Muggles Will Finally Get to Ride the Hogwarts Express!

Muggles Will Finally Get to Ride the Hogwarts Express!

I am so excited about the Diagon Alley expansion of  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando!  And now, the creative folks at Universal Orlando have unveiled the incredible experience that will join the current Hogsmeade and Hogwarts experience with the new Diagon Alley experience: The Hogwarts Express.

Not just an ordinary train ride (of course not, this is the World of Harry Potter!)  The team at Universal Orlando have recreated Kings Cross, platform 9 3/4 and the Hogwarts Express so guests will actually feel immersed in the journey between Diagon Alley and London to Hogsmeade and Hogwarts.

While on the Hogwarts Express riders will look out their window to see familiar Harry Potter characters whizzing by, and immediately be transported into the Harry Potter experience.

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It’s a brilliant way to connect the two parks at Universal Orlando and recreate an incredibly important part of the Harry Potter story.

I love that J.K. Rowling was consulted every step of the way, and that every fine detail was painstakingly recreated.  The authenticity is what makes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter already so magical and transformative.

Now I can’t wait to see the reveal of Gringotts Bank!  I’ve got my key ready!

gringotts key

Showing off our Disney Side at a Tweentastic Disney Tea Party -

Showing off our Disney Side at a Tweentastic Disney Tea Party -

I don’t think there is any bad age or best age for Disney.  The real magic of Disney is that all ages can find something fun, wonderful and plain ol’ optimistically wonderful to celebrate and explore.  My daughters never went through a Princess phase, but they did go through a fairy phase.  Even when my daughter dressed up like Belle for Halloween at 4 years-old she added a pair of wings…

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As my daughters have gotten older they’ve experienced more and more of the things that make Disney unique, from being able to stay up really late at Walt Disney World to the Broadway world of Disney.  So when we were given the opportunity to host a Disney Side party at our home we immediately brainstormed about what would be special and fun for them and their tween girl friends.  Given that we were throwing this event after school, a tea party made perfect sense – and one that could easily be made supercalifabulous enough for tweens.

The menu:

Cinderella Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

pumpkin chocolate chip bread

Belle Craisins® scones

craisins scones

Mickey Mouse shaped finger sandwiches (cream cheese and cucumber, tuna, and PB&J)

mickey mouse sandwiches

And of course, hot cocoa and tea.

The table was set for an afternoon of Disney fun…

disney side tea party

And then the fun began…

Of course no tween party is complete without some crafting.  The girls went to work on cutting, decorating and styling Hanes T-Shirts into personalized fashion statements…

It was great to get all these girls together and have them express their Disney Side!  Plus, that Mickey Mouse shaped cookie cutter makes every sandwich irresistible!

Want to learn more about Disney Side?   Check out DisneySide.com and DisneySideCelebrations.com and get inspired to show off your Disney Side!

I was provided a suitcase full of great supplies and ideas by Disney to create this fantastic party.  The ideas, opinions, and guests are all my own!

Add Some Hamptonality to Your Holiday – Plus Win a Free Night at Hampton Hotels

exterior When you live in New York City everyone wants to visit you.  With the theater, museums, great restaurants, and all of the fantastic landmarks and sites – and amazing shopping of course – NYC is a fabulous place like no other.  Add in the holiday lights, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the Rockettes and all of the magic that makes NYC especially glittery at holiday time, and it’s easy to see why friends and family want to come and stay.  However, there is one other reality about living in NYC, the lack of space.  Stepping over aerobeds and no privacy aren’t exactly the makings of a great visit. I love the idea of putting up family at a reasonably priced hotel instead.  Hampton Hotels has launched a wonderful new Hampton Holiday Program where the central theme is making guests feel taken care of and providing a clean, warm place to call their own.  All of the 1,900 Hampton locations feature:

  • Free, hot breakfast with fresh-baked waffles. (This is ESSENTIAL when traveling with kids!)
  • Free wired or wireless high-speed internet access in all guest rooms, so you can post about your holiday travels while visiting family in other towns.
  • The clean and fresh Hampton bed® – so you can rest up for your big holiday weekends.

GuestRoom_HR[1] I always enjoy staying at the Hampton Inn in Maine when we visit our girls for camp visiting day.  We’ve always been impressed with the service, the breakfast and the clean rooms.  Plus, the free wifi is a must for me!  Now I know all of those little things add up to “Hamptonality.”  Also, I love earning Hilton Honors points! Here in NYC it’s nice to know that even if we can’t squeeze people into our apartment there are ways we can personalize their stay in a hotel.  Hampton has partnered with entertaining expert, Jenny Steffens Hobick, to provide simple tips for making out-of-towners feel at home – especially when they’re staying in a nearby hotel. I love these tips especially:

  • Plan a welcome bag with treats, water, (and my tip in NYC – a metrocard and a list of great NYC apps to download!)
  • Hire a babysitter one night and host the kids at your place so the grown-ups can have a kid-free night out together.
  • Make time for resting.  This is so important especially in NYC!  Set a time where everyone just meets to relax, have a hot drink and snacks and regroup.

Here in NYC the Hampton Inn Times Square North is ideally situated for walking to the theater, Central Park and midtown shopping.  Plus it’s close to every subway imaginable. Everyone could use some time away, whether it’s a quick trip or a longer vacation.  And it’s so nice when everyone has their own space too. So, I’m giving away a one night stay to use at any of the 1,900 US Hampton locations!

How to Enter the Hampton Be My Guest Giveaway:

Follow @beccasara on Twitter and tweet your “Hamptonality” tip.  What’s the thing you do to make your guests feel special?   Be sure to include @beccasara and #HamptonHoliday.  Then leave a comment below with a link to your tweet! You can also follow Hampton throughout the year for great travel ideas and promotions:

One winner will be chosen at random using random.org on December 31st  at 12:00pm Eastern.  Hampton Hotels will mail the winner a “Be My Guest” card, which entitles the bearer to (1) free night stay at a Hampton location.  Winner will be notified via twitter and must respond within 48 hours to claim the prize.  Open to U.S. Residents 18+ only. This is a sponsored post.  Compensation was provided by Hampton Hotel via MomTrends.  The opinions expressed herein are mine and are not indicative of the opinions of Hampton or Momtrends

 

Transformers The Ride- 3D Opens at Universal Studios Florida June 20th

Transformers The Ride- 3D Opens at Universal Studios Florida June 20th

After years of thrilling guests at Universal Studios Singapore and Hollywood, this Thursday Universal Studios Orlando officially opens it much-anticipated Transformers the Ride – 3D.   Working closely with Michael Bay, the award-winning director of the TRANSFORMERS film series and the ride’s creative consultant, the designers and engineers have created a high-tech, hyper-realistic experience that brings the non-stop action of the blockbuster films to life, placing guests in the middle of an intergalactic battle between Autobots and the Decepticons.

Like many of the Universal Studios 4D experience rides such as Harry Potter and Spiderman, Transformers The Ride – 3D transports the rider into the game universe through visual and motion effects that envelop and engross the rider.  According to Thierry Coup, Senior Vice President of the Universal Creative Studio, they built on their experience with previous rides and attractions and added the latest technology and effects to create the most “seamless, immersive environment for riders.”

While Transformers The Ride – 3D has been open in Universal Studios Singapore since 2011 and Universal Studios Hollywood since 2012, the Universal Studios Orlando ride utilizes the most advanced ride technology yet. Coup highlighted the cutting-edge technology employed in Transformers The Ride 3D such as the attraction’s 3-D imagery that uses life-like HD CGI media, the 60 foot, 4K high-definition resolution screens, full 3D surround sound and the latest motion simulator vehicles, which deliver a heart pounding experience.

The original script used for the ride introduces a new character named EVAC, created for Transformers The Ride – 3D.  Guests will move through an immersive and interactive queue experience that gives them the opportunity to prepare for battle in an intergalactic war against the Decepticons, who have come to Earth in search of the powerful energy source, the Allspark.   For those not familiar with the Transformers back story, videos throughout the queue experience recount the story of the alien robots leaving Cybertron, landing on Earth, and as part of the ride, recruiting riders to prepare for the battle ahead.

To ensure that the ride would resonate with Transformers super-fans, the game designers worked closely with Hasbro and Michael Bay to ensure the most accurate, detail-filled experience.  Riders will come face to face with Megatron, dodge explosions and attacks by the Decepticons, fight to save mankind alongside Optimus Prime and the Autobots. The Universal team even worked with the original voice actors from the films to maintain authenticity in the ride experience.  According to Coup, “It’s the ultimate 3-D battle between the forces of good and evil, where you help save the world.”

Transformers the Ride – 3D officially opens on June 20, 2013 at Universal Orlando.

Brave’s Merida – Redefining the Word Princess

There was a lot of uproar about Disney “sexing” up Merida in their lead up to her official induction into the Disney Princess Pantheon.  But, at the Disney coronation ceremony last week, which I attended as part of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, she was exactly as you would imagine – wild haired, bold, in her everyday velvet dress and riding a horse.

photo courtesy of Disney

photo courtesy of Disney

My daughters never went through a princess phase, but Merida they relate to.  Archery is one of their favorite sports – and my daughter could easily give Merida a run for her money in the biggest, curly hair category.

archerygirls

The word princess is weighed down with years and years of anti-feminist meaning – damsel in distress, pampered and spoiled, helpless and silly.  And if you’re also Jewish – well that just adds a whole other level of stereotype.   Thanks, Bravo.

But, I will be the first to admit I was all in for Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty when I was growing up.  Just like a was all in for Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman and Princess Leia – not to mention Sandy in Grease.   The “princesses,” didn’t differ in my mind from any other title and lead female character – they were all important enough to have the story revolve around them, or be key characters that drove the story.  And in the end, that is the most empowering message – you drive the story of your life.

So, I love this new I am a Princess Campaign from Disney.  I’ve written before about the power of owning a word that was used to put you down.  Girls defining what it means to be a princess now, to them, for them – that has the potential to be truly powerful.  Watch the video and tell me what you think.

 

Why Disney is Magical for Tweens

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Last week I spent 4 days at Walt Disney World as a guest of Disney at their Disney Social Media Moms Celebration.  The event is an annual conference of sorts where Disney invites mom and dad bloggers from across the country to learn, get inspired and take part in a truly unique Disney experience.  Our families are invited along too – but they don’t attend the real conference part of the schedule, just the straight up park-filled fun.

This was my first time at the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, and I have written before about how I grew up with Disney, and how totally dorky I can be about the Walt Disney World experience.  I never out grew it.  But, seeing Disney Parks through my kids’ eyes is a totally different experience.  While everyone talks about the their little ones seeing a princess for the first time, or running up and giving Mickey and Minnie a big hug, I think there is something equally magical that comes over the older kids too.

My daughters are 11.  They are now firmly in the tween space –  that awkwardly wonderful time when they are on the cusp of real emotional and physical change, but still wide-eyed and happy to be with me.  They can be moody, they can be super sweet, they can be ridiculously mature and then do something so bizarrely immature that I wonder how they make it through the day in one piece.  But, something wonderful happens at Disney – they move pretty squarely into that kid space – yet still have the stamina of an older kid.  They regress in the best way, holding on to their childhood with both hands.  Equally happy to see Minnie Mouse now as when they were 4.

 

And they are equally excited to share the whole Disney experience with me as when they were little…

And the regression isn’t only for tweens and teens.  Disney is the only place where your entire family can wear matching shirts, sparkly ears or full-out princess costumes and no one cares.  In fact, it’s encouraged.

I’m glad my daughters got my Disney gene, and now that Star Wars has really, truly been brought into the Disney family, my husband can get on board too.

I’ll be writing more about the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, but in the meantime I leave you with this picture:

IMG_1376These are Disney cast members that searched high and low to try to retrieve my daughter’s birthday button that had fallen down a grate.  They couldn’t get it out,  they disappeared for about 20 minutes, and showed up with a brand new one – I have no idea from where since we were in a closed off area of Hollywood Studios, but they did.   Now that’s some serious Disney magic.

My Knight in Cardboard Armor – Belle’s Enchanted Tales at Walt Disney World New Fantasyland

knight in shining armor

You’d think after waiting in line for Belle’s Enchanted Tales at the New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World my girls would have been upset that they weren’t picked to be in the story.  But, they were more excited that my husband was.  And he kept that castle safe!

Walt Disney World New Fantasyland and Granting Holiday Wishes with GM Northeast – A Very Merry Giveaway!

Last week I attended the Grand Opening of the New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World.  I hadn’t been to Walt Disney World in probably 20 years or so.  My daughters had never been.  I still remember walking through Cinderella Castle the very first time – I was 6 years old – and seeing Fantasyland spread out on either side of me.  It’s so vast and unbelievable that first time.

castle

This trip was no less magical, and maybe even more so watching my daughters experience it for the first time.

There are a couple of words that get repeated over and over again when you are at Disney World – wishes, imagination and dreams.  At the core of Fantasyland are those ideas that form the foundation of fairy tales.  New Fantasyland expands on these themes in dramatic and incredibly engaging ways.  The expansion of Dumbo into an entire Circus experience is whimsical and wonderful.

dumbo

Belle’s Cottage, the Beast’s Castle and the little French village built around the Beauty and the Beast area is truly enchanting.  And Ariel’s Under the Sea Ride brings you into that undersea world completely.  It feels new in every way – from the technology to the artistic details.

bellemermaid

For us, this trip was truly a holiday wish come true, an amazing vacation filled with take our breath away moments – especially the end of the evening castle projection show on Cinderella Castle.

Disney hosted me and my family for this trip, but all starry-eyed opinions are my own.

GIVEAWAY:

onwish

Now, I feel especially lucky to help grant a wish to one of my lucky readers.  I have partnered with General Motors Northeast to pick one reader for their Grant One Wish program who will win a $500 Amex Gift Card and a one week car loan from GM Northeast to help make their holiday wishes come true.

Want to visit family?  Drive around to volunteer and do good this season?  Take a holiday road trip?  What would you do with a fab car for a week and $500?  I can’t wait to hear all about it!

Method of entry:

  • You must follow me on twitter @beccasara
  • Tweet your holiday wish and include the hashtag #GMNER and my handle: @beccasara, then leave a comment below with the link to the tweet.  (to do this click on the time stamp of your tweet and you will be taken to the tweet’s url.)

Additional Entries:

  • Like KidzVuz.com on Facebook and leave a comment with your Facebook name so it can be verified.

Stand Out!

  • Add a picture to your tweet or link to a video on YouTube telling me and GM your big holiday wish.  Just don’t forget the hashtag #GMNER and @beccasara so we can find it!  You’ll get 5 extra entries for going the extra mile! Make sure to leave a comment below with a link to the image-filled tweet.

Eligibility:  Winner MUST be 21 years or older and live in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut or Washington, D.C. areas.  Employees, and their relatives, of GM and Beccarama.com are not allowed to enter.  Contest ends on December 17, 2012 at 12:00pm EST.  Winner will be chosen at random using random.org.  Prize to be provided by GM Northeast.

GM Northeast sponsored this giveaway and I was provided with a car loan in exchange for hosting this contest. 

GOOD LUCK!

My Cinderella Story

Today is my fourteenth anniversary.  My husband and I have been married for 14 years, together for 19 years, and met each other almost 21 years ago.  It sounds crazy when I think about it in terms of numbers and actual time.

We stopped buying anniversary gifts for each other years ago.  We’d rather spend the money on a shared experience – an amazing dinner or a trip without the kids.  And truth be told, gifts are not the strong point of our relationship – except for one that I was reminded of this morning when I was at a Disney Parks event celebrating the opening of the newly redone Fantasyland and they gave us a Mickey Mouse watch as a parting gift.

The first time I went to Disney World I was 6 years old.  I loved it.  I was a Disney kid – and since this was before VCRs, my experience with Disney was in the movie theater.  When there was a rerelease of classic Disney films we were there.   Disney world was only 7 years old when I visited, having just opened in 1971. So, in many ways it was a brand new kind of place for everyone who visited, but for a 6-year-old, movie addict girl, walking through Cinderella’s Castle was truly a magical experience.

I can tell you exactly what I bought as souvenirs that first time at Disney World: A Snow White figurine, a mug with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves painted on it, and a Cinderella watch.  The first two items traveled with me from home to home my whole life and now are displayed in my daughters’ room.  The last item, the watch, which I irrationally loved, was stolen by a housekeeper who also stole real jewelry from my mom and our bathroom rugs.  True story.

My Disney figurine collection grew over the years since I was lucky enough to return to Disney World many, many times.  Yes, we were/are one of those Disney-fan families.  But, I never got over the loss of that watch.  It had way too much sentimental value, and was the earliest thing I can remember truly appreciating owning.

I told this story to my husband pretty early on in our relationship.  I don’t even know how it came up. He was probably horrified that I still had my figurine collection (not displayed – I wasn’t that bizarre) and I was trying to explain why Disney was meaningful to me.  I never got over losing that watch.  And I never replaced it because they just weren’t the same.

Then one day my husband (who was not my husband yet) presented me with a gift for our dating anniversary.   And there it was, my Cinderella watch.

How did he find it? Well, a little start-up called Ebay made it all possible.  And while it’s not MY watch (mine had a light blue band) it is the SAME watch.  The mid-70′s Cinderella watch that I loved and lost.

So it was so fitting that I started my anniversary day celebrating the relaunch of Fantasyland at Disney World with the Disney Parks people, and will end my day having dinner out with my husband who remembered a tiny thing I mentioned in passing and made it into the best, most romantic gift ever.

Pregnant Road Trip – Swollen Feet and a Really Good Audiobook…

Interstate 80 - Pennsylvania

Interstate 80 – Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Dougtone)

This is a Maternity Monday post by guest blogger Jess Levey.  This series appears every Monday on Beccarama.

Well, there is one thing I am sure that I will not do again while pregnant – drive 22 hours roundtrip in a car. Last week, my husband and I made the 11 hour journey to Detroit to see my extended family and to celebrate my Grandmother’s 95th birthday. We figured it would be a fun adventure and would help our depleting bank account. I have been traveling to Detroit every year since I was 3 months old, but this was only the second time that I decided to make the trip via the open road rather than the speedy skies. My husband thought it was great fun! I, on the other hand, was a bit uncomfortable to say the least. With the seat belt simultaneously pushing against both my seemingly always full bladder and my sensitive chest as well as my new found nausea, my aching tailbone, and my inability to find a desirable air temperature, I was pretty unhappy. And, then to top it all off, I noticed when we arrived at our hotel that my feet had begun to swell, REALLY swell! And, since that trip they have yet to be normal. Along with the swelling feet is a strange sharp shooting pain whenever I twist and flex my left foot. So, I am taking my doctor dad’s advice and am not twisting and flexing that foot, although it’s hard not to! Why is it that we always want to put ourselves in agony by checking if that annoying pain is still there even though we are pretty damn sure of it’s existence?

So, onto happier things. The one thing that kept me a bit content during this grueling car trip was the fact that I had just finally started to feel the baby move! I basically just sat in the passenger seat waiting and waiting for it to move again. The movements were rare (but are much more frequent this week!) unless I was driving. It seemed that when it was my turn to drive the baby would dance in delight. I take this to mean that baby already knows who the better driver is in our family ☺, or maybe it’s because I am more relaxed as a driver rather than as a passenger (or more relaxed when I am controlling the situation, eek!) When I was the one driving, I also didn’t endure many of my aches and pains, must be a better position for me to sit in or maybe just focusing on driving took me out of my body enough to actually enjoy myself. Only problem is that I am what you might call a carcoleptic, I fall asleep pretty quickly as a passenger, and get , tired as a driver. What kept me awake, aside from the jumping jacks in my womb, was the awesome audio tape that we listened to – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. WOW!! That book is sensational. I highly recommend it for any long trips, but we would have been better off driving to the Pacific Coast since even after driving for 22 hours, we got home and still had 27 chapters left! We had to sit in our living room over a couple of nights and just listen to this amazing book, so we could find out how it ended.

I have to thank my Aunt M for that recommendation because listening to that piece of amazing fiction made our road trip much more enjoyable and bearable. I am shocked that I am only 5 months along and am already dealing with discomfort. I thought the second trimester was supposed to be the honeymoon period! Yesterday, I was up on a tall ladder pulling books from our ceiling molding (it’s the only place where we can fit my sentimental book collection) so that I could sell many of them at spontaneous stoop sale (sold 50!). I was feeling so proud of myself, and also feeling physically fit and strong. But, by the end of the day, my feet had blown up, I had to cancel plans to go to a friend’s outdoor party in the city, and I passed out on the couch at 7pm. I guess I just can’t do that much anymore, and it’s only going to get harder, especially since tomorrow is my first day back at work which entails standing for long periods of time teaching and/or photographing. We will see how that goes, in the meantime, I am keeping my feet up and enjoying the baby’s reassurance that relaxing is the best position there is.