8 Reasons to stay at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

There is always a huge debate over staying on property when traveling to Disney.  I get it – it’s expensive, but I truly believe that you should budget the extra expense for the hotel.  We chose to stay at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa for many reasons.  I think the hotel will completely change your experience at Disney and here are a few reasons why staying on property is the best idea…

1.  My number one reason for staying at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is the direct access to both parks.  From the hotel you can walk directly into the Downtown Disney District, which gives you access to food and shopping on your way to the park.  More specifically you walk directly past a Starbucks on your way into the main entrance of Disneyland…this is a bonus for the coffee addict in me.

From the other side of the resort you have access to Disney California Adventure Park, which comes out right next to Grizzly River Run and Soarin’ Around the World.  Having access to the hotel from both parks is great, especially if you want to take a break during the day or even just run back to the room because you forgot something, which happened to me more than it should have.

2.  Competing for the number one spot of the available Disney character breakfasts is the Storyteller Cafe, located at the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. In my opinion, based on the Characters you see, the menu options and engagement with your children, this breakfast is the best.  And psst…Parents if you want a mimosa or bloody marry, they have you covered.

The hotel also has a separate restaurant and bar located right off of the main seating area of the Hearthstone Lounge, Napa Rose.  I have not eaten at the restaurant, which is shocking since I’ve probably stayed at this property more times than I can count…  but I have popped in for a glass of wine to go… because it’s Disney and you can do that.

3.  Another major perk of the hotel is that they recently renovated all rooms. When we arrived in early October 2018 the exterior was still under construction, but the rooms, common areas and amenities were complete.  After we arrived, we never saw the main entrance to the hotel again except for when we called our Uber to take us to the airport on our last day.

4.  The Hotel has beautiful courtyards, perfect for an outdoor cocktail reception. A large conference and event center are attached off the main lobby.   I’ve only walked past them on my way to the park, but they look impressive and I’m secretly hoping that one day my employer will offer a conference there.

5.  When you think Disney, you don’t often think of a Spa retreat. The hotel also offers a full-service spa for maybe a morning dad takes the kids to the park and mom hangs back for a little “me time.”

6.  From the lobby main entrance and past the guest check-in you will walk into a draw dropping open air – three story, log cabin lounge inclusive of a cozy nook with rocking chairs lined up in front of a wood burning fireplace. This space is dedicated to continuing your relaxing stay at the Grand Californian Hotel.

7.  Another area that I did not spend nearly enough time enjoying was the three pools inclusive of a water slide, life vests for the littles and life guards at each pool. Large lounge chairs with shade umbrellas made for a great place to take shade from the sun and relax a little between parks.

8.  I mentioned the major perk of direct access to the Downtown Disney District earlier, here’s a little more detail about what to expect. Over the years Disney has brought in new retailers and restaurants to bring the downtown area to life and have continued to maintain this luxury by bringing including:

  • Starbucks
  • Salt & Straw (NEW) This is an exciting new ice cream spot that is a must on your trip.
  • Naples Ristorante e Bar is the best place to get a pizza.  This little Italian restaurant and pizzeria has expanded by adding a massive outdoor patio and bar. One thing to mention is that the outdoor seating area serves a limited menu versus sitting inside, where they offer a complete menu. If you plan to eat indoors you will need a reservation.  We had no problem walking up to Naples to obtain outdoor patio seating (but please note there were only two of us and we were staying in the park during a slow time)
  • The Splitsville Luxury Lanes bowling alley is a new attraction for me in the Downtown Disney District.
  • Marceline’s Confectionery is always one of my favorite stops because they have a glass window where you can watch the candy apples being made.  Plus the chocolate is out of this world delicious.
  • Disney at Home was a nice surprise and a great place to find those last-minute gifts for family members at home. From coffee and tea to dog toys this store really had it all.  If you needed Mickey Mouse fine dining ware they had you covered.  The store reminded me of a home goods store but except everything is Disney.
  • The Disney fashion trends have definitely changed since the last time I visited Disneyland. I wandered into a a beautiful Disney Dress Shop, it’s what I would consider an upscale Disney dress boutique and was blown away by the beautiful dresses that Disney was offering teen and ladies.  The prices points averaged around $100 and up for dresses.

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Pincho Factory

The Pincho Factory is on the top of the list if you are craving a burger.  Their unique twist on the bun grabbed my attention and I had to try it!  Two fried plantains hold together a juicy burger that you wont want to put down.  Now add sweet potato tatter tots and I was in heaven.

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In addition to the wonderful food, the story of how the Pincho Factory began is just as good.  I love seeing families create legacies through hard work and a dream…. and that’s what cousins Nedal and Otto did.  The Pincho Factory created core values that can be felt when you walk through the door, they are “more than writing on the wall, these are words we live by.”

  1. DO THE RIGHT THING AT ALL TIMES
  2. CUSTOMER SERVICE SECOND TO NONE
  3. QUALITY NEVER COMPROMISED
  4. CREATE A LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
  5. BE CREATIVE AND OPEN MINDED
  6. BUILD A POSITIVE TEAM AND FAMILY SPIRIT
  7. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS IN THE COMMUNITY
  8. INTEGRITY AND TRANSPARENCY

We could feel these core values when we visited the Westchester – Miami, Florida location.  We actually felt like we were celebrities when we walked in.  The staff was friendly and engaging, which is a huge step above most quick service restaurants today.  All the way from ordering our food to eating the last bite of our juicy hamburger, the staff checked on us and made sure that we were in deed having a wonderful experience.

I’ll be back in Miami in December and you bet I’ll be back at the Pincho Factory.  You should also make plans to stop in on your next trip to Miami too.  For the full Pincho Factory menu click here.

 

8 Packing Essentials for Disneyland

Turning 36 and “officially” entering into my late thirties doesn’t have to be all tears and sadness, no I spent my birthday this year at the most magical place on earth… Disney.  Growing up, Disney has always been a family vacation tradition and one day I hope to take my children.

But in the meantime I’m living it up as a single person and unattached, I am kicking off a new blog series. Similar to my “Girlfriends Guide to Fredericksburg” blog series, I’m giving you all the Disney insider travel tips for your next trip to Disney with your bestie.  PS… did I tell you my bestie is a Disney Travel Agent?  Yeah that helps a little.

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First on the list, what do you even pack when you go to Disney?  If you are an over packer like me then I have a great list for you of items you may not even think of as you arrive at the park.  And I know I said 8 packing essentials… well I’m giving you 2 extra bonus tips.

Disney Packing Essentials

  1.  Etsy for the win.  Etsy really came through for us on custom Disney t-shirts, I also found a lot of great choices on Amazon.
  2. The Perfect Backpack. This Amazon backpack is seriously my favorite purchase.  It was the perfect size, light weight and easy to maneuver on and off while jumping on rides.  The multi-pockets allowed me to store my phone, charger, snacks and carry a bottle of water.  It comes in some many fun colors, I would highly recommend this bag.
  3. Portable charger.  Who has time to stop and charge your phone while you are at Disney? The answer is no one… but carrying a portable charger was great.  I recently bought one on Amazon and love it, I use it for all of my travel and I highly recommend traveling with one in your bag.
  4. Mickey Mouse Ears.  Anything goes at Disney and wearing Mickey ears is a must at the park.  We jumped on the rose gold bandwagon and pre-ordered our ears to have in our suitcase upon arriving at the park
  5. Save your feet.  It is so tempting to wear cute shoes, but I’m telling you right now we averaged about 9 miles a day in the park.  You will want to wear the most comfortable shoes you own.  And if you don’t own a pair, Amazon has you covered.
  6. Bottled Water.  You can enter the park with sealed bottles of water.  Throughout the park they had recycling bins for your empty bottles. It was nice to have water on us at all times to stay hydrated as we ran around the park like teenagers.
  7. Sunscreen.  Although the temperatures were cooler the sun was bright, and in the afternoon you could especially feel the heat.  Sunscreen is always a good idea.
  8. Lily Shades.  We found a really affordable pink mirrored shade at Lilly Pulitzer that of course matched our rose gold Mickey ears.
  9. BONUS TIP:  Travel corkscrew.  Have you ever tried to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew… yeah guilty, but save the hassle and buy TSA approved travel corkscrew.
  10. BONUS TIP:  Amazon Prime is your friend.  Consider having essentials delivered to the hotel bellhop before arriving. We stayed at the Grand Californian Hotel and didn’t have an issue with ordering ahead and they even delivered it to our room upon our arrival.  Items we ordered were….wine of course, water, fresh fruit and granola bars.

Bonnet House Museum & Gardens

Recently I visited the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens in Fort Lauderdale and it felt like I had be transported back to the another era… and possibly even another planet.  Lush tropical landscape fully encapsulated the estate while native Floridian lizards sunned themselves in the light peaking through the palms.  Brilliant bright yellow paint glistened off of the Bonnet House -trimmed with beautiful royal blue drew my eyes near.

Construction beginning in 1920 spanned over 20 years by Frederic Clay Bartlett, an American artist from Chicago, and his wife Helen Birch Bartlett.  Fredric created his interpretation of a Caribbean-style plantation house and the Bonnet House was named after the bonnet lily that grows on the property.  The property was initially a wedding gift given by Hugh Taylor Burch, Helen’s father.  The newlywed couple traveled the world and were avid art collectors which is reflected in the home and makes the tour of the Bonnet House that more intriguing.  A interesting fact about the construction of this estate is that the art studio in the home was the first building to be completed, naturally, given the couples love of art.

Six years after Helen Birch Bartlett’s death in 1925, Frederic remarried to Evelyn Fortune Lilly.  There were many interesting things about Evelyn, but the one that stands out the most was her pet monkeys.  Evelyn acquired pet monkeys after a local club, LeClub, who had 30 to 40 monkeys at the establishment closed. The monkeys were released and sought refuge at the Bonnet House.  It is rumored that today there are still a monkey or two roaming the property.

The Bonnet House Museum & Gardens spans 35.4 acres, including 100 feet of beach, located on the coastal barrier island protected by the mainland from tides.  The Bonnet House estate and the Taylor Birch State Park are a final reminder of the natural environment that made up the barrier islands in 1920.   In 2015, the estate acquired a total of 700 feet of beach front to host special private events and weddings without having to get special permission from the city.

Today the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens provides a rich piece of history unique to Fort Lauderdale and is also a venue for weddings and special events.  If you are planning to visit Fort Lauderdale stop by the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens for a whimsical tour and then take a long walk up the beach imagining what it might have been like in 1920 and living at the Bonnet Estate.

State Fair of Texas

As a Texas native, it’s hard to even fathom that I’ve never been to the State Fair of Texas.  I know, my official Texas badge should be taken away.  But I made up for it this year by attending the State Fair of Texas and I’m recapping my experience and sharing it with y’all!

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The State Fair of Texas spans twenty-four days and was established in 1886.  This makes the State Fair of Texas the largest running fair in the nation and one of the largest in size. Each year they pick a theme that encompasses their mission of celebrating the history of Agriculture, Education and Community.  This year’s theme, “Celebrating Texas Innovation”, was woven into many of the exhibits and throughout the fair park.

Before you plan your trip to the State Fair of Texas here are a few basics that you need to know and a few tips after our first trip to the fair.

1.   Arrive early.  We noticed as the day went on and especially around 5pm the park really got crowded.  By arriving in the morning, it allowed us to explore most of the park with little to no lines or crowds.

2.  Park only in the State Fair of Texas official parking lots.  There will be official banners and signs directing you to all available lots.  As you drive in you will see people wearing vests and using flags to motion you into other parking lots.  Most of these lots appeared to be open fields, people’s homes or in front of businesses.  By parking in the official State Fair of Texas lots you lower the risks of car break-ins or even worse being towed.  The official parking lots also provide a free tram that takes you directly to the entrance gate.  We paid $15 to park.

3.  Swing by the ATM on your way to the Fair.  You will need cash to park and it also makes purchasing Coupons easier when you arrive in the park.

4.  Coupons are the Fairs “currency”.  The food vendors only accept coupons.  If your kids want to play any of the carnival games, you will need entirely different form of currency.  You will find coupon kiosks throughout the park that will gladly exchange your cash for coupons.

As the largest state fair, you can imagine navigating the park can be a little taxing.  At the end of the day we had walked close to 8 miles throughout the day.  Plan to wear comfortable shoes and take breaks in the shade when you can.

We did not attend the State Fair with children, so our takeaways may be different had we maybe attended with small children.  But here are my favorite highlights of the State Fair of Texas as a couples trip.

  1.  Food.  This has to be the number one item on the list.  Things I never thought could be hand battered and dipped in the frying pan were indeed a possibility at the fair.  From Chicken Fried Bacon to deep fried Oreos the food vendors had your wildest fried dreams covered.  Big Tex Choice Award winner, the Cotton Candy Taco was the first thing on my list we had to try.  With a waffle cone shaped like a taco shell, a fluffy pillow of cotton candy filled the inside and was garnished with your choice of marshmallow flavored fluff and cookie crumbles.  It was a sticky delicious mess and of course an Instagram photo dream come true.

2.  Agriculture.  If you have grown up in the city or maybe you’re just fairly removed from rural society, the farm to table concept may be new to you.  I felt like the fair did a wonderful job of providing multiple displays and exhibits throughout the fairgrounds that illustrated where your food comes from and the importance of agriculture.  The Agriculture education was presented in many different forms that appealed to all ages.

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3.  Art Exhibit.  This was one of our favorite stops and maybe the exhibit we stayed at the longest.  It was so wonderful to see all ages, from youth to adults, competing in a variety of art mediums.  We viewed photography, needlepoint, paintings, antiques and quilts, just to name a few.  Every entry was beautifully displayed and told a story.

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4.  Auto Show.  The State Fair of Texas is the only fair to include a full auto show.  Just think of any auto manufacturer name and they were there.   Auto displays that spanned from indoor displays to outdoor mega displays.  If you are in the market for a new vehicle this was a fun, hassle free, way to view all of the new cars coming out.

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There are a few must “see” and photo ops you don’t want to miss out on.

  1.  Big Tex.  At the main entrance you will find a 55-foot-tall statue named Big Tex.  He has become the cultural icon of the Fair since 1952 and he even talks!  This is the perfect spot for a group photo or the infamous selfie.
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Don’t miss your chance to get a picture with the “Neon” Big Tex too!

2.  Pig Races.  If you want to see the cutest thing on this planet go to the pig races.  Step back in time as you enter into a coliseum decorated like a scene from Wilbur the Pig in Charlotte’s Web.  And announcers who wore overalls and talked with the southern drawl most outsiders would think all Texans sound like.  It was a fun activity to watch and the crowds went wild over the pigs as they made their way around the track.

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3.  Butter Sculptures.  Have you ever seen a 1000 pounds of butter sculpted into the shape of a cowboy’s head?  I’m guessing the answer is mostly no.  But the state fair has you covered.  To put that size in perspective, it takes 21,200 gallons of milk to make 1000 pounds of butter.  Wow.

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4.  Wine tasting.  By now most of you probably know that this is one of my favorite subjects.  The fair offers a beautiful wine garden surrounded by tasting stations of some of Texas’s best wines.  They also have outdoor seating along with a stage for live music throughout the day.  We found this to be an excellent spot to take a break and relax from the passing crowds.

We have already marked our calendars for next years fair, and you should too.  Opening day has been set for September 27th, 2019.  See you at the State Fair of Texas, y’all.

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XX Jennifer

7 Reasons to Download the Disneyland App before your next Trip

Technology continues to improve our travel experiences and Disney has done a great job of providing a new and exciting app that allows guests to maximize their magical moments in the park.

If you are planning to visit Disneyland this holiday season I would highly recommend downloading the Disneyland Mobile App before you jump on the plane or in the car to visit Mickey and Minnie.

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Through the app you can…

  1. Upload your park ticket – don’t worry cast members will help you do this when you make your first trip through the gate.
  2. View a Digital Map – don’t get me wrong I love having the paper version of the Disneyland map because even it seems magical, but having the app was wonderful because you could see the entire park in the palm of your hand.
  3. Track down your favorite characters between rides – This was a wonderful feature.  Often when we are in the park we like to look for specific characters and the app allowed us to plan around our other park adventures while ensuring that we could meet up with our favorite Disney pals.
  4. Check wait times – You’re excited and in the park and the last thing you want to do is wait in a line for anything.  The app allows you to see attraction wait times for Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park at a glance.  If you have chosen to tack on a MaxPass to your ticket (which I highly recommend), you can also obtain your FASTPASS times and select your favorite ride.  The MaxPass is only $10 extra per day… I would budget it for sure.
  5. Another great feature of purchasing the MaxPass is the ability to have your PhotoPass on your phone.  You can download and share your photos from your trip through the Disney-MaxPass feature on the app.  
  6. Ok hold your hats, this is my favorite part of the app…. FOOD.  You can now make mobile dining reservations and order food directly through the app to pick up while you are in the park.  Talk about a huge time saver!  This was a big deal for us as we were trying to maximize everyday in the park and the last lines we wanted to stand in were food lines.   You can even view restaurant menus to see if they offered the food you are craving.
  7. The app even had all of the basics covered.  You could see yourself on the map through their gps navigation.  It also answered basic questions such as park hours, descriptions for attractions and entertainment schedules.

Although all of these features are awesome I will caution you that the app will drain your battery phone.  We packed a battery pack to use while we were in the park and also took turns using the app so we ensured we were full charged up for the day.

I would still recommend the app because it truly made our Disney experience that much more magical.  And don’t worry if you get stumped on the app, there are many cast members who can guide you through the using the app.

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Happy Disney travels my friends! xx Jennifer

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

Continuing my love and passion for agriculture around Texas and beyond, I was pleasantly surprised to find rich agriculture history during a recent trip to Florida when I visited the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens.

In 1940 a young graduate of New York University formed a farming colony called Yamato, an ancient name for Japan.  The name comes from the students homeland of Miyazu in Japan.

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Although the colony was not a success in the end the young graduate probably never dreamed that today the farming colony has been transformed into a museum and garden.  It is a place for local Floridians and tourists alike can experience to be Japanese arts and culture.  With over 7,000 Japanese art objects and artifacts, the Morikami Museum and Garden was a beautiful and enriching cultural experience.

 

Beyond it’s sheer beauty, my enjoyment of the museum and gardens partially comes from my desire to visit Japan.  It is on my list of overseas travel because it unknowingly has a special place in my heart.  My parents were stationed in Japan during Vietnam and as a child I grew up hearing about my parents cultural experiences abroad.  Beautiful photos of past times in Japan made me long for a similar experience of adventure and the need to experience another culture.

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I recommend visiting the museum and gardens on a Sunday, shortly after your brunch at the Sundy House.  If you missed my recap of our bottomless mimosas and tropical stroll through their gardens click here and read all about the brunch that will change your life.

Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens
4000 Morikami Park Road
Delray Beach, FL 33446

Tuesday-Sunday: 10am-5pm
Closed Mondays and major holidays

Adults – $15
Seniors – $13
Children – $9

 

Henry’s Sandwich Station

Henry’s Sandwich Station is what I envision every deli and bakery to be like in small town middle America.  Walking up to the counter to order, you will be stopped in your tracks by a bakery display case filled with pies and all things sinfully sweet.  I would have pressed my face to the glass, but I’m an adult – I think?

Located in Fort Lauderdale, Henry’s Sandwich Station is a great atmosphere for a quick lunch with friends or business partners.  From dine-in to takeout – they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the restaurant is kid friendly.

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Photo Credit:  Henry’s Sandwich Station Facebook Page featured the outside of the building and really captured the atmosphere of the sandwich shop. 

 

Once you’ve made the hurdle past the pie shop, you are greeted by a decadent array of choices on their sandwich menu.  Choosing which sandwich to devour was a challenge because every sandwich sounded truly amazing.  From sandwich spreads, such as cranberry goat cheese jam and truffle mayo, all on homemade hoagie rolls, my eyes were bigger than my stomach.

I found myself asking the question, “how do I choose?”  My go to sandwich at a deli has always been turkey and if there is bacon I’m sold.  So that’s what I did, I went with good old turkey on a hoagie… one of the best decisions of the day I might add.

My list is long, but Henry’s stays on it for my next trip out to Fort Lauderdale.  Stop by and give it a try!

xx-Jennifer

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Milk Money Bar | Kitchen

Tucked away in a trendy Fort Lauderdale neighborhood, Milk Money Bar & Kitchen’s catchy name (that I wish I would have thought of first) has a hip vibe with a coffee bar, cozy dine-in experience and hand-crafted cocktails.  All bases are covered from espresso to cauliflower buffalo wings to a treasure chests full of boozy treasure.

Interior photos sourced from Milk Money Bar | Kitchen website 

If you like buffalo wings, but you’re watching your waist line, trick your taste buds with the Cauliflower Buffalo Wings I could have eaten them for days.  A tad spicy, but nothing I couldn’t handle, I’d like a bucket to go please!  I also tried their Farmhouse Burger that apparently was so delicious I didn’t have the time to take a photo, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Let’s pause and talk about the craft cocktail masterpieces at Milk Money… The SAILOR TO PIRATE  comes in an actual treasure chest and when opened it pours out smoke creating a unique experience to the bar.  The Sailor to Pirate is created with Oak and Cane Rum, Simple Syrup, Aromatic Bitters, Pina Colada Ice Block and Cinnamon.

If rum isn’t your style, I sipped on (ok I did not sip, possibly gulped) AL CAPONE’S SOUTHSIDE FIZZ.  I’m not sure if it was the promise of Prosecco or the thrill of the name, but the drink was filled with Bulldog Gin, Prosecco, Fresh Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup, Sliced Cucumber and a Mint garnish.

If you’re in the mood for a little espresso with your meal or a chaser to your cocktail, they have you covered.  Warsaw Coffee Company is conveniently located within the walls of Milk Money Bar | Kitchen.  Although I didn’t get to enjoy their espresso or weekend brunch during my trip to Fort Lauderdale, the menu looked amazing.   See their full breakfast, lunch dinner and cocktail menus here Milk Money Bar | Kitchen.

 xx- Jennifer