It’s that Time of Year Again—Revisions

Walt Disney World with Kids 2017After some intense weeks of work, and multiple revisions, my 2017 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids is finally off to the printer. The annual ritual starts in March with a research trip to Orlando and is followed by a first deadline for updates and new material by May 15th.

This year, however, there were so many changes that by the time June came, I went on a second research mission to the Kingdom of the Mouse. It was fascinating to be at Epcot the day the Frozen Forever ride opened. The ride opened at 9 a.m. on June 21st. I had made breakfast reservations at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall for 8:30 a.m. and was allowed into the park shortly after 8 a.m. that morning. It was great to enter the park early and enjoy taking pictures on my way to the Norway pavilion. And yes, it was my ticket to the front of the line once the ride was about to open.

RevisionsNeedless to say, this made all the difference in the world. I exited the ride at 9:10 a.m.; 20 minutes later, the ride broke down. The park was officially open since half an hour and the line for the ride went back all the way over the bridge to the China pavilion. Cast members held up signs indicating that the wait currently was 180 minutes. Unfortunately, the ride broke down quite often that day, and when you add to this the low loading capacity of the former Maelstrom ride, it is no surprise that the wait, at times, was 300 minutes—five hours!

I did experience the new Soarin’ Around the World flight, enjoyed all the new nighttime entertainment at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and saw Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire, the new show in front of Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom.

IMG_5666Over at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, I paid a visit to Skull Island and rode the new King Kong attraction. Skull Island: The Reign of Kong really did impress me. This multi-sensory, multi-dimensional ride is absolutely amazing.

Back in Birmingham, it was crunch time. I had to revise the revisions and submit last-minute changes to my wonderful editor Amber Henderson. Amber brings it all together, and while it looks like magic when she takes over, believe me, it is not. It is hard work. A huge research team, editors, fact checkers, indexers, and a layout and art department support the authors. These behind-the-scenes professionals make me look good and are the guarantee that a great product reaches the reader.

This Year’s Revisions Are Over—Let’s Play!

So what is next? Well, it is never too early to start collating data again, is it? In a few weeks, I will once more board a plane and visit my happy place. I am excited to stay at three different hotels, including the newly opened Loews Sapphire Falls. I want to take tons of pictures and videos. But, most of all, I look forward to having more time for friends than during my past two visits. And yes, there will be pool time!

Running Again and Then Some

Running Again and Other Mischief

Running Again

Wine & Dine Half Marathon Bib

It is not as if I have been sitting idle since my last post; on the contrary, I have been busy.  I know it is a lame excuse and one that no New Year resolution helped alleviate. The truth is I write for a living. There are the blogs, the Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest accounts, and the avalanche of emails, press releases, pitches, and other Pulitzer Prize-winning activities.

But back to running again. My last race was in November at Walt Disney World. Together with thousands of runners I participated in the runDisney Wine & Dine Half Marathon. This year the weather god was not with us and we ran for 13.1 miles in the pouring rain.  I can think of only one thing that would have made it more miserable and that would have been if Disney had canceled the race.
Running Again

Mulan and Mushu warming my hands

So we went our merry way from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, onward to The Studios. At Disney Hollywood Studios my iPhone rebelled against the rain as I tried taking pictures of the Osborne Family Spectacular of Dancing Lights. So much for race pictures!

By the time I reached the Boardwalk I thought that once at Epcot where the race ends I would jump on a bus and go straight to the hotel. Well, seeing Spaceship Earth and the volunteers cheering us on this cold and rainy night changed my mind. Why go home? I was soaking wet and so was everybody else, but we did it! Another half marathon and for me a Coast-to-Coast for that! I crossed the finish line and after getting my bling I headed to the Finish Line Party at the Food & Wine Festival at Epcot. And while the rain kept pouring I made a tour of World Showcase, sampling foods and meeting characters. My favorite interaction was at the Temple of Heaven at the China Pavilion where Mulan and Mushu where holding court. They didn’t mind my tired and not too sophisticated looks. They posed for a picture and took my hands in an effort to warm them.
Running Again

Wine & Dine Half Marathon Bling

My iPhone dried and decided to come back to life. The only casualty of that night was my wig, so this princess is going to be shopping for a new Merida wig.

The next day I returned to Epcot and so did the sun. Given enough time, the memory of this wet and at times miserable race will become a fun story to tell.

I have been twice to Orlando since the race and will do so again in March. I can’t wait.  In the meantime, I signed up for three more races. One here in Birmingham is coming up real soon. The Mercedes Half Marathon will be my second non-Disney race.

I’ll follow that one up running again in April by joining the Ironman 70.3 team of a friend. Her husband will do the swimming, she’ll bike, and I’ll run the half marathon.  The race takes place in New Orleans, and we aptly named our team “For Food, Booze & Bling.” Stay tuned for updates from The Big Easy.

Running Again and Then Some

May will bring a new challenge. While visiting my son in Los Angeles I am signed up for the Pixie Dust Challenge held during the Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend in Anaheim, a 10K followed by a half marathon. I am so looking forward to be back in Los Angeles. What could be better? I’ll be spending time with my son, celebrating my birthday and Mother’s Day, and pushing my limits–just one bit further. And there is always the next Wine & Dine Half Marathon to sign up for!

Living on Highland Avenue South

Living Highland Avenue South

Running “Over The Mountain”

Not in my wildest dreams would I have sought to be living on Highland Avenue South.  Yes, “The South” was always a place I wanted to be, but Highland Avenue South in Birmingham, Alabama? I don’t think so!

Living on Highland Avenue South is wonderful. Picture a green and prosperous neighborhood and you get a good picture. Not quite “over the mountain” but just about that spot geographically. It is as beautiful a neighborhood as you could possibly wish for, and at the same time it is a huge challenge for a “flat land” runner like me.

Living Highland Avenue South

Home on Highland Ave S.

All along Highland Avenue South you can find the most wondrous vistas and experience the most excruciating training runs.

Suddenly names like Niazuma Avenue become the equivalent of Kilimanjaro. No longer do I think that I can run the upcoming Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Orlando in November. No, I think that having signed up for the Pixie Dust Challenge in May 2015 was sheer insanity!

Whenever I train for the upcoming races–and train I do–I feel exhausted and totally overwhelmed. There are muscles that hurt I did not know I even had, and, try as I may, there is simply no long distance road I can possible map that does not involve some crazy elevation.

Living Highland Avenue South

The Donnelly House

Having said all this, I would not want to live anywhere else in Birmingham but on Highland Avenue South.  I recognize that I am blessed to have found a neighborhood that is beautiful, welcoming, and historical. I have three parks to pick from, each one of them in literally 5 minutes’ walking distance from my doorstep.

At any given time and everywhere I look, there are historical homes and the buzz of Five Points South and the entertainment district. The homes on Highland Avenue South are amazing, such as the Donnelly House, a prime venue for weddings located a mere 3-minute walk from my home.

Is Living on Highland Avenue South the Dulcinea of my Dreams?

Palms at sunset in Orlando

Palms at sunset in Orlando

So what am I whining about? Nothing much really except for the physical pain of learning to run in a hilly terrain.

But wait–there is a little more. If I am honest, I admit that deep inside there is the dream of a place where palms are swaying in the wind, a place that illuminates nightly to a tune that dreams are made of. A home I never called my own, a home that family and friends feel is far- fetched for someone like me, a home that no matter what everyone else says, I still desire. Is it a realistic dream? Nope. But does it really matter?

For now, I will run like my life depends on it. I’ll be running and living on Highland Avenue South and save the dreams of Windermere for a later time. Windermere, after all, sounds like putting a name on a windmill. I just hope that–unlike in Don Quixote–Dulcinea will indeed be waiting for me.

 

 

 

Ratatouille: Disturb, Shake, and Stir

RatatouilleWebster’s dictionary describes the origin of the word Ratatouille as coming from the verb ratouiller which means to disturb, shake, and to stir.

If you are like me, you probably think of food, as Ratatouille is a wonderful classic French dish originating from the Provence region. Of course, there are those who associate the word with rat-turned-chef Remy in the Pixar movie Ratatouille. Yes, I am guilty of that too.

So, to me, Ratatouille is really all of the above, and it describes perfectly my life in the past three months: Disturb, shake, and stir! And God knows I’ve had my fair share of turbulence. It is now three months since I left New York City for Birmingham, Alabama. I am happy to report that I love discovering my new hometown and that I am re-discovering my love for cooking and entertaining.

Caramel Apples - RatatouilleMy blog, and some of my freelance writing, was put on a back burner but never really extinguished. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2015 is shipping to a store near you and gives me cause for celebration.

My latest article for Undercover Tourist was about my favorite snacks at Walt Disney World and I did report about the Frozen Mania that is sweeping The Kingdom of the Mouse.

Running, on the other hand, was put on ice for a while after foot surgery. Let’s just say it was another “disturbance” in the Force. I am up and running again, signed up for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Orlando in early November.

Book signing at Todd English - RatatouilleSo what else? Well, there was a book signing at Todd English P.U.B. for Gone Pro Alabama and I can’t wait for Paul Chibeba’s visit with me Down South in just a few weeks.

Except for Paul’s visit, the most exciting item on the menu is my first business trip. In a few days I will be heading, costume and all, to Lexington, Kentucky, to attend ScareFest.

My company publishes America’s Haunted Road Trips, a series of 25 books describing places that are known or said to be haunted. We will be presenting and selling our books for three days. I am really excited about this opportunity and hope to stir up interest in some of the most ghostly tales in this country.

It would seem unfair to talk about Ratatouille without sharing at least one good recipe. So without further adieu, I give you Julia Child’s Ratatouille recipe.

Humanius est deridere vitam quam deplorare

Epcot In Bloom

Epcot In Bloom

Life has been a roller coaster lately. While I am a firm believer in making lemonade when life gives you lemons, I think instead of lemonade I will try my luck at Limoncello. Instead of lamenting, I want to look back at all the wonderful things I have experienced in the past six weeks.

I visited Orlando twice, ran my third Half Marathon during runDisney’s Princess Half weekend, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, discovered the new Spice Road Table restaurant, and saw the New Festival of Fantasy Parade at the Magic Kingdom. Another highlight was taking time to smell the flowers at Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival. Friends and family know that I love going South, and it was a blessing to escape brutally cold New York City. Soaking up the sun was wonderful, and my days at Epcot were among my happiest lately. What could be more relaxing than watching a heron resting on a floating garden and observing butterflies hatching? I was reminded of the days, unfortunately long ago, when I enjoyed regular visits to Juniper Springs, Florida.

Heron resting on a floating garden

Heron resting on a floating garden

Back in New York, family and friends provided solace and cheer while Mother Nature kept sending one winter storm after another. A surprise visit from cousins Bjorn and Tom brought much joy. On the other side of the country, Idan is working hard on a feature movie, and Laura is in Mobile, AL, working on a production with Bruce Willis–the stuff that makes moms proud!

We celebrated the wedding of Sergio and Nancy, and I can’t wait for our trip together with the entire family on the Disney Magic for their religious ceremony at Castaway Cay next month. I truly enjoyed making the bride’s bouquet, and I am thinking about what arrangement I can create for the Easter table.

Nancy & Sergio's wedding

Nancy & Sergio’s wedding

Spring finally arrived; while it is still rather cold, there is hope for warmer and kinder days ahead. There are still a few lemons lying around but not for long. I am working on the revisions for the 2015 edition of my guidebook, and soon the Facebook page of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids will reach 5,000 fans. There is so much to be grateful for. Even though the guidebook updates are lots of work, they are what keeps me going when things get tough. My freelance work, too, while labor intensive and not well paid, pushes me daily to move on, one word, one step, one day at a time. At the end of the day, it is indeed more natural to laugh at life than to lament it.

Countdown to Spring

Countdown to Spring

Run Merida Run!

The sun was lowest, the night was longest, but with winter solstice behind us I started my countdown to Spring. There won’t be a White Christmas, and the weather, just like me, has its ups and downs. Either way, the days are getting longer, and it is only 85 days till Spring and exactly 178 days till Summer!

Of course, another countdown has begun. In a few days, we will say goodbye to 2013 and welcome a new year. So often we wish for a good year, a better year, a successful one, but how about looking back and reflecting on the one that just is about to slip into the past? There are so many things I am grateful for. Exactly one year ago today (December 24), I received my Green Card, and my son not only graduated from film school, but he also went West to work in his field. I miss him, of course, but thank God for planes. Los Angeles has not seen the last of me.

In 2013, I set out to shed the weight I had been carrying around with me, and weight of all sorts it was. I started running and, thanks to the encouragement of dear friends, I ran my first race. It was a modest 5K that Laura Spencer and I set out to conquer, but to me it felt like climbing Mount Everest. I never knew what a runner’s high was until I experienced it and I got hooked on running. I discovered a whole community of supporting and caring running buddies; even when I did hit a roadblock, I kept moving.

So, minus a gallbladder, I did run a 10K in Anaheim, and it was simply heaven when at the finish line my son and my future daughter-in-law were waiting for me. Encouraged and cranking it up a notch, I did run 10 miles in Orlando in October. Eventually, I also did shed the physical weight, and I am now racing to my final goal, as far as my feet will carry me. I am training for my first half Marathon, and I shudder at the idea of how this will eventually feel.

Countdown to Spring

2013 at Disney

In the meantime, I have traveled in Europe, Canada, and the United States. My all-time favorite Mouse did see a lot of me this year and was the subject of 39 published stories, including Epcot during the holidays and Christmas decorations at Disney resorts. Last but not least, I am working on the seventh edition of my guide book to Walt Disney World with Kids.

I have been blessed to be able to report about my trials and tribulations, and I think 2014 will bring more of the same. Sometimes, more of the same is a good thing.

But I nearly forgot, there was one more thing I did in 2013 that was just unheard of: I learned how to drive a car. So going forward, may all who cross my path in the New Year be safe and may 2014 bring many more happy trails.

 

A Costume for Every Occasion

Mickey and Goofy in Mardi Gras costume at Disney's Port Orleans Resort

Mickey and Goofy in Mardi Gras costumes at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort

February 12th is Mardi Gras, and a mini-parade will wind its way through Disney’s Port Orleans Resort. Several departments of the resort build floats on golf carts. The floats are judged and then go on a grand tour through both the Riverside and French Quarter sections of the resort. Guests who line up to watch get a chance to catch some of the beads, candy, and doubloons being tossed. Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen join the fun in a horse-drawn carriage.

A costume for every occasion

Me as little Dutch Girl – Carnival Eupen

This little-known event brought back childhood memories of carnival parades with colorful floats and fabulous costumes. Raised in the German- speaking part of Belgium where Carnival is celebrated like in the Rhineland, the making of a costume was an annual ritual.

Being Jewish, I also celebrated Purim, with a different outfit, of course, and once I moved to the United States I quickly concluded that Halloween required special attire too.

A costume for every occasion - Idan's 3rd birthday - Peter Pan costume

Idan’s 3rd birthday – Peter Pan costume

Over the years, I discovered Cosplay and Renaissance Faires, themed costume parties, and White Parties. I even attended the Star Wars Convention dressed up like Princess Leia. When my son was born, I had the perfect excuse to create costumes for him and his little friends. Watching movies such as Beauty and the Beast, Peter Pan, and The Lion King inspired me to create an entire costume chest. The costumes came in handy for holidays, play dates, and birthday parties.

Through my work on the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids I got to admire the costumes and props that Disney produces for the parks, movies, and Broadway shows. At times I dream to be left overnight inside the costume-making department at Disney Hollywood Studios. I am working on how to achieve that by taking the Backlot Tour as often as I can.

Idan and Laura

Idan and Laura

My son, who is now all grown up, shares my love for costumes. Together with his girlfriend Laura–a professional costume designer–he still dresses up for Halloween and special events. Laura, a graduate from New York’s Fashion Institute, is extremely talented, and I can’t wait to enlist her help and clad my future grandchildren in costumes for every occasion. I am confident that the family tradition of making costumes is secured!

I have no Mardi Gras plans, and Purim this year falls on the same day I am running the 5K in Epcot. So what’s next? Halloween, of course!

 

Splash Pads, Anyone?

Splash Pads Anyone?

Splash Zone Disney Grand Floridian Resort

Splash pads are becoming more and more the norm throughout the resort hotels and the Disney parks.

A splash pad is by definition a water attraction geared towards little tykes enjoying themselves splashing around in water that drains right away into the ground. The play area is soft and cushioned so that your child does not get hurt. Many of the resort hotels have splash pads; when I recently asked the Disney PR representative if there was a list of splash pads, I was told, “They are everywhere.” So I went on a fact-finding mission.

New and part of a huge upgrade of the pool area at the Grand Floridian Resort is the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party-themed splash zone. Teapots, teacups, and even the Mad Hatter’s famous hat will dump water on young guests. Two mini waterslides and several sprinklers provide unlimited fun. Another fabulous place to get wet is Kidani Village at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Splash Pads Anyone?

Kidani Village Splash Zone

It is easy to have a blast at Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach; both Disney Water Parks are perfect for a hot summer day. Visiting both during my stay, I think that what I like most is that you can have a wonderful time with the entire family. Teens will love showing off going down Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach, and the entire family will enjoy snorkeling Shark Reef at Typhoon Lagoon.The best part, however, in both parks is that there is plenty of play area for little tykes. My all-time favorite is Tike’s Peak at Blizzard Beach. Slides, pop-up water jets, and sandboxes provide fun for even the most timid toddler.

At the Magic Kingdom, the best place to get wet is at Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station in the Storybook Circus section of Fantasyland, which opened June 15th. It offers a great relief from the heat and will make your child not want to leave this area. But be aware: You will get wet! And it won’t just be the kids in the splash pad; parents sitting around will also get their fill of water or mist blowing in the wind.

Splash Pads Anyone?

Splash Area Casey Jr. Circus, Magic Kingdom

There is a splash pad located just by Mission Space and Test Track in Future World in Epcot and another one at Innoventions. Again, if you let the kids enjoy themselves, trust me: They will get wet! At Disney Hollywood Studios, beware of the super soaker water gun inside the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure. This 52-foot-long leaking water hose has the potential to spray the kids enough to warrant a change of clothes.

Splash Pads Anyone?

Splash Zone Epcot

Splash pads in the parks are a good way for the kids to let off steam, but plan ahead and bring swimsuits, towels, and an extra change of clothes. Most of all, make sure that the shoes stay dry. There is no better recipe for blisters than walking in wet sneakers. Also, too much fun in the sun isn’t a good thing, so make sure everybody drinks lots of fluids and lathers on the sunscreen.

At Downtown Disney, two splash pads provide lots of fun, keeping me wondering when Disney will roll out a splash pad at the airport!

Starting Out: Just Do It!

Image

Starting Out

Just do it!

Starting a blog on the first day of 2013? Really? One cannot plan things like that–they are just meant to happen. As with every project, however, this one did not happen overnight and certainly not without help. So let me do first things first. I want to thank my son, Idan Menin, for believing in me–and my family and friends for their support. A special thank you to Janet Forman for all her help and patience, to Gretchen Kelly for her encouragement, and to Benjaman Kyle, who gave me on this very day the final push I needed to settle on the name for this blog and to finally stop talking about it and get started.

I love all things Disney, dragons, hobbits, fairytales, and more. Being the co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids allows me to be “inside the magic” on a regular basis and to report useful, family-specific tips for planning a vacation to Walt Disney World. In April 2012 I started a Facebook fan page and I am grateful to over 3,000 loyal fans with whom I share daily tips on how to make the best of a trip to the Kingdom of the Mouse.

In addition to the book, I have done freelance pieces for Travelmole.com, JohnnyJet.com and I am a frequent contributor to UndercoverTouist.com

Writing has always been my passion, and I am excited to be Starting Out!