Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Dream is a Wish with Antibodies

I've been on cloud nine since I found out I made the 2010 Walt Disney World Moms Panel. Life was unbelievingly good before it happened, and now, I seem to have reached an even greater level of insurmountable happiness on a daily basis, from sunup to sundown (although I've been having trouble with that whole "sleeping" thing as the excitement doesn't exactly subside at night!)

Here's the thing: the rest of my family has been battling colds for going on two weeks now, and I haven't had so much as a sniffle. Don't get me wrong - they're not trying to make me sick! Quite the opposite. My wife and two guys have been incredibly supportive, and it's been a blast sharing the happiness of making the Moms Panel with them.

It does still leave me with the question of why they've had colds and I have not. Granted, their exposure to other kids is greater than mine, but it does still leave a window open for the theoretical:

Has my extra "oomph" of happiness from the Moms Panel been a means of repelling the common cold (and Lord knows what else that's been wafting my way?!)



I Need a Reference
Science has never been a strong suit of mine. Same goes for math. Hence, some source was needed to let me know if my head - filled with pixie dust - was indeed a potent means of staying healthy.

According to WebMD, it sure is.

In the article "5 Natural Ways to Help Your Health,"enjoying life is listed as one of the five natural ways to say healthy, joining the ranks of exercise, weight, routine check-ups and not smoking.

Rather than paraphrase, here's the meat of the happiness section:

Enjoying life and maintaining a circle of supportive friends is a big part of good health. Indeed, having friendships may be second only to not smoking for preventing heart attacks. People with extensive social networks, according to research at the Uniformed Services University, are less likely to have calcification in their arteries, a sign of heart disease risk.
One way to increase your happiness is to foster cheerful friends. “Happiness turns out to spread through social networks,” says James D. Fowler, PhD, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. His research, which tracked the spread of happiness among friends and even friends of friends, found that a person is 15% more likely to be happy if a close contact is happy.

Not a Thesis, But a Conclusion Nonetheless
Like any good research paper, let's finish with a blatant conclusion by breaking down how my happiness from joining the Moms Panel has repelled sickness thus far:

"Enjoying life" = this one's a given.

"Circle of Supportive Friends" = holly crap! My family is endlessly supportive. Add that to all the moms and dads I have connected with on the Moms Panel, and it's been overwhelmingly amazing!! I am so incredibly humbled by their kind words and being in their company. It's such a blessing to learn more about each other in preparation for our upcoming Dec. 4 training trip.

"Extensive social network" = my Twitter followers and Facebook friends have multiplied ten fold!

"The spread of happiness" = the collective joy of my family and the Moms Panel group is unparalleled. I'm so excited to continue bonding with the group. Not only will our happiness grow as our panel becomes more interconnected with each other, but our collective talents will also allow us to help countless others grab hold of Disney magic, happiness and a vacation of a lifetime! Sounds like the perfect prescription to me!

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Whole New World in the Queue

A cry for help crossed my radar, asking for ways to keep young kids entertained while waiting in a queue at Walt Disney World. I took a crack at it in 140 characters or less and determined to later devote more time to the topic.

This is me coming to fruition (and it only scratches the surface!)

Games and Activities

Trivia cards. If you’re as intense as me, you have a formidable stack of Disney board games at home. For example, we have two (2) – yep, two – Disney versions of Trivial Pursuit. We also have Disney Scene It, The Wonderful World of Disney Trivia 2… the list goes on.





If you look closely, you’ll see that all of these games I listed have something in common: stacks of trivia cards. Grab a handful and bring them in your diaper bag, camera bag, man purse or what have you, and bust them out whenever you need a diversion. It passes the time so well that you’ll even forget about the absence of the game board, let alone keeping score.

A-to-Z Scavenger hunt. This is a classic take on the game you play in the car – you know, the one where you look for signs, billboards or vehicles and work your way through the alphabet?  For our Disneyfied version, the same principles apply, but in this case, we’re looking for characters and other key story elements found in and around the queue. Start with “A,” then work your way down to “Z.” For example, if waiting in the queue for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, the “A” could be “astro,” the “B” could be “blasters” and the “Z” could be “Zurg.” You can collaborate and build a list as a team or you can compete with one another to see who can get to “Z” first.

I Spy. You can make this one as easy or sophisticated as you’d like. In the queue for the Haunted Mansion, for example, you could either say, “I spy something grey,” or, “I spy something with moving eyes,” both indicating the tombstone of Madame Leota.



Other tools to have up your sleeves (all available with Disney themes if you look!) Color Wonder activity books; sticker books and snacks!

Learn the Attraction’s Back Story; Discover Hidden Gems
Many queues at Walt Disney World have such rich back stories and hidden gems. Often dialogue and discussion surrounding these elements is enough to get you through the longest of standbys.

Don’t know where to start? Try these:

Imagineering Field Guides by Alex Smith. Get the big picture and minute details from the Imagineers who designed the attractions themselves.

Hidden Mickeys by Steve Barrett. Uncover over 800 images of Mickey Mouse blended into design elements throughout Walt Disney World,  categorized by park and land to make it easy to pull out in any queue.

Walt Disney World Trivia Books by Lou Mongelo. These books are down-right informative and essential for those pining for Walt Disney World details. They also lend themselves well for Q&A games. Be sure to check out the audio guides too.

The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World by Susan Veness. Features more than 600 tidbits about the parks and attractions.

Avoid Waits
Want to virtually eliminate your wait in queues or reduce waits as much as humanly possible? Len Testa has made the science of touring into an art form in The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

Inevitably, use FASTpass wisely. (Another post, another time!) When FASTpass is not an option, and depending on the attraction, consider having one person in your group hold your place in line.

Let’s Hear from You
What are your favorite go-to ideas in queue lines to keep kids busy? Post a comment!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Contemporary Top 10

This has been a week of dreams coming true. First and foremost, making the Disney Moms Panel! And then what? What’s that? We’re staying where?! At the Contemporary?! Sweet!

I’m beginning to wonder if my guardian angel is related to the Blue Fairy.

Earlier today, I got the call to set up my travel and accommodations for our Moms Panel training in three weeks. Needless to say, I was thrilled to learn we’d be staying at the Contemporary. It got me thinking about all the things I’ve wanted to experience at the resort.

So let’s break it down into a top 10 of things that excite me the most about staying at the Contemporary.



1. Originality.
The Contemporary was one of the original resorts that opened when the Magic Kingdom did in 1971.

2. Harmony.
While the themes of the Magic Kingdom resorts are good on their own, they are magnificent when viewed from lands within the Magic Kingdom. When viewed from Tomorrowland , the modern design of the Contemporary is in perfect harmony with the vision of the future that could have been. Similar harmony is achieved in Adventureland with the Polynesian and from Mainstreet with the Victorian-styled Grand Floridian.

3. Monorail.
Never have I slept anywhere that had a transportation service running through it. Sure, at Marquette, it sounded like there were busses, fire trucks and Harleys barreling through the halls, but they weren’t really there (right?) It’s hard to believe that the time I land a bed in a place with a mode of transportation running through it, it’s virtually silent and won’t rouse me from my sleep!

4. The View.
The castle. It’s right there! So is Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon.

5. Mosaic.
The mosaic in the atrium was crafted by Disney Legend, Mary Blair, who played a key role in the design of it’s a small world. All told, the mosaic has over 18,000 hand-painted tiles and is nearly 100 feet tall. Take a good look at the five legged goat in the mosaic, which many will say represents that we’re only human and we all make mistakes.



6. Hidden Mickeys.
There are a handful of Hidden Mickeys at the Contemporary worth seeking out, especially the one you can see from looking out a window at the top of the world in the California Grill. Look down and check out the ground in front of the resort.

7. Fireworks & Pageants.
We’ve got Wishes over the castle, the Electric Water Pageant on Bay Lake, and me doing a funny little happy dance through it all.

8. Food.
I’m not sure where we’re eating throughout the training trip, but there’s a certain comfort that comes with knowing that Chef Mickey’s and the California Grill are within shouting distance.



9. COFFEE!
Kona Island at the Poly is just a monorail away!

10. My New Family.
I can’t wait to meet you, Disney Moms & Dads!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Listening While You Work

Let’s continue with the theme of building excitement for upcoming trips to Walt Disney World and ways to stay connected to the magic at home.

It’s easy to do with theme park audio. At the parks, you’re surrounded with carefully planned audio. It’s part of telling the story, and it spans from music played on Mainstreet, at the foothills of Everest and in queues like Soarin’ to the leading lady in parades and fireworks.

Can you imagine a soundless Spectromagic or Wishes or Fantasmic without orchestration and character vocalization? Didn’t think so.

We could go on and on about how audio is one of the most essential parts of accentuating the Walt Disney World experience. The heart of the matter is this: it’s a lot easier to keep the magic alive by listening - not whistling - while you work, whether it be at home or in an office.

Streaming Audio – at Work & at Home

I toggle between 18 different Walt Disney World theme park audio feeds during the daytime.



At home, I stream theme park audio almost exclusively from the Disney Tunes Radio Network (for whatever reason, this one doesn't work at work.) The quality of its streaming audio is amazing: 128 kbps.

Visit http://www.dtuneslive.com/ to get started.





The Disney Tunes Radio Network (DTunes) has six – yes six! – streams to choose from (the last four listed are my favorites.)

1. Mickey: entire collection of Disney music and takes requests.
2. Minnie: movie soundtracks.
3. Donald: music from the theme parks and hotels.
4. Daisy: background area music from the parks and hotels.
5. Goofy: parade and firework music.
6. Pluto: attraction audio.

Listening from an iPhone / iPod Touch
DTunes and MouseWorld Radio have free apps in the app store. FStream is another good free app that lets you browse available streams and key in your own favorite stations. In addition to the app, FStream also has a good desktop client for Macs.




You can listen to any stream on DTunes by navigating to the page via Safari on your iPhone/iPod Touch. Just click the iTunes icon on a stream’s page and it will play the stream in a QuickTime window. Better yet, you can then minimize the Safari window and open another app and the music won’t stop playing!



Listening from a PC
I like the Webradio widget, available via Yahoo Widgets. Here are the URLs of my favorite Disney theme park audio stations to plug into it. (Note: the DTunes streams aren’t listed below since I can’t listen and damage check it at work.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Advance the Countdown!

I have a countdown tool on my computer desktop that counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until my next Disney trip. As of 8:00 a.m. on Tues., Nov. 10, it showed 140 days and two hours until our Easter 2010 trip. At 10:41 a.m., that all changed. That's when I got the call letting me know that I made the 2010 Walt Disney World Mom's Panel. 

With all the excitement, I forgot to adjust my countdown clock until the next day. Today, I'm happy to report that it now shows a little more than 22 days away until my next trip. I can't wait for Dec. 4 to come and meet all of the amazing moms and dads that make up the Mom's Panel!I've seen a number of countdown counters and tools online. Some are png images that refresh automatically. Others are widgets and gadgets.

My favorite is freeware from PhanTim3. While the developers are no longer supporting the tool, the program and all its skins are still available. I have created custom skins for my previous three trips. Take a look at PhanTim3 and become familiar with it. Then feel free to borrow the skins I created (below) for your own counter. Enjoy!





Making Sense of It
This next part will make no sense until you go through with downloading PhanTim3. First, follow the install instructions. Once it's all set and you're ready to start customizing, adjust the Custom.txt file in each of the skin's folders to read as follows:
Calibri
9
0 0 0
110 80
150 80
191 80
224 80