Our take from last weekend -- not bad!

Our take from last weekend — not bad!

This past weekend our family made yet one more trip to Orlando, so I could run my 2nd Disney Princess Half Marathon, and the boys could experience the early mornings and fun people watching with me. We stayed at Walt Disney World’s newest hotel, a value resort called The Art of Animation Resort, and we visited Sea World with our dear friends the McNabb family.

We repurposed the Incredibles costumes we wore last September, which was our plan all along. Unfortunately, my plan was for temperatures to be in the 50s like it had been most of the previous 5 years of this race. Instead it was quite warm. More »

25. April 2012 · Comments Off on Our Fishtank · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , , ,

To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever written about our fishtank before. I know I’ve written several times about our fountain/pond set up in the front yard of our current house. We have a 5 gallon tank in our kitchen also.

Jacob got his first fish around his 5th birthday. Small tanks with bettas and danios. Easy-to-care-for fish. We took the fishtank (sans fish) to Nebraska, and tried out some other fish — Glo-Fish danios were popular with the boys but they seemed to not live for more than 3-4 months at a time, and cost twice as much as non-fluorescent danios.

In Florida, we set up one more time, this time with fancy guppies. We kept 3-4 guppies in the tank and they did quite well. We lost one of them after about 6 months, which seemed par for the course.

About a year ago, we took on a blue gourami from a friend who was moving. A BIG blue gourami who proceeded to eat the tails off two of the guppies…the ones with the prettiest, fanciest tails. Since they were apparently threats to him even though he was about 20x their sizes. A fish with no tail doesn’t last long.

From May 2011 until April 2012, we had a small Endler’s guppy (which had a very plain tail and therefore was allowed to live) and the blue gourami. They existed in very quiet harmony.

The guppy is still with us, the blue gourami passed away at the beginning of this month.

So we repopulated the fish tank with some smaller fish. And decided to replace the really old plastic plants and anchor-thingy tank decoration in the tank while we were at it.

Zebra danios have always done well with us…so we bought 3 of them. You want to get groups of three because they’re “community fish”, and are happiest in groups.

We also chose a new kind of fish — new to us. “Mickey Mouse” platys. These are also community fish — considering the boys’ obsession with Hidden Mickeys, these were PERFECT! The boys love them!

Here are two fo the Mickey Mouse platys. Aren't they cute? They're about the size of feeder goldfish.

A closeup of the tail. See the Hidden Mickey?

While we were at it, we redecorated the tank to Post-Modern Bikini Bottom. Enjoy!

You can see one of our zebra danios towards the top of the pineapple.

08. March 2012 · Comments Off on Runner Girl Plays Dress Up — Part 2 · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

As you read in Part 1, Steph and I had to try to sleep the night before the big race, except we were too excited to sleep and we each probably got 3-4 hours of sleep total.

We got up at 2am — YAWN! — and was ready to meet the first bus from our hotel to the race venue.


Once we were dropped off, we had a long walk to the bag check.  A girl who was sitting near us on the bus was chatting with us.  And wouldn’t you know it?  Her brother is a weatherman in the Air Force!  And was traveling down to Dave’s squadron for some training!

Where’s Kevin Bacon???

I won’t bore you with the details of waiting to wait for the start of the race.
But here are some cute costumes to put smiles on your faces:

The start of the race is impressive.  Fairy Godmother comes out and says “Bibbity Bobbity Boo!” and fireworks are shot off!

I was in Corral A — so I had a great view of the start of the race!

During the race there are many opportunities to take pictures with the Disney characters.  I didn’t start doing this till the castle at about mile 5, when it was clear that most of the girls in my corral didn’t care about the pictures and there were no waits for most of the pictures.

So even though I didn’t plan to, I bought the digital copies of the race pictures.  There were so many, it was worth it!

Enjoy some of the professional pictures taken during the race:

That Prince Charming was — WOW!

The girl in the Snow White costume is Lisa from Houston.  She paced with me for miles 2-10! 
I wish the castle wasn’t so dark behind me.  We were there right at sunrise….
Flynn Rider — it’s remarkable how Disney finds such likenesses!

Mulan was the LAST Princess on the race route, at mile 12.  It was TOUGH getting back on the route after visiting with her.


The girl on my left is Stephanie (a different Stephanie than the one I traveled with).  She and I work together in the AF Reserves.  We paced each other to the finish!

Best. Finish Line. Picture. Ever.  Usually I look like death.

The medals are very substantial.  Downright heavy around my neck.

It was Stephanie’s birthday.

Stephanie and I had quite the adventure after our race trying to get lunch and then take the monorail and buses back to our room.  Our legs are like jello!

After we got back to the hotel, Stephanie D. and I took it easy for the rest of the day.  We enjoyed the hotel’s hot tub (along with about 10 other racers) and then enjoyed some Cajun food for dinner at the hotel’s food court.  We enjoyed the Oscars and fell asleep nice and early.

We drove home on Monday and that was that!

I’m trying to convince Dave to run the race with me next year.  I’d like to dress like Mr. and Mrs. Incredible!

But we’ll need some help w/ the kids to do that…we’ll see.

08. March 2012 · 2 comments · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,

I’m so excited to finally have time to sit down and share my experience with my first runDisney race a couple weeks ago!

Last fall I signed up to run the Disney Princess Half Marathon, whose route covers Magic Kingdom and EPCOT.  The race was on February 26th.  A neighborhood friend, Stephanie, and I made the trip together over a long weekend.  We had a wonderful trip and it was fun to be part of such a magical weekend.  There were nearly 20,000 runners.  While men are allowed to take part, they cannot win race awards.  There were about 1000 male runners.

Can you see me?  I am towards the right, just past the finish line.  Do you see the man in the light blue tutu to my right?

The training for this race was very similar to the program I did for the Gulf Coast Half Marathon last spring.  Like last year I was able to take advantage of the Pensacola Double Bridge Run as a good mid-point for training — and it was smart to incorporate the hills because the Disney course isn’t flat at all!

It’s tradition to dress in a costume for this race.  Needless to say, most of the women racing dressed as their favorite princesses.  Many of the men dressed up, also.  I chose to run as Mulan, due to her military and Asian backgrounds.

After ditching the tulle tutu option after a test run (I don’t know HOW all those other women did it), I opted to just stick to modern running clothing with a couple of additions.  I bought a pink running skirt, and I had several lighter pink running shirts to choose from already.

I had this old Susie Wong-style dress that I had bought in China years ago.  I outgrew the dress and the silk was looking worn out in spots.  I cut off the top and bottom to make a corset-style belt.

This could fit over my head and then zip into place w/ the original dress zipper.

This was the flower for my hair.

I after hot glue not holding the flower onto this comb during a run, I used floral tape to really bind it on.  It held up for all 13.1 miles!
A friend gave me this pretty lace scarf that served well as a gold sash and bow in the back.

Now that I had a costume ready to go, let’s talk about the race experience itself!

Stephanie and I arrived at Walt Disney World around 5pm Friday.  We headed straight over to the “Fit for a Princess” Expo, which featured numerous fitness vendors selling all the typical goodies.  We enjoyed samples of Clif Gel, Luna bars and got to test iPod armbands, headbands and other gadgets and gizmos.

I had wanted to look at the Dooney & Bourke commemorative handbags Disney had commissioned for the race.  They were sold out.  An employee said they had all sold out in two hours.  Gee, I wonder why they sold so quickly?  I wasn’t necessarily planning to buy one — I’m not a super Princess-ey kind of girl — but I still wanted to see them in person.

Forget the Princess race bag, this is the one I want!

We stayed at the Port Orleans French Quarter hotel on the Walt Disney World property.  This helped getting to/from the race venues more easily.

The landscaping and ambiance of this hotel is so beautiful!

We enjoyed a fun evening at the Boardwalk Resort.  We visited a piano bar called Jellyrolls and met up Debbie, with an Air Force friend who lives in Tampa now, as well as fellow blogger Rosalind of Girls Are Geeks.

Rosalind and me.

On Saturday, many runners who had their families at the resort with them took part in the Tangled Family 5K race.  I didn’t go to see the race, but I could see that being a nice warmup for the biggie the following day.

Steph, Debbie and I enjoyed a leisurely day at Magic Kingdom.  For the first time, I could spend the day at Magic Kingdom doing GIRLIE things!**

We browsed all the stores we wanted…slowly!  The lines weren’t bad at all, and we could manage our Fast Passes well enough to go on any rides we wanted to.  For the most part, we stuck to leisurely rides, but we didn’t let a trip on Splash Mountain escape us!

**On my 30th birthday my Mom and I spent the day at EPCOT…similarly doing girlie things and it was great!

Because we were wearing our race t-shirts, many cast members wished us “Good Luck tomorrow”.

This was about 30′ from the big drop at the end of the Splash Mountain ride.  The ride STOPPED for about 2 minutes.  Which is why I got this picture.

Enjoying some shopping!

We had dinner at Downtown Disney Saturday night, said goodbye to Debbie, and then Steph and I attempted to go to bed early — we had a 2am alarm set for Sunday morning!  But I was too excited — I hadn’t been this excited in YEARS about anything.  I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve!  I probably got about 3 hours of sleep before the race.

Stay tuned for Part 2…the race itself!

12. February 2012 · Comments Off on Our Disney Cruise, Part 6: AquaDuck! · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Today’s post will be about AquaDuck, a 765-foot water slide that will only be found on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy (when the Fantasy is commissioned later this month).  They’re the only cruise ships in the world with complete water slides on board.  I had to wait until my waterproof camera pictures were developed to do this one and I’m so excited about it!  AquaDuck starts inside the rear funnel and travels from the stern of the ship towards the bow, then goes under the bow funnel (behind the Funnel Vision screen) and then continues back toward the stern of the ship again, depositing you right at the bottom of the stairs so you can hop right back in line!

The view of AquaDuck from the docks in Nassau.
Guests get to enjoy a great view of the pool deck while riding.

If you’ve been to a water park, then there’s little more to be said about the ride.  It’s a standard inner tube-type of ride.  It’s a lot of fun!  I like how Disney (again) puts the kids first by allowing VERY young children to ride with a grownup.  I don’t think there’s a minimum size to ride, I saw kids as young as three years old riding with adults. My sons were allowed to ride alone, they are both taller than 44″.

I want to share some other fun things that make AquaDuck really cool for a Disney Geek like me.

There’s an adorable comic strip to read while waiting for AquaDuck — strangely, though, you have to read it from right to left. This was taken with a waterproof film camera and the viewfinder was tough to navigate.
The rest of the comic. Which shows Donald overdoing things on the ride and smashing into the fore funnel. Ha ha! 
And there’s Donald in the funnel! Yikes!

I was also fascinated with the conveyor machine that transports the rafts back up to the top of the ride. You can see it behind the kids in this picture:

There’s a conveyor that brought the rafts from the end of the ride straight up to the top. I also liked that my boys are old enough and tall enough (over 48″) to ride it together without an adult on board. 

I took a waterproof camera with me to get some pictures of the ride itself, such as the trip through the forward funnel, but the ride was so exciting I forgot I had the camera with me till the very end. I got this picture below, but then found out that due to safety concerns, no cameras are allowed on the ride.

WHEE! It was a wild ride down to the base of the attraction, where that cast member to the right asked me to not take cameras on the ride in the future. Oops!
08. February 2012 · Comments Off on Our Disney Cruise, Part 5: Disney Art Throughout The Ship · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , , ,
Disney artwork graces the passageways and staterooms of the Disney Dream. There’s even a full-sized art gallery on board, where guests can purchase original and prints of Disney art. Photo by Flickr user Casajump, used with permission.

I couldn’t get over the beautiful Disney storyboard and concept art throughout the Disney Dream. If you sail on a Disney Cruise Line ship, make sure you take the time to stroll around the enjoy the art.

And if you want to take some of the art home with you, pay a visit to the Vista Gallery. This is where guests can browse original Disney art and pieces related to the Disney Dream and Castaway Cay. Many of the pieces are for sale, and several are featured in a silent auction. In addition, popular prints are sold for a nominal cost and make very elegant cruise souvenirs.

In the staterooms, there were two prints hanging on the walls.  It appears that the same prints are in most rooms on the Disney Dream, and Dave and I were disappointed that we couldn’t buy a print of the art deco design of the four Disney Cruise Line ships.

We have nautical art prints and photography in our bedroom at home. This print, which is featured in most Disney Dream staterooms, would be the perfect compliment to our design, but alas it wasn’t for sale. Note the names of the four ships below each hull.  Photo by Flickr user Insidethemagic.

I really loved looking at the storyboard art and rough sketches along the stairwells and passageways — designs that we knew would later become the films and cartoons that make Walt Disney famous. They had prints of basic Steamboat Willie ideas, Pixar storyboards and celluoid prints. And now I share some of my favorites with you!

The long passageway leading towards the Animator’s Palete restaurant is lined with rough sketches of over 20 Disney heroines, from Snow White to Rapunzel and everyone in between. I found my favorite among them!
This is one of the “Enchanted Art” pieces, the poster converts into a Silly Symphony with a Russian theme. 

These next three pictures are probably my favorites on the entire ship. They were tucked away on either Deck 1 or 2 towards the back of the ship (the “aft” stairwell). Three 4-panel pieces in a row showing a scene from a Pixar movie from storyboard to completed CGI! This is from The Incredibles. 
From Finding Nemo. 
From Cars.
07. February 2012 · Comments Off on Our Disney Cruise, Part 4: Biometrics and Photography · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,
I took many cute pictures of the boys playing at the beach at Castaway Cay. Disney shipboard professional photographers wandered the island taking pictures also. Because we were in the water, I didn’t have a Key to the World card with which the photographer could associate the picture. “That’s okay”, he says. How can that be?
Here’s what the professional photographer captured just a few minutes later.  Thanks to biometrics, this otherwise “unassociated” picture found its way into our stateroom account folio.

Some of you might say, “Wow that’s really cool!” and some of you might say, “Wow, that’s really creepy!”

It’s no secret that cruise lines offer comprehensive portraiture services on board.  And it’s also no secret that on a cruise your party will be pulled aside all over the place to grab pictures for your purchase later. There’s an area on all the Disney Cruise Line ships called “Shutters” where hard-copy portfolios of all of your pictures are available as soon as 2 hours after they’re taken.  Photography is prohibited in Shutters, so I couldn’t share how cool this place is: touch your Key to the World card to one of the touchpads throughout the shop and a screen will tell you where your stateroom account’s folio is.

In our case, we were assigned “Donald Yellow 5”. Which meant the Donald bookcase, the folio marked #5 in the row of yellow folders.  The area looks like an elegant library. This video shows the bookcases starting at about 0:30.

We weren’t shy about the photo opportunities. I think Dave was getting rather sick of it, but I like that there is no obligation to purchase. And you never know when you might have a winner in there. (Especially when I’m usually the one BEHIND the camera and it was nice to be in front of it every once in a while.) We had over 50 prints in our folio by the end of our four-night cruise; only about 10 of them were worth keeping.  Jacob blinks a lot, and Dave’s glasses produced a lot of glares.

I just this week got the copyright release for these pictures and will scan in nice copies.  In the meantime, you can view slightly better versions of the professional pictures here.

So there we were enjoying the beach on Castaway Cay. We had rented inner tubes for the boys to float around in. At one point a photographer was wading around along the water/sand line, photographing guests. It was nice in that he didn’t photograph children without the parents’ permission, and my son posed like a champ.

But I didn’t have my Key to the World card with which I could associate the picture. “That’s okay,” said the nice young photographer. And he snapped a couple pictures and moved on to the next family.

Lo and behold, that evening when we checked our folio our two water pictures were in the folio!!!  You can see the one we bought in the lower right corner of the picture above.

How could that be? Easy. Disney biometrics.

Bio…what? Bio as in life, metrics as in mathematics. In this case, Disney employs facial recognition technology to compare pictures of “unknown” guests to other photos that have already been taken during the cruise. So if you had a picture taken already during the cruise, and it was already associated with a stateroom account via a Key to the World card, the software can find the unassociated picture’s home: your folio.

For those who didn’t have any pictures and didn’t have anything to associate, a wall on one side of Shutters displayed all the “unknown” faces.

You’ve seen this before. Facebook has “Tag Recommendations“, iPhoto has the “Faces” feature, and Picasa Web Albums has the “People” feature.

I had talked about this Castaway Cay photo association with some fellow cruise guests and they pointed out that it seemed rather creepy to them. We all hoped that none of the biometric information is saved once the cruise is over.

What do you think? Biometric face recognition: cool or creepy?

05. February 2012 · Comments Off on Our Disney Cruise, Part 3: The Animator’s Palate · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,
I had heard SO MUCH about the Animator’s Palette restaurant on Disney Cruises. Boy was I in for a surprise on the Disney Dream!

Last summer, before my husband and I had booked our cruise, I had received some recent gouge on taking Disney cruises from a couple of Air Force family friends. One of the families’ favorite parts of the cruise was their dinner experience at the Animator’s Palate restaurant.

But first, a little background on the Disney dinner experience. If you so choose, you and your party will have seating arranged at each of the three formal restaurants. The order of the restaurants is coded on your Key to the World card. For example, my card had the letters “ERAA”, so for our four-night cruise, we ate at Enchanted Garden first, then the Royal Table, then the Animator’s Palate two nights in a row. Why two nights in a row? Because the first of those two nights was the Pirates IN the Caribbean theme dinner — all restaurants converted for the theme night (that’s for another post!).

As I’d mentioned in Part 1, the waitstaff travels among the restaurants so we had the same service team all four nights.

Of the three restaurants, the Animator’s Palate is the most fun and most interactive.

So my friend who was so excited about the Animator’s Palate dinner experience gave me so many details. She told me about how the entire restaurant starts in black and white. The tables, the waitstaff are dressed in black and white, the screens on the wall are covered in first-level black and white concept art. Over the course of the dinner, the waitstaff is slowly adding color to their outfits, and the art on the walls is slowly transforming into Disney’s final visions. Read more about the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder Animator’s Palette experience here.

I was very surprised at how different our Animator’s Palate experience was on the Disney Dream.  We entered the restaurant with the very basic sketches on the screens, but our waitstaff were wearing their black and white shirts with bright teal ties — that looked like a bubbly ocean.

Our server Dimi in his Animator’s Palette uniform. The tie matches the East Australia Current theme of the accompanying show.

During our appetizer course, our screens transformed from the basic storyboard sketches into scenes from Finding Nemo’s Great Barrier Reefs. The lighting in the restaurant transformed into a spectrum of blues and greens. Characters from Finding Nemo appeared to greet the diners, and the kids enjoyed numerous games of “guess what the silver fish school is making”.

Characters swim around the coral reef screens.

All through dinner the kids were enjoying the silver fish school making shapes. Sharks, octopus, a clown fish, a cruise ship and in this case, a birthday cake!

Then Crush, the 150-year-old tortoise from Finding Nemo, makes his rounds throughout the restaurant visiting guests. This is a truly enchanting experience — if you’ve ever experienced the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor attraction at Magic Kingdom or Turtle Talk with Crush at EPCOT, this is similar. Crush singles out dinner guests and carries on direct conversations with them. We were fortunate that Crush found my youngest son and the following conversation took place:

How enchanting is that?

Of course, we adults were curious about how this was working. The technology for this was borrowed from those same attractions at other Disney Parks, thanks to innovations at Disney Imagineering.  It didn’t take us long to find the panels that didn’t quite look like the others — the cameras must have been hidden behind them!

Look at the upper left. There is a green-bordered screen with pictures of Mr. Frederickson from Up. What you don’t see is the wire coming from behind the panel. There’s the camera!

The dinner show concludes with some lessons at having fun and being laid back (lots of shouts of “Awesome!” and “DUDE!” resonate around the dining room) before the room transforms back into the storyboard sketches and the colors return to what we had upon entering the restaurant.

So even though our experience was different than what guests on the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder receive, it was still delightful and incredibly memorable, especially for the kids!

The “Midship Detective Agency” on the Disney Dream lets the kids interact with the Enchanted Art on the ship to solve a mystery. 

One of the unique features of the Disney Dream is their 22 pieces of “Enchanted Art” scattered among all of the artwork on their fourteen decks. In a Harry Potter-esque manner, random pictures on the wall will come to life! This is fun for the kids and adults alike!

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