Return to the Epcot Festival of the Arts!

I’ve been a bit remiss in keeping up with my blogging duties over the last month. I neglected to report on my New Years trip to Disney’s Hilton Head Island resort (TL;DR version, Hilton Head was a blast as usual very relaxing and perfect weather!) but I wanted to be sure to capture the highlights of my return to the Epcot Festival of the Arts in mid-January!

Pluto was happy to see us at Hilton Head!

Epcot has four festivals during the year: Festival of the Arts, Flower and Garden Festival, Food and Wine Festival, and Festival of the Holidays. If you’re unlucky enough to visit in a small frame of time between festivals, well boo. They are pretty spread out to cover most of the year but there are pockets of time where the festivals are changing over and you can easily end up in one. Festival of the Arts is my absolute favorite though. So much to do in Epcot that is directly related to the beauty of art and features things like artists on-site creating new art and signing their work, food booths offering beautiful tapas-style items for purchase, and life-size paintings you can become a part of. The level of talent that these artists showcase is incredible!

Let’s talk about chalk art. If you’ve never seen chalk art up close, let me tell you how amazing it truly is! The details, the colors, the scale and size of the work… not to mention the artists have to sit on the ground or crouch while creating these masterpieces! And the rain! I don’t know how they don’t just break down in tears when it starts to rain after they have worked so hard on a piece. Que será será I suppose. Two of my favorites are Leigh Alfredson (thechalkteacher on Instagram) and Nate Baranowski (nate.baranowski on Instagram). Their work is crazy good. Nate does large-scale chalk art that you can ‘step’ right into. You have to check out their Instas. Talent in every shot. When it rains, they take their work indoors and keep the magic flowing!

Leigh’s completed Luca, her work in process of Pico from Encanto (indoor chalking that day due to weather), and another artist completing a National Geographic piece.

One of my most favorite parts of this festival is the paint-by-number that everyone can participate in. You are given a small foam brush and a cup of paint. Each color is numbered and the huge canvas is squared off with each square assigned a number. You are allowed to paint eight squares numbered to match your color. When done, it all comes together in a gigantic mural. I could literally stand there and paint squares all day. You’re given a bookmark that shows what the finished mural looks like. Cast Members say that each mural takes about two days to complete. This year’s mural is a take on Van Gogh’s Starry Night, which is my absolute favorite painting!

All of the festivals have a scavenger hunt available for a small fee. After your hunt is complete, you redeem your completed game piece for a prize. This year’s prizes, appropriately, are little figures that you paint and we chose Figment! How fun is that!

Pro tip: Don’t panic if you can’t complete the scavenger hunt! You can still pick up your prize at one of the redemption locations.

I love going through the countries of World Showcase and looking for the hidden character art! You have to look hard sometimes to find the friends that are hiding in each country! Abu might have been trying to pocket some pans here in Morocco!

Hidden art!

There are so many life-size pieces of art throughout the park that you can step into and recreate for yourself. Track them down and get your pose ready!

Stepping inside of the paintings is such a ‘Scream!’

Of course, it is the artists of the past and present that make this festival what it is. We love to be able to purchase art from our favorite artists and be able to have them sign their work. These folks really make the festival so much more special!

Rob Kaz is an official Disney artist but also has his own line of work that is not Disney related. You can find him on Instagram @RobKazArt

We spent a ton of our trip time in Epcot for the festival but also wanted to try out some new things not related just to that. We had lunch at the new Space 220 restaurant (delish food, beautiful preparation, inventive options, and carefully designed atmosphere), saw Minnie (yes, there are still characters in the parks, quite a few in Epcot actually, you just can’t hug them or get autographs still), and meandered into Club Cool for some soda samples from around the world!

We did make time to visit Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios on this trip as well. Since we were staying at the Beach Club resort, we were able to walk right into Epcot and take a short boat ride to get to Hollywood Studios. Beach Club, Yacht Club, and the Boardwalk Inn all share this same fantastic location and are so convenient to Epcot and the Studios. Of course, no visit to Disney for my family is complete without at least one (or two, or three, or…) visit to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios. We flew the Millennium Falcon a couple of times, fought the First Order on Rise of the Resistance, and managed to spend a few credits on some new droid pins at Droid Depot.

Have you ever heard these droids making noises? Did you know that is caused by other guests using the Play Parks App? Try it!

Magic Kingdom’s fireworks show that started on October 1st, Enchantment, has been so popular that we had not been able to watch it until this trip. It is always so crowded and I just am not willing to stake out a spot far enough in advance to get a decent view. This time, we splurged on the Treats and Seats dessert party and wowza was it worth it! We’ve done dessert parties in the past and enjoyed those, but this one feels different with the COVID impact. This is the seated party option where you have desserts/drinks and then watch the fireworks while seated at the Tomorrowland Terrace restaurant. The tables are no longer really close together and you have a great view no matter what table you are given when you arrive. Other bonuses besides the food and drinks (alcohol too!) would be the bathrooms that are right at the seating area, not getting trampled to death, and your small children (or short adults) being able to see. The last time we tried to watch Enchantment, we were uncomfortably close to a heated argument, near fist-fight, and very unpleasant exchange between several guests stuck in the crowd as the fireworks began. Every penny I paid for the dessert party was worth not having that experience again. Did I mention free Moscato and POG juice — what a way to cap the evening!

Alas, all good Disney trips must come to an end. Before we knew it, we were back in the skies on the way home, filled with new memories and a carry-on full of art!

xoxo,

Amber

Sunny days at the beach before Santa’s big visit

You know me, I have to gaze longingly at the ocean and breathe in the salty air to keep my soul in balance. The month doesn’t matter, I’ve dipped my toes in the ocean every month of the year at some point or another. The fam and I headed to Disney’s Hilton Head Island resort in South Carolina for a few days before Christmas rolled into town. It was such a fantastic time to get away from the holiday madness and reconnect with each other.

Disney has resorts all over the world (and no, they don’t all involve a theme park) but their property at Hilton Head remains as one of my favorites. It is so relaxing to sit in a rocker on your private balcony, staring out at the live oak trees, moss dangling from their branches. Watching the tide go in and out of the sound that the resort sits alongside. In warmer weather, spending time in the pool at the main resort or over at the Beach House makes for a great day. Since we visited in December and the weather was pleasant but not really great for swimming, we spent some time poolside but not in the water itself. The Beach House is a fantastic place to just sit in a chair and relax in the sun; it is located oceanfront and a short distance from the main resort (via shuttle, your own car, walking, or biking).

Something we always do while on resort is enjoy a Mickey tie-dye session. We were wondering how that would unfold in COVID times and, I have to say, it was super! The Cast Members had skillfully prepared the tie-dye area for maximum safety from cross-contamination and social distancing. The shirts were already rubber-banded for us in the traditional Mickey head tie-dye pattern (SO GREAT! This is always a challenge.) and all of the dye was clearly labeled. Each tie-dye participant had a good bit of space to create their art and the entire process felt less hectic than usual. Kudos to the team and I hope this process stays the same post-COVID!

We all love to collect seashells and explore the beach and we found an incredible new spot on the island, tucked away from the usual scene, full of so many things to observe. There were actual oyster reefs, a hidden river (that made the shells the water ran over become so smooth!), so many horseshoe crabs (only the shells though), shells like crazy (a bit unusual for Hilton Head), and a lot of peace and quiet. I’d love to share the location but — not gonna happen! I had to do some digging to find it and don’t want to spread the word on this one and have it lose its charm. All I can say is, do your research and you might find the joy that we did at this quiet spot. We found several shark teeth this time too and now I’m hooked on looking for those!

Dinner at the Salty Dog Cafe in Sea Pines was delish as always plus they offer outdoor seating if you’re not comfortable indoors during COVID. Their indoor seating was very distanced though and I didn’t have any concerns with safety. We were so happy to be able to try the Salty Dog Ice Cream Factory, which is never open when we visit Hilton Head, and enjoy some of their tasty offerings — pumpkin cheesecake, sweet potato casserole, gingerbread, eggnog, and so many more festive and standard flavors. Some fun times were spent at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store too, a blast from the past and full of Piggly Wiggly merch!

Let’s see, what else? Lots of Mickey waffles were consumed during our stay plus bunches of pin trading took place over at the Broad Creek Mercantile store. This resort is always one of the best for pin trading. The Cast Members here are so very friendly, management gets engaged and comes out to talk to the guests and help out the staff when needed, plus you have the typical Disney quality and cleanliness. We see some of the same Cast Members visit after visit and that’s so much fun for us to see ‘old friends’.

The hubs, kid, and I brought along my stepdad, two nieces, and my sister on this journey. My mom decided to stay back and prep for Christmas (boo!) so she missed all the fun. Other than some ridiculously loud neighbors (bless their hearts), we had a blast. We walked my poor stepdad for miles and miles but I think he enjoyed hanging out with the craziness. Another bright spot in the trip was the reconnecting. Sometimes when you travel with family, you have your moments when you want to lock each other out of the room, and we had some of those. But I have to say, I spent a lot of time with my sister and I think we both came away with a great experience. There was a lot of bonding going on, bent over picking up shells, and hoping that next find would be a shark tooth or some other super cool shell. Goofy moments in the car, food quirks, shell identifying, and sharing that pumpkin cheesecake ice cream made for some great memories. Thanks Leslie.

xoxo,

Amber

Sunshine and sand at Thanksgiving

For some people, Thanksgiving means turkey and cold weather. For me, it means walking the beach and dipping my feet into the (freezing!) ocean. We’ve been going to a beach over Thanksgiving for several years now, with Hilton Head being the beach of choice for the past few years. Disney’s Hilton Head Island resort is an amazing resort on the sound side of the island and also has access to a private Beach House oceanfront, a short shuttle or bike ride away. Hilton Head Island is located in South Carolina, just north of the Georgia border. It is a very busy island but the appearance of commercialism is kept to a minimum with restrictions on signage and resulting in many businesses peeking out from behind the moss covered trees.

Disney’s resort is super difficult to get into unless you are a Disney Vacation Club (timeshare) member and ‘own’ at the resort itself. I’ve tried on numerous occasions for myself and clients to book rooms for visits throughout the year with no success. The resort is small and availability is slim. With under 125 total rooms, including three-bedroom villas (5), two-bedroom villas (76), one-bedroom villas (21), and studio rooms (21), it is no wonder that availability is hard to come by. We are Vacation Club owners and recently bought into this particular resort because we love to visit there and have such difficulty in getting reservations. We’ll finally be able to do a week next summer and we can’t wait!

This resort has the most friendly staff of any Disney property I’ve ever been too. They go out of their way to make sure you have the best time possible and that your stay is truly magical. The resort and area managers were both on-site during our visit and checked in with us to ensure we were having a great vacation. Pin trading is a big thing at Hilton Head, just as it is at other Disney destinations. The kid came home with tons of new treasures. I found some treasures of my own while walking on the beach…

Sea treasures

My tiny finds from a walk on the beach

The family events there are so much fun too, some with a fee and some for free. We participated in the annual Golden Turkey scavenger hunt, Mickey tie-dye, making vacation pillows, finding a hidden plush Mickey each day, ping pong, shuffleboard, and even swimming. While it was a little chilly at times, we had a couple of great days and took advantage of the heated pools when possible. They really make the resort feel holiday-homey everywhere from the main lodge to the gift shop.

Bambi and Thumper

Bambi and Thumper hang out near the sound

After a few lovely days, it was time to head home to chilly Virginia and get moving on Christmas prep. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Until next time,

Amber

 

 

March Madness — both coasts! (Part 2)

Late March and spring break meant packing up our van and heading south.  For each trip to Walt Disney World, I try to do several new things that I’ve never experienced before.  For this trip, that meant:

  • Going to Cirque du Soleil’s “La Nouba” show
  • Staying in a royal guest room at Port Orleans Riverside resort
  • Trying new restaurants:  Raglan Road, Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming, The Wave, and Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar
  • Watching a “Perfectly Prepared Princess Makeover” at the Grand Floridian’s Ivy Trellis Salon come to life
  • Enjoying the new family raft slide at Typhoon Lagoon “Miss Adventure Falls”

None of my new experiences disappointed!  The food, as always, was fantastic.  We really enjoyed the new restaurants that we tried and I have to say, Jock Lindsay’s has some SPECTACULAR drink offerings and a fantastic theme.  I’d visit all four of the new locations we tried again and again.

My daughter, who is almost a teenager, has gotten out of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique makeover age but I wanted her to experience a ‘real’ makeover at the Grand during our visit.  Ivy Trellis is an actual salon and spa so we both felt that this particular offering was super for pre-teens and teens to add a little more magic to their vacations.  The makeup and hairstyles were more grown up and the service was impeccable.  Since Ivy Trellis is a full-service salon, the guest is able to choose how they would like their hair styled; there are no preset styles to choose from.  This flexibility is great for older girls and is the first step to see them as they start to blossom into their prom years. **tissues**

We’ve seen numerous Cirque shows closer to home but had never taken the time to watch the “La Nouba” performance while in Florida.  The show ends 12/31 after about twenty years in Orlando, which is an incredible feat.  We quite enjoyed this show and definitely hope that a new show takes its place so we can go back again next year.

How was the lodging?  Well, we stayed for the first part of the trip at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa and then moved to Port Orleans Riverside to try out a royal guest room.  Both resorts were super and I wouldn’t hesitate to return to either.

2017-03-26 12.40.21

Room with a view at the Grand Floridian.  Across Seven Seas Lagoon, you can see the Wedding Pavilion and the Polynesian Resort.

2017-03-29 15.49.37

A room fit for royalty!  The headboards light up with fireworks!

The parks were full of spring cheer with the Flower and Garden Festival in full bloom at Epcot.  I love visiting during the festival and enjoying all of the beautiful topiaries and food stands throughout World Showcase.

2017-03-29 11.56.28

Beautiful gardens at Epcot between Future World and World Showcase

Ah!  Another new thing — we visited the Disney Vacation Club Member Lounge inside of the Imagination Pavilion in Epcot.  What a great place to hang out!  Comfy chairs, free drinks and snacks, outlets galore to charge up your electronics, and a great view!

2017-03-29 11.32.02

View from the DVC lounge in Epcot

Typhoon Lagoon is always a great day (or two) of fun for my family and this trip meant hopping in line to ride the new family raft ride called “Miss Adventure Falls.”  The ride just opened in mid-March after Typhoon Lagoon’s annual refurbishment.  Talk about a ride you just can’t get enough of!  The entire experience from loading to unloading is a blast (of water!)  Speed, curves, and thrills were found throughout and I can’t wait to ride again!

Each time we visit, I’m astonished at how much Disney Springs continues to change.  We enjoyed new stores and restaurants there this time around including the ones on my to-do list plus Amorette’s Patisserie.  You want to know where to get the best dessert?  That’s it, Amorette’s beside the World of Disney store.  They’re not cheap but they are scrumptious.  Worth every last penny.  This place will be on my to-do list from now on.

2017-03-30 19.02.01

Goodies from Amorette’s Patisserie

While at Disney Springs, we had to take time out to see the newly released live-action version of Beauty and the Beast at the AMC Theater.  It had been awhile since we had visited this theater but it too never disappoints.  There’s no place better than seeing a new Disney movie than at Disney (or on a Disney Cruise!)

Of course, all good things must come to an end.  For this trip, it meant a brief stopover at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort in South Carolina to enjoy a little sand and surf.  While the ocean was way too cold to take a dive, my feet took a dip, and I found a few shells to bring home to remember the visit.

I’ll leave you with this parting thought…

2017-04-01 11.34.26

Thanksgiving means Hilton Head and Hollywood Studios

When the holidays roll around, I like to use that time to spend reconnecting with my husband and daughter.  We find that a great way to do that is to hop on the road (or the skies) and take advantage of the ‘free’ days off from work and other commitments.

We have been enjoying a quick beach weekend over the past few years so this time around we wanted to give Hilton Head Island in South Carolina a try.  We had never visited Hilton Head before but knew it had rave reviews so we took this chance to try Hilton Head by staying at Disney’s Hilton Head Island resort.  Talk about amazing!  Disney’s resort there is the best of both worlds.  The resort itself is on the sound side of the island so it has a woodsy feel with all the activities of a marsh area like crabbing, fishing, listening to the trees at night..nature at its finest.  You can also enjoy the pool, cornhole, shuffleboard, bike rides, scheduled activities like Goofy Bingo and crafts, plus so much more.

The bonus though with this resort is the Beach House.  A bike, car, or shuttle ride away (about a mile and a half) is the ocean and Disney’s Beach House.  I wasn’t sure what the Beach House would be like but color me impressed.  The facility is only accessible by your resort key card so the exclusivity is nice.  I’m sure it is hopping in the summer but this lovely fall day meant lower crowds but still quite a few people enjoying the pool, plentiful lounge chairs, foosball, and lounge area here.  A quick walk down a sandy path takes you out to the beach itself and that was wonderful.  While the water was rather cold, the sand felt so nice, and the sun was warm enough to give me my traditional Thanksgiving burn.  Definitely will be making a stop here next year.

After Hilton Head, we just had to drive the next five hours south to Disney World.  When I found out that this was going to be the 20th and final year of the Osborne Lights at Hollywood Studios, I dropped a night at Hilton Head and quickly added a night at the Beach Club resort at Disney World.  I knew that this would be a quick trip down to the World but so worth it to see the Osborne Lights one more time.  Much like the fireworks ruin the fun for any hometown fireworks you enjoy after you return from Disney, the Osborne Lights will make you seriously pooh-pooh any light shows you see elsewhere.  Truly an amazing spectacle of dancing lights and I am so sorry they are leaving the Studios.  I sincerely hope that Disney finds another home for them in the future.

That quick stopover at the Studios wouldn’t be complete without checking out Star Tours and seeing the new scene added for the Star Wars Force Awakens movie coming out on December 18th.  Talk about exciting!  We rode three times and got to see three variations of the new scene…LOVED it!  We also were able to meet Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano on the Star Wars Clone Wars animated series, who is such an outstanding person.  Super kind, very friendly, and well worth the two hours we stood in line to meet her.  We can’t get enough Star Wars at the Benson household.

Where’s the next stop this holiday season?  Stay tuned!

Hilton Head beach from Disney's Beach House

Hilton Head beach from Disney’s Beach House

Hilton Head Welcome

Hilton Head Welcome

2015-11-27 09.05.27

Hilton Head sound side beauty

2015-11-27 09.16.06

Sign marking distance to all things Disney at Hilton Head

2015-11-28 20.00.36

20th anniversary and final showing of the Osborne Lights at Hollywood Studios

2015-11-29 07.20.10

Yacht Club lobby decorated for the holidays with railroad display

2015-11-28 23.50.03

Gingerbread carousel at Beach Club resort