Monday, August 29, 2011

You WILL Have Fun!

Every year around this time, my life gets hugely hectic.  That's life as a high school teacher, I guess, but this year I got to watch my Klout score plummet too. *sad face* Anyways... the other night I was on Twitter, and I mentioned not having time to blog and being welcome to the idea of another guest blogger.  My friend Andrew (@TheDeister) sent me the following Walt Disney World blog post, and it absolutely made my night!  I hope it makes yours too. 

While I have been to both WDW and Disneyland in the past, I do not claim to be now, nor ever a Disney-Geek.  I possess some level appreciation for what these places are and what they represent in the lives of some of my friends but for me personally they rarely enter my consciousness.  This may be because the trips I have taken to the parks were both years ago and the majority of memories have been overwritten in my mental computer by other data.

There is a scene I recall that define Disney parks for me.  I am not sure if we were in California or Florida, but my entire family was standing right in the middle of Main Street USA having an excited (read: loud) debate about where we needed to go.  This was early on the morning of our first day of the trip and my two sisters and I all wanted to start in different places.  The volume level went up as the ability to hear each other went down.  Then, my normally patient, father stepped in to end the argument.  “We are here to have fun!” he shouted and the next thing he barked as an order “YOU WILL HAVE FUN!”  This made the three children and my mother stop, look at him with his red frustrated face, and erupt into laughter.  Had he just ordered us to enjoy ourselves?  Was he commanding happiness in the happiest place on earth? The answer to both is yes.  I don’t know where we went after that, what line we got into or what we ate, but I remember laughing for the rest of the vacation, and years later, about how enjoyment was demanded of us.

Vacations often become work, with timetables, physical exertion that is not normal and a desire to experience as much as possible.  We want to get our money worth of fun and sights and food.  If there is down time, it is structured and there are expectations of how it should be filled.  At times we need to be reminded that we need to enjoy every moment and take in what is around us.

So, you who have become a part of the Disney cult (not a insult) when you plan your next venture into the crowds that want to taste the happiness that is on tap try to set aside time to not see everything, but only what is around you.  Drink in the joy of being where you want to be, and recognize the blessings in life that have brought you to that moment.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Surprisingly Awesome Souvenir at WDW

Most of my trips to Walt Disney World as an adult have been made when the weather was mild to downright freezing. We once stood at the bus stop when it was 32 degrees! On that same trip, we wore hoodie sweatshirts half the time and t-shirts the other half. Mostly, though, we've enjoyed mornings with sweatshirts and afternoons with t-shirts or long sleeves.

Why am I taking time to tell you about WDW weather? Well, most WDW travelers know the weather in Florida can be rather iffy at times. (Bring a poncho!) But the biggest reason is because my last trip was in June, and I was absolutely terrified of the heat and humidity prior to our trip!

For the most part our trip was a lovely time. That is... until you stopped and moved the strap of your bag, and realized there was a beautiful damp area on your shirt. Or you'd be standing in line and feel sweat trickle ever so gently down your back. Or you'd run into someone and slide off of them! (Ok that last one, thankfully, did NOT happen!) I tried not to whine because it was June, and I chose to go to WDW in June, but sometimes the heat really got to me.

Enter Walt Disney World's BEST low-cost, heat reducing souvenir:
I posted this picture on Twitter with the caption: BEST WDW souvenir ever!
I know what you're thinking: really, Joanna? A fan? That's so obvious! (Or maybe you're wondering if that's Kyle tweeting in the corner of the picture there. Yes, for the record, it is. hehe!)

Yes, it's a simple fan, but let me tell you, that fan was a life saver! I bought it our second to last day in the parks, and it rarely left my hand. I grew quite skilled at whipping it open and closed quickly! In lines, walking, on rides... I fanned myself and tried to get Kyle in the breeze too, and the breeze was a beautiful beautiful thing! The best discovery? While the fan helps some when you're outside on a boat or walking, it feels amazing when you're in a pavilion or building because it moves about the air conditioned air! It's like a little bit of heaven when you're at WDW in summer time!

This fan now resides in my classroom for when my 3 windows bring in a bit too much heat, but the China Pavilion in Epcot will now be one of my first stops whenever I visit WDW when it's hot.

You too can own the BEST WDW souvenir! Here are some of the "secrets" of finding a great fan:

  • They have fans in the Japan Pavilion, but there is a much larger selection in the China Pavilion.
  • My fan was only $11, and it wasn't the cheapest one they had to offer, so you can get something for less if you like.
  • I recommend the collapsible fans. They tuck away in your purse (or pocket) easily.
  • I've had a lace fan in the past, but this one was wooden. In my opinion it held up better than a paper fan and produced more of a breeze than a lace fan.
  • I've heard they'll write your name in Chinese on your fan for free, but I didn't opt for that.
There you go: another souvenir that fits my rules for budget vacation shopping. It has a function and isn't going to break the bank! How about you? What random, seemingly hole-in-the wall souvenirs have you found around the World Showcase?

Walt Disney World Shopping Tip #5: Next time you're overheated at Walt Disney World, head to the China Pavilion and pick up a fan! 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Disney Pet Peeves

Pet peeves: we all have them, right? For me it's people who are always late and people who don't fully read emails. Generally we all know how to get over our pet peeves and not let those little irritants get in the way of our lives. But what happens when we're on vacation? I'd go as far as to argue that vacations have their own unique sets of pet peeves, and they often pop up in ways that surprise us all.

My general rule on vacation is "don't let anyone else rain on your parade." I'm there to enjoy myself, others are there to enjoy themselves, so let's just share in that joy and Disney magic. Other people don't take the same road though. Here are some pet peeves I've seen rear their ugly heads in the parks and how you can keep your smile through them.

1. Line Jumpers: You're standing in line for Peter Pan's Flight, the queue is a 60 minute posted wait, and the people behind you are trying to get around you every time the queue makes a turn. You end up annoyed for the entire hour as you try to make yourself as large as you possibly can to "defend" your spot in line. By the time you get to your magical flight, you've had so much fight in the line that you just want to get out of there!
Even "back then" the queues were extended and long!
Solution: Most of us learned in Kindergarden or before that line jumping, or cutting in line, is rude and a definite no. However, huge crowds happen, and people get so self-focused that they forget their grade school rules. Avoid the aggravation and politely ask the people behind you if they'd like to go ahead of you. If they do, excellent! Now the struggle is over.  If they don't, they'll most likely take the hint and back off.

2. Flash Photography on Dark Rides: Ah yes, you've settled in on your boat and are ready to happily gaze at Jack Sparrow on the Pirates of the Caribbean when suddenly you are blinded by a flash! You look around expecting that the paparazzi have found you and finally realized your amazing star quality only to discover someone else in your boat is photographing every minute detail of the ride. Not only is it blinding you, but it's ruining your ride experience as it lights up all the things you aren't meant to see on a dark ride.
Solution: Kyle & I had this happen to us multiple times on PotC and mostly we tried to ignore it. Since it was a ride with a short queue, we decided to ride it again immediately to try for a "darker" ride. Usually this works (for us it didn't). My thinking on this has shifted over the years. I'll admit I'm guilty of taking photos with the flash on dark rides before because I had no idea you weren't supposed to do so! I tend to tell myself that's the same issue going on when other's are using a flash, and I say loudly, but politely, "please stop using your flash." In our case, the people in front of us taking a million photos were not speaking English, so I got over it by thinking "well perhaps this is the only time they'll make it to Walt Disney World and want to bring back as many memories as possible!" Sometimes getting around a pet peeve is best done by shifting your thinking.

3. People Standing in front during a parade: You're excited about seeing the 3:00 parade in Magic Kingdom (what time is it at?). You wait half an hour in a prime location, and while you're a few rows of people back from the front of the viewing area, everyone is sitting down, so you're confident you'll be able to see.  Parade starts and the 6 foot tall linebackers in front decide to stand up. Now you can't see!
This photo was possible in January 2009 because I was standing in front of the parade ropes, but we made it clear the entire wait that we intended to remain standing. No one shorter than us stood behind us.
Solution: If you're brave, politely ask if they'd mind sitting down. Notice the word "brave"! If you ask them to sit, it might cause a conflict which will ruin everyone's enjoyment of the parade. Instead, brush it off, step a few feet down, and find a new location. The parade moves slowly enough that you can still enjoy it as you look for a new spot. Don't let people who are starring in their own movie ruin your parade merriment (or fireworks or a show).  Although, I think it's fair to point out that they were there first, and it is their right to stand if they wish. (I firmly believe if you intend to stand through the parade, you should stand while you wait to indicate that people may not be able to see over you.)

4. Kids on Shoulders: I admit, this is a HUGE pet peeve of mine especially because I'm just over 5 feet tall. You make it to a show, the fireworks, a parade (in my case the Hyperspace Hoopla), wait an hour to see it, and just as the show starts Bippity-Boppity Princesses are hoisted onto shoulders all around you. There's no chance in heck that you can see the show.
Solution: This one is going to shock you just as it did us on our trip: move back further from the stage. The further away you are from the person and a half, the better you'll be able to see. Audio at Walt Disney World is excellent! You'll be able to hear further away, and while the people on stage will be a bit smaller, you'll have a better view.

5. Temper Tantrums: You're in your favorite restaurant. Your waiter has just served your entree and the child (or adult - I've seen some fabulous adult meltdowns) next to you starts screaming. Come on! Take the kid out! Can you believe that parent is just sitting there?!
No one wants to ride a bus back to the resort with this going on beside them!
Solution: This is something that happens on busses leaving the parks at night as well (possibly even worse there). Truth of the matter is, some parents don't realize that if the kid needs a nap at home, they'll especially need one while touring Walt Disney World. There's nothing you can do in this situation but smile through it and talk to your travel companions about something, ANYTHING, else. Know that when you bring your kiddos, you'll try to be considerate by allowing for rest times.

The real trick to not letting pet peeves, or irritants, ruin your vacation is to not allow  them to bother you.  Some people walk around as if they are starring in their own movie.  Give them a wide berth and ignore them the best you can.  You can't always stay zen on vacation, but when you start to realize your happiness is yours to control, it sure makes things easier! (Heaven knows I still struggle with being annoyed when it comes to kids on shoulders and flash photography on dark rides!)

How about you?  What are your pet peeves while on vacation at Walt Disney World?  We promise not to judge you for sharing!  (Notice I didn't even touch on the things people who are traveling WITH you might do!)

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Shopping at WDW: Vinylmation - Trading

In the last post I explained just what Vinylmation are and started to go into how they can be traded in the parks.  As a reminder, this is what they look like:
My baking collection on top of my fridge. Some of my favorites
in my collection since I decorate cakes. All from my June 2011 trip.
You might recall that Kyle and I made a video of us opening some blind boxes at Downtown Disney. You'll notice we mention "traders" as we talk through the video. That means we opened a Vinylmation we're not crazy about and will trade it in the parks.

Many Disney fans will tell you that they trade pins in the parks. While I like to pick up a pin for my work lanyard every trip, pin trading has never been something I wanted to do. However, November 2010 I decided to pick up a few Vinylmation toward the end of my trip and didn't just *love* the ones I pulled (got out of the blind boxes) and decided to try trading.  I was immediately hooked on Vinylmation trading! Surprisingly, my niece and nephew, Katelyn and Joshua, got hooked fairly quickly too, and next thing we knew my brother-in-law and sister were excited about Vinylmation as well!

My brother-in-law was the first to point out a cool idea to me: buy a lot (like a set) of Vinylmation on eBay before your trip, and then trade them throughout the trip! Smart, no? Here's the secret: go to weeks (or even months) before your trip. Do a search for "vinylmation, lot, -pin". I do the "-pin" because it takes out the Vinylmation pins from your search. From there you can bid on a cheap sets of Vinylmation. Remember, they're usually $10 a pop, so if you can get a set of 5 for $25, you've cut your costs in half. While we like to look for lots that have at least one Vinylmation in it that we like, it really doesn't matter what's in the set since the whole point in buying them is to trade them once you are on vacation.

The joy in this is that 5 Vinylmation can last the entire trip! $25 or less for 5 figures that give you multiple instances of fun while on vacation and come back home as entirely new souvenirs can't be beat!  I took 4 "traders" with me on my last trip, and while I had a blast trading, it also saved me a nice chunk of change. Instead of buying blind box after blind box trying to get a specific Vinylmation, I traded until I got some I'd been hoping for.

Vinylmation collectors have decided that waiting to go to a park to trade isn't enough for them!  Many will trade online (I just got one in the mail today that I did a trade for) through websites like Vinylnation, Destination Vinylmation, Vinylmation Station, or Vinylmation World.

The Disney Store has also opened up Vinylmation trading (in open trading boxes) in many of their stores and recently had a blind trading event in a store near us. Here is the whole family trading Vinylmation as well as a bit of narration from me as Katelyn and I open some blind boxes. At the end of the video I start getting weird looks because I'm vlogging in the middle of the mall.

So aside from a really neat collection for my desk, my whole family has a ton of fun trading Vinylmation. It makes our money go further because instead of buying something new in a shop, we trade for something different. I had a couple of great trades last trip: I found Dodger and Aladdin in open trade boxes, and Kyle picked a number for me in a blind trade, and I ended up with a Steampunk Urban series gears Vinyl.  Anyone else trade Vinylmation? What have been your favorite trades?

Walt Disney World Shopping Tip #4: Buy lots of Vinylmation (or pins) on eBay before your trip, and then trade them when you get into the parks.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Shopping at WDW: Vinylmation - What Are They?

When you visit Walt Disney World numerous times, souvenir shopping starts to morph a bit. You begin to realize, like in my last post, that you don't want to buy lots of knick-knacks anymore, so you may start getting larger, more practical items.  Or you come to the conclusion that maybe you want to start a collection.  Aside from my Jim Shore figurines, I collect Vinylmation. I started collecting in November 2010 with 5 - 3 inch Vinylmation figures, and since then my collection has hit 25 or more. Mine is housed mostly on my desk at work. The students like to look at them, and if they knock them off my desk, they don't break, so it's a fun way to take my happy place to work.

The question I get the most, aside from "what's with all the Mickey figures?", is "what is Vinylmation?"  So before I explain the joys of Vinylmation collecting, I'm going to give you a really quick "what is it".

Vinylmation figures are made of, you guessed it, vinyl and come in 2 sizes: 3 inch and 9 inch.  The 3 inch figures typically range in price from $10 to $13 while the 9 inch figures are more pricy from $50 to $80.  They all start with a basic shape: Mickey Mouse!
Vinylmation in its most basic form
From there, each Vinylmation is painted to look like something other than Mickey and is part of a series. Currently there are over 50 series which you can browse through here on the official Vinylmation site. Each series usually has 12 different Vinylmations in it plus one chaser (a more rare Vinylmation) and sometimes some variants (one that looks like one of the advertised Vinylmation in the series but has changes, usually in color). Vinylmation are normally sold in "blind boxes" meaning you pick a box from a series, but you don't know what you got until you open the box.  9 inch Vinylmation are always sold in open boxes though.

December 19th, 2008 Disney released the Park 1 series of Vinylmation, and since then they have released numerous series of Vinylmation (over 50 different series) and have gained a HUGE group of collecting fanatics! I love the Park series since the figures all look like places or things in the various Disney Parks. I also adore the Cutesters, Animation, Nerds, and Holiday series.  I have a Vinylmation ice cube tray, and the 3 inch Vinylmation that looks like an ice cube sits in my freezer to make me smile when I get ice.  I also have a Cutester that has bubbles on it to look like a bubble bath that sits on the side of my tub.
Blue Monorail Vinylmation is one of my favorites!
Aside from these figures being fairly inexpensive souvenirs, you can trade them in the parks! Similar to the ever-popular pin trading, 3 inch Vinylmation in good condition can be traded in either blind or open trading boxes. Different shops at Walt Disney World have trading stations in them like this:
Photo from
The 3 Vinylmation you see in the front are in a clear trading box. If you see something you like, you take out your Vinylmation and ask a Cast Member to trade.  If you don't see something you like there, you can pick a number from the blind trading box (there in back) to trade. Trading rules can be found here.  

I'm going to stop this post here since it's getting fairly long and pick up with a trading video in my next post in a few days.

Walt Disney World Shopping Tip #3: Start a collection. I recommend Vinylmation, but anything that makes you smile will do the trick! 

Monday, August 01, 2011

Shopping at WDW: Making the Most of Your Money

When I was preparing for my November 2010 Walt Disney World trip, I started pouring over the WDW "Authentic Merchandise" section of the Disney Store online. Being the planner that I am, I ended up with a shopping list for my vacation! Shopping lists and how to shop fast enough that it doesn't annoy the males in your group is for another post. This shopping tip is all about making the most of your money.

Walt Disney World souvenirs vary in price. You can find low cost items like pens and magnets or high cost items like watches and designer hand bags. In the past it felt like I kept coming home with tons of pens, magnets, and knick-knacks.  Recently I decided to look for some big ticket items.  The criteria? They had to be items I would see or use every single day, purchases I would enjoy for years to come, and things that pretty much spoke to me. I mean, if it didn't scream, "JOANNA! BUY ME NOW!" it wasn't the big ticket item for me.  (Definition of big ticket item: over $50 in cost)

For me, this meant a Dooney & Bourke designer handbag.  I'd never had an interest in designer handbags in the past, but when I saw this purse on the website, I knew it was going to be my first!
Dooney & Bourke Medium Sketch Purse
You can buy one here in various sizes and colors.
It wasn't about the designer label. It was about me LOVING purses, Disney, and anything sketched.  It screamed my name, and I immediately knew I wanted to be "the girl with the amazing Disney handbag!" I planned ahead and saved the money for it, and almost a year later, I still use it all the time, and it still makes me smile.

When I went back to the parks in June 2011, I couldn't resist the Dooney & Bourke Balloons wristlet to use for running around in the summer.
Dooney & Bourke Balloons Wristlet
Wristlet not available online, but other sizes are here.

Again, while the price was up there, I use this purse all the time.  It brought the Disney magic home with me in a usable form. I get tons of compliments on it too!  Want to know more about the Disney Dooney & Bourke Collection?  Visit the authority on the purses, my Twitter friend @Zannaland! Here she details all the purses in the collection. I couldn't have made as informed of a decision on my first bag without her!

What about the men?  Designer handbags don't quite seem up their alley! During my last trip, my friend, Kyle mentioned needing a new watch. I love shopping for me as well as for other people, so I had a blast helping him pick out a Disney watch!  The key to spending a chunk of change on one item without buyer's remorse is taking your time. Kyle looked at watches almost the entire week before making his final choice, the watch he kept going back to over and over: a handsome, silver metal watch with a green (his favorite color) face. Classic, yet Disney!
Sorry, dolls, can't find this one online.
Gotta go to the parks to get one for yourself!
Again, it's functional but sure to make him smile every time he looks at it, and it's an item he'll use every day.  The green adds a personal touch that made it perfect for him.

If wearing your Disney purchase isn't your thing, you can also go the collectibles route.  A few trips ago I saw the Jim Shore Collection and fell in love with the style. I've been happily collecting some of my favorite characters since, and they compliment my apartment's decor quite nicely.
"Let Your Dreams Blossom"
This was my first Jim Shore Collection purchase.
Find it & other pieces available for purchase here.
How ever you decide to spend your money at Walt Disney World, make sure it's on something that you can cherish for years and will help you recall all the wonderful memories from your trip.  What's your favorite purchase from your WDW trips?

Walt Disney World Shopping Tip #2: Make the most out of your money. Instead of picking little odds and ends, purchase one large item that you love!