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Friday, July 3, 2015

What the F?!

It's Friday!! A wonderful, fabulous Friday before the Fourth and according to the countdown calendar on my phone, my next Walt Disney World trip begins in 90 days! 90! A probation period on a new job. The amount of time you have to return something to a store. NINETY DAYS and we'll be in our happy place!

Welcome Home!!

Today the Fs are popping up everywhere, and so on this Fantastic Friday before the Fourth. I am going to share a few more F words with you regarding the reasons I am so excited.

First and foremost, my excitement stems from the big F word. Yep...FAMILY!! Not only will my girls be with me (as is our custom for our Fall trip), my son, his girlfriend and the baby are coming, too! Yes, baby girl is having her First trip to a Disney resort!! If the stars align in the right way, hubby will also be coming for a Few days, for his First trip since the late 70s! My, how things have changed since then! In addition to all my Family, I am also excited that a few of my Friends, my Sole Sisters, will be joining for a couple of days to take part in some Fun events.

Since the entire Family will be together, we want to stay together as well and didn't want to be spread out in a resort, since connecting rooms are never guaranteed. While there are plenty of places off property, we are drinkers of the kool-aid and love the experience you get by the immersion of being on property, so off-site is not for us. The villas in the various DVC (Disney Vacation Club) are wonderful, but more costly than what we want to spend this trip and the cabins at Fort Wilderness are not quite big enough for everyone. So what does one do when they want a place big enough for everyone, they want to stay on propery AND they have a budget? They rent a camper and stay at Walt Disney World's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, of course!

Our spacious spot in 2014

That's right! For the second year in a row, our Fort Wilderness trip will be suited up with a great camper from Florida Camper Rentals. Last year, my girls and my Sole Sisters rented a large 5th wheel for our October trip. It was a busy trip, packed full of things to do, like the Tower of Terror 10 Miler race by runDisney, and so we wanted to be together, but we wanted comfort and to also be in close proximity to Magic Kingdom.  Since my Sisters had never stayed at The Fort before, and weren't too keen on actually tenting it, a camper rental came to mind and we are so glad it did!

For the 2nd time, our HOME for our trip! 
I had checked out multiple camper rental companies that service Fort Wilderness, but decided upon FCR due to the wonderful reviews online and the immediate customer service I received from the owner, William, when I sent my original inquiry. With a nice sized fleet of campers, I found exactly what I was looking for and at a wonderful price. Check in at the Fort was a breeze, and within an hour of checking in, William and his cute little helper (his son) had our 5th wheel set up with cold a/c blowing. When something comes together as nicely as this did, it is the logical thing to do to go that route again! I am pretty excited that we were able to secure the same 5th wheel as we did last year, and so my family and friends will be comfortable and happy with our spacious accommodations.
Plenty of Living Room space for Treat Time!

One reason we love Fort Wilderness so much is its close location to Magic Kingdom, as well as the Magic Kingdom resorts and the monorail. While you do have to take a boat to get to the monorail, it always makes for a lovely little ride over to EPCOT from the Magic Kingdom area. Other than the regular reasons we love to be close to Magic Kingdom (duh, it's THE Magic Kingdom!), when there are events going on at that theme park, being close is helpful. During our trip, we have so many events to look forward to, and that brings me to the 2nd F word of the day....FUN!

Fall is my absolute favorite time to visit Walt Disney World Resorts, not only because the temperatures have cooled down a bit, but because of all the Fun events going on. You can't think about autumn at WDW without thinking about Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom. Happening multiple times throughout the fall, the party is a separate, hard ticket event, which means that your regular tickets or Annual Pass do not get you into the party. I often get asked if these extra events are worth it, and my reply is "If dressing up in costume, trick or treating around the Magic Kingdom, interacting with many characters, including some rare characters, and seeing special parades and fireworks sounds good to you, then yes, it is VERY worth it." And I mean it, because well... this....

Silly Selfies

Sister Love
and this....
'Elsa' gets a frozen treat
Drop in guests
Sole Sisters
Dancin' with the Guv'ner

The other event that is synonymous with fall at Walt Disney World is another F word. F is for FOOD and FESTIVAL! EPCOT's Food & Wine Festival, happens every Fall, with this year being the 20th anniversary, and is a big draw for my Foodie Family, and the number one reason I am going to be able to get my wannabe Masterchef husband to finally come along. We love all the different food booths, the classes and tasting experiences and more. (And yes, I love the wine, drinks and mixology sessions just as much!) I will write more specifically about the Food & Wine Festival as it gets closer, but a great resource for all about this event is not only the official page from Walt Disney World, but also the Disney Food Blog, where they provide a plethora of information!

A few more awesome events going on during our trip include the 1st Annual Disney Nerds F&W Half Samplethon. This is a meet-up event with the Disney Nerds Podcast Folks where we eat, drink and laugh our way around the World Showcase, while taking in a concert and the nighttime show, Illuminations (my favorite!) and then the next day, we have Dapper Day! Dapper Day is this awesome event where everyone dresses in snazzy clothes and 'Steps out in Style' while meeting up with others at the chosen park for the event (this year it is Hollywood Studios!). Also during this trip, we will have a Family Favorite and take part once again in Homeschool Days! Now called Student Seminars, we have been participating in the Youth Education Series for the past 5 years and love it! This year's event takes place in Animal Kingdom and is focused on monkeys, as a tie in to this year's DisneyNature film release, Monkey Kingdom. Since my family is just a bunch of baboons, this fits right up our alley! ;)

So we have Family and Friends, Firsts, the Fort, Fall, Fun Festivities, Fabulous Food. That's a whole lot of Fs on this Fabulous Friday before the Fourth. Well, that is just FANTASMIC! Now you can see why I am just tickled Fushia for these next 90 days to Fast Foward! ;)

Thanks for reading, and join me next time as I break down some individual topics and give you my tips for enjoying these great events as you plan your own Fall trip to Walt Disney World Resort.

Have a great holiday weekend!

☮ ♥ °o°

Charlotte Dawn

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

How to Ruin Your Spring Break Trip in 4 Easy Steps

Last week during my Three Things Thursday post, I mentioned that this week I would give you three ways to ruin a spring break trip. Because of a late publishing time, instead I am going with 4 Things Friday, which fits because there are really 4 sure fire ways to ruin your vacation.

The things I am going to share are not from a poll, or coming off an article I read somewhere, These are a few of the things that we did or almost did that left our recent spring break trip to Puerto Rico more of a nightmare trip than a special family vacation surprise that my husband had planned.

It all started when I got back from my most recent trip to Walt Disney World for Princess Marathon weekend. I came home sick, and remained sick with severe pneumonia for several weeks. It was during one of these sick, fever hotter than Hell, addled in the head days that my husband told me we were going to Puerto Rico for Spring Break. I do not remember this conversation, so it is very possible he told it to me when I was half dead.

A few weeks pass, and it becomes the week before his surprise trip to us and he mentions that we aren't checking luggage, which is his reminder to pack light. He's one of those suddenly out of the blue conversationalists, so I had to ask him to repeat what he just said because I didn't hear him clearly. He did, and after wracking my brain trying to remember him telling me about it, I jumped up with a million things to do. But no worries, right? He (and my in-laws who will also be there...this was a large birthday celebration trip for the 4 March birthdays in the family) had everything handled. Everything. Right? No. Not right, which leads us to number 1 in ways to ruin your Spring Break trip:

    1.  Letting the un-planners plan your travel.  

My in-laws are retired. They really have endless time, no real rush to be anywere. My husband hasn't taken a vacation in 4 years, he has limited time. Neither of them meshed up their plans, other than we were renting a 3 bedroom home for our time there. Oh, and we were flying together. My husband flies several times a week. He was fine with our flying how he normally does, on a 'discount' carrier but in preferred because of his mileage status; my stepmother in-law is retired from a very large air carrier and insisted we all fly together. And so we did. Or we tried to, but that leads us to number 2,

     2.  Using Buddy Passes 

 For people who have very open ended travel or are traveling during a dead period, Buddy Passes probably work very well for them. For a family of 5 that only has 5 days vacation time, it doesn't work at all. Buddy Passes carries 80% of the ruination of SB '15.

It is very hard to have a family vacation when part of the family never arrives due to being bounced off flights because of low status. With a Buddy Pass, or Non-Rev, you are are the bottom of the totem pole. After getting Bug and I on the first flight out, along with my in-laws, my husband then tried for two days to get a flight to join us. It never happened. Never. The man who surprised us with this vacation, the guy who needed a vacation more than anyone I know, was denied over and over again until he just gave up. Because he had a tight work schedule the next week, he had to be back home by a certain time. He became worried that if he ever made it down there, he wouldn't make it back up. And he wouldn't, because on the return Bug and I sat in the San Juan airport for a full day trying to come home. My in-laws sat in it for two additional days after us, and ended up doing what we did to get home...buying a one-way ticket on a different carrier, the 'budget' carrier we could have flown down on and had guaranteed seats. We would have been together if we had taken the budget carrier and we would have actually had a vacation.

Moral of this item: DON'T USE BUDDY PASSES!!

Now a lot of people messaged me on Facebook and said, 'You're on an island! Quit moping about the Mr. not making it, go live it up!' and while I was initially very sad about his not being able to join us, I didn't spend my days crying endlessly, but going to explore the island was off because of number 3 in our list of items that will ruin your vacation,

3. Not booking rental items that had ability to transfer to another party,
 or issue a refund when plans change. 

Part of this problem links back to number 1 in this list, letting others plan your travel. I would go further and say, to always, always put both married parties on rental agreements, especially if you book something over Priceline or other Internet travel broker. The husband rented the car. Prepaid for the car. If he had been with us, picking up the car would have been a breeze. but because he wasn't with us, picking up a car was not only NOT a breeze, it became completely non-existent. We even talked to someone in an office in London who agreed to do it if the counter agent would do it, but no matter what I showed them, same last name, address, credit card used to pay for it, nothing would budge Budget. No car for us unless the Mr. showed up.  Yes, we could have rented another car, if there were any left. Apparently ALL cars were rented out and those that weren't were over $300 a day! I don't know if I believe that but after trying for close to three hours to get a car, we took a taxi to our rental, almost an hour from San Juan. 

Because I found out about this trip in relatively short notice, I did a lot of planning our excursions in just a couple of days. I had trips to the rain forest, a coffee plantation, the Bacardi rum factory and Old San Juan planned, as well as booking a night kayaking trip to the bio-luminescent bay. Some of these things I had to pay for when I booked them. I failed to ask if they were refundable. Because we were car-less, it was impossible to get to the other side of the island without another $200 taxi fee and we had to cancel which became our loss all around; loss of something cool to do as a family together, loss of the money used to book it. Even the camera gear I had rented ended up biting me in the butt! The Mr. was carrying the camera gear with him and since he didn't get on the plane, the camera gear never made it to me. He returned it on the day he gave up on flying down. Instead of having it for a week, it was only out for less than 48 hours, but again, no refund. 

Moral of item 3 is this: Have your ducks in a row. Be sure to know refund policies and make sure that if you are separated from your travel companions, you can still access the things that are necessary for that trip. If my in-laws had been separated and I tried to go to the rental, I would have been denied entry. Don't let that happen to you. Don't end up stranded because you booked something non-transferable.

And an extra, sure fire way to ruin your spring break vacation,

4. Letting the problems affect your ability to have fun. 

Of course I was upset. My husband had been denied a vacation he surprised US with! I was sad. I cried a good bit at first, but then I stopped crying. I had my daughter. I had my in-laws. We were in a beautiful place right off the beach, and sitting and feeling sorry for myself would have completely ruined every bit of light that our trip had left. As bad as it was, there were things that I could find that were on the bright side.

The first bright spot was the resort village of Palmas Del Mar in Humacao. Situated right by the Atlantic ocean, this vacation town was full of luxury homes, a high end hotel and lots of vacation rentals. There was a town center, with dining and shopping, and the marina also held a wealth of eateries and views of mega yachts and small fishing boats alike, with beautiful beaches to explore up and down the coast. The area was a golf cart community, and one day Bug and I spent hours just driving the cart all over the village. Way up high on a mountainside overlooking the water, way down low to the swamp forests. We drove everywhere we could and enjoyed every minute of it.

Another bright spot for us was the people of Puerto Rico. We ended up going to a couple of places multiple times because the food was good, the drinks were better, but the people were the best. We dined well (except for our stuck in the airport day), and the Mojitos and Pina Coladas may have been the best I had ever tasted.

The beach was wonderful, but whenever is the beach not a wonderful spot for regaining some peace? Bug and I spent every day at the beach, the clear blue water beckoning to us like never before. That first day, when we realized our trip had just changed on us, she and I walked down to the beach and just sat and held hands, looking out at the water, letting things sink in and praying for the ability to pick ourselves up and enjoy the time we had.

Nature was everywhere. Between the views of the ocean and the mountains, the sound of the waves and the wind blowing through the trees, sending coconuts crashing down onto our patio, there was also nesting turtles, birds I had never seen before and something new to hear, the Coqui frog. That lil frog is so loud, and I loved it! Just standing outside at night hearing thousands of them making their nightly calls was exhilarating and felt like a blessing. As different as this trip became from its original plan, hearing that frog and the waves in the distance calmed me like nothing else did. It was in that calming that I let the troubles fall away and lived in the moment of where we were. So the plans changed. We dealt with it. We still smiled. We laughed and we laughed a lot (especially during our taxi encounters). We focused on the positive and tried to shake all the negative.

Moral of number 4: Don't focus on the negative. Not everything goes as planned. Go with plan B. Or C. All the way to Z if you have to, but don't mire yourself down and brood about the plan that didn't work. Enjoy what you have, while you have it. Isn't that pretty much what we should do in life anyway?

So the moral of my whole story: Plan ahead. Plan well. Be prepared for whatever may happen and don't forget to enjoy the good moments, because there will be good moments mixed in with the bad if you are just open to receive them.

We will try again in Puerto Rico for a family trip. What we saw was beautiful and I know the activities that we planned will be even more fun when we finally get to do them. It won't be Spring Break next time though, and me? Well, I will be the one in charge of the planning!

Until next time,
Charlotte Dawn

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Something new! Wordless Wednesday - A Link up!

There are many trends or themes in the blogging community, and one popular one, especially among Disney bloggers is the Wordless Wednesday post. It is a great concept, since great photos really do speak a thousand words, and I am excited to participate today for the first time!

I will be linking up to Focused on the Magic where monthly themes for Wordless Wednesday are posted and all bloggers are invited to link up. This month's themes are as follows:

Themes for April

For my April Calendar shot, I went with a collage of something I would want to see every day this month. So, no more words, just visuals. Hope you enjoy!

Can you tell who my favorite Princess is?

Of course my April calendar would feature my own princess, my precious little granddaughter I call Rory (her middle name is Aurora. See? She IS a princess!), who celebrates her first birthday this month! Thanks so much for joining in today, and until next time, keep wishing on a star!

Charlotte Dawn

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Taking flight - A Three Things Thursday Post

It's been a while since I have written, I know, so finding me here today is probably as shocking to you as it is to me, but here I sit with a few minutes to actually write something. Since my friend Heidi over at Heidi's Head started the 3 Things Thursday format a while back that I liked so much, and since it is Thursday, it's a perfect day to write 3 things to share today, so on with the show!

1. As much as I have to write this year, and I really do have content coming out the wazoo to write and publish, I am just not feeling it. Between work, travel, being ill, and just life in general, writing has become my last thing, and honestly, I am quite mad at myself about it. I can remember my mother talking about my writing so clearly. I was a teenager and had grandiose plans for my future. Top Gun was my movie at the time and all I could think about was flying jets. My bedroom had posters of military jets hanging everywhere, with my favorite, a 'nice' framed print of an F-14 slipping through the clouds with the poem High Flight written across it. (Hey, it was the 80s, don't laugh!...Nah, go ahead, I'm laughing, too! In my defense, it is a good poem and I still love it to this day.)

I knew as a woman I could never fly in combat in that era, but I knew I could enlist with hopes to train to fly and ultimately earn money to go to college to become a doctor. Not just any doctor, a pathologist. A Quincy, with maybe a touch of Ellery Queen for good measure. Someone that solves the mysteries of death, that was my plan. (I really needed to get away from the television!)

That plan was not met with open arms by members of my family. My Granddad had a lot to say about it. As someone who served in the Pacific front during WWII and flew planes himself, my grandfather had one thing and one thing alone to say about my plans, "Women don't belong in the military." Now I know he loved me and loved me like crazy, and a lot of what he was saying was more for my protection than his bias against women in service, but anytime it was spoken of in my high school years, he would tell me to "just go be a nurse." And I did, but that's another story for another time.

For my mother though, it had nothing to do with my joining the military or becoming a doctor, it was more because that was the wrong career for me. She told me over and over, "You don't belong in the military or in a medical setting. You are a writer. Writers write." She would then go over my list of accomplishments, like I didn't remember them myself, and remind me of this award for poetry or that mention for a short story. She reminded me how early I was reading and that 'readers write' and that by insisting on another path, I was denying my 'true calling'.

I balked at this a lot and after she died in my senior year of high school, I quashed almost all my writing. I didn't trust what would come from my thoughts, and I honestly didn't want to examine them at all, especially not like a writer does with the bloodletting of emotions in the story being written. Every writer puts a piece of him or herself in what comes forth, and I didn't want to look at that piece of me.

By the time I started writing again, I was a young mother of two, working my way through nursing school and looking for hope and inspiration and a bit of romance. I wrote mostly as a ghost writer for romance novels at the time, never making a lot of money and not even getting my name out there, but still, my words were being read. It felt good. I wanted more but I didn't want to let go of the dream to be a doctor. My dream of joining the military was gone, after not passing a physical due to a heart issue, and all I had left was my plan to be a medical examiner, albeit now I was traveling the long road to get there, with nursing school first so I could work through medical school.

"Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans." - John Lennon

Now, I am no longer a nurse, and my side track off the medical school track where I was a Legal Nurse Consultant for over 15 years has mostly come to an end as well. I am in my 40s, a grandmother now, and going back to school to finally fulfill my dream just doesn't appeal to me any longer. In the back of my head, I still hear my mother, "You are a writer. Writers write." And she is right. Deep down, after all these years and many different roads I have traversed, one thing remains. I am a writer. And I shall write. I don't feel the presence of my mother often, but there are certain times I do, like when I have a fresh notebook in my hand or have a clean page opened on my computer. I know what she is saying and finally I am not just hearing her, I am acknowledging what she said for so long. This one's for you, Lynda Lou.

Since Number 1 was so long, I will keep the next 2 short and sweet!

2. Since I am a writer, in order to keep this blog real and relevant, it is time for me to start sharing more. Not just happy things, product reviews or recipes, but also the nitty gritty of life. Sometimes in life we feel so alone when we are going through a particular rough spot and I am no exception. I recently had an email from someone that said to 'quit being so happy!' First, I am not always so happy. I have hardships. I struggle. I get depressed or down. My family struggles, and we have set-backs. The thing about us though is that we get back up and try again. We try harder. We keep trying until we either get it right or know that whatever it is we are striving towards is not for us and we move on. It isn't in the falling down that makes me happy, it is in the getting back up. And it is in that falling down and getting back up again that some of my writing is going to come from. Many times instead of writing what I need to get out, I clam up. Clams only help someone when they are open and in order for me to give encouragement and to help those of you who may be going through similar struggles so that you can know that you are indeed not alone in your problems, I need to be open about mine. No more clams, unless they're for dinner!

And lastly, my long-windedness is coming to a close with this,

3. I have been a grandmother for almost a full year! I can't believe our little princess is going to be turning 1 in just a few weeks. She has grown so much from the precious little angel newborn. She started walking before Christmas, at 8 months of age and now she runs! She loves music and dances all the time. Her vocabulary is growing daily and I am pretty sure she is a genius. There has been a lot of changes in our family since she came, and she has brought to us a new light that we needed when we most needed it. As much as I worried about my son and his girlfriend, I look at them and see they are growing and maturing and learning how to be great parents to her and good to each other. Of course they still struggle, do you know any young couple that doesn't? But I see them struggle and then do better by making better decisions and choices because they know it isn't just them they have to think about. As a mother, that makes me proud. I may not have liked the thought of them becoming parents in the beginning (in my defense I did think them too young but over time {and a reminder from my daughter} I recognized that my son was a few years older than I was when I had him, so I had to zip it on that! You know, the whole 'Suck it up, Buttercup!'), everything works in the way that it should and I see clearly that this child was something that we may not have initially planned for but she has filled us all with a joy we needed, and I can only thank God for His wisdom in blessing us with her.

So that's it for this week's 3 Things Thursday. Be sure to check back, new post coming on How to Ruin a Spring Break Trip in 3 Easy Steps, or AKA Why I hate Buddy Passes. Thanks for reading and until next time, keep moving forward!

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