Thursday, June 14, 2012

Disney Cruise Line, Formalwear, and You: A Vent

This topic came up yet again today, and every time it does it boggles my mind that much more. While this isn't solely Disney-related, it kind of is -- because for some reason, a lot of people seem to think that because Disney Cruise Line has more appeal to families with small children than perhaps other lines, their dress code for dinner should be more casual. I have to call BS on that. Just because it's "Disney" doesn't mean diddly squat. There are kids on every line. People shouldn't use them as an excuse to look like slobs.

What I don't understand is, why are people so opposed to their children dressing up? I understand that more clothes means less room in luggage for something else, and with baggage fees on airlines what they are now no one wants to have extra bags or oversize ones. I get that.

But there is so little opportunity in our everyday lives to have special experiences... As a single parent, I have to save HARD and determined for our vacations. DS and I aren't going to the opera or 5-star restaurants or anywhere else "fancy." I adore formal nights on our cruises for the chance to dress up and step outside of the ordinary routine of our lives. You feel different - goodly different - when you're dressed up. People respond to you differently when you dress up. And you are enhancing the ambience when you dress up -- not dragging it down. And sorry, but someone in a t-shirt on formal night IS dragging down the ambience. Does it ruin my night? Heck no. I simply have little respect for them.

And while society seems hell-bent on making life so casual that at some point everyone will be getting married in sweats and flip flops, cruising still has a long tradition of being a "classier" sort of trip.

Dressing up was something to look forward to, not roll your eyes at.

We've been cruising since my son was 5. I always took it as an opportunity to teach my son about dressing and acting appropriately for different situations. I talked him into switching from a suit to a tux several cruises ago, and he will be the first to cheer that choice now. Women of any age love a dressed-up man, and teenagers are no different.

He's sold on it now. When I brought up the topic with my son he said, "It's only for a couple of hours, and then we change. What's the big deal?? For a couple of hours I get to look like James Bond and then it's back to shorts. It's awesome."

Our formal night portraits over the years are the most cherished photos I have of us together. Don't wish formal night away... especially because you have kids. Don't train them to think dressing up ever is some sort of punishment. Treat it as a special time - as a family! - that you look forward to then and remember fondly later. Or just wear your shorts and bathrobes to the buffet and leave formal night to those of us who love it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Prodigal Mouseketeer

I can't believe it has been 3 years since I wrote in my blog... So much has happened in those 3 years -- some good, some pretty bad & scary, but all of it serving to only bolster my love of all things Disney, as well as my commitment to creating memories with my son that nothing will ever be able to take away. My sweet little boy is 16 now, towers over me, has his own car, and we're beginning the college-shopping process. Before long he'll be venturing off on his own path, discovering his own destiny, and we won't have the chance as often to make these memories together.

Along those lines... WE'RE GOING TO DISNEYLAND!!

I've only been once when I was 5, and my son has never been. My only sibling lives in Southern California, and has been trying to get me to "come see where Walt started it all!" for a bunch of years now. I have always balked at the idea -- 1.) airfare from here to California has been absolutely insane every time I've checked, 2.) no onsite hotels except the 3 that would cause me to take out a second mortgage to afford, and 3.) NO EPCOT. (*gasp*) That last one has been the biggest deal-killer for me. I love Epcot. I dream about Epcot. When we go to WDW, I would be thrilled if the plane landed right in the Epcot parking lot just so I could get to Mission:Space that much quicker.

But then I got an email from Southwest Vacations about some Disneyland deals, and for grins I decided to go have a look-see. The package price was amazing -- less for the airfare and 3 nights' hotel (non-Disney) than every time I had priced out airfare alone. The wheels started to turn. I had told my brother last year that I was trying to get out there to visit him around my birthday in October, but ended up being in the hospital instead. So now I thought, what about aiming for this October?

I still had several large obstacles between us and this wishful trip, however. We were just on a cruise in February (Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas, for anyone interested), so we both needed to miss very little school and work. Even more importantly, October puts us in the heart of football season. My son is in marching band, and hey, we are Texas-born-n-bred -- Friday night football is a religious experience for everyone. Plus, if he missed a game, his band director's head would likely explode.

So... I grabbed the calendar and the football schedule. As luck would have it, one of only two Thursday night games of the whole season just happens to be the Thursday before my birthday the next week. Even better, that weekend is a long weekend because of Columbus Day, and my son doesn't have school that Monday. Deciding it was fate, I booked it. Holy smokes, we're really going to Disneyland!!

And the very best part to me is, the whole thing will be a complete surprise to both my son and my brother. I *never* get to surprise my son with something this big -- our lives are so entertwined, it's just difficult to keep something this big a secret, especially since the topic of Disney comes up in conversation for us so often. I have kept this secret since February so far, and have almost slipped up and said something about it roughly 3,972 times per day. But if I can just keep my big mouth shut, the look on his face is going to be SO worth it.

Since that Thursday game is also an away game, it won't kill me as badly to miss it, so I'll be able to use that time to run our dog to the kennel and quickly pack our bags. That part alone is going to be so hard for me -- I'm one of those pack-a-month-ahead-of-time type folks. :p Oh well, this will be a change of pace! When he gets home from the game, I have a neato Disneyland t-shirt with a metallic Mickey on it I ordered from the Disney Store to give him. I'm simply going to tell him, "I thought you could wear this when we go to Disneyland. In about 8 hours. To surprise Uncle Scotty." *grin*

He's going to flip. Seriously flip. And all the biting-my-tongue-in-half will have been worth it. :)

We're only going for 3 nights/4 days, but it seems like for DLR that will be adequate. I know it will be crowded because it's a holiday weekend, and because it's Gay Days (which I couldn't care less about), but I'm seriously hoping that some of our WDW planning/touring strategies can be ported over to this trip and might come in handy. We'll see.

And as much as I'm going to miss Epcot, I have to admit that the thought of being where Walt himself tread is pretty darn exciting to me. Not to mention getting to ride Mr. Toad again after all these years!

So the planning machine starts rolling. I have the shiny new "guts" for my PassPorter, my Touring Plans subscription, and my favorite websites. It does seem, though, that this is going to be a very different experience! But our favorite Mouse will still be there waiting for us, and that's all that matters, right?

Let the memory-making begin!!

Next up: Shuttles, and locals, and hopping - Oh my! ~ The planning differences are daunting to a WDW vet

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Curse You, Disney PIN Codes, Curse You, Airtran!!

I SWEAR this was not premeditated. We were just in Walt Disney World in December (although, as I'm sure many of you can understand, it already feels like forever ago.) We're going on a cruise next February. For once, we were not planning on making it to WDW in December. But it's such a desolate feeling, not having a WDW trip officially in the works... it feels like tumbleweeds blowing across your heart. Blerk.

So I'm minding my own business the other day, when one of the mythical (for me) PIN codes pops up in my inbox. Disney sends them out with apparently no rhyme nor reason, and I have never received one before. The offer was for "Big kids get little kid prices," and sounded like a really good deal. But airfare from nearby Houston is always the issue. When we went in December, it was $500 for DS and I, and that was even better than I feared it would be. It's just too expensive. The whole thing was put out of my mind. (Well, mostly.)

Then the very next morning I get an airfare alert from Airtran for $112 RT from Houston-Hobby to MCO. What?!? That fare is unheard of from here. NOW I'm interested. But our favorite resort, Pop Century, always fills up so fast... and my son and I won't stay anywhere else. Surely they are full up by now, since the PIN had been out for a while.

I called, got a super nice Cast Member, and found out that Pop was indeed available, and that with the PIN code it would only be $832 total for my son and I both for 3 nights, with 4-day park tickets including hopper option, AND with the quick-service dining plan. Yeah, like I could pass THAT up!!

Soooo... I have no business doing it, and we will be eating a lot of mac & cheese for dinner between now and then, but we're booked for Dec. 12-15 at our beloved Pop Century.

This trip will be a "mom-and-me" trip that I promised my son last time. We love going with Dad and Newley the Wonder Dog, and my aunt, Debbie, but when Tyler Dean and I are on our own we're able to go at a much different pace. We can zip along from one point to another, ride our favorites 10 times in a row if we want, just do exactly what we want. It's good for us to be able to do that once in a while, and we're so looking forward to that. And it's great motivation for me! I finally graduate with my Bachelor's degree on the 11th of December (kids, stay in school the FIRST time!), so that's the excuse I'm using for this trip. Not that I need an excuse, mind you, but it helps to have one in the hopper when some non-Disney-loving philistine rolls his eyes and says, "You're going to Disney AGAIN??" And yet, sometimes they eventually "get" it. My boss of 3 years has never really understood the pull WDW has on my son and I, but after I booked this trip and spent the rest of the day floating around the office on air he said, "You know, I guess it must be pretty neat to have a place that feels so familiar to you and makes you so happy."

And that's the amazing thing about how I feel towards WDW... it's a familiarity that somehow never ever gets old. There are aspects of it that never change, and root our souls there, and then there are aspects that are always changing, always fresh and new. It's an intoxicating combination of heart-warming comfort and giddy excitement. And since booking the other day, I just sit here at work, Disney park music playing in the background (thank you, Live365!!) with a big stupid grin on my face. And once again, my son and I have begun planning the trip, reminiscing over the fun we had last time and excitedly talking about what we're most looking forward to this next time. And with a 13 year old boy, anything that keeps them talking and communicating with you is definitely a good thing.

It may be 7 months away, but it just always feels so *good* to actually be booked. Am I addicted to WDW? Maybe... but there are worse addictions. There are cheaper addictions, to be sure, but I'll stick with this kind of high, thanks. :-)

So tell me, why are Disney trips so addictive for YOU?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Letter To My Son

Thirteen years ago today, I was given the most amazing, life-changing gift I have ever been given -- my sweet little baby boy. While touch-and-go at your birth, you quickly showed everyone that you were strong and healthy. Such a good, happy, cheerful baby, I knew how lucky I was. It startled me to even hear a baby crying in a restaurant, because the sound was so foreign to me!

How quickly you grew, as babies tend to do. Soon you were my chubby-cheeked toddler, and then soon after my bright-eyed little boy, stepping up onto the big yellow school bus for the first time.

I have been so humbled and so amazed to watch you grow. And I am so incredibly proud of the young man you have become. I remember when you were about 6 or 7, and found a twenty-dollar bill lying at the end of someone's driveway. It never even occurred to you to pocket it, as so many might have done -- you marched right up to their front door and asked if anyone had lost any money.

I watch you hold the door for people, only to have them breeze through without so much a word of thanks... and yet it doesn't stop you from holding the door open every single time. I remember when we were at the grocery store not long ago, and you noticed an older woman struggling to reach something on a top shelf. You literally sprang to help her, and what struck me most was the surprise on her face that a stranger would even help.

You help me stop and see what's important. Once when you were maybe 4 or 5, we were at your great grandparents' house, out in the courtyard. I was trying to get you to come inside so we could go home, so many busy things to do on the agenda, but you sshh'd me and said "Listen, Mom... the *birds* are singing." And so they were. Amazing birdsong, all around us, but I had been to caught up in my mental to-do list to hear. You ground me.

You are genuinely one of the funniest people I know, and I love the silliness between us. How many times has our convulsive laughter caused people to turn and stare at us as if we were crazy? But then they can't help but smile themselves, because your laughter is so contagious.

It has been just you and I against the world since you were 2, and I think we have done pretty darn well as a team. We have struggled and we have triumphed, and we have had some amazing adventures along the way.

I am SO PROUD of you... and love you more than I could possibly put into words. You are my heart, worn on the outside of my body. If the future is our children, the world will do well to have someone like you as a leader someday. And I'll be right there cheering you on.

Happy 13th Birthday, my sweet son... thank you for just being you.

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's the little things, even at Disney

Just got back from another amazing trip to Walt Disney World. And as always, it's not the fantastic rides, the huge production parades, or the beyond-amazing fireworks displays that end up meaning the most. Don't get me wrong -- those are the things we go for! But at the end, it's the little unexpected, sweet moments and the exquisite details that stay with us and keep us going back.

Disney is all about details, and one of my favorite things to do is just sit and take it all in. I spent 30 minutes just sitting in Frontierland in the Magic Kingdom, loving the background music and the little flickering gas lamps. I also love how when walking the grounds of Pop Century, the music seamlessly shifts from decade to decade, depending on which building you're near. And they have not done any cost-cutting in the upkeep department -- we joke that overnight, they have crews that go out and arrange each blade of grass by hand. ;-)

But there's something about being at Disney that makes you so happy, it overflows -- and you feel compelled to share it with others. My son (almost 13) and I brought bags of Mickey stickers, mini Mickey candy canes, and glow bracelets with us, and it made us so happy to just give them out to kids and sit and talk with them a while. It took so little to bring smiles to them. But the best moment came at the very end of the trip. To set this up, let me explain that my big strapping almost-a-teenager son becomes an overjoyed 3 year old when a balloon is present. This kid would trade his beloved electric guitar for a red balloon, I think. So loving my son as I do, (and wanting to trick the air conditioner motion-sensor in the resort room... shhhhh...) I bought him a big red Mickey balloon our first night there. He lovingly held onto that string like it was his new best friend, and it floated around our room the rest of the trip.

On our last day, he was all sad-faced at having to leave his balloon behind. We were outside, waiting for the bus back to the airport, and I told him to just tie it to a pole there as decoration or something. He looked around, and saw that a bus had just pulled up, and a little girl and her family had just gotten off. From back over at bell services I watched him walk up to the little girl, say something to her mother, then hand his precious balloon over to the little girl. Her face lit up like a Christmas tree, and so did my son's. I have never been so proud, and I'm tearing up again just typing this.

It got us thinking about why this only seems to happen at Disney. People seem more "open" there. We don't have the fear that someone will call the authorities if we offer a child a candy cane. But possibly that's just a lazy excuse. Maybe we should get a bunch of balloons and just walk the streets of our hometown, giving them away to children... and maybe even some grownups. Try and spread around that Disney spirit we love so much. What can you do today to bring a smile to someone's face?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Magic Memories

Recently, I was asked, "So how did you get into all this Disney stuff?" I paused to think about that, because I never have. I remember my parents taking us to Walt Disney World when we were young... but they're foggy memories. I don't feel a great deal of emotion behind them when I think about them. So I guess I'd have to trace it all back to somewhere after my divorce. My son was 2, my ex was barely in the picture, and my main focus in life was enriching and nurturing the bond between my sweet little boy and myself.

When my son was 3, a friend of mine mentioned how she and her girls were going to Walt Disney World. My first thought was, "Wow, I could never afford that." But then I thought about it harder... and the wheels in my head began spinning. My friends thought I was completely insane to even think about going to such a massive place as Walt Disney World with just myself and a toddler. My family knew me better and just smiled and rolled their eyes at me. They knew that I had always been fiercely independent, and rather tenacious once I got an idea in my head. *grin*

That was 1999, and that is when I found the DIS boards (Disney Information Station message boards) and began to do some research among the fine people there. (And to this day can't go an hour without checking the DIS boards!) I made plans to go the same time as my friend and her daughters, but we were only going to meet up a couple of times. For the most part, my son and I would be on our own.

That first trip was in February 2000, and our week in Walt Disney World was capped by my little boy turning 4 while having breakfast up in the castle, being loved on by princesses. We stayed at All-Star Music, one of Disney's value resorts, and we had an absolutely magical time. Just magical. I even booked us again for the next February!

This time we were at All-Star Movies, and felt so much more comfortable with everything. My almost-5 year old was giving other park guests directions, and showing them how to use FastPass machines. Even at 5, he was able to articulate how much this place meant to us when he solemnly told a grocery store clerk in our town, "Oh, we have a house in Pearland, but our home is at Disney..." Not that we don't have overflowing pride for our town here, but I knew exactly what he meant.

But our addiction was about to go in a whole other direction...

While on that trip, we kept seeing buses for Disney Cruise Line. Big, sleek, shiny, red and gold buses that seemed to pull us in like moths to a flame. We could be mid-sentence in a conversation, and when one of those buses went by we just stopped and stared. By the end of the trip we had avowed to each other, "Some day we will be on one of those buses!" And by the time we got home, the wheels were turning yet again...

And in February 2002, it was US on one of those beautiful buses, and we stepped foot onto the Disney Magic for the first time. That week aboard that ship, and on the islands we visited in the Eastern Caribbean, was beyond any words I could put here. "Magical" doesn't even cover it. We were hooked completely. And for the next few years, we were both on the Disney Magic and at Walt Disney World every year. Even my family thought I was insane at that point. After all, Caribbean cruises and trips to Walt Disney World on a single mom's paltry budget?

But they don't call me the Bargain Queen for nothing, and I had quickly learned the money-saving tricks for Disney trips. (Thank you again, DIS boards!!) And by that point, my son was old enough to sit down and make some conscious decisions with me. We decided, as a team, that this was where we wanted to spend our money -- instead of seeing movies, buying new fancy tv's and such, eating out. This is what we wanted to do, and we were going to make it happen. And happen it has.

One of my very favorite memories was during one of our trips to Walt Disney World, during evening Extra Magic Hours at Magic Kingdom. (That is when a selected park is open a few hours later for Disney Resort guests only -- yet another reason to never, ever stay offsite.) We were sitting on a bench in Frontierland, just soaking up the ambience and taking in all the details that only Disney does so well. There was hardly anyone still at the park, and it was so unusually peaceful. It was a cool early February evening, the little gas lanterns on the old-west building fronts were flickering, the background music was perfect, and we were completely in our element. I'm sitting here listening to that same background music from Frontierland on "Music From the Mouse", and it brings happy tears to me eyes to be taken back to that moment.

Now, our Disney trips are usually in early December, because the parks and resorts at Christmas-time are heart-breakingly beautiful. My dad, my dad's guide dog, and my aunt have been joining us for the past 6 years, and the memories have multiplied. The first time Newley (the dog) met Pluto, we didn't know what to expect. But the CM (Cast Member) playing Pluto got down on all fours several yards from Newley aand crawled the rest of the way, so as not to scare Newley. The interaction between the two was SO sweet, and we quickly had a sniffling crowd around us.

We'll be back in 34 days, and the excitement never lessens, no matter how many times we have been. In fact, to hear us talk about it, you'd think we have never been! But the excitement is because we know what to expect, and that happy familiarity is wonderful as we look forward to favorite things... but also excited because of all the wonderful little surprises that always seem to pop up and serve to hook us even more. I wonder what amazing memories we'll create this time?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Life, Unplugged

I have lived here all my life, and am used to at least the threat of hurricanes. I would never wish one on anyone, and the sounds from about 5am during Ike's landfall are going to haunt me for a long time. Our neighborhood, at a little over 7 weeks since Ike, only looks marginally better. Most fences are still down, some are in huge piles by the street, and most roofs are still sporting fanciful blue tarps. Most of us are still waiting on insurance checks, which is why most repairs are still in limbo.

But at least we have electricity! And that is, for the most part, a good thing. But I have learned it's both a blessing and a curse.

We were without power for two whole weeks in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, and I had pretty much decided the Amish were insane to purposefully live that way, sans electricity and all its accompanying wonders. 90 degrees, 100% humidity, and no air conditioning will do that to you. But now I rather envy them.

During those two weeks, with no work and no school for me, and no school for my son, both of us un-yoked from the everyday distractions of t.v., video games, the telephone, etc., some amazing things happened. We finally, after 7 years, got to actually know our neighbors. We all hung out every night in the relative cool of the outside, laughing, barbequeing what food was still unspoiled, and making the best of things. And my son and I actually READ. Real books, not electronic ones. We got to know each other better, too. Now we all have "hurricane night" at least every two weeks, where we all get together and make a concerted effort to ignore the distractions, and just enjoy the company.

I do dearly love my air conditioning... even work for an air conditioning company. And if my house were on fire, I'd have my son under one arm, and both the T.V. and the DVR under the other. But progress isn't always a good thing... and sometimes we have to just "unplug" and refocus on the simple things. I think it's a great gift to our children, to be able to teach them about balance in life. Now to pry the Guitar Hero controller out of my son's hands....