A status change is a comin’!

travel 1For over 10 years I have been a road warrior.  For weeks each year, I have joined my fellow travelers as we have trudged through airports, dealt with sometimes smelly rental cars, slept in more hotel rooms than should be allowed, and drifted in an out of cities without so much as a look.

Over the years I began collecting frequent traveler cards like they were part of a series featured in bubble gum wrappers.  Many people may remember a scene out of the movie Up in the Air with George Clooney where the two main characters laid out all of their cards, comparing perks and discussing whom they felt was the best.  Yes, that was me.  If you were to ask me now, I could tell you about most hotel chains, which points get you the most perks, and what hotels are the best in most major cities.

But of course with most things in my life, I  soon began to realize that all of that travel was a huge opportunity.  Not just to experience the people and places of North America that I encountered, but a way for my husband and I to share some amazing experiences.  After a few years of slipping in an out of cities having only seen the hotel and board room, I finally grasped hold of the concept that I was missing out and made a shift.  If at all possible, I flew in a few hours early or stayed overnight, slowing down which provided me more rest and the opportunity to see or do at least one thing in the city I was visiting.  My hubby and I began cashing in those points, flying him in for a weekend or taking a well deserved vacation, all with the goal to check some items off our travel bucket list.

And so over the years, we have been quite fortunate.  Despite what some people may think from my blogs and social media posts, we have ventured beyond Disney.  From Las Vegas to New York to Europe, we have been able to experience such great wonders as the Grand Canyon, the Eiffel Tower, and walking the Golden Gate Bridge.

But this year, a change is on the horizon.  For the first time in ten years, the beginning of a new year will dawn and I will not have one frequent traveler status.  My days of first class upgrades, concierge lounges and free luggage check will all disappear.  And I couldn’t be happier.

I will trade in my VIP traveler status for a new title that I have always dreamed of, the one of “mother”.  Due to our journey with IVF and our need to be sensitive to what it took to get me here, my travel has been limited, keeping me close to the wonderful medical professionals that helped us achieve this soon to be goal.  Due to strategic planning at work last year, I have hired and trained a fabulous team and am utilizing more virtual means of being in several places in one week making it possible for me to maintain a high level position without countless plane travel.  Now my ever faithful travel accessories are being used to support my back and feet at home versus on an airplane.

And so what is in store for this road warrior once motherhood becomes the most important title every achieved?  Integrating all sides of my life just as every mother does.  While I know my pace and perspective will be changed, I also know that as my daughter grows, my husband and I will pack her little suitcase and teach her through experience what an amazing world we live in.  After all, she will be the one with three passports thanks to her father, leaving me behind in the immigration line as she steps out into an amazing world.  And I cannot wait!

The Bump Goes to Disney!

1st time photoA moment I had been waiting for – taking my baby bump to my “happiest place on earth”.  Walt Disney World!  So for Easter weekend we decided to risk the holiday crowds, weather and other craziness to experience our first visit with little Elise along for the ride.

In preparation for my first trip to Disney while pregnant, I did my usual internet searches and found a few blogs with tips and pointers.  But as usual, nothing really prepares you for how different you will feel once you are in the parks.  Normally I am able to walk for miles without stopping, but I found out very quickly that stopping to rest and keeping fed and watered were constant staples of our visit.  Fortunately, we have been to Disney enough times to know where all the restrooms, benches, and shady places were prior to our arrival.

One note I did not see on many of the blogs I read was that you can request a cup of water from any quick service stand for free.  This is something we found out about a couple of years ago, and while I still carried my water bottle with built in filter, sometimes a cup of ice water is always a welcome change.  The other thing I noticed was that many Disney cast members were extra diligent when they realized my tummy was a baby bump.  While hitting the restroom before the Indiana Jones stunt show, I had multiple cast members direct me, ask me if I needed assistance, and seeking assurance that I was “A-ok!”

The highlight of the visit was meeting Mickey and Minnie.  You may laugh, but I never tire of this experience as I am always taken back to childhood.  But this time was a moment seen only in my dreams.  I entered the Character Spot at Epcot bright and early on a Saturday morning and immediately found myself face to face with The Mouse.  Sporting my “Mouseketeer onboard” maternity shirt mama and I had found on Pinterest, the cast members and characters quickly noticed my little Elise bump and with that, everyone was ready for my sweet girl and I’s official first Mickey photos together.  Upon finishing the character rounds, I found myself overwhelmed and shed a few happy tears that something I had given up on ever happening had actually come true.

A few other quick tips for anyone else traveling to Disney at twenty weeks pregnant:

  • Pack a light backpack with granola bars and trail mix.  While there is plenty of food in Disney, not all of it is healthy and you will find that you are waiting in a line when you need a quick snack.
  • Bring a water bottle with built in filter.   The water in Florida does not always taste the best, even from the quick serve counters, so I find I cannot live without my Brita water bottle.
  • Rest every hour or so.  I made sure to get off my feet for a few minutes about every hour to drink water and to prop my feet up.  This due diligence kept my ankles from swelling and I suffered hardly any aches and pains at the end of the day.
  • Catch a show.  There are so many fabulous shows in Disney and what better time than when you are not riding the headliners.
  • Give yourself a treat at least once a day.  With so many goodies, I selected one item a day to splurge on.  This kept me from having too much of a good thing all at once and kept my weight on track.  Mickey Ears ice cream and the cream cheese filled pretzel are two of my favorites.
  • Go early and take a nap in the afternoon.  The best time to be in the parks is at  opening since you can usually ride most rides without a fastpass (especially in the Magic Kingdom since the kiddie rides are pretty much the limit).  Also, you can be back at your hotel prior to the afternoon sun or heat settling in.
  • Wear a hat and sun screen.  I’m not sure about others, but my freckles have been really pronounced the past few weeks with pregnancy, so I was extra diligent with the hat and sunscreen.

Disney fountainMost of all just take in the experience.  While we are fortunate to have been to Disney more times than we can count, no matter if it will be your first or your 100th visit, my motto is to always just enjoy being there.

Disney is something special.  There is no place like it.  Everyone can be young and silly.  And yes – dreams can come true there!  See you real soon, Mickey.

2013 Travels in Review

2013 was another year of amazing travels for the McFees. Filled with many firsts, laughs and enough photos to keep the memories alive, here I recap just a few of my favorite moments from this past year.

Union Station, Portland, OR
Jan. - We made our first visit to Portland together to determine if it would live up to the Portlandia hype. I think we will always dream of living there, until we make it a reality.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA
Feb. - We celebrated our 13th Anniversary in one of our favorite cities walking across this amazing icon.
State Capitol, Austin, TX
Feb. - A beautiful city, full of great parks, a fun downtown and festivals galore.
Disney Cruise Ship: the Dream
March - Our first Disney Cruise was an amazing experience. From the fabulous food to the great evening shows, we are now hooked on cruising with Disney.
The Hollywood Tower of Terror, Walt Disney World, FL
April - I finally agreed to ride the Tower of Terror for the first time. A few months later I also rode the Disneyland, CA version. Now to go back to Disneyland Paris to check that one off the list.
Toad Hall, Disneyland, CA
May - Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is an iconic ride that is now only operational in Disneyland. My favorite ride since childhood, and one I hope they never close.
Millennium Biltmore Hotel Los Angeles
May - The location where the Oscars was born, this hotel has been an icon in LA for 90 years. The prom scenes from Pretty in Pink were shot here (an 80's favorite).
The Seattle Great Wheel, Seattle, WA
May - Despite a fear of heights, I took a moment from my work day to enjoy the views of this wonderful city. Another first off my list.
Navy Pier Ferris Wheel
June - After the Seattle Wheel, I figured why not. The 150-foot high ferris wheel is modeled after the world’s very first Ferris wheel constructed for Chicago’s 1893 World Columbian Exposition.
Disney's Polynesian Resort, WDW, FL
July - One of the original two hotels in Walt Disney World, the Poly had been on our Disney bucket list and with rumors of major renovations, we booked our concierge level room and took in the 4th of July sights.
Grand Canyon Railway, Williams, AZ
July - A personal dream since childhood, the railway is a wonderful way to visit the Grand Canyon. Weekend packages make this a great quick get-away.
Grand Canyon - South Rim
July - Two years ago we made a list of top places to visit and this was our number one. While just a quick stop during the monsoon season, it was a great introduction to this amazing wonder.
Walt Disney World Aussie family visit
Aug. - We had the opportunity to take my sister-in-law and her husband to Walt Disney World and stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village, another first. An amazing trip!
Walt Disney World, Magic Bands
Sept. - We had heard about the Magic Bands at a passholder preview in April and were thrilled to have the opportunity to test them at the Yacht Club. Full roll-out is planned in 2014.
Hershey Cholocate Factory, Hershey, PA
Nov. - Hearing stories about my mother's visits to the chocolate factory as a child, made the opportunity to visit the original factory with her a very special and "sweet" memory.
ICE!, Gaylord Palms, Kissimmee, Florida
Nov. - Thanksgiving provided a perfect backdrop for us to take a break from Disney and see ICE! for the first time. A very cold but fun experience.

ICE, ICE Baby!

I love to travel and to see new things.  Everyone who is around me for five seconds realizes I am happiest either at Disney or with an adventure impending.  So when the thoughts of spending Thanksgiving at home in Florida became reality, I found myself wishing to be on the move, experiencing something new.

The opportunity presented itself when I realized I would be short a few days to achieve one of my hotel statuses.  As silly as this might seem, to those of us that travel regularly, that Gold or Platinum or whatever metal or gem a company uses is a priceless necessity.  After a bit of searching to see if we could get to my typical back-up of Walt Disney World (well we live only an hour and a half away), I came across the opportunity to stay at the Gaylord Palms Kissimmee and experience their show ICE!

Since coming to Florida in 2008 and hearing about ICE!, I was intrigued.  I have seen a few friends attend similar events across the US, so having the opportunity present itself so readily made my decision of a Thanksgiving plan easy.  Add to that discounts from the chain for room and tickets, and we were immediately booked and ready to go.

First a report on the Gaylord Palms Kissimmee (please keep in mind I spend about 65 – 70 % of my life in hotels):  This is an impressive hotel upon arrival.  Grand drive and entry with unique interiors reflecting locals across Florida.  With the addition of the Christmas décor, the hotel was quite beautiful.  Check in at the honors desk was a breeze and after a nice upgrade and directions, we were soon settled in our room which was simply decorated, but quite large.  The highlight of staying in this hotel during the holidays are the free evening shows, they are a must.  The watch out are the restaurants which are over priced for typical fair.

ICEPhotoBut we were here for ICE! and on Thanksgiving Day we were thrilled to discover no lines and were able to enter earlier than our ticket times.  I had remembered to bring gloves and parkas are provided, but nothing can prepare you for the level of chill you will feel after a few minutes in the exhibit.  The 2013 theme was Frosty, so all the displays depicted the scenes of the tale.  I think we were both a bit uncertain of the expectations, and unfortunately they showed a video at the beginning which raised them way too high, but on the whole it was a fun experience.  The exhibit is very short, but then again, I’m not sure I could have stood any longer with the ice.  We each took a turn at the slides, which is a must, and quickly proceeded through since we were not certain of the length.

While not something I would put on my “to do” list a second time, I believe that children would be enthralled and encourage anyone interested in wearing the best gloves you can buy and taking it a bit slow to soak it in.  In the end, we had a few laughs, made some silly photos and ended up in Walt Disney World after all!  A definite addition to my travel adventures and a memory to be “thankful for”.