Archive for 2014

Grand Floridian - Garden View Tea Room

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What were two ladies to do? The Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party didn’t “technically” begin until 7PM and we wanted to do our best to avoid the crowd overlap (day guests and party crowd) as much as possible. We needed a big meal, not in size, but in wow factor to set the tone for this holiday getaway.

Enter, Garden View Tea Room at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.

Firstly, we loved Basin (specifically, our hearts swooned for the grapefruit salt scrub). The grandeur of this lobby will stop you in your hurried tracks on a normal day, but with the holiday in full effect, well, we stopped to snap photos of the main attraction from every angle. That tree with all her glorious Victorian themed goodness that my mother in law would simply love, save for the abundance of subtle bird theme throughout, literally took our breath away. The Grand Floridian’s tree was certainly grand in all ways.

The smell of the perfect in every way Gingerbread House hits you the moment you walk in. Turns out Kerry isn't too keen on that syrupy smell, but how can you not be completely taken by this little house. It's not so little, we joked our two year old niece could live inside quite comfortably. There was a line around the house to purchase holiday treats being sold out a window.

We checked in about 10 minutes early for our 4:05 ADR at the Garden View Tea Room and were told they were running a bit behind and would seat us as soon as possible. We were encouraged to enjoy the lobby while we waited. We took photos in front of the gingerbread house like Hansel and Gretel out for a stroll, hungry for just one bite. We were so smitten with the Grand that we had figuratively forgotten about that trail of tea scones until our bellies started to rumble. We waited a bit before planting ourselves beside the podium watching the guests inside lingering a bit too long over their tea, taking photos, soaking in the atmosphere. Who could blame them! The Grand Floridian Society Orchestra filed into place on the second level and this was the moment I had been envisioning; this grand setting, the festive near electric atmosphere off the lobby, the faint smell of gingerbread and that orchestra playing. It was perfection, except for one thing, we weren’t sitting yet and it was getting on towards 4:20.
In my head a big red “x” formed marking this waiting time as the first strike, until we were ushered into big comfy chairs at a table for four and our knowledgeable server knocked our socks off (if we had been wearing socks). Riley sized us up quickly. She knew we had been waiting, she sensed the need for bubbly, and she helped to personalize our Princess Kate Tea more to our taste so fast our head was spinning and it wasn’t from the champagne. We switched out the first course to sandwiches and chose a truly special Chai tea and the Eros for a seasonal citrus vanilla taste.

The sandwiches were yummy, though we felt somewhat lackluster. The standout for me was the curry chicken of the three choices (cucumber and egg salad). Any meh feeling completely went up in smoke when the cheese course arrived. Comprised of poached pears, walnuts, locally sourced honey with comb, cheddar biscuits, raisins on the vine, fig cake and three cheese choices; a stilton, a brie with mushroom  and a three cheddar wedge, this plate made us swoon and honest to goodness filled us to overflowing. Imagine our horrification when Riley informed us that, “ladies, you still have two course to go.” How could that possibly be?
We moved the plates the table beside us and made room for a strawberry tart and gingerbread scone with butter, strawberry jam, and apple butter. I adore gingerbread, but my sister in law is less keen because it borders on too sweet for her. The double strawberry on the plate seemed a bit too much strawberry, but the scone was perfect and warm and absorbed the apple butter with gusto. We were plain overstuffed and each had a bite for taste and moved it alongside the cheese plate to clear room on the table to bring the final course.

There were choices for dessert and we chose pastries; a chocolate ├ęclair, a lemon custard swan, and a white chocolate covered strawberry that was so divinely juicy and candy covered that we both forced ourselves to finish it.
We were quite pleased with our Garden View Tea Room experience. We felt thoroughly spoiled, full, and this certainly seemed more like an experience rather than a meal. Kerry has an affinity for all things London and lived there for a bit in college. She deemed this tea the "best tea" she has ever had! I'd say that is reason enough to encourage you to make some time for this in your next itinerary. This is not to be squeezed in, leave time to enjoy and digest, we both feel quite confident that you will not be disappointed.

We departed the Grand Floridian just before 6PM to head to the Christmas Party via monorail. We might as well have rolled each other out the door we were so full. From tea. We imagined telling my husband we were too full to finish our tea In reality when I was sharing this story with him, he did not believe me. Full from TEA!

Monorail to Magic Kingdom!

*Avoid the crowd overlap as much as possible IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A DAY TICKET. As tempting as it sounds to gain entrance to the park earlier than 7pm, without a day ticket and later in the day fast passes pre-arranged, the park can feel VERY busy and you could be looking at some long lines, not a lot of walking space, and some waiting around to do until the day guests file out.

*Photo Pass Photographers were available in the Grand Floridian Lobby!

*Listen to Riley, that Chai with the addition of just a tiny bit of cream (NOT MILK) will change your life. In fact, ASK for RILEY. She was incredible in all ways.

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Truly genuine

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Without fail, days before an event or a trip, Steve will pepper me with questions. Days before our wedding he asked for a complete run down of what the flowers  would look like, what colors, where would they be? 

I know. 

It was not surprising at all when last night he posed this one, "so I saw your itinerary and you guys are only going to one park???" 

Yes, we have one true park day on this two days and three nights adventure. It's full of extras and add ons that most people might overlook or skip completely on their visits because of one singular thing; they are too busy at the parks to pay attention. 

I gave him my best defense, we don't need a park, we have the spa! I detailed all the gingerbread, the treats, the snow on Main Street. I went so far as to show him the castle lit up in dream lights and said, "I can't wait to show this to Kerry!" 

My travel partner and I had a quick "wardrobe and expectations" call earlier this week. She is an immensely talented writer and I am hoping she might loan me her skills for a short piece on something about this experience. She asked me what I would like her to be tuned into, watching for, seeking out. I had no answer because I just don't want to ruin it for her. I want her true and genuine reaction to everything. People who love Disney say they cannot wait to bring their kids! I love bringing my kids and this weekend, my sister in law will be soaking in this experience much like a kid, at heart anyway. I am so looking forward to making magical memories with her and relishing in that breathtaking moment when she sees that unbelievable castle.  

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Disneyland Observations from a WDW fan perspective

Friday, November 7, 2014

I was definitely out of my element walking down Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland. I had read up, I had listened to podcasts, I had planned as much as one can plan when one has never been to Disneyland before.

I knew I was especially excited about a few very important things; Matterhorn and all the other DL specific rides, Pirates, and Haunted Mansion's special holiday overlay. Steve fully expected me to be his tour guide for the evening, hustling him here and there with a clear vision and plan in mind. I definitely didn't have a plan because this was just a tiny part of our seven day road trip and I really wasn't sure what to expect from this event. For starters, I needed a map?!?!

My observations:

This is not like WDW, not at all. It is similar, yes, but in more of a cousin way than a sibling way. Sure, some of the rides are almost (but not quite) the same, but that in many ways is where the similarities end.

We saw far fewer families with children than I expected. I think we both had preconceived ideas that we would stand out as a couple without children, but it was quite the opposite. This is so very much a locals park. I feel confident saying that the majority of the attendees that night were older teens and very young adults and they were (with very few exceptions) very thoughtfully and elaborately attired. Steve was certain many times that he was seeing the REAL Cinderella walk by, that was how intense some of these costumes were.

Bengal Barbecue. We were absolutely starving when we finally made our way to Indiana Jones (one of my DL specific must dos). The ride was down so since we had to wait to ride anyway, we enjoyed drying off from splash a bit at this little spot in Adventureland. I am not sure if I liked the skewers or the jalapeno cheese pretzel more (probably the pretzel because jalapeno cheese stuffed pretzel!!). The portions were a bit on the small side, but the skewers were flavorful and decidedly yummy. My carnivore spouse was VERY happy with this choice.

What is with the yellow strap? I can't recall ever being asked to "pull up on your yellow strap for me, please?" at WDW and there it was on the Matterhorns, Indiana Jones... What is with the yellow strap?

The duplicate rides (ones at both WDW and DLR) were just plain out better here. Pirates, Space, Thunder. I worry that these might be tarnished at WDW a bit for me now and that is saying a lot because those are some of my favorite attractions.

Haunted Mansion's Jack Skellington overlay was so amazing I would have rode it five times had the line not been so long. It is just so well done and executed perfectly. Steve has NEVER seen the movie (?!), so a lot of it was over his head and I can imagine anyone who hasn't seen the movie would be incredibly lost. This was one of my favorite parts of our entire evening. If you can get to Disneyland next year to see it, I cannot more highly recommend it.

When I first talked to Steve about this trip, my plan was attractions, ambience, snacks and attractions. I was completely uninterested in waiting in long lines to meet characters and yet, there they were, characters just standing there waiting for someone to come play. We happened upon Pluto (no cue), Goofy (just entering from backstage), Woody (walked right up to him as you can see below in that too bright photo), and Genie & Prince Ali had a very short wait while Steve was getting a snack anyway, so WHY NOT? Not only were the lines short (for some characters), but they really wanted you to stick around. Prince Ali said, "that's it?" after I took our selfie because I felt badly taking up too much of their time. They clearly didn't think I was. I asked Genie if he thought we would all fit for the photo and he tried to climb into my phone which was hilarious. When I approached Woody, I told him my nephew was his biggest fan and this was a photo for him and he posed perfectly. The characters were reminiscent of how I remember Disney with my own family as child. Characters were just walking about, with no cueing, no scramble of people racing to get their attention and be the first one. On top of that, they were so interactive and really took their time (not just with the kids) and made these moments truly memorable. I won't soon forget this one.

The biggest observation was how I felt as a rookie out there. It has been a long, long time since I haven't known my way around a Disney Park (at least in a general, let's go here and then there way) and I was utterly lost. It was nighttime, landmarks were more challenging to find in the dark, and half the time I didn't even know the landmark I was looking for. I was frustrated that I couldn't seem to find my dole whip. It feels especially hard when your partner for the night keeps looking to you as the guide and you can only shrug your shoulders. Though challenging, this was a really good reminder of what that first timer experience is like and I have renewed energy to ensure my clients are prepared properly to not only have a good itinerary, but find their way with confidence.

Have you been to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World? How would YOU compare the two?

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Disneyland - Mickey's Halloween Party

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Here is the play by play of our seven hours at Disneyland for Mickey's Halloween Party.

We had not planned to arrive in Anaheim until mid afternoon, just in time to check-in and get ourselves to the front gates of Disneyland, but we were able to squirrel away more sightseeing than planned in Beverly Hills the night before. We were walking distance to Rodeo Drive and the Beverly Wilshire, but we were oddly the only people out walking. We got more than our fill of the "culture" of Beverly Hills as we had cocktails and a light meal at the Beverly Wilshire, especially when the entertainment value was so high with the people watching. You will have to read more later, but I can tell you I was glued to my seat watching two businessmen and a Ferrari jacket wearing retiree get into a heated verbal argument at the bar. Steve had to pull me away citing time, though I suspect it was really my $18 martini that prompted our exit.

We checked in early to the Candy Cane Inn, dropped our bags, and drove right over to Downtown Disney for lunch and shopping. We were just a teensy bit excited to be there.

We (okay, I) skipped into Earl of Sandwich right at the lunch rush (Holiday Turkey, yummmm) before heading directly to the World of Disney to pick up some treats for the kids. We wanted to catch a shuttle to be at the gates when they opened for the Halloween event, so it was a quick trip and a dash back to the hotel to get ready for the night. We were there for the countdown after a failed plan to grab a cocktail at Trader Sam's.
I snagged a couple maps and we headed right down Main Street & through the castle. I was not underwhelmed by Sleeping Beauty's castle at all. The castles are unique of one another and as a social worker, I am all about diversity. We sat down for a minute to regroup because it had been very hot waiting to get in the sun. Carl needed a break. Did I mention that we were dressed very lightly as Carl & Ellie from Up? This was our big adventure after all! Steve didn't wear his glasses most of the night, so I got a lot of "Belle," but that's ok.

As we stood up to continue on our way, there was the Fairy Godmother greeting guests. We snapped this one for our little princess fan at home. 
In my planning prep, I had reviewed what would and wouldn't be open during the party, so we headed directly to Toon Town before they shut it down for the night (that's steve's finger over the lens)

Pluto, one of my favorites, was finishing up with a family, had no character attendant in sight, and had no cue, so clearly we had to make this happen. 
When in Toon Town you must relive a bit of your childhood, so we waited for Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin. Steve enjoyed this view of Jessica Rabbit in the cue. The movie came out when we were still young enough to enjoy a good cartoon and I immediately added it to my amazon cart for the kids from Santa. They will love it as much as we did and the ending will have them pulling the blanket over their head, just as it did to us. 

We happened to be walking by as Goofy came out for a bit and knowing he is my father in law's favorite, we waited just a moment to snap a photo with him.

We were in a holding pattern for a bit after that waiting for the park to close to day guests as the lines were still pretty long in many places. One place they weren't was Big Thunder Mountain, so we headed in that direction and met a cowboy on the way. I sent this photo to my sister in law for my nephew, Woody's biggest fan, and he happened to be using her phone when it popped up. Wish I could have seen his face.

We rode Thunder, then waited a bit (ok, a pretty long time) for Pirates because I was so excited about it, before heading back through Fantasyland (still long lines) and over to Tomorrowland. I decidedly beat my husband on Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters. Declaring me a cheater and requesting a rematch, I beat him a second time and then purchased him a souvenir key chain so he can always remember that I will always win, everything. Cast members started checking wristbands and we headed directly to Space Mountain before my roller coaster hating husband could change his mind. The ride was a walk on and the Ghost Galaxy overlay was fantastic. I definitely prefer this version to WDW. 
We hit several more attractions like Matterhorn and Storybook Canal Boats while heading back in the direction of Liberty Square to wait in the unavoidable line for Haunted Mansion. It was WORTH IT!

Time was ticking away (though we had been in the park for several hours) and Steve wasn't leaving until we went on Splash Mountain. Our recent trip in January to WDW had this attraction in refurbishment during our stay. As we climbed in behind two big guys, I knew our fate was sealed and we were going to get WET. Try soaked through in a rented dress! I considered buying flip flops my shoes were so wet. I was chilly for the rest of the night, but it was such fun. Steve loves this ride and mugged for the photo while I braced for impact.

With one must do remaining, we headed to Indiana Jones and found it down. Taking quick stock of the snacks we had enjoyed, we decided it was a good time to grab something and went to Bengal Barbecue. We split several skewers and a jalapeno cheese pretzel. Though the skewers were smaller portions (three pieces per skewer), they were exactly what we needed to power through. That pretzel might be my new favorite snack to stalk in the parks. Indy opened, definitely a highlight of the night, and with no wait I almost convinced Steve to ride it again. Time was definitely pressed at this point because we had a rendezvous with Big Thunder for 9:30, during the fireworks. I was so excited about this because our timing was absolutely perfect.

With our checklist checked and our Halloween spirits full, we headed toward the exit at around 10PM, still soaked through. I snapped one last photo of us on Main Street before we headed out the gates.


This was a RECORD day for Steve with his Fit Bit and since I walked alongside him stride for stride, we both achieved this astounding number of steps for the day. We walked a half marathon at Disneyland, which beat any total day at WDW. Sure, we were back and forth a lot, we didn't tour "correctly," but what FUN! I exited the gates feeling such gooey feelings for all things Disney and will certainly plan to take our littles West to experience this for themselves someday in the future when they had handle the long flight. If you ever have the opportunity to spend some time in this happy place, I promise you won't be disappointed.


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Candy Cane Inn - Anaheim

Saturday, November 1, 2014

With so many hotel stays on this trip (7!), our accommodations budget did not allow for a night in a Disneyland Resort property. I was a little sad about this, but instead chose to see this as a great opportunity to check out a Disney Good Neighbor Hotel. Have you heard about these properties? All hotels are AAA approved and are carefully screened to ensure they meet Disney quality standards. We wanted to be as close to Mickey's backyard as we possible could be, so we chose the Candy Cane Inn.

We rolled into Anaheim ahead of schedule and well before the appointed check in time. Our room was indeed ready and they were happy to check us in. The lobby is centrally located in the horseshoe driveway. Self parking in plentiful and complimentary. Staff provided a hang tag to identify our car as a Candy Cane Inn guest. Our room was located on the first room in the far back left corner, but the property is small enough that this was walkable and quite manageable from the lobby or shuttle. Staff were courteous and efficient. I had a package delivered the hotel and they spotted it on our reservation and someone brought it down from luggage storage immediately while we were checking in.

Shuttles to the parks depart on the hour and the half hour and make return trips to the hotel on the quarter hour. The final pick up the night we were there was at 9:45pm and we knew we would be staying out later than that. We were able to gauge the walk on the very short ride over and it was quite walkable, even in wet Splash Mountain destroyed cotton flats.

Our room was handicapped accessible, which provided a great deal of space, but prevents me from reviewing a "standard room." If time had allowed on this trip (and it unfortunately didn't), I could have asked to see a standard room. Our room had a cozy chair, table, armoire and king bed. It was tidy and fresh.

The hotel offers a complimentary continental breakfast in the modest pool area behind the lobby. The pool was well utilized by guests, but never appeared overcrowded. The breakfast was standard continental fare; juices, coffee, bagels, muffins, cereals, and pastry. It is a nice touch to offer something like that and not every hotel in the area does.

We had a very pleasant, quiet, comfortable stay at the Candy Cane Inn and would recommend it for the budget conscious Disneyland visitor.

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NDR (Not Disney Related) Vegas, baby.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I'm putting my Vegas look into YOUR capable hands! It's the crowning moment of our trip, the last hurrah, the GRAND Finale and I just can't decide.

Plan: Dinner, a show (still yet to be determined), cocktails, and a little time at the Craps table.

Options are below, first dress is option 1 and so forth. Click here Dress Me! to submit your feedback.



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Le's talk about our night in Disneyland!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

That trip to California that seemed SO far away just a bit ago has totally crept up on us and while I won't say we are in panic mode, we have a LOT to do in short time. Last week I did what any (ir)rational planner would do and sent away for these. Last WEEK.

Don't get me wrong, we have a lot of our itinerary built, mostly because we needed to plan a place to oh I don't know, SLEEP! This girl does not travel cross country to have the anniversary adventure that dreams are made of and pitch a tent. It's just not me. I would be cranky mess from being up all night worrying about the animals waiting just outside to gobble me up.

We have secured a hotel in every planned stopping point with the exceptions of LA and Vegas. We keep getting stuck on these and can't pull the trigger. So if you have any reasonable recommendations for the Beverly Hills area of LA please comment back because we have spent WAY too much time comparing hotels and pricing in LA. I think we finally decided last night we are going to go big before we go home for our night in Vegas. It's the capstone of the trip, the big finale, and when I ask will we ever be back in Vegas just us two? Perhaps never!

I already shared that I tucked in a night at Disneyland and to make it final, I purchased the Mickey's Halloween Party tickets. This is one of the many things I have learned in a decade of marriage; We discuss, we plan, we agree, he procrastinates, I push purchase. NO LOOKING BACK.

This brings us to the Halloween Party itself. We opted to stay at a Disney Good Neighbor Hotel in Anaheim that night. This was our compromise because as fantastic and magical as it might have been to stay the night at the Disneyland Hotel, it would have busted our accommodations budget. Plus, getting Steve to agree to Disneyland was only Step A and if I pushed too hard Step B would be have gotten only laughs and a stubborn solid "NO."
Step B. It's Halloween! Costumes of some kind are an absolute must. If you know Steve, asking him to dress up in anyway is about the equivalent of asking him why he isn't on Facebook. I didn't want to give him a chance to dig his heels in and refuse. This whole "Adventure is Out There" vacation is so very Up isn't it? We must pay homage to our character inspiration and somehow go as Carl and Ellie!
I won't let him think on it too much, I will take that lesson learned from up there about the tickets and just click purchase on the amazon cart for these items and if I have to pack them into my own bag (SO HELP ME, GOD) to get them physically to the state of California, I will. He is SO Carl. He can be frustratingly stubborn, but has a heart of solid gold. I know when he gets there and sees how excited I am to be at Disneyland, he won't hesitate to put on these glasses for me. 
That adorable dress! Don't even think I am buying an Ellie dress because I don't buy dresses. I am planning to use my go to resource for all dress needs, Rent the Runway, to have an Ellie inspired look delivered to our hotel. EASY! How you TRIED this service yet? It's amazing and I rave about it all the time. (this is a completely unsponsored rave, by the way, that's how much I love it!) I won't have to pack my dress, it will come pressed and ready to wear, and I will have two sizes to select the one I am most comfortable in. The following morning, as we grab coffee and plan our exit towards Vegas, I will stuff it back into a UPS mailer and send it back in a rumpled mess. That always gives me such satisfaction! I love this service so much that I am also planning to rent a Vegas dress. In fact, that is my very next post, which I know isn't exactly Disney, but travel related nonetheless. Please plan to come back and vote on my Vegas look for our final night of our great California Anniversary adventure!

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linking up

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Few things delight me more than "following" friends on their magical Disney vacations. I look forward to seeing their photos on Facebook, twitter, and instagram. I love reading their text updates (and answering their questions!!). It's almost like being there, isn't it? I get sad when they check out and head home. I share in their post Disney depression.

Tell me, is there a better Facebook update than this one?  

I watched Ann hop through the parks on instagram (attention kerry, this photo booth is calling our name)

Beth's family got to hold the timer card for Barnstormer. This always makes the wait just a little more manageable. It's one of those little Disney details that makes me smile.

I love the texts. I'm not shy. I won't give you space and silence because you are off on a magical Disney vacation. NOPE. I'll ask how crowded it is, if you had a cocktail while watching Wishes from the Poly, how hot it is, if the kids liked Animal Kingdom, and anything else I can to be closer to the magic with you.

I offer enthusiastic and genuine accolades for a perfectly executed Main Street Electric Parade viewing spot.

I react to photos and video. Ann's daughter was dressed perfectly as Belle and during her time with Jasmine and Aladdin, she completely turned her back to him because duh, JASMINE. We even shared a sad moment that even as I read it again now, gives me that lump in my throat. You are never really ready to go home from Walt Disney World are you?

As if all those social media updates weren't enough (and honestly, they weren't because I would have hopped into their carry-on), I recently discovered a sweet bonus to My Disney Experience (MDE).

have you downloaded the MDE app yet?

The "Friends & Family" options through MDE allow you to "invite a friend to plan and share." Once your friend accepts your invitation to share and checks off the boxes to allow you to "view my plans," you have the golden ticket to literally follow along moment by moment.

Here is an example from my own MDE account. (I did my best to block out last names to protect the innocent) In this example, my children are managed by myself and therefore thankfully cannot plan or share. Below them is my sister-in-law kerry, who will be my partner in crime for our upcoming Hop & Shop Holiday Spectacular. I have been doing all the planning thus far and haven't yet sent her an invite to plan and share. When I do, she can accept and view all our plans through her own MDE account and the MDE app. At the bottom, is my husband Steve. You can see that he has his own MDE account (noted below his name) and he can view the plans I have made AND can view and purchase PhotoPass Photos.

When you open MDE and click "my itinerary," it will open to the first day of YOUR plans. If you don't have any future plans (and why don't you???), it is completely tragically and un-magically empty. If, however, I am linked to friends like Ann & Beth who both just happen to be traveling this week with their families, I open MDE and see their plans. Two friends, two well-executed plans, two completely wonderfully different vacations!
These are Ann's Thursday plans on top and Beth's below. One chose to finish the trip at Magic Kingdom and the other is celebrating her daughter's birthday with a Princess dinner at Akershus tonight. I can see their FP+ reservations, the notes they wrote into their own itinerary, and I can get a sense of what kind of day they are going to have. I cannot tell you how much fun it has been this week to open the MDE app in the morning and see where they are each headed.
Consider linking up to your friends, sharing your plans with them, and adding yet another dimension to the game we play at home while friends and family play down there. My most jealous moment this week was O'Hana (TWICE). Our holiday trip is the middle of December, let's link up! I would love to share my moment to moment with you and follow along on your next trip! Don't have a MDE account yet? Why not??

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