Having #DisneySide fun in a winter “wonderland”

Our DisneySide cake!

I agreed to host a DisneySide party months back, in December, more than a month before Mother Nature decided to unleash her snowy fury on Boston to the tune of 108.6 inches of the white stuff. So, it was with massive trepidation that I attempted to pull off a party in the middle of the rather messy February school vacation week. In fact, I was so thrown off my game that I didn’t remember to take pictures of most of it because I was so busy running the party that I kinda sorta forgot to record it. Oops.

Even so, we had a blast–and that’s the main point here. All of the kids in attendance are big Disney fans, whether they specialize in Princesses, Planes, or Cars. And, of course, you have the “less young” attendees who adore all of the above plus the wonderfulness that is Marvel and Star Wars.

Going back to the beginning, the lovely folks at MomSelect and Disney offered bloggers the opportunity to host a party to show off their “DisneySide”, and this was my second year in a row taking them up on the offer. Last year’s party was a ton of fun, and the kids were clamoring to do it all over again!

Hostess supplies provided by MomSelect and Disney

The wonderful box of goodies supplied by MomSelect and Disney

This year, I received a nice box stuffed to the gills with items for hosting the party, including: goody bag items for the guests (like photo paper packs from HP and luggage tags from Disney Parks), party supplies (plates, napkins, cups, etc.), and giveaway items/hostess gifts (including a ginormous pack of laundry detergent pods). We hit Party City a few days before the main event and stocked up on some additional things to toss into the goody bags, so each one was stuffed with all kinds of Disney items for everyone in the family to enjoy!

Since the party was in the early afternoon, we didn’t want to spoil appetites. We also had A TON of food left over last year due to my over-provisioning, so this year we pared it back a little. This year, we put out the “100 Acre Food”: a selection of fresh veggies and fruits for the kids to chew on. The hostess box also included a Tie-Dye Cake Mix from Duff Goldman’s line, and I set out to make that bad boy my own. I must say, the results were spectacular and rather tasty to boot!

A cut slice of the DisneySide cake, made with the Duff Goldman Tie-Die Cake Mix

Lovely Duff Goldman Tie-Dye cake Is Lovely

I set aside a bunch of the gifts for the kids and parents alike, and we had a series of Disney-themed games with each game’s winner receiving a prize. First up: Wonderball. The kids passed a Little Mermaid ball while sitting in a circle and singing the “Wonderball” song, and the last kiddo standing won a Palace Pet!

Next up, we did Disney Trivia, using the cards provided in the hostess box. Again, the winner won a Palace Pet! (and was truly psyched, because these things are ADORABLE)

Game supplies from the hostess box

A great selection of fun things–like games, including “Pin the Smile on the Mickey” and Disney Trivia

Another game included in the hostess box was the “Pin the Smile on the Mickey”, and each kiddo took a turn sticking their mouth on the Mickey taped to the wall. The winning kiddo took home a fantastic Wilton cake pan shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head! Our train-shaped Wilton cake pan has gotten some good use in our house, and those are GREAT pans, so that Mickey pan is going to be good for years of adorable cakes.

Little by little, we gave away all of the prizes (including the laundry detergent!) and distributed the goody bags, and then the horde of children made their way outside to sled on the mountains of snow we’d piled up over the last few weeks. Everyone had a blast inside, playing and getting sugared up, and then they burned it off on the sledding hills.

Goody bag contents

The goody bags we put together–with minor additions from a trip to Party City

Of course, the big payoff is in the fact that we’re already thinking about our NEXT trip to Disney World and, while we were in Austin for a wedding the other weekend, a friend decided to plan a last-minute trip to Disney World. Since our experience was still so fresh in my mind, I was able to share a ton of advice with her (including the blog post I wrote from what I learned on our trip).

It was exhausting having so many kids in our house (I feel truly happy to have only TWO that I call my own), but the crowd had a blast, and their parents (some of whom stayed and some of whom came for the sledding) all reported happy, tired children. Mission accomplished!


I received free products to use when hosting the Disney Side @Home Celebration. As with every other post on this site, all of the opinions expressed here are very much my own. The free products included the giveaway items mentioned above, party supplies, and party favors for my guests. This party was sponsored by MomSelect and Disney Parks and I greatly appreciate their including me!

Movie Review: “Cinderella”


If Hollywood has run out of ideas to the point where it has to remake animated material in live-action form, it could hardly have picked a better piece than “Cinderella”. Lacking a supernatural or mythical super-scary monster, “Cinderella” instead features a gorgeous villain of epic sociopathic potential–one that seared “evil stepmother” onto the collective consciousness.

Borrowing heavily from the 1950 animated feature, 2015’s “Cinderella” puts a new spin on the old story of an orphan girl living in servitude who finds her path to true love and a golden ticket out of a dead-end situation. Here, the young Ella grows up in an idyllic household anchored by her sweet mother (Hayley Atwell) and kind father (Ben Chaplin).

Ella and her father

Ella (James) sees her father (Chaplin) off on his last business trip

As Ella grows into a beautiful woman (Lily James), her joyous life is interrupted by the sudden death of her mother, whose parting advice is for Ella to “have courage and be kind”. Her father eventually remarries–taking Lady Tremaine as his new wife (Cate Blanchett) and bringing along her beautiful-on-the-outside-but-ugly-on-the-inside daughters, Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger). At first, the relationship between Ella and her step-family seems relatively innocuous; the glamorous Tremaine is generally warm in demeanor, and Ella’s materialistic step-sisters are nothing more than pretty bobbleheads. But times must change, and Ella’s father succumbs to an illness while traveling on business. Ella grieves heavily for the loss of her father, while Tremaine fears the loss of standing and income.

Lady Tremaine and her daughters arrive at the ball

Lady Tremaine (Blanchett, center), flanked by her daughters Anastasia (Grainger) and Drisella (McShera)

Concerned about the servants’ wages, Tremaine releases the staff and gently encourages Ella to assume the various roles they occupied. Ella takes most of these tasks in stride, even after suffering the humiliation of being unceremoniously relocated to the drafty abandoned tower attic and renamed “Cinder-Ella” for the ash-coated face she sports after a warming night on the kitchen floor in front of the fireplace. The catty Drisella and Anastasia cackle over their breakfast with their now-openly repellent mother, and–in her frustration–Ella dashes off on a horseback ride into the woods to clear her head.

She stumbles onto a stag hunt, where she meets a handsome man who calls himself “Kit” (Richard Madden). The two share playful banter: she insists he spare the life of the stag, and he dodges her questions about his place in the palace where he claims to live as “an apprentice”. After they part, “Kit” (the prince) returns to his father’s side (Derek Jacobi) and they plan for a grand ball at which the prince may select the bride of his choosing. The king and his grand duke (Stellan Skarsgård) plan for an all-princess affair, to seal the kingdom’s future, but the lovestruck prince agrees only on the condition that all maidens of the kingdom may attend.

The King and Prince at the ball

The King (Jacobi) and Prince (Madden) hold court at the royal ball

Ella hears of the grand ball and prepares on her own to go, even after being rebuffed by Tremaine–who wants one of her daughters to land the prince. When the lovely Ella appears in one of her mother’s dresses, ready for the ball, the Tremaine harpies rip it to shreds, leaving her a frustrated, teary mess. It’s at this point that her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) performs a magical intervention, allowing Cinderella to head off to the ball in grand style, sporting a breathtaking dress and the famed glass slippers (well, okay, pumps). She spends a lovely evening with the prince of her dreams, before she dashes off into the night (minus one shoe) to escape his seeing the fairy godmother’s spell undone. The distraught prince sends out word that whoever fits the shoe will be his bride and…well, you know how this ends. (Or perhaps you don’t.)

Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother

Bonham Carter’s Fairy Godmother prepares to work her magic on Cinderella

This movie has many things going for it, such as a fantastic cast and truly breathtaking costumes (surely worth at least an Oscar nomination, if not a win). Blanchett’s Tremaine is nearly continuously draped in green satin that fits so wonderfully it’s hard to tell if she’s wearing the satin or if it’s wearing her, and Ella’s pivotal scene dresses (both at the ball and at the end of the film) are utterly breathtaking pieces likely to inspire many a formal gown. Blanchett gleefully and evilly chews scenery, in a rare opportunity to play the baddie, while Nonso Anozie seems to equally enjoy his turn as the pure-hearted Captain. Chris Weitz’s screenplay gives Tremaine context and depth not seen in previous versions of the story while showing mercifully precious little action from the mice and cat, making this version of “Cinderella” a bit more adult-friendly.

Where things are less perfect are in things like James’ affected performance at the ball, with flourishes that likely were meant to suggest Cinderella was transformed and carried away by the magic of it all–but coming off more like an animated movie character in a live-action film who thinks she’s still in an animated movie. Madden does a decent enough job, but some of his lines are a bit too pouty or silly; he seems better suited for the grittier and less fanciful material (or perhaps he was just so good in “Game of Thrones” that it’s hard to see him a role with a comedic aspect). And as much as I love Bonham Carter, I’d like to have strong words with whoever fitted her for the oversized, overpolished teeth the Fairy Godmother sports; she talks around them no better than a vampire in a B-grade movie. This film runs 40 minutes longer than its predecessor–due partially to Ella’s backstory–and it could have been sped up at times. Still, the run time is short enough that most kids shouldn’t be squirming in their seats.

All in all, “Cinderella” is a movie that appeals well to all ages; its non-scary nature makes it a great fit for the younger set, and its strong cast is a good draw for those of us well into the double-digits of age. It’s easy enough to overlook its shortcomings, since they don’t detract enough to keep this from being anything other than what it’s meant to be: a (updated) reboot and instant classic.

“Cinderella” is preceded by “Frozen Fever”–an animated short that returns us to Arendelle just in time for Queen Elsa to give Princess Anna the best birthday ever. Unfortunately for Elsa, the “fever” referenced in the title isn’t a metaphor, and her plans are partially derailed by the wee snowmen that manifest each time she sneezes. The short is cute, and it is a precursor to the just-announced “Frozen 2” that’s entering development, although I don’t see this as the Oscar-winning material of prior shorts, like “Feast” (which preceded “Big Hero 6”). Fans of “Frozen” will surely enjoy it, thought, and truly that’s what it’s all about.

3 out of 4 stars

“Cinderella” opens nationwide on March 13, 2015. This movie is rated PG for mild thematic elements

5 Things to Make Your Disney World Trip EASIER and MORE FUN

5 ways to make your Disney World trip EASIER and MORE FUN

We just returned from the “happiest place on Earth”, and it was a blast! Walt Disney World is really just an incredible, amazing break from reality and I can’t adequately describe all the fun that we had on our big family vacation. What I can say is what we learned – both before and after we arrived. Like any other trip, information is your friend; at Disney World, this is doubly true.

Five tips I’d like to share:



1. Plan ahead. No, really, PLAN AHEAD.

No amount of planning is too much when it comes to Disney World. Whether deciding where to stay, which meal plan to get, whether or not to add “Park Hopper”, etc., there are so many permutations that it really requires thinking through what you want to do and how you’d like to do it.

The FastPass+ system lets you reserve access to expedited lines for attractions and events, and resort guests can book FastPasses 60 days prior to their visit (30 days earlier than those staying off-property). You can book up to 3 FastPasses in advance for each day of your visit, and once you’ve exhausted a day’s worth you can book another one at a park FastPass+ kiosk.

Reservations can seem to disappear in a heartbeat. If you really want a hot attraction (like Epcot’s Soarin’ or Magic Kingdom’s Seven Dwarfs Mine Train), and you have to go “Stand By” (aka “on the line with the normal folks”), aim for when the park opens, when it closes, or during some big event – like a parade (something that siphons off large quantities of people). Dining reservations open 180 days before your visit, and you actually need to be online at 6:00am (ET) to book some of the most popular or exclusive dining options, like a Princess character meal at Cinderella’s Royal Table or an über-fancy dinner at Victoria & Albert’s.

We used two books in our trip planning, and we consulted them nightly as we considered the next day’s itinerary. I can’t recommend them highly enough: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and Walt Disney World with Kids.

Just call!

2. Talk to the nice people on the phone.

The Walt Disney World website is a decent source of information, but if you REALLY want the skinny, go straight to the mouse’s mouth: call the nice people. Bring a magazine, since hold times can get long, but expect LOTS of help when you talk with the reservations folks on the phone. You can only get limited assistance via webchat, so just skip it and call from the get-go. Deals are listed on the website, and the folks in their call center can explain how you can take best advantage of the deals (even applying deals after you’ve booked, if you’re eligible for a special offer/promotion).

Also, if you book directly through Disney, you may get much better – and more personalized – communication pre-trip than if you book through someone else. My parents, who booked through an agency, didn’t get any of the print-on-demand pieces that we got (like the fridge magnet customized with important dates), and those little touches can really help in big ways.

My Disney Experience

3. There’s an app for that!

The My Disney Experience app is your best friend during your trip. Available free through the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, My Disney Experience has some great features, including (but not limited to): setting up FastPass+ selections, making dining reservations on the fly, and seeing wait times for attractions at all of the Disney World parks. We used ALL of these features, and the feature that allowed us to look up our reservations for FastPasses and dining helped us manage our time efficiently. For example, many FastPass attraction timeslots run about an hour long; we looked up our FastPasses, checked wait times for other attractions at the same park, and then we figured out what we could do Stand By before or after our FastPass’ed attraction. When bad weather was forecasted for one evening, and I wasn’t sure we wanted to venture out for dinner, the app helped me make a reservation at one of our hotel’s restaurants just a few hours before our preferred dinnertime. It was brilliant!

Hydrate early and often!

4. Water, water, everywhere!

Going to Central Florida at the end of August, we routinely experienced daytime temperatures of 90°-97°F. Dehydration was always a risk. We brought our own (empty) water bottles and filled them each morning before heading out. Throughout the day, we frequently refilled our bottles at the water fountains sprinkled liberally throughout each park. Avoiding caffeine also helped (remember: caffeine dehydrates you!); and using a dining plan snack credit to buy Powerade helped on days when the heat index reached 101°F.

Shade can be hard to come by, so hydrating is really important and will make your day last longer and be less likely to be interrupted by a visit from the EMTs (which I saw happen to another park visitor, on one day at Magic Kingdom). Don’t have a water bottle handy? Go into any park restaurant and ask for a free glass of water; they’re REQUIRED to give you at least a glass of ice at no charge. As one park cast member told me, they’d much rather comp you ice or water than have you get sick from dehydration.

Pink sock - it really worked!

5. Stroller sock’er!

The ubiquitous strollers can be hard to tell apart. When you rent a stroller from Disney World, you get a name card to slide into a holder on the back – but all of the Disney World strollers look identical. Making matters worse, even when you park in designated “Stroller Parking” areas, cast members are known to move strollers around to optimize the use of the space. If you leave your stroller in another area, they may move it to a designated “Stroller Parking”, where your stroller may share space with sometimes a hundred other similar vehicles. Make yours stand out by adding a sock! No, seriously, a sock. Before we left, I went to Target and picked up the most ludicrously fluorescent pink knee socks I could find, and we knotted one on our stroller handlebar every day. Even when cast members put our rental in the middle of a sea of other strollers, I easily picked out that bright pink knot.

No matter how you approach your trip to Walt Disney World, as long as you go in with a plan to HAVE FUN, you will. There’s always an attraction to ride, good food to eat, and a cast member nearby who would really like to make you smile. So go ahead…and enjoy. I know we did!