Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dining at Disney - Must Do's and where NOT to go!

I didn't want my Disney parks posts to get out of control long, so I decided to lump all of our Disney dining experiences together. I also have a post coming with all of my tips and the things I learned while there to share, so keep a lookout for that too!

Now, I didn't take as many food pictures as I thought I did, so bear with me here. We were just having too much fun I guess! 

First, I want to mention that there IS a Starbucks on Main Street at the Magic Kingdom. I had researched food and knew exactly what I wanted and where we were going but somehow, all of the sites I was reading failed to mention this tidbit! Keep an eye out for it! It's on your right as you are heading towards Cinderella's Castle.


I'll be mentioning this on my Tips post as well but you have to go to a couple of character meals! We went to the Hollywood and Vine character breakfast at Hollywood Studios, which features Jake, Oso, June and Handy Manny. On our last day, we ate at Chef Mickey which is a MUST do for any trip to Disney! That breakfast has Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Pluto.

The food is pretty much the same at all of them that we went to. It's a buffet of Mickey waffles, sausage, bacon, fruit, danishes, cottage cheese, eggs etc. Chef Mickey did have more options including pancakes, turkey hash (which was yummy), corn beef hash, and desserts.


The one place I really wanted to go but couldn't get in at was "Be Our Guest" at the Magic Kingdom. It's inside of Belle's castle. If you've been leave a review in the comments! 

I also scheduled a couple of lunches while we were there. At Animal Kingdom,  I made a reservation at the Rainforest Cafe. It's one of Brayden's favorite restaurants to go to. Chris and I shared the quesadillas and the black bean egg rolls and they were delicious! 

At Magic Kingdom, we ate at Cosmic Ray's cafe the first day. Cosmic Ray's has 3 bays where you can order different items so be sure to pick up a menu on your way in. Most bays do not offer the same items, so you may have to go to a couple of them to make everyone happy. Chris has the pulled pork sandwich which was quite fatty and I had a chicken breast sandwich which was really good! This is a quick service restaurant for those of you who have dining plans.

The last day at MK, we ate at Peco's Bills which is also a quick service. I had the Santa Fe Salad which had grilled chicken, corn, black beans, pico and guacamole on it. It was really good! 

Pretty much every restaurant at Disney offers similar kids meal options like mac and cheese, chicken, and uncrustables. They also offer a great selection of fruits and veggies for sides and milk and juice to drink. 

At Epcot, I had scheduled a reservation at the Coral Reef restaurant. It's more of a fine dining restaurant as far as Disney goes. You may remember it from Full House way back when! I was a little disappointed in Coral Reef and my honest recommendation would be to skip it! Go snack your way through all the countries at Epcot instead! 

Here's a picture of my lunch which was good but not super great. It's grilled chicken over black rice with a roasted tomato vinaigrette (which I am working on recreating). 


I have to talk about Ohana first. Ohana is a restaurant located inside of the Polynesian Resort at Magic Kingdom. From the park you can take the monorail there, or you can drive and try to find a spot at the hotel. Alternately, you can valet your car there for $15.  

(Note: You can valet your car at any of the 3 monorail hotels - Floridian, Polynesian and Contemporary - for $15 and you can leave your car there all day. We did that when we had breakfast at Chef Mickey which is located inside of the Contemporary, then we rode the monorail over to the park and back).

Back to Ohana - It was my favorite meal of the whole trip! I wish I had a more appetizing picture for you, but you'll have to trust me that the food was yummy! Everything is served family style and while you're eating, there are coconut races that the kids can participate in. You start off with a delicious salad followed by wings and pork pot stickers. Then noodles and meats are brought around. Dessert is also included. It was a decadent pineapple bread pudding served with homemade vanilla ice cream and bananas foster. Confession: I don't like bread pudding OR bananas foster but I LOVED this dessert! 

Ohana is a MUST!

We had a couple of dinners at Downtown Disney as well. First we ate at Paradiso 37 which is a mexican restaurant. I really didn't care for it and then they overcharged us and we had to call back once we realized it. It was just a bad experience overall and I wouldn't recommend it. 

We also ate at the T-Rex restaurant in Downtown Disney. It was great! The inside was even more impressive than the Rainforest Cafe and the food was surprisingly good! Chris and I split their 3 tiered appetizer and a side of ribs and it was so good!

We also visited Disney's Boardwalk area which is small but cute, and ate at the ESPN Zone. Again, it was really great and the kids enjoyed the 80 millions tv's that had football on. 


There are a couple of snacks you HAVE to try!

At Magic Kingdom it's all about the Dole Whip. This is a DELICIOUS concoction of pineapple juice and frozen yogurt (I think that's what it is). We had one on both days we visited the park. You can find them at the Aloha Isle on your way towards Pirates of the Caribbean. 

At Animal Kingdom, there's this great frozen yogurt truck. I don't know the name of it, but it's easy to spot! They had some great treats to enjoy and I took this picture from a small group of tables right across from it. If you look closely you can spot Chris ordering. =)

I'm noticing a theme here...
And what's funny about this is I'm not really an ice cream person. Huh.

Anyway, the above is a picture of the very best dessert I had (yes, even better than the Dole Whip) while on vacation. It's from the Ghirardelli store in Downtown Disney. We had the sea salt and caramel sundae which was AWESOME. We should've ordered two!

At Epcot, we did order a crepe while in France. It wasn't very good (especially if you've had the crepes at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas) but it was a fun little snack.

And lastly, I don't have a picture of this one, but if you're at Hollywood Studios you HAVE to go to Starring Rolls Cafe. It was actually the only place we went were the cast members (that is what all Disney employees are called) were not friendly at all, BUT they have AWESOME cupcakes! We had a chocolate peanut butter (and the butterfingers looked fantastic too!). It's a must!

So to recap, here are my MUST visit spots!

For Breakfast: Chef Mickey located at the Contemporary Resort

For Lunch: Taste your way around Epcot!

For Dinner: OHANA!!! (Located at the Polynesian) 

Snacks: Dole Whip and Ghiradelli ice cream

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Our Ugly Sweater Christmas Eve Party

If you follow me on twitter, you've probably heard about our Ugly Sweater party we held at our house this Christmas Eve. It was ridiculously fun! I've been a slacker at uploading my pictures but I've finally sat down to do it! 

PS - I still owe you two posts on our Disney World trip, one on where to eat and the other on miscellaneous tips. They're coming, I promise! The food one is actually already written, I just need to post it!

Let's start with what you've been waiting for; pictures of the sweaters!

Chris went as Eddie from Christmas Vacation which is one of our favorite movies. I decorated a plain green sweater I bought at the Goodwill for $4 with garland I had and some cheap ornaments and topped it off with an old tree topper that was laying around so that I looked like a Christmas tree, and the boys wore sweatshirts that had a fair isle print. Brody's looked like the abominable snowman and Brayden's was an homage to Christmas Vacation.

 My brother and sister-in-law ordered their sweaters online and they were hysterical looking. You can't see Stephanie's because Evie is in front of it, but she has a cross-stitching hoop on it. They were both over the top!

I think my mom should get the most creative award because she made both her and my dad's sweaters. Dad looks like a gingerbread man and his sweater actually lit up! Moms had poof balls, ribbon and garland all over it and she had a bird that sat on her shoulder but by the time I took the picture, Brody had stolen it!

Chris' mom and step-dad were also very creative. Lori made Charles' sweater using a placemat! She also attached a large Santa to the front of it!

Chris' dad, step-mom and step sister got in on the fun as well. They lucked out and found some great sweaters at Goodwill. I checked every store in our area and couldn't find a single pre-made ugly sweater! Next year I'm visiting their town to shop!

Unfortunately, Chris' brother and his girlfriend popped a tire on the way to the party and then weren't able to make it. =(

I mentioned my baking extravaganza on twitter as well. When all was said and done, I made 22 dozen cookies, 6 dozen oreo balls (peanut butter and mint), layer cookies, lemon bars, scotcheroos, fudge and spreads. It took me three solid days of baking but it was worth it! You can see in the left corner of this picture that I bought everyone ugly sweater take out boxes so that they could take a lot of desserts home with them!

We also made a smoked ham and prime rib and I made homemade yeast rolls (recipe coming soon) and everyone brought sides. After dinner, my dad read the real story of Christmas from the Bible and the kids put on special Christmas Eve jammies that my mom bought them:

We also voted on the ugliest sweater and by an overwhelming majority, my brother won! I had a trophy made that has ugly sweaters on it for the winner and also gave him a small fruitcake.

A close up of the inscription: 

I hope you all had a great Christmas!

Luke 2: 10-11
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

Every year at Christmas I bake a TON of goodies and I vow to myself to post the recipes. I usually post one or two, but after a full day of baking I just don't feel like taking a ton of pictures. But tonight I took pictures of 3 of the items I baked today (I've baked 9 different kinds of goodies over the last two day, with several more being made tomorrow!). 

You'll probably noticed they are all set up the same and you'll have to give me a pass on that. I usually try to make the pictures all look a little different but I was too tired to try!

So, here are my mint chocolate chip cookies. I hope you love them!

Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 5 dozen cookies

3.5 cups flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 sticks of butter, melted and cooled slightly
1.5 cups white sugar
1.5 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
1.5 cups Andes Creme de Menthe chips


Preheat oven to 350.

Whisk together flour, salt, soda and cocoa powder. Set aside.

Combine butter and sugars in a stand mixer until well combined. Add vanilla and eggs. Slowly add in dry ingredients. Using a 1" cookie scoop, place scoops of dough on a greased baking sheet. Top with Andes mint pieces. 

Bake for 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Downtown Disney, Epcot & The Beach

Edited: My tips post can be found HERE and my dining post (where to and where NOT to eat) can be found HERE!

After 3 consecutive days at parks, we needed a break!

We decided to drive to the beach and eat lunch and look for shells. We picked Daytona Beach because a website I had been reading said it was 15 minutes from Orlando...which it is NOT! It was an hour or so away, which was fine because the drive was relaxing!

We ate at Bubba Gumps and then took a walk. I have a confession: I hate the beach. I love the sound of the ocean, but I really hate the sand and the wind and all of that. But my boys (all three of them), loved it, so it was totally worth it. I'm just more of a mountain, snowy/rainy weather kinda girl. 

After our beach trip, we went back to the hotel and cleaned up before going to Downtown Disney. This was actually our second trip there. We ate at the T-Rex restaurant (more on dining later) and the kids had a blast.

Downtown Disney is great. It can be really hard to find a parking spot though so be prepared. We were there in off season (a 4 out of 10 on the crowd calendar) and still had trouble with parking! 

There is a lot to do there - tons of restaurants, stores, entertainment and even a carousel. The kids really loved it!

After a break from the parks, we headed to Epcot.

I don't have a ton to say about it. If it weren't for London, I don't think I would have really wanted to go! We did enjoy the Nemo ride and we ate at the Coral Reef (though I would recommend skipping it and tasting your way across the countries). 

In London I had to get my picture in front of the Rose & Crown. I'm a HUGE Pride and Prejudice fan. While I was in the Twinings Tea shop (I'm a huge fan of their tea) buying some tea I couldn't get at home, Chris and the boys snuck back to another store in London and purchased some Rose and Crown goodies for me. It was a really sweet surprise!

Next up, I'll be posting what I learned from our visits including travel, where to stay, what to do etc., and then I'll do a separate post just on the food!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Animal Kingdom & Hollywood Studios

Edited: My tips post can be found HERE and my dining post (where to and where NOT to eat) can be found HERE!

Days 2 and 3 of our trip were spent at Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. The last time I was at Disney World I was 10, and we didn't visit either of these parks, so we were all seeing them for the first time!

There aren't many rides at either of these parks so I wasn't sure what the kids would think of them. Animal Kingdom was up first and I had read that the Kilimanjaro Safari ride line backs up fast, so we headed there before our lunch reservation (food post coming up soon). 

It was fun but to be honest it wasn't as exciting as any of us expected. We are a little spoiled though because we have a drive through safari close to us that we go to often.

After that we met up with Doug and Russell from Up! We watched Up! right before our trip so that the kids would know who they were and I have to say it was hands down the saddest Disney movie I've ever seen and I won't watch it again! Ha! 

There's a great character spot towards the back of the park. The kids love Chip & Dale and Donald Duck and so we got in line to meet them and get autographs.

Overall, I have to say that we probably wouldn't go back to Animal Kingdom. It was our least favorite of the parks and there wasn't much for Brody to do. Brayden did go on the Dinosaur ride but it was a little scary for him. We did a rider swap so that I could check it out but he refused to go with me. Don't tell him I said this but it was a little scary! Haha!

The next day we headed to Hollywood Studios. This was the park that I was expecting to like least but surprisingly, it was our second favorite (first is Magic Kingdom).

I knew from my research (more on that in a later post) that the line for Toy Story Mania gets out of control fast. I can say from our experience that it was by far the busiest ride at any of the four parks.
We lucked out because we had a breakfast reservation that allowed us early entry to the park, so Chris went straight to Toy Story Mania to get a fast pass while I checked us into our breakfast. 

Of course Buzz and Woody are close by so we stopped in to get their autographs. This was the longest line we stood in! It took about 40 minutes for us to make our way to the front.

The Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground was awesome too. The kids had a blast running off some of their extra energy!

Brody's all time favorite characters, Mike and Sully, were there too! Their line was surprisingly short and they really interacted with the kids. Brody was in heaven! 

The thing that had me a little worried about Hollywood Studios is the fact that it's a lot of shows and I didn't know if the kids would like it. They ended up loving it! We watched the Disney Jr. show which features Brayden's favorite character, Jake from Jake & the Neverland Pirates, Sophia the First and Doc McStuffins. We also went to the Little Mermaid show, saw The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow and rode Star Tours. 

If you have little ones (especially little ones who watch Disney Jr) I highly recommend going to Hollywood Studios!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Disney World: Magic Kingdom Overview

Last week we left snowy, icy, freezing cold Arkansas for the warm, sunny, dare I say magical state of Florida.

Back in October I posted that we were planning a trip to Disney (and you left tons of your great Disney tips HERE) and then we told our kids about it (find out how we went about that HERE).

I've been thinking about how I should post about our trip and I decided that first I would talk about what we did at the parks and then I would write up a post of my tips based on what we learned there. Also, dining is going to be it's own post because there is just too much to say!

Edited: My tips post can be found HERE and my dining post (where to and where NOT to eat) can be found HERE!

So up first, is Magic Kingdom!

Our trip was Monday - Monday, so we spent our first and last day at Disney World. It just seemed fitting and we knew it would start us out and end us on a good note! We got in at midnight so our first park day was actually on Tuesday. The weather was fantastic - we were sending pictures to our family of us in shorts and tshirts (it was about 12 degrees at home!).

Here we are right after walking into the park for the first time. We stopped at Starbucks along Main Street which I didn't realize was there! The Disney Starbucks cups totally win over the red holiday cups!

Our first stop? The teacups of course! We headed back to Fantasyland first because that's where most of the kid rides are. I'll talk more about FastPasses in my tips post but we didn't get many that first day - mostly because we didn't understand how it worked.

I'll also talk about crowd calendars, but I planned this trip during one of the least busy times at Disney. It was a 4 out of 10 for crowds. We didn't have very long waits for any ride at all!

Below is Dumbo! DW now has dual Dumbo rides - they are right next to one another. Or maybe they've always been there and I just don't remember them. =)

One of the newest rides in the Journey of the Little Mermaid. We loved this one! Ursula is at the end but it's really not scary. I was concerned about several of the rides and how Brayden would do because he does scare easily but he did pretty well!

They're also building a Seven Dwarfs ride right now that looks AWESOME!

The Jungle Cruise was temporarily renamed the Jingle Cruise. My kids really loved this one, except for the fact that there are no drops. Brayden wanted more thrill, ha!

Mickey and Minnie were sporting their Christmas hats:

All of the next group of pictures are from Day 2 at Magic Kingdom which was our last day at the park. It was overcast and cooler but really it was great weather the whole time!

The boys and I posed in front of Rapunzle's tower because Tangled is my favorite Disney movie!

The White Rabbit is the only character we actually met at this park and that's only because there was no line!

In front of Gaston's Tavern. We were going to meet Gaston but he took a break right after we walked up. He told us to "enjoy the view" as he walked away, haha!

We also went on my favorite ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Peter Pan's Flight, the Winnie the Pooh ride, It's a Small World, Buzz Lightyears Space Ranger Spin, Barnstormer, Astro Orbiter, the Tomorrowland Speedway and to the Monsters Inc Laughfloor.

If you're planning a trip to Disney World, I highly recommend starting and ending at Magic Kingdom if possible. You may not like the other parks as much but beginning and ending with the best is sure to keep everyone happy!

Friday, December 13, 2013

YOUR Stories on Paying It Forward

I asked my friends and readers to submit some of your stories about paying it forward, and I've got three really great ones to share with you. 

Paying it forward isn't always a grand gesture. Sometimes its as simple as a hug or a kind word that brightens someone's day. Every day, we all have opportunities to bring a little light to someone's life. 

And remember...

From Lindsay:
Last weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving so traveled a few hours to visit Evan's family. On the way home, we decided to stop for some supper at a little small town diner. Evan took the girls in while I gathered the diaper bag and some books and coloring for them. When I got in, they were chatting with an elderly man who was sitting at a table near the door. We sat at our table and Evan said Evalyn had made quick friends with him. Not a surprise. She makes friends everywhere she goes. A few minutes later, the gentleman walked to the counter to pay his bill and then came over to say goodbye. It was difficult to understand everything he said, but we knew that he said he loved seeing nice young families out together, and that it reminded him of what they used to do when he was young. He shook Evan's hand and thanked us for doing a good job with our girls. He said goodbye to them and left. When he left, Evan showed me that when he shook his hand he had left a $100 bill in his hand.
A story we'll remember forever, no doubt. 
From Sarah:
Last December, I found out I had gall stones and needed to have surgery to remove my gall bladder. I had an appointment set up with the surgeon, and as we were sitting in the waiting room, my husband mentioned he'd taught the surgeon's daughter. Since my husband is a jr. high band director, he often teaches students all three years if they remain in the music program & gets to know them very well. When the surgeon came in, he and Zach talked about his daughter & how she was doing in high school, etc, etc. We scheduled the surgery for the next week and the day of, the doctor came in to talk to us. After he left, his nurse came back in and said "The doctor wanted me to tell you that because your husband was his daughter's favorite teacher ever, he will only be accepting insurance payment for the surgery & you won't be billed the remainder!" I was so stunned! I was also so incredibly proud that my husband had made such a difference in a kid's life that their parent would want to do that for us!
From Anonymous:
A few weeks ago, I rushed out of my office to go grab some lunch. I was in a huge hurry and frankly, not in a great mood. I zoomed through traffic at break neck speed and headed for a local drive through. In the process I unintentionally cut off an elderly couple because I wasn't paying enough attention. I know if I had been them, I would have honked at me, but they didn't do anything. As I pulled up to the window to pay for my order, I paid for theirs as well - and added on a couple of chocolate chip cookies for them. I also asked the cashier to apologize for my rudeness. Hopefully, it brightened their day a little bit. 
Thank you all so much for sharing these wonderful stories! I have loved working with Folgers on their The Best Part campaign. Be sure to check out their facebook page for even more uplifting and inspiring stories! 
The Best Part is an online community that’s dedicated to brightening your day—every day. How? By spreading optimism, one share at a time. The Best Part posts inspirational stories, encouraging quotes, good news and other upbeat items on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—and encourages fans and followers to share that optimism with their friends. Because when optimism is shared, it grows, making an even more positive impact on our world. Check out what others are sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Crazy Hair and Crazy Lights

I reaaaally wanted to get some of those bokeh type Christmas tree pictures, so when we came back in the house after playing in the snow on Saturday I decided to try. I'm still learning how to shoot in manual on my Canon 60d and I take more terrible pictures than good ones but at least I'm trying!

This is Brody after removing his two hats and playing in the snow:

And Brayden and his big toothless grin:

Their hair cracks me up. Everyone is always telling me that my kids look identical. I kid you not, every single time they are in my double BOB people ask me if they're twins which gets me because I don't think they look that similar! But their hair is undeniably different. While similar in color, Brayden's hair is like wire and has a thousand and one cowlicks (cowlicks are thanks to me) and Brody's is almost wavy (also thanks to me) and thick (definitely from Chris).

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Snowin' & Sleddin'

You never know what you're going to get in Arkansas. It can be 70 degrees and sunny in December or you can get 8" of snow overnight. In this case, we got the snow!

Normally you wouldn't be able to contain my excitement - I LOVE the snow! Buuuut….we're supposed to leave for DisneyWorld…TOMORROW. And we are iced in. The ice here is awful and the sand trucks and plows haven't really been on top of things for some reason. So, we are in limbo, unsure if we will be making it to Orlando. My kids don't know yet and we are praying that we will make it!

But while we've got it, we decided to go have a blast in the snow!

We have some awesome sledding hills right out our back door and we took full advantage! Brayden LOVES it! He wanted to go down the hills a hundred times!

Mossy even got in on it (there's a pic of that below). He is the sweetest doggie…isn't this pic of him just too cute for words?

Brody is absolutely hysterical. He stands at the window and BEGS to go out. Then we go out and he HATES it. Then we come back in to get warm and dry and he's begging to go out again!

Here's that picture of Mossy sledding:

When we weren't taking him down the hills, he chased the sled:

One more of Mosserman because he doesn't get many pictures posted here!

I've got tomorrows post ready to go but I'll update when I can on our flight situation! If you follow me on Twitter, you'll be sure to get the play-by-play, haha!
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