Saturday, October 25, 2014

Holiday Cards From Minted.com Help Share Your Family Adventures

Happy Holidays!  I know, I know… you think it’s too early to start thinking about Christmas cards but the winter holidays are really just right around the corner.  If you enjoy sending out a custom greeting to friends and loved ones, now is the best time to start planning.   I love the current trend of using holiday cards to share family vacation photos, and have ordered from many online printers over the years.  However, the one I go back to time and again for the most unique designs and highest quality paper products is beyond a doubt Minted.com.

I discovered Minted back in 2011 when I was looking for bridal shower invitations, and I’ve been a customer ever since. Minted’s revolutionary model crowd-sources design and art from independent designers around the world, then sells their best designs as fine stationery products, wall art, and home d├ęcor for the holidays, and many celebratory occasions. There’s always something fresh and new arriving in their store that can be even further personalized to create a special product just for you.
Minted offers hundreds of beautiful and unique card designs that can be easily searched through on their website.  Just check the boxes and their smart store will narrow down your choices by number of photos, format, or printing type.  If you turn on the “find it fast” button, it will even insert your personal photos into the previews.

Many families go for the traditional single shot of everybody on their holiday cards, and that’s nice, but as the family photographer I can tell you that it’s not always easy to get everyone together for one great picture.  Minted however offers a wide range of designs that can use multiple photos to help share adventures and whole family having fun.  Minted cards are a great way to share the highlights of your Disney vacation!  Yes, with multiple photos used to complete a design, even the family photographer can make it on these cards.

Once you’ve selected the design you like best, Minted’s website will walk you step by step through their customization process.  You can add in your photos and customize the text of your card, pick from several color schemes, chose a card shape, and even use all the space available by making the back of the cards personal too.  I love all the different options that Minted has to create a truly custom product.  Interior and backer upgrades often include a photo collage options so that you can share special moments from throughout your year.

Hand addressing all those envelopes can be a pain, literally!  So this year I’m taking advantage of Minted Envelopes too.  Users can easily upload an .xls file of their Holiday Card address list to the Minted website, and Minted will do the all heavy lifting.  This year there are 30 special holiday envelope designs being featured that you can chose from (note not all styles available with all cards).  Just match a beautiful envelope and address design and the outside of your card becomes just as special as the inside


Oh hey - The FTC says that I need to let you all know that this has been a “sponsored post,” and Minted compensated me with a store credit.  Regardless, I only recommend products or services that I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.  I’m a true fan of this company and it’s my honor to spread the word. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

DVC Conciegre Collection: Hotel del Coronado

I love to travel, and believe it or not I've even been known to head off to a location other than a Disney Resort every now and again, but even on those trips being a Disney Vacation Club member has come in handy more than once.  As many a geek knows getting a great hotel room for the week of San Diego Comic-Con International is an experience more ten times more difficult than snagging a Magic Kingdom View on the Fourth of July.  I was thrilled that when I called up DVC member services to see about booking a room on DVC points at the famous Hotel del Coronado for Comic-Con week I had no trouble what so ever.

Before I get into my review of the Hotel del, let me say up front that using your DVC points for a Concierge Collection Hotel is NOT an economical way to use your vacation club points.  If you are a point miser who likes to squeeze every bit of value out of your DVC, rent out your points and book on cash.  Using points on this trip was the only way that I could afford to go, so for me using points was perfect. On to the review!

Disney Vacation Club's Concierge Collection is a group of carefully selected non-Disney resorts and hotels that DVC members can stay at using points.   These exquisite resorts offer options in some of the most popular vacation destinations both in the US and abroad.  I've had the opportunity to visit two of these  Concierge Collection properties so far and enjoyed them both very much.  Though the number of points that need to be used per night is high, so is the quality of the properties.


The Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California is a National Historic Landmark and for more than 125 years, has been the symbol of Victorian elegance and refined luxury.  "The del" has been a destination for Presidents, Royalty, and in the Golden age of Hollywood it was the "it" destination for glamorous starlettes and movie power.   An idyllic beachfront family retreat, it has earned a AAA four diamond rating as well as a slew of other awards in its substantial history.   It is widely considered one of the top hotels in the world.  The conical turrets and orange roof against it's white Victorian gingerbread featured inspired Disney Imagineers in building Walt Disney World's flagship hotel, The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.


This may be one of the most beautiful and luxurious resorts I have ever stayed in outside of Walt Disney World. The historic lady has not lost an ounce of her charm. Our room was not in the Victorian building but instead was in a newer section of the property. just off the main pool.  At first I was disappointed - but as we were lead down the hall by the charming bellman I had to chuckle.  The inside felt just like I was walking through the comfortable halls at the Grand Floridian, only in highlighted yellow instead of peach.  When we walked into our room all disappointment faded away, it was spacious and absolutely lovely, decorated in a beachy turquoise and lime color palette with a mid-century feel to it.  The pretty white shutters over the window let in ample amounts of light during the day.  Those shutters had their ups and downs though, because I had been looking forward to sleeping with black-out curtains and these let in more light that I cared for early in the morning.



The large bathroom allowed plenty of space for two people to get ready at the same time after everyone was done showering.  The one puzzling feature to me was that the closet was inside of the bathroom, and hid behind the bathroom door when it was open.  It proved a slightly awkward location if nothing else.  However the closet was large, with many hangers, had complimentary robes for us to use, extra pillows, and a small safe similar to those at Walt Disney World.

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Stepping out onto the balcony it became apparent that we had a great view of the main pool, turret building, and the ocean in the distance. How could you not be happy with that?  Plus PALM TREES! The grounds were an absolute plethora of palm trees. So many different types! I miss palm tress so much when I'm at home, and I never really realize it until I arrive some place that has them. I don't think Becks knew quite how obsessed with palm trees I actually am. I will note that the pool was really loud during the day full of families splashing and enjoying their time at the resort, but was locked up at 10pm each night so it didn't cause a problem at all when trying to sleep.



Staying at the Hotel del Coronado may have actually turned me into a beach girl. The soft sand sparkled and glittered in the sun. The cool pacific waters were fun to play in, even though we only dipped out toes. The U.S. Navy was frequently running exercises off-shore and we were able to watch helicopters, ships, and Navy Seals training to protect our country. I didn't stay at the bech for long but I am so glad that I did make the effort. However I much preferred sitting under an umbrella on the sun deck with a cocktail in my hand. I could easily lose hours or days just sitting back and enjoying the ocean view and breeze.



Turn-down service is provided to resort guests upon request, so I decided to indulge. All it took was one simple phone call to the front desk and when we returned at night after en evening out on the town our comfortable beds were turned down neatly with a small gift of seashells on our pillows. I love turn-down service, it always makes me feel especially pampered and it is one little treat I really appreciate. Though I often have trouble sleeping on vacation and can't always get comfortable on hotel beds, this was not one of those times. The Hotel del Coronado has very comfortable beds and ample numbers of pillows for cuddling and support.



Without a doubt my favorite part of this trip was the beautiful Hotel del CoronadoMy time spent here was lovely and relaxing, the ocean views nothing short of spectacular.  The weather was absolutely perfect with steady ocean breezes and the smell of salt air.  I wouldn't hesitate for a second to stay at the Hotel del again.  It was everything I dreamed it to be.

More Concierge Collection Hotel Reviews from the DVC Mom can be found at the links below.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Katie's #DisneySide - Retro Minnie Mouse Dress

Minnie Mouse icons take the place of cherries in this fun retro-styled sundress from Hot Topic.  It's the perfect #DisneySide look for her to wear to the Hoop-Dee-Doo.  Shopping for new clothes is one of my favorite parts of Disney planning!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Back to Planning: 2015 Land/Sea Advanture Part II

I told you about  our Walt Disney World plans for the first half of this new adventure, however after those first four nights two of us will get to continue on a second leg.  While Geordon, Kirk and Katie head back home, Tori and I will be embarking on a Disney Cruise!

This second leg is a research and business trip for both Tori and myself. She has been dreaming  of working as a youth counselor on the Disney Cruise line for years, but had to be 21 in order to apply.  She turned 21 back in May and now we're headed off for a trail run at sea to help determine if a sailor's life is for her.  Tori is on a research mission to determine if she enjoys being on a ship, to see what her work environment would be like, and to chat with people in her desired job to get a better feeling of what they do and if they enjoy it.

By Sea

The dreamer...We "Dream Girls" are headed off on a 4 night cruise to the Bahamas on-board the exquisite Disney Dream.  It's just a short voyage but I'm really excited to be able to cruise again.  I love being at sea, and with less work for me on this leg of the trip, this is where I'll finally get a vacation too.

Our Stateroom: It's an Inside Stateroom on deck 6 for us this trip, but with a Magic Porthole we'll have a virtual view and some fun Disney friends to pop up and say hello. 

Rotational Dining:  The Disney Dream offers a rotational dining arrangement that allows us to eat at a different restaurant on every night of our cruise!  Aside from the restaurants that are included with our cruise there are also two adults only choices that offer "fine dining" at sea.  I'm really hoping that we will be able to secure a reservation at Palo for Northern Italian cuisine, because it's one of my favorite overall Disney restaurants.  We will probably skip the chic and magnificent Remy, Tori and I are a bit picky and I'm just not sure that there would be enough for us to eat there.  I'm not worried about the overall food situation because, well, it's Disney!  I just need to make sure that I have enough cash budgeted for coffee and cocktails.

Port Excursions:  We have two ports of call on this cruise, Nassau and Castaway Cay.  I know that we'll be getting of the ship at each, I'm just not sure what we'll be doing yet.  It's OK though we still have time to plan!  My thoughts right now are shopping at the Straw Market in Nassau just to say that we did, and hanging out at Serenity Bay on the private island.  We'll see if I can budget for anything greater.

Fish Extender Exchange:  We all know how much I love swag and largesse, so I headed over to a Disney forum I usually avoid and signed up for the Fish Extender Gift Exchange!  I've been getting craft while making cute little favors to pass out to the people in my group.  Not sure what a Fish Extender is?  Check out the FE Fun For All website.

Have you been on a Disney Cruise?  
Leave a comment and let me know what your favorite part was!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Back to Planning: 2015 Disney Land/Sea Adventure

Though I took a trip to San Diego using my DVC points in 2014 (the famous Hotel del Coronado is in the DVC Concierge Collection and is amazing) until recently my family didn't have any concrete plans to return to Walt Disney World.  This was a sad fact and to be honest, fairly depressing (not to mention, bad for business). However, thanks to an unusual turn of events we're back to planning for a 2015 Walt Disney World Vacation!  Read on and see how the pre-trip is stacking up.

I will be spending the first 4 nights of this February adventure at Walt Disney World in work mode, but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy myself and we managed to arrange for Geordon and all three of the kids to come along as well.  The second 4 nights Victoria and I will head to sea on the Disney Dream.  This is going to be quite a vacation and it may very well be the last trip all five of us take as our family core.  Kirk is looking at joining the Air Force next year, and Tori may be applying for a job with the Disney Cruise Line.  With the prospect of two of my kids leaving the house, 2015 has some big changes coming up and a few days together at Disney will be a blessing to have.

By Land

Flights:  For the first time ever I'll be flying out of Milwaukee's airport on Southwest Airline.  I have fought using Southwest for years because I had thought that the closest airport they flew out of was 3 hours away from me.  However after flying with them out of that airport with Becks in July I decided to look and see if they had departures a little closer.  To my joy I discovered that they fly out of an airport that's only about 1.5 hours away as well.  Our flights are booked and we're hoping that all goes well with this new airport.  A bonus here is that it's going to cost left than half to park our car than it would if we took United out of Ohare.

Entryway StatueThe Resort:  Once again my love goes out to DVC for being able to provide us a room that we already have paid for.  I booked a beautiful 2 Bedroom Villa for 4 nights at Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa.  I know that many folks aren't fond of Saratoga Springs, but it's the first Disney Resort that Geordon and I stayed in together so it's full of wonderful memories.  This is DVC's largest resort and it really is lovely. I'm looking forward to trying the new menu at Artists Palette as well as checking out the new pool and spa that went in since I last stayed there.

Disney Dining: We're on the Disney Dining Plan! Though the standard plan doesn't really save money, I am a BIG fan of having everything paid for before we leave and not having to worry about watching the bank account when we travel.  It's a bit of Disney magic that I'm more than happy to indulge in.  We'll be trying several restaurants on this trip that we haven't been to before (like Bongos and Raglan Road) and we snagged a reservation for the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue Dinner Show.  I'm really looking forward to the Hoop-Dee-Doo because the last time Tori, Kirk and I were there it was the first vacation after I left their biological father.  It sort of feels like things have come full circle.

Touring: We'll be at Walt Disney World 3 full days, however our Park tickets are limited.  We have a day planned at the Magic Kingdom, one at Typhoon Lagoon, and visiting non-Park options such as hotel hopping and shopping in Downtown Disney. 

That takes care of the first half of this adventure - stay tuned to hear the plans soon for our adventure by sea!