Katie & Kirk all have new books to read on the flight to California. It's 4 hours and 30 minutes in the air, which is about twice as much time as they're used to when we go to Florida. Katie will be recording her thoughts in a travel journal as we go. I hope to transcribe some of her journal entries into a couple of blog posts to share with you. We've got laptops, iPads, and iPhones to keep us busy. No telling what the in flight movie may be.

I upgraded our airline tickets to "economy plus" which gives us 5 extra inches of leg room. On the two hour flight to Florida it's not a must, but with 4.5 hours to LAX it's critical to keep my Fibromyalgia pain at bay. Disneyland is no fun if I'm in so much pain from the flight that I can't tour. So, Hooray for extra leg room!

Our car arrives at 6:30 to take us to the airport. The kids are excited to see what we'll be riding in. I called the towncar company that I always use, but since there are 4 of us I'm not sure if we'll get a van or a limousine. Either way I can't wait to climb in and get this trip started!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Disneyland Live Event this Week!

Our Disneyland Live event is taking over this week!

Disneyland Hotel

The kids and I are packed and ready to go and we'll be sharing the trip with you all week long.  It's one great big California adventure as the kids visit the Disneyland Resort for the first time.  All our coverage will take over the top post spot, so if you forget where to follow just head to DVCMom.com and you'll be right with us.

Follow our adventures Tuesday May 8th through Sunday May 13th:
  • A Live Webcam from our Grand Californian Hotel room!  I've packed the equipment, now it's just a matter of if we have a fun view or not.  Will it be park view, pool view or the parking lot?  We don't know!  With a little luck I'll be streaming out the window beginning about 5PM PST Tuesday May 8th and going through the morning of May 11th. 

  • Keep up on Twitter by using the #Back2Cali hashtag, or following me @DVCMom

  • For the first time during a live event we'll be creating a special Pinterest Board for our vacation photos! I'm hoping that this fun new option helps to share our experience with you in real time more than ever.  Armed with my iPhone and the Pinterest App, keep an eye out for pins from what we're doing, while we're doing it!

  • Last but not least, I plan on uploading our vacation pictures every night to my Flickr Photostream.  I know that a lot of you look forward to my photos, so just a warning.  I'm working with a new little point and shoot camera on this trip, and I don't know it's capabilities yet.  Still, you can check in daily to see all the magic that I've captured while touring the Happiest Place on Earth.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Touring New Orleans' Preservation Hall

For a big part of my life, I've traveled in this "Disney Cocoon" of happiness, cleanliness, and security.  I know that it exists, and I am perfectly happy to maintain the fantasy.  When we went to new Orleans earlier in the year I knew that I would be stepping out of my comfort zone.  I knew that we were traveling to a gritty, urban city, but being that we were largely going to be in the French Quarter I knew that it would be one so completely steeped in history that I wouldn't care for a minute.

Hall Building

One of the places that I longed to see, Preservation Hall, I had actually heard about first in the song "My Sanctuary" by Marc Cohn. It was on his "Join the Parade" album that was largely inspired by Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of the tragedy. I was completely entranced by that point in time of American History. I had always wanted to go New Orleans, feeling an otherworldly draw to this place I had never been, and when it was destroyed it broke my heart. I told my husband that it was our duty as human beings to put our tourist dollars there. It took us an awful long time, but when we finally got there this spring I could not have been happier. It's not a place that I'll wait that long to return to again. I was completely entranced by the French Quarter and it's wistful spirit.

There in the picture, the old, dirty greenish building shuttered in weathered wood. The Hall was was founded in 1961 and dedicated to the preservation of New Orleans Jazz. The building was "originally built as a private residence in 1750, the hall has evolved into a tavern, inn, photo studio and an art gallery. The inside of the hall contains portraits of the musicians who first filled it with the beautiful sounds of New Orleans Jazz."(Source) It's not something Disney made to look old and worn, it's the real thing. It's where you can find the soul of dixieland. The music pervades every crevice, the years and the struggles are palpable here, the music and the musicians. As a jazz lover and the mother of a trombone player, it swept me away.

Sign Weathered Doors
Concerts Nightly

And the music keeps right on playing
‘Cause of all the places water wouldn’t fall
It wasn’t the churches or the chapels
It was down at the Preservation Hall
“This is my sanctuary”, you could almost hear the ghost
Of some old trumpet player say
“Lay down the burdens you carry
In my Sanctuary”
lyrics by Marc Cohn

Requests Drum
Inside Preservation Hall
Base Drum Painting Bass Case
Please Mind the Cat Geordon Cat

Yes, we saw the sign, but the cat was oddly attracted to my husband and followed right next to him for the whole time that we were there.  She was super sweet to Geordon, I think she must have known that we appreciated every moment in her sanctuary.  

We missed the show the evening that we had in New Orleans, but that's okay because I will be back. Our next trip will be longer and catching a show here is number one on my to do list. If I'm lucky, I'll get to return with my son. He would love this place. It has magic. Preservation Hall opens at 8:00pm every day. Music begins at 8:15pm. Admission is $15 per person and all ages are welcome.

Maybe we'll even reserve seats in the VIP section. Who's in to join us?

Reserved Seating