Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Disney Dining and Food Restrictions... Will I Find Anything to Eat at Disney World?

NOT gluten free, but Mickey Waffles are the cutest!
The short answer is YES! A lot!

Having food sensitivities can quickly take the fun out of vacation, especially if you can’t find anything yummy and safe to eat. While I do not have severe food allergies, I do have food sensitivities and so I stay away from certain foods. Specifically, I don’t eat wheat or sugar and limit dairy. Caffeine gives me nasty headaches, so I avoid that, too. So, what am I left with at Disney World? A lot, actually.

Quick Service Meals
I was most concerned about finding things at quick service places for lunch. Most of these places are burgers, pizzas, and sandwiches. Not eating wheat pretty much rules these out. Except, it doesn’t! If you let your cashier know what your food restrictions are, they will send the manager out to discuss your options with you. Each manager has been trained to know ALL of the ingredients in everything they offer as well as how to specially prepare food for those with allergies and restrictions. Need a gluten free meal? No problem! They have gluten free buns and even gluten free brownies. The manager will prepare your meal separately on a special tray to avoid cross contamination. Sugar free? Easy! They have lots of sugar free options. No dairy? No problem. Nut free? No shellfish? Can’t eat eggs? No soy? Other restrictions? They will go through all the ingredients in everything in your meal with you to be sure you are not exposed to anything that will make you sick. Vegan? Same deal. FYI, the famous Dole Whip is vegan and gluten free, so enjoy! :)

Table Service Meals
If you mention to your host or server that you have dietary restrictions (or better yet, mention it when you make the dining reservation), the chef will personally come to your table and either go through the menu items with you or walk you through the buffet line to point out items that are safe for you to eat. At one of our meals, I ended up with 1 item on the entire buffet that I could eat, so the chef asked if he could make something special just for me. I was delighted! He asked if there were any foods that I really didn’t like and then disappeared into the kitchen. About ten minutes later, he personally delivered my meal to me and explained what was in it. He made me a gorgeous salad and the best salmon I have ever eaten. Not only did I have a wonderful meal, I pretty much felt like royalty.

Snacks vary greatly, but most are centered around sugar. You can ask the cast member about ingredients and they will happily help you select a snack you can eat. The best place to find allergy free snacks is at Animal Kingdom at Garden Kiosk near Adventurer’s Outpost. They sell nothing but various allergy free snacks and are experts at helping you select restaurants that will suit your dietary needs! I hope the other parks will soon open similar snack spots.

More information on enjoying Disney Dining with food restrictions can be found at http://www.allergyfreemouse.com.

Would you like some FREE help planning your magical Disney vacation? I’d love to help! My services are always free and I can help make planning your Disney vacation easy and stress-free. Drop me an email - jo@magicalmemoryplanners.com!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Disney Tips From My Kids

A friend's son read my post about advice for visiting Disney World. He suggested that my daughter, Adelle, give her advice for visiting Disney World as well so he could hear from another kid about Disney World. So, I decided to ask both of my kids what advice they would give to other people who wanted to visit Disney World. Here are their (unedited, but organized) answers:

Age 8
  • Go to all the parks and ride as many rides as possible!
  • Stay at a Disney Resort. It's so cool.
  • Get autographs from characters. You can put them in an album and it makes a good souvenir from your trip.
  • Go to special dinners where you meet characters.
  • Bring sunblock.
  • Definitely ride Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom.
  • Watch the Disney Junior Show and take a drawing class with a Disney Animator at Hollywood Studios.
  • Play the Perry Game and try new foods at Epcot.
  • Ride Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom.
  • Ask Ariel to make a fishy face!
  • Ask Tinkerbell what her favorite "lost thing" is. 
  • Ask for Magic Shots from the Photopass Photographers (especially at Animal Kingdom).
  • Check out Cinderella's castle.
  • Have fun!
age (almost) 6
  • Go to Magic Kingdom first. It's AMAZING!
  • Go to Animal Kingdom next. 
  • Don't ride any of the roller coasters.
  • Take pictures with the characters.
  • Meet Snow White.
  • Celebrate your birthday there. You'll get special birthday cupcakes! There's a Mickey shaped chocolate on it. 
  • Ride the carousel and Barnstormer (you'll love it!) at Magic Kingdom
  • Ride the flying dinosaurs and take the safari at Animal Kingdom. It's a magical place.
  • Play the Perry game and try different snacks in the different countries at Epcot.
  • At Hollywood Studios, ride Toy Story Mania! You get to shoot things and it actually looks like things are coming out, but they're not. And watch Disney Jr show.
  • Look for hidden Mickey's. They are everywhere!
So, there you have it folks. Hope that helped, Gabe! Have so much fun on your trip! :)

Monday, April 07, 2014


We just returned from a truly magical trip to Disney World! Several people have asked for any tips I have, so I thought I would jot them down here to easily pass along. This is NOT a "how to do Disney on the cheap" post. This is a "how to make your Disney trip a truly magical family vacation" type post. So, here goes...

1. Don't plan your own trip! 
Seriously. Just don't. WDW is so big and so overwhelming. Get a FREE expert involved!
Did you know that Disney pays special travel agents to plan your trip for you? They do! They figure if you have an awesome trip, you'll likely come back. So they try to make it as easy as possible for you to plan a wonderful vacation there. We used Magical Memory Planners and they did a fantastic job! We gave our travel planner the dates we wanted to go and the things the girls were interested in and she put together a custom trip for us based on our interests and budget. She even called and made all our meal reservations for us! And they will apply any specials that come out until you leave to get you the best deal. In fact, I had such a wonderful experience, I decided to join the team!

2. Start saving now. 
Disney magic don't come cheap, but it is worth every single penny. I promise. If you use a Disney travel agent, like Jennifer, you can book your reservations with just a few hundred dollars down and you don't have to pay it off until 45 days or so before your trip. So if you plan ahead, you can break it up into payments. Then, it's all paid for when you arrive and you don't have to think about money.

3. Don't do it all in one day!
If you meet Ariel, ask her to make a fishy face!
WDW is so big that it is impossible to do everything. We found that taking a break in the middle of the day helped us get the most out of our days at the parks. Most people take their time getting to the parks, so if you open the parks, you can ride a bunch of rides with very little wait time for about two hours or so. Then, use your fastpasses to hit the other rides you think will have long lines later in the day. Leave around 1:30 or so and go swim at the hotel pool or take a nap. Come back around 5:00 and having dinner. Then, ride a bunch more rides without long waits after everyone leaves to eat dinner or takes small children back to the hotel.

We made the mistake of doing one REALLY long (14 hour) day on our first day and we were all miserable, cranky, and sore the next day at Epcot. NOT FUN. Don't do it! So, this is what a typical day looked like for us after we wised up:
8:00 arrive at the park and head straight to our favorite ride as soon as we get in the gates. Ride a BUNCH of rides until the crowds show up around 10:00.
10:30-1:30 use our fastpasses to bypass the crowds on other rides we want to ride. Eat a quick lunch in here somewhere.
2:00-4:00 rest at the hotel. Swim, watch tv, take a nap.
4:30 head back to the park and eat dinner before 6:00.
6:00-8:00 ride a bunch more rides without much of a wait. Leave before everyone gets grumpy and tired.

4. Use your fastpasses!
So many people did not use these. They basically let you bypass the lines and walk straight on to rides. USE THEM. Select them about a week in advance if you can as some rides fill up a few days in advance. This is especially true for Toy Story's Midway Mania and the Rock n Roller Coaster in Hollywood Studios. Even if you don't have a fastpass, Midway Mania is worth the long wait! It was our entire family's favorite ride.

5. Meet as many characters as you can.
Think up fun questions to ask them. They never break character and it is SO MUCH FUN! You can use fastpasses for most character meet and greets. You can even have meals with many of them, but they book up early. Have your awesome Disney agent book your character meals for you as soon as those dates open up (usually 6 months in advance).

Magic Shot awesomeness, right here!
6. Buy Memory Maker. 
It will be the best $150 you spend on this trip. We ended up with 350 photos from our trip that Disney photographers took. Family photos galore and pictures from every single character interaction we had. AMAZING. And any ride that takes your picture? Those go on your Memory Maker account, too. Be sure to ask each photographer if they have any "magic shots" like the photo at the left. :) They will tell you to do something weird without explanation... just do it! The photos always turn out really fun.

7. Spend the extra money and stay at a Disney resort.
It will save you travel hassle, money, and precious Disney time. Plus the magic never ends when you stay on-site. We loved the suites at Art of Animation, but I don't think you can go wrong at any of the resorts.

8. Use the Disney Dining Plan.
Food at Disney is CRAZY expensive. If you use the Dining Plan wisely, it will save you money. Use your table service meals for character meals, enjoy all the quick service meal options (all meals come with drinks and desserts!), and be amazed at all the snack options. We ended up with 7 snack credits left on our last day (the snacks are HUGE, so we shared a lot).  We used our remaining snack credits to buy goodies to bring home! It was so fun for the girls to have Disney treats for a few days after we returned... softened the blow of returning to the real world just a little.

9. Expect to suffer from PDD... Post Disney Depression... after you come back home.
The girls and I all cried when we had to leave and when we got home. I am still in a funk. It is hard enough to return to the real world after vacation, but to come back from Disney? That's really hard! It truly is the happiest place on earth.

10. One final note
Every person I saw with a stroller looked like they wanted to cry. Seriously. Drag the stroller through crowds, find somewhere to park it, carry your child to the ride, find the stroller after the ride, repeat all day long. Plenty of people do it, of course... just something to consider for those of you thinking of taking littles to the parks. And pregnant moms? They amazingly looked completely unfazed by it all.


Want some FREE help planning your Disney vacation? I'd love to help! Send me an email

Monday, March 03, 2014

What If... My Lenten Fast

I don't always give something up for Lent. This year, however, I felt a strong pull to ask God if I should participate in Lent and this morning, I received a resounding "YES!" and clear direction for what He would like me to give up.

This year, I am giving up "what if" for Lent.

"What if the sleet hits today before I leave for work?"
"What if I have to cancel class tonight?"
"What if something happens and we don't have the money to pay for it?"
"What if I am not feeling well and I have to call out of work... again?"
"What if that car pulls out in front of me suddenly?"
"What if..."

Now, I realize that this sounds a lot like worry and I can assure you that it is not. These things do not keep me up at night. In fact, they rarely take up much of my thoughts at all. They do occasionally linger and turn to worry, but this is the exception and not the rule. My "what if's" are more of a hyper-vigilance or over-preparedness than anything else. A thought will cross my mind, I will decide quickly how I would handle it, and then I move on. I am, in this respect, the ultimate Girl Scout.

I can't help it, really. It is how I am wired. My natural tendency is to calculate risk and find the path with the best possible outcome. This probably should have been my profession because I am a master and risk assessment and creative solutions.

The problem with my "what if's" lies more in my ability to trust God and not myself. It is the intentional "letting go" and following a path that does not calculate or lead in the direction I would take. The issue is that it siphons away my trust in God.

Now, being well-prepared is not a bad thing! Even God says it's good to be prepared, but His idea of prepared involved investing in eternity and preparing for His return.So, risk management doesn't really factor in well with His definition of being well-prepared.

So, instead of my "what if's," I will be choosing "but God" instead.

"But God said He would always be with me."
"But God said He would work things out."
"But God said He would provide for me."
"But God said His love for me is unconditional."
"But God is always good."
"But God..."

A good friend in France always used to say, "control is an illusion." She's right, of course. But the illusion feels safe. I like safe. Safe feels good. Safe feels manageable. What I feel called to give up is this illusion of safety I have built for myself. But my God is not safe... and I should not seek to tame Him.

Lucy: Is he... safe?
Mr. Beaver: Safe? Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Of course he isn't safe... but... he's GOOD... He's the King.
-C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

Friday, January 10, 2014

Music and Memory

Looking back on my life, I now realize that my memories are always centered around music. Most questions that begin with "Hey, remember that time..." end with a puzzled look on my face and no recollection of said event. But if you connect it to music, I will remember it always, with as much emotion as ever. Music transports me back in time and drops me squarely in the midst of that event.

My earliest childhood memories are of me sitting in my bedroom in the basement clutching a record sleeve, music blaring, me singing along. I can feel the dampness and coolness of that room. I can see the support poles that dived my space from my sister's, though it did nothing to keep us from tip-toeing across the room at night to talk and play after bedtime. I see so much of this child in my oldest daughter who sings a never-ending soundtrack to her own life.

I remember buying my first record, Madonna's "Like a Virgin." I asked my mom, at age seven what a virgin was. My mom, cool as ever, responded simply with "it's someone who has never had sex before." I always felt sort of awkward singing along to that record afterward.

My formative childhood years were spent in England, so many of my childhood music staples were different than those of my peers in the US. To this day, someone will mention a song/show/commercial from that period of time and everyone else in the room connects, while I am left feeling as if part of my life is missing somehow.

In high school, I used to watch MTV while doing my homework. Ever the multi-tasker, it was usually no distraction to me. I remember so clearly one day hearing something new come on the tv. From the first line grumbled, "load up on guns, bring your friends," I was entranced by the rawness and the emotion that Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" evoked. It make me feel primal and alive. It is still one of my all-time favorite songs. Being well before the time of youtube and the internet, I watched MTV for hours at a time, waiting for that video to come back on again.

And then there was Robert, who introduced me to Violent Femmes and the Rollins Band. This boy would have been my undoing if my parents had not had a strict no dating before 16 rule. In hindsight, I am so glad they did, though I hated it at the time. We met in study hall and he was relentless in his pursuit of me. At 15, I loved the attention. Once he finally realized that I simply could not date him, he moved on, his intentions coming clearly to light. I still feel sort of icky when I hear those bands.

My senior year of high school brought me from Omaha, Nebraska to Warner Robins, Georgia. It was a year of hell and I still cannot go back to that town without having a panic attack (mostly, I just don't go; I have no reason to return anymore). But there was one bright spot in the awful year and as a result, Marilyn Manson always makes me smile. Greg was my tether to reality and hope that I might one day be worth something. We met in Physics class and quickly began eating lunch together every day; well, every day that I didn't skip school or sneak off campus for lunch. He was nice to me, even when I didn't deserve it. I was too busy hating myself and making bad decisions to notice that when he was asking me to hang out with him, he was actually asking me out (at least I think he was). So I blew him off, not because I wasn't interested, but because I felt unworthy. He eventually stopped asking and started dating a cheerleader instead. We didn't spend as much time together after that and my decision making got worse. But I still think of him in his Marilyn Manson t-shirts and black and white striped tights worn under shorts. He would have been good for me, but I wasn't allowing anything good in my life at that time. While Marilyn Manson makes me smile, Smashing Pumpkins and Live bring about dark, lonely memories from that time. Odd, I know.

In college and another lifetime from high school, I ran into Greg again. It took me a while to work up the nerve to say hi to him. In high school I used to run from him and this time he ran from me. I woke up one morning to POD on my stereo chanting "when we come, when we come, the wicked run," and had that song stuck in my head as I made my way to class one morning. I would often run into Greg waiting for his next class as I was on my way to mine. We would chat a bit and then move on. I was terrified to tell him that I was a completely different person than I used to be (in very good ways) because of Jesus. This particular morning, I worked up the nerve and told him. And he ran away from me; literally got up and ran away from me. Greg is far from wicked, but it still makes me laugh to think of that song and to picture him running away from me when I told him I became a Christian. Another lifetime passed before Greg and I connected again.

My husband and I fell in love to music. The first time we spent any significant time together he drove my car to a music festival in Kentucky (I hate driving). Most of our early conversations were centered around music. Later, when he moved to China, we used to play a game of sending each other song lyrics to see if the other could come up with the song and artist. A few years later, when we finally professed our love for one another, we were living a thousand miles apart at opposite ends of China. We began sending mixed tapes to one another to communicate how we were feeling. Dashboard Confessional was on heavy rotation during this time in my life.

Later, during an especially difficult time in our marriage, I remember clearly sobbing while listening to Coldplay's "The Scientist," wishing we could "go back to the start." Thankfully, we forged ahead instead. But that song still makes me cry.

When I miscarried our first child, it took months for me to be able to return to church. I felt betrayed by God and splayed open for all to see my deep wounds and failure to become a mother. The thought of being surrounded by sympathetic looks and smiling faces kept me away for too long. It was Mother's Day when I finally returned. The first song we sang during worship time was "Blessed Be Your Name." When I got to "on the road marked with suffering; though there's pain in the offering; blessed be Your name," I broke wide open and sobbed, right there in the middle of church. I kept telling God during that church service that I didn't understand why He took "my baby" away and I felt every time, that He responded gently with, "his name is Joshua." God gave me my son's name during that song. I cannot sing it still without missing that boy and thinking of who he might be right now.

I could go on and on and mention R.E.M., Blondie, Zao, Blindside, MxPx, The Juliana Theory, Pedro the Lion, Counting Crows, etc. and all the memories connected to them, but I will save your tired eyes from reading further. Hats off to those of you who made it through this marathon post. Sometimes, these thoughts of mine just need to find a place to land.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Waiting Well This Advent

Advent is upon us once again. A time of waiting with hope and with joy as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. A time for waiting well.

I find myself once again waiting. I wait with flickering hope that seems to fade in and out. With joy that shows itself for brief shining moments and then fades away once more. Mostly, I wait with groaning. Not complaining, mind you, but deep groaning that rises up from the very depth of my great need. If you have ever had the honor of witnessing a mother give birth… it is that same groaning in which I wait. The groaning that produces something beautiful and miraculous. But groaning is still hard work.

My “migraines” have returned full force after a season of relative peace. I am left feeling anxious to simply live my everyday life. Will I make it through a full day of work today? Will I get stranded somewhere with a migraine? Will one hit while I am driving? I groan. And I feel so, so fragile right now; that at any moment, I might shatter into a million pieces and may never get put back together again.

“For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made us understand that this light is the brightness of the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. But this precious treasure -- this light and power that now shine within us -- is held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies. So everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and is not our own. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don't give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.” 2 Corinthians 4:6-9 NLT

Here’s the truth – I am supposed to feel fragile because I AM! The NIV translates this as having the treasure in “jars of clay.” Fragile, cracked, weak, earthy, functional, but perishable… these are our bodies. They are not meant to last for eternity. But, oh how it hurts when we feel our own fragility. It aches when we experience the fragility of those we love. It breaks us each time another breaks. But God holds us together.

But God…

We had a pastor once who said his favorite words in the whole Bible were “but God” because anytime you see “but God” in the text, it is surely followed by hope. By joy. By His promise that we are not alone in this fragile and painful life. That through our cracks, His light shines through to awaken others to Life.

I am fragile. I am broken. I am anxiety ridden. I am doubtful of my ability to simply make it through today. I cry. I hurt. I fear. But God…

But God is near to me. But God speaks so clearly to me and through me. But God is always good. But God is always loving. But God is breaking into this world in unexpected ways to show His love and to save those who don’t even know they need saving. But God picks me up, holds me together, and tells me to keep going. And then He walks along with me.

Like Mary, I am choosing to trust that God knows what He is doing with this crazy plan that makes no sense to me. I imagine that Mary waited with wonder, confusion, and a good deal of groaning as Jesus made His way into her arms. May the joy and peace of Christ shine through the reality of our lives intermingled with God’s curious and wondrous plans. And may His light shine brightly through my fragility.

And, just for the record, I’m never going to stop praying for full healing from these. That’s where hope lingers for me. Until then, I will continue to try to wait well.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Red Pill

So, apparently I took the "red pill" and didn't even realize it. But here I am smack in the middle of the "red pill" reality and I want to go back.* I want the ignorance. I want the delusion. I want it all back.

Because this reality is making me feel crazy. I vacillate between "death is all around me and it is frightening to me and it weighs heavy on me" and "so what's the point of life anyway?" all day long. It's not a happy place to be, this living in the truth that life really is fragile and fleeting.

Now, before you call the hospital and recommend a 72 hour hold, I am fine. I am just wrestling through the meaning of life and how suffering and death fit into this whole picture. I am assured this is normal around the 2-year mark in my line of work. But this is not fun. Some jobs come with high stress from a fast paced job. Others come with physically debilitating effects after years of labor. Mine comes with an existential crisis.

I know some people who have come to accept death as a normal part of life. I don't think I will ever get there. Just because something is normal doesn't make it okay. Death is not from God and it is not His plan. And every time someone I know dies (which is more often than most people experience) I feel the darkness there. And it follows me around and creeps into my thoughts unannounced.

So what do I do with all of this? How do I reconcile all of these things? I'm pretty sure it is too late to go back to the blissful ignorance I once lived in. Anyone have some wisdom here? I'm all ears.

*If at this point in time you are asking yourself, "What the heck is she talking about, please go watch The Matrix. Thank you.