Make the Most out of Epcot Flower & Garden Festival’s Last Weekend

Why does it feel like just last week that Epcot Flower & Garden Festival was starting and everyone was excited for the debut of Beauty and the Beast? 

On Monday, Flower & Garden comes to an end and I still haven’t made it to the theatre for B&TB. 😱

Where does the time go? I’m not ready to say goodbye to Flower and Garden.
This is my favorite festival of the year, so I’ll be braving the Memorial Day crowds to have one more go of taking in the beauty, enjoying my favorite seasonal treats, and attempting to try all the things I haven’t been able to get my hands on.

The Must Have at Least One More Time list:

  • Desert Violet Lemonade. Obviously. This Instagram darling is sweet, tart, and fruity. And it’s a slush. Oh yeah. The perfect spring drink. – Pineapple Promenade (near the start of World Showcase, just a bit before Canada)
  • Watermelon Salad. I’d buy a whole bucket of this is they’d let me. Peppery arugula, lush, juicy watermelon, tart, creamy feta cheese, the syrupy zing of balsamic glaze, and the astringent sweetness of pink pickled onions. I’m not an onion fan – raw onions especially (they taste like fire), but I loooove these pink pickled onions. – Urban Farm Eats (along the path between the Imagination Pavilion and the World Showcase)
  • Candied Strawberries. These are so strange and so delicious! Imagine a skewer of bright, plump strawberries coated in an almost savory sesame-esque brittle candy. – Lotus House (China)
  • M.S.G: Mango Wine, Strawberry and Ginger Ale. This was DELICIOUS. If you like peach or lychee (neither of which are in this drink, but, you know), you’ll like this. SO fruity and refreshing! – Lotus House (China)

The Would Really Like to Have at Least One More Time if Life Permits List:

  • Nanaimo Bar Trifle. Creamy and comforting, this is like an extra-decadent chocolate and coconut layered pudding. – Northern Bloom (Canada)
  • La Vie en Rose Slush. Essentially a strong, exponentially more delicious version of a vodka cranberry with a hint of Saint Germain. The pale pink color is exceedingly pleasing. – Fleur de Lys (France)
  • Watermelon Cucumber Slush. Hydrating, summery, and fruity. I’ve had the alcoholic version (gin) twice, once was perfection and the other was stunningly strong. The non-alcoholic version is equally delightful. Sweet, but not too sweet. – Florida Fresh (between France and Morocco)
  • Frushi. This fruit sushi is a festival staple! Cute, novel, and tasty. – Hanami (Japan)
  • Warm Chocolate Cake with Bourbon-Salted Caramel Sauce and Spiced Pecans. So good! Warm, caramelly, and spicy. – The Smoke House: Barbecue and Brews (US)
  • Beef Brisket Burnt Ends Hash with White Cheddar Fondue and Pickled Jalapeños. I really liked this one! Mega flavorful and just a teensy bit spicy. I love a good mingle of jalapeño and cheese flavors! – The Smoke House: Barbecue and Brews (US)

The These Sound Really Good and I Want to Try Them Before They’re Gone List:

  • Avivé Natural Peach Sparkling WineUrban Farm Eats 
  • Ciderboys Strawberry Magic Hard Strawberry CiderCider House (UK)
  • Caribe Blood Orange Tropical Hard CiderCider House (UK)
  • Carne Asada with Black Bean Cake and Cilantro Lime Cream Cheese – Florida Fresh
  • Meatball Parmigiana: Hand-made Beef and Veal Meatballs, Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Parmigiana and Fresh Basil – Primavera (Italy)

The Mr. EC’s favorites list:

  • Currywurst with Curry Ketchup and Paprika Chips – Bauernmarket (Germany)
  • The aforementioned Violet Lemonade
  • The aforementioned Nanaimo Bar Trifle
  • Beef Tenderloin TipsNorthern Bloom (mentioned below)

And finally, Things I Have Tried:

  • Warm Wild Berry Buckle with Pepperberry Sorbet. Nothing at all wrong with this one, but I felt the flavors were much more suited to the holiday season instead of spring. – The Berry Basket
  • Spicy Hot Dog with Pineapple Chutney and Plantain Chips. This was unusual and tasty, but the hot dog itself was a bit too spicy for my liking. – Pineapple Promenade
  • Beef Tenderloin Tips, Mushroom Bordelaise Sauce, Whipped Potatoes with Garden Vegetables. SUPER flavorful. The beef could’ve been more tender, though. – Northern Bloom (Canada)

There you have it! Will you be visiting Epcot this weekend? Which treats are your favorite, and which would you avoid if given the opportunity to experience again?

Happily Ever After: Review and Viewing Tips

Happily Ever After is finally here!

I like to go into new entertainment events (movies, fireworks shows, rides, land openings, etc.) with zero expectations. This means no trailers, previews, or reviews. Personally, I tend to appreciate something more if I haven’t been intensely absorbing the opinions of others beforehand. If you operate similarly, skip the Thoughts and Feels section below and head straight for Viewing Suggestions.

Thoughts and Feels
Ah, yes. Happily Ever After is here, and I love it. LOOOOVE it. Every aspect was so far beyond my expectations.

In my humble opinion, it blows Wishes out of the water. Yes, I enjoyed Wishes and will remember it fondly… but Happily Ever After is just so much MORE. 

Expect fireworks, stunning projections, lasers, unfathomably intense lighting, and amazing music, plus lines from movies that have literally shaped our lives. Happily Ever After has its own original song, too, and it’s gorgeous.

The narrator’s voice is delightfully rich and elegant; in fact, it reminds me of a king reading a bedtime story to his beloved daughter. The overarching message of dreams, perseverance, being true to oneself, and persisting despite the inevitable setbacks definitely spoke to me.

I was so stunned and pleasantly surprised to see a bit from nearly every favorite Disney film from my childhood and the present day, including a few that are a little less popularly celebrated than others. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, and Hercules were featured, along with more recent hits like Tangled, Brave, Moana, and Frozen. Unfortunately, I didn’t glimpse any Atlantis or Emperor’s New Groove.

Viewing Suggestions

Okay, I’ll say it: I don’t think you can get the most accurate representation having viewed only the live feed. You need to be present to really get a feel for the show. If you’re not visiting anytime soon then fine, watch away online. But it’s not really fair or accurate to compare one online viewing with over a decade of in-person Wishes watching.

For your first live viewing of HEA, I recommend picking a spot with the front of Cinderella Castle in view. That way, you’ll get to see all of the show’s elements in their utmost glory. If you’re too close to the castle, you may not see the full scope of fireworks. The pathways along the gardens near Casey’s Corner remain the best viewing spots, just as with Wishes. 

Some other viewing areas I’ve enjoyed in the past include Liberty Square and Gaston’s Tavern in New Fantasyland. You don’t see the front of the castle, of course, but you should be able to enjoy the fireworks, music, and lighting effects.

Other Musings

When Magic Kingdom ran tests of show elements in the weeks prior to opening, some people loudly complained that this wouldn’t be a fireworks show. Well… they were wrong. HEA is nearly twice as long as Wishes and actually has more fireworks.

I’m so very thankful to have had the opportunity to watch the HEA premiere in the perfect spot, surrounded by my favorite people. The magnificent show, combined with the gasps, squeals, and sniffles from the crowd, served as a poignant reminder of how the Disney magic we experience as children can truly stay with us into adulthood. 

Happily Ever After happens once per night, usually either at 9:00 PM or 10:00 PM. Check your My Disney Experience app to confirm.

Have you experienced Happily Ever After? What did you think?

5 Tips for Surviving the Madness as We Say Goodbye to Wishes

The final showing of Wishes Nighttime Spectacular is Thursday, May 11 at 9:00 PM.

Since Disney made the official announcement, the castle hub has been absolutely packed with guests trying to catch the show just one last time. This means CROWDS. For real, though: I haven’t even seen crowds like this during holiday madness or special events. 

To find calm in the chaos, I’ve compiled the following list of helpful hints:

1. Grab a spot early. On a Saturday evening in mid-April, the hub was already pretty full by 7:00 for a 9:00 show. We found a nice spot by 8:00 and by 8:50, our nice spot was packed full of people. Sardines would’ve been less tightly smooshed. My guess? It’ll only get busier leading up to the finale. 

2. Expect crowds. See above and below.

3. Be courteous. The people behind you don’t want to have to watch the entire show through the iPad you’re holding three feet into the air or through the back of the child you’ve placed on your shoulders. Also, if you’re arriving two minutes prior to showtime, please don’t ask the people who heeded point number one to give up their spots to accommodate your group. Similarly, if you arrived early, it’s not ok to refuse to let people pass through or to use your stroller as a blockade.

4. If you don’t want to deal with the crowds and aren’t too bothered about seeing Tinkerbell or the castle effects and lighting, you can totally watch the show from the Liberty Bell area in Liberty Square or near Gaston’s Tavern in New Fantasyland. You’ll still be able to see the fireworks and enjoy the music.

5. Stay longer if you can. Waves of people leave just after Wishes, and heaps more leave at park close. This makes for long lines for the ferry and the monorail, which is one of my biggest peeves with the Magic Kingdom. If you can make it work, stay longer. I like to hop in a short ride line a few minutes before closing time and then pop into The Emporium or The Confectionary on my way out. That way, by the time I’m exiting, lines are tamer. Note 1: I’m not advocating trying to be the very last people out of the park. Cast Members wanna go home too, and the late shifters can’t start their jobs until the park is empty. A decade working in hospitality will simply not allow me to do that to people. 😉 Note 2: if you’re staying on property and are not parked at the TTC, this process will be less of a headache – yay!

Do you plan to be present for Wishes’ last night? I’ll be there, though not without trepidation! We’ve got just over a week to practice our calming meditation, guys. Godspeed.

Magic Band 2: I thought I would hate it, but I don’t.

Magic Bands are kind of a big deal. They’re your room key, meal ticket, park admission, purchasing token, and FastPass er, pass.

When the Magic Band 2 was announced in December, I was not excited. The new bands looked huge and bulky. Not sleek or advanced. The internet was abuzz about the newest feature: a “puck” that could be removed from the band, placed into a keychain/lanyard, or simply carried in a pocket. Oh great, a huge magic band with a piece to worry about losing. Yay. 

I have an unusually small wrist, and the original bands felt really thick during wear. The thinner 1.5 bands were better, but they’d never say right-side-up. I don’t like to peel the gray edge off of my bands to make them child-sized because 1) it often removes a good bit of the graphics and 2) I’m weird. Still, any issues with magic band versions 1 and 1.5 were super minor and easy to live with. Just having one at all felt novel and exciting.

Also, I should also mention that I’ve wanted one of the special “lights and sounds*” limited edition magic bands for at least a year. Many have been released, and I’ve been excited about very few of them. Of course, there was one I was thrilled about (hello, Halloween!) but they sold out before I could get one.

But then, one evening while perusing the Disney Springs pin station, I caught sight of a red magic band with a dog on it behind the counter. Whaaaaat a special band with a dog on it! Turned out to be the Valentine’s Day 2017 magic band, complete with Lady and the Tramp slurping a plate of spaghetti. OH EM GOODNESS. If there are three things I can’t resist, they are dogs, spaghetti, and magic bands with special lights and sounds involving love/dogs/spaghetti.

But it was a Magic Band 2. Nooo. Still… dogs. Spaghetti. Valentine’s Day. Such anguish! My husband pulled up a YouTube video of the magic band at a park entrance point, and… rainbow-y flashes and Bella Notte? Sold!

And, shockingly, I actually LOVE the Magic Band 2 and find it more comfortable than the original and 1.5 versions.

These are the major differences in wear/feel I notice:

– overall, 2 is lighter and thinner

– The “puck” is actually screwed in, so there’s no need to worry about it falling out

– 2 is more comfortable. In addition to being lighter and thinner, the puck-shape ensures it doesn’t swivel around my wrist. I never realized how amazing it would be to have a magic band stay in place.

Top: Magic Band 1. Bottom: Magic Band 1.5.

I doubt I’ll ever put my puck into a keychain, as I kind of like the fun of a festive band on my wrist. Added bonus: I always know where it is. I’m not super thrilled for the inevitable moment I get stuck behind someone who can’t locate their puck.

So yes, I was totally wrong about Magic Band 2. They might look a bit different, but the noticeable difference in comfort, thickness, and weight is totally worth it. Plus… dogs/spaghetti/special lights and sounds. You can’t really top that.

*Magic bands with special lights and sounds are typically limited edition and come in boxes (they’re usually behind the counters in the shops). Instead of your touch point lighting up green and making a loud ding, it will light up whatever color and make whatever sound is associated with that particular band. Some bands will only work at particular parks (like the Kylo Ren band at Hollywood Studios) or particular touch points (one of the Haunted Mansion bands would only do special lights/sounds at the Haunted Mansion FastPass touchpoint.)

Do You Wanna Take a Sur-vey? ☃️

Happy New Year, Friends! I hope you’re all staying warm out there.

Thank you so very much for joining me in my effort to make every visit to Disney World more magical and less stressful!

There is SO much to write about, and sometimes finding a place to start gets overwhelming. So, I’d love to know: what are your biggest questions? What information do you have difficulty finding? What do you wish you had known before your visit?

Would you be so kind as to complete this short survey? Your responses will be a great tool for helping me to help you and other families like you! 

You can either share your email address with me or not – whatever you’re most comfortable with. If you do, you can expect to receive periodic TEC updates.

Here’s the survey.

Thank you so much! ❤

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party 2016

Would you believe I’ve never been to one of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Parties!? Never! We always planned our vacations during the autumn, partly because of our love of Mickey’s Not-so-Scary Halloween Party and partly because my workload in December was always intense.

Last year, we had just moved to Orlando and I wasn’t working yet, so although I had the free time – finally! -I couldn’t justify spending nearly $100 per person for something I’d be able to (mostly) experience during regular park operations once the parties ended. (For 2016, the Christmas parties end after December 22 and you’ll be able to see the parade and most of the shows as part of regular operations until the holiday season ends).

But this year, I get to experience Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party! Yay! I’m most looking forward to:

Special Details:

The Disney Parks do details like no one else, and details are basically my favorite thing. Lighting, scents, music, snow, everything. When I think about how Town Square, Main Street USA, and the castle hub transform for the Halloween parties, I feel positively giddy when I try to imagine how idyllically holiday-ish everything is going to look, sound, and feel. It’s going to be like December in Hohman, Indiana… times one billion. I’m hoping for cool, crisp weather so I can maybe wear my “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal!” sweater. Which I do own. For real.


A Frozen Holiday Wish: Okay, so technically, you can see this on non-Christmas party nights during the holiday season, too. I LOVE IT. Anna, Elsa, Olaf, Kristoff, chocollllate, and watching Else freeze Cinderella Castle? Gorgeous. Magical. When I saw it for the first time last year, my eye might’ve leaked a little. If you’ve never experienced it, don’t miss it. Even if you’re an old cynic, you should still try to see it again. The show is super short and it’ll warm your heart. Getting to see AFHW with the Magic Kingdom all decked out in its holiday decor is going to be extra special, too. 8:15 PM, Castle Forecourt Stage.

A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas: Once again, one of my favorites from last year. If you love Stitch (I do! I do!), this is a must-see. It’s cute, funny, and festive. 7:40 PM, 8:30 PM, 9:20 PM, 10:45 PM, and 11:35 PM at the RocketTower Plaza Stage in Tomorrowland.

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade: Not sure if it will compare to Boo To You!, my most favorite parade of all time, but I’m still looking forward to it! Last year, I watched Once Upon a Christmastime at 3:00 PM in, like, 90-degree weather. It’s hard to feel in the holiday spirit when you’re sweating buckets and the sun is beating down on you. During the parties, though, this parade takes place after dark and there is SNOW! That increases the holiday spirit factor by at least 500%… in my humble [but correct] opinion. 8:30 PM and 11:00 PM; steps off in Frontierland.

Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration: This show is new for 2016, so I have no idea what to expect! I do know there’s a song about texting, which seems odd to me, and that makes me feel old. I enjoyed Celebrate the Season last year, so hopefully this one is just as good (if not better). Does Goofy wear a Christmas tree hat? I hope so. 7:40 PM, 9:25 PM, 10:30 PM, and 12:00 AM, Castle Forecourt Stage.

Holiday Wishes – Celebrate the Spirit of the Season: Like regular Wishes!, the nighttime fireworks show, but holiday-y. 🙂 I watched this show from Liberty Square last year; it was good, but I wasn’t amazed. I did, however, LOVE the smiley face fireworks. Hoping to snag a spot similar to what I had for HalloWishes this year (nearish Casey’s Corner, which was perfection). Maybe this year I’ll feel a little more wowed. 10:00 PM.


Pumpkin Waffle Sundae from Sleepy Hollow. I hope it has syrup.

Hot Chocolate, Cookies, etc. from various treat spots throughout the park. Yessss.

Character Meet & Greets: I don’t have any particular character meet and greets on my “must do” list this year, though I am tempted to visit Scrooge McDuck and Sandy Claws.

Have you been to a Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party this year? If so, what did you love and what are your recommendations?

Note: Magic Kingdom closes at 7:00 PM on party nights. The Christmas parties require a separate ticket and are not included in regular admission. You can purchase tickets and view available dates here.

Also! Times and locations in this post are current as to November 14. Times do occasionally change, though, so be sure to pick up a times guide on the way into the park to ensure you don’t miss out on any of the holiday magic! This guide will also show you the parade route, character meet and greet spots, and treat locations.