Wednesday, December 9, 2015

2015 Charlotte SouthPark 8k Turkey Trot

I've always wanted to run a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, but for various reasons never have. This Thanksgiving, I was determined to change that, and signed up for the Charlotte Southpark Turkey Trot. This race had a 5k or 8k option, and I chose the 8k. Even signing up late on November 17, registration wasn't too pricey at $40. Since that included a long sleeve t-shirt (cotton, tech tee was an additional $15) as well as a finisher's medal, I didn't think $40 was bad.

Since I wasn't exactly sure how crowded race day would be, I opted to visit packet pick-up the day before, and it was super easy and fast to grab my bib and shirt. I tried to get to bed early and organize myself on Wednesday night so that I could get to the start on time. That meant that I finished cooking a Thanksgiving dessert, had my Garmin charged, and my Nuun bottles filled all before bed!

Prepping for race day!
On Thursday morning, I woke up and realized I didn't have Bagel Thins or bread in the house, so went with a bowl of Trader Joe's Pumpkin Pecan Oats for breakfast before I left (prepping fail). Traffic on Thanksgiving morning was non-existent, so I made it to the start at SouthPark Mall with plenty of time to spare. I wasn't exactly sure where the best place to park would be, but decided to park closer to the start than the finish to hopefully avoid traffic leaving. I made my way towards the 8k start line and was super happy to see that it was actually right by an indoor food court that housed a Bojangles, so was open! This meant that runners had a warm place to wait inside AND indoor bathrooms with NO LINES! It was great - especially since it was around 40 degrees at the start.

I met a fellow #TeamrunDisney Facebook group member and we actually stuck together for the whole race! The race started right on time, and we were off! The 8k started at 9:00 am, with the 5k starting at 9:30 in a different location, but they finished at the same spot. Being Charlotte, the course was filled with rolling hills, and our goal was just to have fun and keep to our 30:30 run/walk/run intervals. The course was open enough that in the first few miles there wasn't really any crowding, which was great! At around the 2-mile marker, a couple families had set up a "water" stop with mimosas and Bloody Marys! There were a couple other families throughout the course that were out cheering runners on, which was nice!
Mimosas at Mile 2? Okay!

We kept up with our intervals, and before we knew it, there was only about a mile left. Somewhere around that point, the course merged with the 5k course. Well, it went from being not crowded at all, to being super crowded! It was fine for us since we were just running for fun, but I can imagine any 5kers who were racing may not have been pleased. There were around 7,000 finishers total, so it wasn't exactly a small race! You can see from the splits how much the merging slowed us down in the last miles! (That and what I'm convinced is a Charlotte rule that races must have a huge uphill in the last mile or two of every race.)
Turkey Trot 8k Splits

8k Turkey Trot Finisher
Once through the finish chute, we were handed our medals, which are pretty great! My only complaint about the race was the organization after finishing. Although we saw people walking around with fruit and Kind Bars, we never saw any and had to assume they ran out. Even water at the finish line was almost completely gone (and was cups, not bottles), so I was extra happy I had a bottle of Nuun in the car waiting for me. 

We finished in about an hour, so that means people were finishing the 10k for at least another 30 minutes, and the 5k for a little longer than that. As a solid mid to back of the pack runner depending on the size of the race, nothing frustrates me more than races running out of post-race food/water before everyone is finished!

Overall though, I thought this was a great race, and I felt great running it the whole time! I'll definitely be returning next year!

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Black Friday Hike

Today after a lunch of leftovers, I decided to take Echo and Boone for a hike. (They're brothers- Echo belongs to me, Boone belongs to my parents). The trail we hiked is part of the Carolina Thread Trail, and is a pretty easy 5.5ish mile hike along Lake Wylie. It also connects with trails at Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens, so you can add a little mileage or switch it up easily.

It was the first time I've used the double leash with these two...and geez it took about 3 miles for them to decide to calm down. But seriously, they did so great with the hike and with all the other dogs and people we came across! (My favorite is hearing "Look at the wolf!" which I've heard at least once every single time I've hiked with Echo.

The best part is, this trail is only about 3 miles from my parents house (and not much further from mine). I spent a lot of time just feeling thankful that I live in a county with so many public parks and trails- some city, some county, and even a couple state parks. I know it's early for resolutions- but one of mine is to take advantage of these more often!  

Now- off to Boone tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

OrthoCarolina 10k Classic

Way back in August, I ran the OrthoCarolina 10k Classic in Charlotte. I mainly signed up for this race because sign up included a pint glass, a t shirt, and a finisher's medal! I don't run for the "bling," but all that for a 10k isn't bad, right? It also didn't hurt that the 6 miles fit in pretty perfectly to my fall half marathon training plan.

What I wasn't thinking about when I signed up was how HOT it is in August in North Carolina. My dad was nice enough to go to the race with me (and wait on me to run). The race was in Charlotte, about 25 minutes from my house. We left in plenty of time to get to the start, which was a good thing since there was a bit of a traffic back up of people trying to get into the parking garage. The morning started with a bang as we were rear ended at a stoplight while waiting for traffic to move. Luckily there was no damage and we (and the runner who rear-ended us) were able to get parked and make our way towards the start.

Within just a few minutes of getting into line, we were off! I was planing on running the whole race using 30:30 run-walk-run intervals, so that's how I started off. I'd been training all summer running 13ish minute miles on long runs, and since I was running this as a training run, I knew I needed to slow down when I saw this for the first mile, I knew I needed to slow it down.

The course started out relatively flat, but in true Charlotte race fashion, seemed to get more and more hilly as the miles added up. I swear, it must be some sort of Charlotte rule that all courses finish with the last 1.5 miles uphill. You can see from my splits that by the last mile and the biggest hill, I was over it!
But, I did make it through the finish chute, and even with the hills and heath, managed to get a new 10k PR! The only downside was that they were out of finisher's medals! After a little confusion and some disgruntled runners, an announcement was made that more medals were on the way! So, a few minutes later, I had a medal to add to my collection! 

It's really hard for rate races after doing several runDisney events, because honestly, very little can compare. However, I really enjoyed this one! Packet pickup was quick and easy, there was free parking right at the start/finish, the course was really well marked, there were just enough water stops, and the post race festivities were pretty great! 

Even with the hills and heat to contend with, I just may make this a yearly must do!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Finding Balance

Monday and Tuesday of this week was my college's Fall Break. That means that students were off, and since students were off and most of our systems were down for a big data center move, I decided to take those two days off as well.

For a lot of the working world, taking a couple vacation days probably isn't that big of a deal. You have them, so you might as well use them, right? In fact, a lot of companies force employees to use all of their allotted days each year. The thing is, no matter how many times I tell myself those two statements, I haven't learned the trick of not feeling major guilt when I take vacation. Maybe it's a teacher thing, maybe I have issues....but I find it really hard to turn my brain off. It always seems like there is something MORE I should be doing, and I feel like I'm being a bad employee if I actually take any vacation days.

I was thinking about this over the weekend and on Monday while I was off. I spent Monday hanging out with my newly retired mom, and I can't tell you how many times I checked my email or checked in on work things while we were out and about (the blessing and curse of smartphones, I guess).

And then Tuesday came, and I was faced with the reality that the day was going to be spent attending one funeral while other family members were attending a second funeral that was being held at the same time. Suddenly, as I was riding to the funeral with my parents, I realized that there has to be balance. It is so cliche, but we really aren't promised tomorrow. And it just made me think that the most important thing is to actually be present.  While I definitely wish the occasion hadn't been what it was, I was so thankful all day for the mid-week time I got to spend with my parents and grandparents. I heard stories from my dad I'd never heard before, explored out in the country a little bit, and had lunch with my grandparents. And during the whole day, I think I only used my phone to find a place to eat and get directions.
So what does being present mean? When I'm at work, focus on work. Be there, be productive, and do my best. It's not realistic to think that I'm never going to have work to do at home and that it won't ever bleed over. But- it's okay to take time off. At the end of the day, as important as my career is, it's work, a career, but it's not what my life is. Although I like my job, I don't live to work. I live to enjoy time with my family, pursue interests, and all of those things. While the paycheck that comes with work enables me to do those things, I don't live to work. So this is just me reminding myself that it's okay to take time off every once in a while, and in fact, I'll probably be a better employee for it! And then when I'm at home or with friends and family, be present. Soak it up. Realize that it's okay to take a drive, linger over dinner or a drink, or even take a night to be lazy with a book that's I'm just reading for fun.

Here's to finding balance.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Week in Training: July 20-26

Week 3 of Wine and Dine Half training is complete! So far, each run has been completed, still along with my regular MFP workouts. We'll see how this next week goes, as I'll be out of town for work but so far, so good!

Monday (7/20): 
  • 60 minute MFP class
  • 1.5 mile walk 

Tuesday (7/21): 

  • 60 minute MFP class
  • 3 mile run
    • This one was on the treadmill again. I'm making myself do my weekend runs (so far) outside, but I'm okay with the shorter runs being on the treadmill during the week for now. I figure I'm still getting some outside training in with all the hill sprints we're doing in class!
  • 1.5 mile walk

Wednesday (7/22):
  • 60 minute MFP class
    • 1 lap warm up
    • 10 minutes hill sprints
    • Alternating sets (deadlifts, calf raises, good mornings, glute bridges, etc...) with cardio intervals
  • 1.5 mile walk

Thursday (7/23):
  • Unintentional rest from MFP class thanks to a work meeting
  • 3 mile run
    • On the treadmill again! And it was rough!
  • 1.5 mile walk

Friday (7/24):
  • REST
  • 1.5 mile walk

Saturday (7/25):
  • 5 mile run
  • 1.5 mile walk

Sunday (7/26):
  • REST
    • This was a day of travel, starting with being at the airport at 5am for a cross country flight. After 8 hours of travel, I still got in 12,600 steps before the night ended, so I'm good with that!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Taco Stuffed Mini Bell Peppers

Last week, I made this recipe and shared with my parents. It was so good that my mom requested I make it again the next night! Not only is it pretty simple, but is also reheats really well, so it's a recipe that I'm sure I'll be making more once school starts back! It would be a pretty appetizer (just ignore my horrible photograph), but we loved it for dinner as an entree. As written, this makes about 4 servings. I can take or leave regular bell peppers, but LOVE the sweet ones! This recipe is based on this one from  The Girl Who Ate Everything.

What You'll Need:
  • 1 lb bag of sweet mini bell peppers
  • 1 lb ground meat (I used ground sirloin, but any ground meat would work)
  • Homemade Seasoning (adjust to meet your taste preferences)
    • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
    • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1 teaspoon onion powder
    • 1 teaspoon cumin
    • 1.5 teaspoons salt
    • 1.5 teaspoons ground pepper
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • 3/4 cup water
  • A handful of fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt 
  • 2 Tablespoons lime juice
What to Do:
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Brown ground beef (or other meat). Once fully cooked, drain beef.
  3. While your beef is browning, cut peppers in half length-wise and deseed. Basically, you're making little pepper boats. Line a baking sheet or dish with pepper boats.
  4. Sacrifice enough of your pepper halves to create about 3/4 cup of diced pepper.
  5. Once meat is browned and drained, add in diced pepper, seasoning mix, and water. Stir and simmer for about 5-10 minutes, or until water is soaked up and peppers are soft.
  6. Fill pepper boats with ground beef mixture and bake for about 15 minutes. During the last 5 or so minutes, sprinkle on cheese and allow it to melt. (I like a little crispiness, so I turned the oven to broil for the last few minutes.)
  7. In a food processor or blender, process your cilantro, greek yogurt, and lime juice to create a sauce to drizzle over finished peppers. You can adjust your sauce ingredients to your taste preferences. (Don't skip is SO delicious!)
  8. Serve peppers with cilantro yogurt sauce for drizzling or dipping!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Week in Training: 7/13 - 7/19

I forgot to post this on Monday, but another week of work-outs was completed and tracked! This was officially Week 2 of Wine & Dine Half Training, and I'm still trying to balance that with going to my MFP classes at About Face Boot Camp. The MFP classes are actually 5 days a week, but I'm going to skip most Saturday classes to get in my long runs. The 1.5 walks that are listed are my nightly walks with my parents. My dad has decided he's going to walk 3 miles every day...1.5 before work and 1.5 at night, so I'm going to his house to join him most evenings. My mom is joining us too at night....even with a knee injury! I'm so proud....but not quite dedicated enough to be at his house before 6am to join for his morning walks too :) .

Monday (7/13): 

  • 60 minute MFP class
    • Warmup: 3 laps, 10 minutes of hill sprints
    • Workout: 5 sets of 3 exercises, timed for 6 minutes each block, build up to 5 reps of each
  • 1.5 mile walk 

Tuesday (7/14): 

  • 60 minute MFP class
    • LEG DAY 
  • 3 mile run
    • I was hating myself for waiting until leg day to do this run, but then the best thing happened! On my way home from the gym and grocery store, it actually started raining! We've had pretty much NO rain and over a month of 90+ degree days, so I was so happy for the chance to go for a run in cloudy, breezy, drizzly (totally made that word up) conditions! I've definitely had my share of "why in the world did I sign up for another fall race that means summer training runs" runs lately with it being so hot and humid, so it was nice to have a run that I really enjoyed! This run made me remember why I love running so much!
  • 1.5 mile walk

Wednesday (7/15):

  • 60 minute MFP class
    • Hill sprints then weights (upper body)
  • 1.5 mile walk

Thursday (7/16):
  • 60 minute MFP class
  • 3 mile run
    • Treadmill run because WHOA it was too hot after my class at the gym.
  • 3mile walk
    • My dad didn't get his morning walk in, so we walked 3 in the evening. I took him on my normal 3 mile running route around the neighborhood in between where I live and my parents live. I think my favorite comment was about a mile in when he said, "You better NEVER bring your mother on this route." He made the comment because my mom has a torn ACL (she's a rockstar who is still walking 1.5 with us every night in her brace) and the route is way too hilly for her knee to handle. For some reason, walking it made me realize just how hilly it is, whereas I don't think about it all that much when running it.

Friday (7/17):
  • REST
  • 1.5 mile walk

Saturday (7/18):
  • 4 mile run
    • I hated this run. I didn't feel like the running itself was hard....but it was SO hot! I'm trying really hard to ignore my paces on runs right now, because after seeing months of improvements, June and July have been SLOW. With temps and humidity so high, I'm just telling myself that as long as I get the distance in, the paces will start improving again once it cools down.
  • 3 mile walk

Sunday (7/19):
  • REST
  • 3 mile walk

Monday, July 13, 2015

Week in Training: July 6-12

One day I'll be happy I'm starting to keep up with this, right? So this was officially week 1 of Wine and Dine Half Marathon training. I'm following Jeff Galloway's plan for that since I've found that I love his run-walk-run method of running. His half plan calls for two 45 minute runs during the week, plus a long run on the weekend. This has worked great for my last half and the last two Tower of Terror 10 Milers. Since I'm still doing 4-5 days of my gym's Mission Fit Possible boot camp program, I'm trying to figure out how to train smart. The MFP program is a mix of cardio, some running, and a lot of strength/weight training. I love it....but I know that once the semester starts back and I'm back to teaching full time it will be hard to fit everything in (and I'm not sure how much my knee will take). I think Week 1 was a success though!

Monday (7/6): 60 minute MFP class. This was the first day of a new 8 week cycle, so today was fit test day! (3 miles, pushups, sit ups, squats, and burpees)

Tuesday (7/7): 60 minute MFP class

Wednesday (7/8): 60 minute MFP class

Thursday (7/9): 60 minute MFP class, 3 mile run

Friday (7/10): REST (but did walk 3 miles)

Saturday (7/11): REST (but did walk 3 miles)

Sunday (7/12): 3 mile "long" run, 3 mile walk

Sunday, July 5, 2015

2015 American 4 Miler

Yesterday I ran the American 4 Miler, part of a Run for Your Life series, with my favorite 7am workout buddies. I thought it was a great race! 

Packet pickup was super organized and simple, and the course was well marked, had plenty of volunteers, and took us through pretty neighborhoods with lots of shade! I could have done without several of the hills, but we can't really get away from there here! 

After the race, there was live music, good music, and free beer! We took advantage of the finish line being right at Toast and ate breakfast there. 

I didn't try to "race" this run, but ran it as a training run using Galloway intervals of 30:30. Even though I stopped for a full 30-40 seconds in the first mile to look for friends, I was happy to have finished in about 48 minutes. What made me even more happy was when I looked back at data from a training run from last September (when not only was I much slower, but felt like I was dying the whole time). Take a look at the difference!

This is a race that I'll definitely be on the lookout for next year!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Disney World Tips: When to Book

When should I book my trip to Walt Disney World? 

So you've decided to book a trip to Walt Disney World Resort and you definitely want the best deal. So, when should you book? Unlike trying to figure out when the best time to book a flight, car rental, or hotel room at another destination, it's actually pretty easy to decide when to book your Walt Disney World Resort stay! Book as soon as you decide on your dates.

But what if a special offer is released after I book? 

The great thing about Disney is that they actually make it pretty simple to get the best deal. Booking early assures that you get the resort and room type that you want, because resort space can fill up quickly depending on the resort of your choice and they time of year you're planning to visit. However, if Disney releases an offer such as a room discount or free dining, as long it is applicable to your resort and dates, you can always call (or have your travel agent call) and modify your reservation to apply the discount. I've done this to apply both free dining and room discounts (on separate trips) to my own personal reservations and it was super easy. So take one item off of your to-do list- book your resort, then you can spend your time on the fun part of planning such as deciding on dining!

Update: I am now a travel agent specializing in Disney destinations- so let me handle your booking and worry about looking for discounts! Email me at!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

2014 BB&T Corporate Cup Half Marathon

I'm going to run a half?
Two years ago, I ran my first long race, the 2013 Tower of Terror 10 Miler. I was vastly undertrained and terrified of earning a DNF, but I finished. Last year, I ran the TOT 10 Miler again, but was more in shape and actually trained! It was a great experience and reminded me why I love running so much, even though I never considered myself a real runner.

After taking some time off and focusing lesson on running for a while, I got a Facebook message from my coach at About Face Boot Camp that pretty much said, "Hey, I think you need to run a half in March." One of my goals for 2015 is to run 2 half marathons, so without even thinking about it, I said okay and signed up for the BB&T Corporate Cup Half Marathon on March 7.

When I signed up, I had a pretty solid 3 mile running base and knew without a doubt that I'd be training using Jeff Galloway's Run-Walk-Run method. Implementing his methods has meant a major improvement in my running and recovery times. However, I signed up without enough time to follow the mileage on his half training plans, so I used Hal Higdon's training plan mileage while implementing the Galloway walk-run-walk method. During training, I missed a couple long runs thanks to aggravating an old knee injury and catching a stomach bug, but went into the half with a long run of 10 miles, so I felt pretty confident about being able to finish the distance.

What I wasn't confident about was finishing 13.1 miles in the time limit. While my speed has improved a whole lot in the last two years (thanks to consistent runs and lots of hill sprints and strength training at AFBC classes), I'm still nowhere near being a fast runner! I started with no real time goal, except for to finish within the time limit of 3 hours.  In fact, I was so nervous about it that I barely told anyone that I was running, never posted anything on social media about registration or picking up, even up to the morning of the race.

Packet Pickup
My mom went with me to pick up the packet on Friday afternoon before the race. Finding the location and parking was super simple. After experiencing a couple of runDisney race expos, I was a little shocked at just being handed a bib and my T-shirt and that's it. There were a few vendors, but it was a tiny little pickup. Next year, I'd feel comfortable waiting until the morning of the race to pick up my bib.  After getting home, we went on a walk to try to get rid of my nerves, I made sure that I had all my race stuff together since I was spending the night at my parents, and tried to get to bed early.

Race Day
On race morning, I woke up way before my alarm because of my nerves! It was the morning of my first half marathon! And despite successful training runs and knowing I was in much better shape than in a few months before when I'd run the 10 miler, I was still doubting myself. But, I forced down a Bagelthin with peanut butter (my long run go to), coffee, and water and got myself ready to go. I was undecided on what to wear since it was SO cold and windy, but ended up wearing running leggings, a Raw Threads sleeveless shirt, a longsleeved 2nd later, and my lightweight running jacket. Of course I wore my trusty Brooks Ravenna 5s and taped my knee! I also had my Fitletic hydration belt with one bottle of water, one bottle of Nuun, and a pack of Shot Blocks.

I found the parking garage in uptown Charlotte with ease, and within a few minutes I was standing the atrium waiting for the start. I had enough time to find a bathroom (a real one!), second-guess my coat wearing decision, go back to my car to leave my coat, and walk leisurely to the starting line. Several people from my gym were running, but in the crowd of people I never found anyone. I was so nervous that it was probably just as well, especially since I think I needed to run my own race on that day.

There were no corrals, and all half marathon and 5k runners started at the same time. If anything, that's what I would love to see changed. I love corrals where you start with runners who are at about the same pace. I got as far to the right as I could since I figured I'd be a slower runner than most, started my Garmin and my Nike+ app, and started running! It was super hard to make myself run intervals from the beginning, but from reading the course description and other recaps, I knew the course would be flat to start but pretty hilly in later miles. Knowing that made me really want to try to stick to my intervals at the start, even if I felt like running the whole thing. I knew that I'd need energy in the last half. As far as pace goes, I was hoping to stay around 12:30 minute miles.
Corporate Cup Half Splits 

Let me say here that I've had my Garmin F10 for 3 years, and it has been great with no problems whatsoever! Of course though during this race, it completely shut down and stopped during Mile 7. Which means that I lost the data for those 7 miles! I am so glad that I was also using the Nike+ running app on my phone. I was able to restart it, but it only has the last half of the race. As you can see, I started out super fast for me! I felt great and was running a 2:1 interval (so run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute). During the first 6.5 or so miles, I felt like I could run forever! Well, I should have made myself stick closer to the goal pace during those first 7 flat miles, because I paid for it during the last half of hilly miles! 
Corporate Cup Half Splits 2

You can definitely tell that by mile 8, "rolling hills" had started and my legs were feeling it. Somewhere around mile 9 I stopped and took my shoe off because I was feeling like my sock was bunched and thought I had a really bad blister. Nothing was actually wrong, but I loosened the laces on my shoe and that helped.  I think it was around mile 10.5 or so that started a hill that was at least a mile long. I dropped down to a 1:1 interval and just tried to run as much as I could. During those hills my left knee also started KILLING me, and by halfway through mile 11 I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to keep walking on it, much less run!

But, eventually, I saw the Finish Line! One of the awesome AFBC coaches, Misty, was cheering on the sides and at that point it was great seeing a familiar face. Running across the finish line at my first half marathon was one of the best experiences I've ever had! 
BB&T Corporate Cup Results

I grabbed half a banana and a Gatorade, took a couple pictures, and made my way back to the car to head to my parents' house where I INHALED brunch that my dad made. I was super happy with my first half results, and maybe even more importantly, I learned a lot that I can use to improve next time! 
Half Marathon Finisher!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Surviving a Kidani Christmas

Kidani Christmas

Even though it has taken 4 months to start writing about this trip, it was so fabulous that it has be documented!

Anyone who knows me is well aware of my love for Disney World, evident in the number of times I've managed to visit in the last few years.  One thing I never thought I'd do was spend Christmas at Disney. Well, last year, my family did just that. That's right- my parents, my brother, and I braved the Christmas week crowds to celebrate the season at Disney.

And you know what? It was wonderful. In many ways, it was the best trip we've ever taken. I could never put into words just how wonderful our trip was, but I do want to document a few thoughts and highlights about our trip, which took place December 21-27, 2014.

  1. For this trip, we rented points from The DVC Rental Store. This was my second experience working with Lauren, and it was great from start to finish! Originally we booked at Coronado Springs with free dining, but found that for about the same price, we could rent points at Kidani Village and just pay out of pocket for the dining plan. We booked a Savannah View Studio at Kidani, and it was amazing! There's nothing like waking up to this view every morning! We did take an air bed with us, and we never really felt crowded in the room, even with 4 people staying in a studio. Of course, we didn't spend a ton of time inside, and having the balcony and really helped!
  2. We went in with realistic expectations about crowds. During Christmas week, Disney is crowded. In fact, it is one of the most (if not THE most) crowded weeks of the year. We've been lucky enough to experience Disney during very low crowd periods and knew that this trip would be drastically different. We planned accordingly, making our dining reservations at the 180 day mark and Fastpass + reservations at the 60 day mark. We went in not really expecting to ride much other than what we had Fastpasses for and planned on spending a lot of time exploring resorts and taking advantage of things we wouldn't normally do instead of fighting crowds in line for rides. This worked perfectly! We got to ride all the head liners thanks to our Fastpasses without waits.  
  3. We enjoyed a few amazing meals! We did the Deluxe Dining Plan, which was way too much food. But, it was great to have two meals a day scheduled so that we knew we had a break from crowds. As always, we tried to do an early lunch or late breakfast along with a signature dinner each day. This worked out well, and there was no way we could have eaten three meals every day! Not only was the food amazing, but it was great to end each day with a relaxing dinner where we could all just talk and rehash the day. 
    California Grill dinner
  4. We took advantage of what our resort had to offer. Kidani's table service restaurant, Sanaa, offers free cultural tours each afternoon! Animal Kingdom Lodge does the same for their restaurants, Boma and Jiko. My family were the only ones in attendance the afternoon we toured Sanaa, and there weren't many others for the Boma and Jiko tours. It was really interesting to learn more about these restaurants, meet the cultural ambassadors, and get to taste a few appetizers! We also spent time just relaxing at the animal viewing areas and walking around the resort. Usually we're only in the resort long enough to change clothes or sleep, so it was really nice to relax a bit, especially at a resort as beautiful as Kidani!
  5. We were flexible. Remember how I said that all our dining reservations and Fastpasses were made well in advance? They were, but we also were open to change. For example, we ended up canceling a pre-park opening breakfast at Crystal Palace. After a long first day in the parks, we realized we weren't going to want to get up and ready early enough to make our breakfast, so we cancelled it. We did it before midnight so that we wouldn't be charged, and were even able to find a later breakfast in our resort so that we could sleep a little later and not have to travel to eat. My brother and I also spent a last minute late night in Magic Kingdom after dinner on Christmas night and it was one of the best decisions we made! We ended up there because it was the first bus that came after dinner, and even on Christmas night we managed to ride 8 rides in two hours! It was amazing how empty the park was after Wishes, even on Christmas! We rode Pirates, Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Big Thunder, Space Mountain, and the People Mover all between 10pm and midnight. In fact, the longest line we stood in during the whole trip was for Winnie the Pooh! We laughed at ourselves, but it was the only ride in the park that I had never ridden, so we waited 15 or so minutes to ride. During those two hours we also managed a stop at Starbucks, shopping, and Photopass stops. It was pretty magical! 
Spending Christmas at Disney with my family was a once in a lifetime experience that I'll always be thankful for!