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An enchanted afternoon at the Enchanted Rose

forrest room.jpgOn Tuesday October 8th, Disney opened its latest lounge, the Beauty and the Beast inspired Enchanted Rose at the Grand Floridian. While I was not there for the initial opening, I did get to go the very next day.

My mom, sister, and I were enjoying a girls’ trip to Disney World. Despite growing up in Anaheim, home to the original Disneyland, my Mom had only been to Disney World once. Back in 1980 when she went, there was just the Magic Kingdom and although the Polynesian Village Resort where we stayed did exist, she’d never seen it. My sister, had never been at all. For me, this was the perfect chance to show them the wonders of Disney at a pace I knew they’d enjoy.

Enchanted Rose signWe planned our trip rather light. Although we had four nights at the Polynesian, we only had two park days planned. Both were at Epcot and both were intended as a means to eat and drink our way around the world (which we did, but that’s another post). In between our bacchanals, we had a day of rest and relaxation and it was on this day that I realized The Enchanted Rose had just opened.

It was just after noon and we hadn’t eaten yet, so we figured it was the perfect time to hop on the monorail and head over. We noticed they had a menu which includes appetizers and figured it would help offset our otherwise liquid lunch.

rosesThe monorail lets travelers off on the second floor in the Grand Floridian and since it wasn’t quite 1 yet and we weren’t sure where the Enchanted Rose was, my mom and sister went into the gift shop while I investigated. It took less than two minutes to figure out that the Enchanted Rose is also on the second floor, tucked away in the far right corner from the monorail exit. The sign outside the bar hints at its elegance, especially the lovely live roses on the table right below it.

The bar is definitely the center-piece in this beautiful movie inspired lounge. It was beyond lovely and I found myself wanting to sit at the bar, something I never really want to do. The chandelier, which Disney says is inspired by Belle’s iconic golden ballgown, is breathtaking. But, since my mom and sister were with me, and the place was pretty empty, we went ahead and entered the Garden Room, which is inspired by the enchanted forrest surrounding the Beast’s castle (pictured at the top of this post).

enchanted bartender

As if these two spaces aren’t lovely enough, there is also a patio and a library room. We really wanted to sit in the library, since we are all HUGE book nerds (English teacher and a former librarian in our party), but it does not open until 4pm, so if you too want to feel as if you are in the Beast’s reading room, you have to arrive a bit later than we did. Still, I enchanted librarydid manage to get in and have a quick looksie. There is actually a bookcase in the room, but it is down on the farther end of the room and it was not easy to get a picture at that angle.

Another interesting tidbit of information we found out AFTER we’d ordered our drinks, is that the kitchen doesn’t open until 5pm, so while we had visions of appetizers to help soak up some of the VERY potent drinks we ordered, that was not an option for us at 1pm. While my sister, who is a bit pickier about what she eats due to her gluten allergy, was not enthusiastic about the very limited menu at the Enchanted Rose, I am an adventurous eater and love to try new things, so I was particularly disappointed I did not get to try the crab and gnocchetti gratin. enchanted envy

enchanted loveWhat the Enchanted Rose does have is darn good (and strong) drinks. It even has two signature cocktails that come with their own “stories.” I didn’t quite know what this meant, but loved the idea of a Love and an Envy cocktail. I debated between the two for quite some time before settling on Envy.

And what does a cocktail with a “story” mean exactly? It means that the server brings out everyone else’s drinks first, confusing you just a bit. Then, they bring out this really cool drink cart:

enchanted drink cart

Then, as they slowly make your cocktail, they tell you the story behind it. For envy, it is the tale of all the girls in the town who were green with envy over Gaston’s affections for Belle. While each ingredient is added, so is another portion of the tale. Once the drink (and the tale) are complete, the server hands it over and you get to enjoy. I don’t know about Love, but I can honestly say that Envy was delicious!

I actually recorded our server making my drink, so if you want a sneak peak, you can check it out here on my YouTube channel (along with several other Disney and Universal Orlando videos).

Even though the Enchanted Rose is a lounge with deliciously strong drinks, children are still welcome. I can’t imagine they’d want to stay long as it does not have much to offer children. The menu is not kid-friendly; my very adventurous son would probably try everything on the menu, but my daughter wouldn’t try anything except the truffle fries and only because she’s had truffle fries before and no one explained to her what a truffle was. The decor is beautiful and has clear ties to Beauty and the Beast if one is looking for them, but it’s not whimsical the way kids would want. I felt a bit bad for the two kids who were seated two tables away from us. They were clearly stuck there while their parents had a drink. They weren’t old enough to have phones and seemed bored.

Still, if you are a true Disney fan or even a Beauty and the Beast fan, it is a must stop on your next Disney vacation. And, if you need help planning your next trip, I’d be happy to help at no cost to you.

 

 

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Not So Secret Agent Trip

me at UniversalIn just five days I leave for my first official agent trip as a part of the Magical Vacation Planner team. I will be spending three nights and four-ish days in Florida learning all I can about Universal Studios Orlando.

I have been to Universal Studios on both costs several times. I grew up in Southern California and have been to the original studios in Hollywood at least a dozen times growing up in the 1980’s. Of course that was before there were rides of any kind at the studio. Back then it was just the backlot studio tour and some pretty fantastic stunt shows. My favorite was the A-Team stunt show. Of course, I was obsessed with the show, so that’s not really a surprise. The Miami Vice show, which replaced it in the late 80’s was ok, but it didn’t have people pretending to be Hannibal, Face, Murdock and B.A., so it was not as cool. I haven’t been back to Universal Hollywood, so I have no idea what the current show is like.

I was actually hoping I could find one of the pictures of me with K.I.T.T., one of my favorite stops in the old park. The car actually talked to visitors, which as an 8 year old was so cool. I could not figure out how the car knew what I was wearing and who was with me. My kids were equally amazed when we visited Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot when they were 3 and 6.

I’ve been to Universal Orlando quite a few times too. In fact, when I lived in Florida, my husband an I had annual passes, but that was about 15 years ago. Jurassic Park: The Ride was still open (I cried when I heard it had closed) and Harry Potter may have been on my bookshelf, but he wasn’t featured in any amusement park. Considering what a Harry Potter fanatic I am, the fact that I haven’t been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter yet is shocking.

And I’ve never stayed at a Universal resort before. The last time I was there, I lived like an hour and a half away. There was no need to even think about hotels. I think in theory I knew they existed, but I’d never paid any attention. But now, I will be staying at Lowe’s Sapphire Falls Resort.  I will also get to tour the other resorts, so I can find out all of the ins and outs in order to be able to make the best suggestions to my clients to fit their needs.

I will also get to experience the parks, including Volcano Bay, the water park that didn’t even exist when I lived in Florida. I cannot wait to check out the lazy river, and drink butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron. I am excited to see what has replaced my beloved Jurassic Park ride and to soar with Harry over quidditch fields. I want to get a donut in Springfield or maybe some Green Eggs and Ham in Seuss Landing.

But mostly, I want to soak up all sorts of information so I can pass it on to clients looking to have the vacation of a lifetime. I know it sounds totally trite, but I didn’t need to become a Magical Vacation Planner, I wanted to. I have a career that I have invested 22 years in, and for the most part, I enjoy it. But these last two months planning trips for people, I have found a brand new joy in my life. I may only have a handful of clients right now, but I am giving them my all because it is just so much fun!

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Free Reading Friday: The Upside of Unrequited

upside of unrequitedI really enjoyed The Upside of Unrequited. Considering how much I loved Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, it’s no real surprise that I found Becky Albertalli’s “companion novel,” very enjoyable.

As much as I really liked Simon, I think this book spoke to me more. Probably because like Molly, the main character, when I was in high school, I too was a fat girl who had a darn lot of crushes and no actual boyfriends to speak of. Sure, I may not have had two moms or a twin sister who seemed to be developing a romantic life well before me, but I had a plethora of very good friends, none of whom seemed to be struggling romantically the way I was. And I attributed quite a bit of that to the fact that most of my friends didn’t have the same sort of waistline I did.

I actually saw myself quite a bit in Molly’s character. Granted, I would have never sworn around my folks the way she swears around hers, but I did have a pretty good relationship with my folks. But, like Molly, I kept a LOT of things to myself. Like Molly, I spent a lot of time throwing myself into projects to keep busy and keep my mind off all the ways I was unhappy. Like Molly, I think I was suffering from depression (only mine were not diagnosed). Like Molly, I never really felt comfy in my own skin and could not see myself the way others saw me. Like Molly, I had a big heart and was a great friend. But also like Molly, at times I was a rather “shitty” friend–because I wanted to be happy for them, but I was so jealous of them that it was hard at times.

And like Molly, I pretty much never acted on my crushes. I was far too afraid of being rejected. I had crush after crush after crush. I admired from afar. Even when I thought a guy liked me (which I actually thought a few times), I was too scared to act on it. And, as a result, I ended up losing out on what I later found might have been actual relationships, or at least dates.

It took me a long time to find my confidence and be ok with who I am. I’m glad Molly was able to do it (to a large degree) over the course of a summer. I wish my journey had been that short!

This book is great for just about any teenager who has ever struggled with his/her self image. It’s great for anyone who has ever had unrequited crushes. It’s wonderful for anyone who is LGBTQ+. It’s just a wonderful book.

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Free Reading Friday: We Are Never Meeting in Real Life

We are never meeting in real lifeI’m torn about We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby. On the one hand, Irby is pretty darn funny. I really enjoyed her very first essay “My Bachelorette Application.” It set what I felt was a very realistic and funny tone for the book. I also enjoyed all of her essays about her cat Helen, except maybe the last one. I know Irby worked in a vet’s office for 14 years (in fact, I LOVED her essay looking for a new job due to moving in with her wife) and she understood that what the vet was telling her about Helen was pretty hopeless, but having just put my beloved cat of 20 years to sleep, it just seemed a bit harsh at the end.

Then again, that’s the reason I am torn about this book. Irby is, without a doubt, honest in her essays. She is often brutally, in your face honest and sometimes it’s a bit hard to take. There were a couple of essays that I had trouble reading in one sitting just because they were so blunt that I felt I needed a break part way through. “Mavis” is a good example. Actually, a few of the essays talking about her relationship with Mavis were hard to read because it was hard to see why they were actually a couple and why they were getting married. I also am still not sure Irby is happy with it all and I like her, so I want her to be, especially considering her really rotten childhood.

Overall, this book is filled with more gems than it is hard to read portions (at least for me). One of my favorite parts was when she and her friend witnessed a Civil War reenactment while killing time between a wedding and the reception. It cracked me up when the re-enactor told her that her necklace was intense. I love her reply, “Honey, you are wearing a hoop skirt in 2013.” Even though Irby acknowledges her necklace was a bit intense and there’s a good chance the girl didn’t even mean it as an insult, Irby’s quick wit and defense mechanisms kicked in.

It took me a bit longer to read this book than I expected, but I’m glad it did.

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Wildcard Wednesday: travel souvenirs

souvenirsAny time I travel anywhere without my kids, their inevitable first question upon my return is not: How are you? What did you see? Did you miss us? No, their first question is the same universal one uttered by kids all around the globe: What did you bring us?

On my most recent trip to the UK, this particular question was a bit more specific, although just as insistent as usual: Did you bring me my wand?

Much to my delight (and my instigation), both of my kids LOVE the Harry Potter series. My son, who is 11, and I have read the first 5 books together. We started this tradition when he was 7 with the first book. My son is a very advanced reader. He was no doubt capable of reading and mostly understanding all seven of the books back in first grade when we started the first book. However, I knew he wasn’t even remotely emotionally ready for the series and so we took our time, each reading a page for 15-20 minutes at bedtime. It took us quite awhile to get through that first book, but it was perfect. He never lost interested, in fact, he was enthralled until the end. When we finished it, I let him reread the first book as many times as he wanted to. We repeated this when he was 8 with the Chamber of Secrets. At 9 we moved on to the Prisoner of Azkaban.

I’ll admit I was quite worried about what the Goblet of Fire would bring when he hit 10. He was stunned at the death scene, but since we read it together, we were able to talk through it. We did the same with The Order of the Phoenix, although the talk took a bit longer as I spent quite a bit more time crying than he did.

As he gets older and is more emotionally ready to deal with the content of the books, I have decided to step up our reading of the books. I’m going to hand over The Half Blood Prince this fall when he starts sixth grade instead of making him wait until February.

My daughter, who is 8, however, is still only on the second book. Unlike my son, she still truly believes in the magical world and is very concerned with the prospect of being a muggle. Although I have tried to tell her they are just books, I don’t think she believes me. She refuses to believe that Hogwarts is not a real place, so I finally had to tell her that she won’t get her letter because she is not British. For now it seems to have done the trick. She no longer asks why her brother hasn’t gotten his letter AND she has stopped asking when exactly she’ll get hers.

It was no surprise to me that when she realized I was actually going to the UK that she’d ask me to bring her back something Harry Potter related. After all, she knew I’d already visited Platform 9 3/4 once and when she asked if I’d be going back, I wasn’t going to lie to her.

Knowing where I was going, she made her request: a wand. And a spell book. After all, what good is a wand if there are no spells to go with it?

My son was less sure of what he wanted until he looked at the Platform 9 3/4 shop website and saw a copy of the Marauder’s Map. That was what he wanted.

I’d visited the shop at Platform 9 3/4 three years ago and knew wands were not cheap. I just happened to be looking around on the WISH app and found Harry Potter’s wand for under $10, so I bought it. Sure, it took several weeks for it to arrive, but I ordered it in plenty of time. I also ordered her a spell book off of Amazon. For less than the cost of one wand in the UK, which I would have to pack in my luggage and bring back home, I got her a wand and a spell book. I hid them away, told my husband where to find them and had him bring them to the airport when he picked me up. As I was loading my bag into the back of his vehicle, I slipped the wand and book into my suitcase so that I could open it later and surprise my daughter.

And she was ecstatic!

We were a bit less ecstatic when all through dinner she tried to cast spells on us. She couldn’t understand why her new wand was not working quite the way she hoped it would. I was VERY sleep deprived after being up for 20 hours straight, but managed to remind her that she was only 8, and hadn’t actually been taught how to do the spells yet. I reminded her that even Hermoine needed a little help. She was pretty ok with that, especially when I jumped in my seat a bit when she tried to levitate me. Yes, I know, that will probably come back to bite me in the end, but I’m not quite ready to destroy her sense of wonder yet.

My kids loved their souvenirs and I loved not having to pay full price for them, especially since hers were available in the states. I did get my kids some inexpensive UK specific items. I got them some fun candies we don’t have in the US. I got them really need multi-colored pencils from a Scottish art museum. I got them buttons from a castle, a bookmark from Oxford and cool scene changing postcards from a Harry Potter store I found in York. All told, those souvenirs rang up to less than 10 pounds.

It’s not that I’m cheap, but my kids already have so much. I like to see their faces when I bring them something from my travels, but I also hate spending hours and hours searching for the one thing they really want when I can just order it ahead of time and have it waiting. I learned that lesson four years ago when I went to Vegas with my best friend and my son wanted a scorpion encased in plastic/glass for his bug collection. He figured Vegas was in the dessert, so this would be an easy find. I agreed. Turns out I spent a good portion of the trip trying to find it and finally, in one of the last stores we visited, which was completely off the strip, I found one. Too much work for something that sits on his shelf. So now, if I can order ahead, I do.

 

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Teaching Tuesday: Audiobook Sync

Two years ago, our school librarian, who happens to be one of the best people I know (and my school BFF), introduced me to Audiobook Sync. It is a free summer audiobook program for teens. Although I only found out about it in 2016, it has actually been around since 2010.

The purpose of the program is to offer a variety of books to teens to expose them to a world of both fiction and nonfiction as well as give them the opportunity to enjoy books in audio form, something many of them are probably not familiar with. The program has offered classics like Frankenstein, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Macbeth as well as modern books by popular YA authors such as David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, Ruta Septys Between Shades of Grey and I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, three of my personal favorites. Audiobook Sync also offers some pretty amazing non-fiction like this year’s The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea, and last year’s The Witches, Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff and The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker.

The program is pretty simple. Each Thursday, two books are offered for download. Students have one week to download the books to their devices before they disappear forever and two new books show up. Once downloaded, the books themselves never vanish. No matter if it takes students two days, two weeks, two months or two years to finish the books, as long as students don’t delete the books, they are theirs to keep and listen to as many times as they’d like.

When I first heard about the program, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I LOVE books. I love actual paper books that I can hold in my hands. I love the smell of them. I love the fell of them. I love their decorative covers. I love the satisfaction of seeing my progress every time I turn a page. I was a reluctant to convert any of my books to digital format and held out against a Kindle for way too long. However, once I got used to digital books, I realized how amazing they are when traveling. Instead of filling my beach suitcase with four or five books, which take up valuable packing real estate, I can load up my tiny Kindle and read those same books on a device that fist in my coat pocket. It took me awhile to convince myself that if I could convert to digital books, I should give audiobooks a chance.

I won’t lie, one of my biggest reasons for holding out was that I was worried I wouldn’t really be “reading” the books. I had many conversations with my fellow bibliophiles about whether or not listing to books was cheating. They all assured me that it wasn’t and that being a lover of theater, I might actually appreciate the theatrics that go into many audiobooks. I sighed and downloaded my first audiobook, 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith.

I WAS HOOKED!

After listening to some pretty amazing books, including I’ll Give You the Sun, which became one of my all-time favorite YA books, I rushed back into school in July and raved about the program to my students. Since we are on the balanced calendar, there were still four more weeks of the program, which meant 8 more books that my students could download.

While not every book is amazing (some due to content and some due to mediocre performances), I have found some truly amazing books using this program. I have even gotten our school librarian to buy paper copies of many of the books so that I can book talk them and get them in the hands of my students.

 

If you are a teacher with reluctant readers, a parent looking for a way to get your kids interested in books or a teen who wants something fun to do this summer, check it out. There are still five more weeks in the program for this year (it is ending a bit earlier than usual this year) and still some amazing sounding books to download.

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Free Reading Friday: The Pornographer’s Daughter

the pornographer's daughterI picked up The Pornographer’s Daughter by Kristin Battista-Frazee as part of my on going search to find interesting non-fiction that might engage my students. Granted, I was pretty sure that a memoir with a title like: The Pornographer’s Daughter, was probably not one I was going to be able to take into my classroom, but it definitely had a catching title that I know my students would think twice about reading.

Although I was not alive when Deep Throat was released, I have seen Lovelace and have done a bit of reading about the original movie. It peaked my interest when I learned about the Watergate connection while studying journalism in college. I have never actually seen the movie itself, not because I have objections to pornography, but more because it was so before my time and no one I know has ever had a copy of it. I’m not opposed to pornography on any moral level, but I’m also not much of a consumer of it either. I know a bit about the adult entertainment business, and I thought this book might give me a bit more insight into it.

What I didn’t realize when I picked up this book was that Battista-Frazee’s father was not directly involved with the making of the movie. When she called herself the pornographer’s daughter, I thought her father might have been one of the director’s or producers of the movie. I thought her dad was going to be a big name in the industry. I had no idea he was simply a stockbroker who wanted to make a bit of extra money by distributing the movie to theaters around the country. I also had no idea the scandal that distribution caused.

Battista-Frazee’s book is an interesting look at the obscenity case that surrounded the movie. While I know a variety of pornography has come under fire over the years for being obscene (as have a variety of art forms that are not categorized as porn), I did not realize that for merely getting a copy of a movie to a theater that wanted to show it, anyone would be followed by the FBI, arrested and indicted. I guess I understand how taking illegal materials over state lines is an issue for the FBI, it just seems so strange to me that taking a pornographic movie to a theater where consenting adults viewed it quite publicly would be viewed as illegal.

Battista-Frazee does a good job of recreating her family’s struggle as her father got entwined not only in the Deep Throat court cases, but through the loss of his stockbroker’s license and his acquisition of further porn businesses. She gives a pretty straightforward account of the pain it caused her mother when her father opened strip clubs and then later pornography shops. She also details some of the additional legal battles he had as a result of becoming a full-time club, video store and sex toy warehouse owner.

Although she had very limited exposure to any of his legal battles or his actual business dealings until after completing her masters’ degree, it is interesting to see how she pieced together information from family interviews and old newspaper and magazine articles about the case. She makes it very clear that she was never in one of his clubs and never even visited one of his adult stores until she was well into her 20’s. Never once does she stray from painting the relationship she had with her dad as perfectly loving and healthy. Her parental relationship issues came from her mother, who was struggling with depression.

This was an interesting read. It’s not a book I will end up taking into my classroom, more to avoid any potential parental complaints than because of any actual lewd or obscene content. I would have no problem telling my students I read the book, but don’t think I need to actually promote it to them. They can discover books like this one when they go to college.

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