Sunday, September 13, 2015

Disney World Adventures, Food, and Tips

This past May, one of my dreams came true and I was able to spend my birthday in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World.

My boyfriend and I went down for the whole week and stayed at the nearby Marriott World Center Resort - Royal Palms. The resort is incredible and I recommend staying there if you can. They renovated the pool area a few years ago and it now has multiple hot tubs, a waterfall, and three water slides. The water slides are in a separate pool right next to the main pool, as to avoid any collisions with swimmers. They are legitimate water slides, manned by a few lifeguards, that require you to climb up multiple flights of stairs.

The pool area also has fire pits with seating and an outdoor restaurant where you can choose to eat there or have food and drinks delivered to your poolside chair. We did this on one of our down days and the food was delicious, definitely worth the price. There is also a small, but recently updated game room with large-scale versions of your favorite app games like Fruit Ninja and Plants vs. Zombies. 

Animal Kingdom:

We did manage to leave the resort long enough to go to all four Disney parks. We started on the Sunday at Animal Kingdom, and it was almost 100 degrees so we got there early and left early. I cannot stress enough how important I think it is to get to Animal Kingdom when it opens. My favorite part of this park is the safari, and the animals will be more active and easier to spot earlier in the day. Also, the wait time is a lot shorter at opening so you can save your Fastpass for something else. (ahem... Expedition Everest) My favorite place to eat here by far is Tusker House, the buffet themed as a market with characters dressed in safari clothes. Tusker House has amazing options for vegetarians, as well as carving stations for those carnivores in your life. However, we didn't make a reservation and opted for Rainforest Cafe, which was fine dining-wise and incredible for air conditioning. After riding the usuals, Dinosaur, Expedition Everest, I was excited to find Disney dog toys, bowls, and collars. I bought a collar and a Minnie Mouse bow squeak toy for my goldendoodle Minnie and she loved them. These are available in other stores throughout the parks as well as downtown disney but I found them in the store in Dino Lan U.S.A. on the way to the Dinosaur ride. 

Hollywood Studios:

As this is a small park and we wanted to spend some more time by that incredible pool, we only gave it a half day this trip. We went around 3pm on another hot day, but a combination of thunder storms and the oncoming evening helped cool down the park. In recent years, Hollywood Studios has really underwhelmed me, and so I was thrilled to hear about the plans for future expansions with Toy Story and Star Wars. We used our Fastpass on Toy Story Midway mania, grabbed a quickly melting Mickey ice cream bar (delicious), and meandered through One Man's Dream, during which I embarassingly cried while watching the film. This visit, we were on a mission to hit the bigger rides, mainly because I had never been on Rockin' Roller Coaster. The wait wasn't too bad and the ride was extremely fast but tons of fun. My hair, however, did not enjoy this one and I came out looking like I had just been through a tornado. We went to Tower of Terror next before having dinner at the ABC Commissary. The theming here leaves something to be desired, but it does look like the cafeteria of a TV studio so I guess there's not much more they could do. I chose to eat here because, as someone who eats fish but not meat, I really enjoy their quinoa and arugula salmon salad. Other than that, I probably would choose somewhere else. I'm glad we didn't though, because we made it just in time for the last showing of Muppets 3D. There were only six of us in the entire theater, which was a cool experience. We skipped but favorite Writer's Stop this time due to the earlier Mickey ice cream bar, but I wish we had stopped for one of their massive cookies. 


There are so many things that I love about Epcot. They mostly involve food or drink, for obvious reasons. Epcot is the one park that you MUST do your research prior to going if you want the best places to eat. (I recommend, which I have followed for the last 3 years) It has so many hidden gems that you can easily walk right past. My absolutely favorite thing thing to get in Epcot is the caramel popcorn at Karamell-Kuche in the Germany pavillion. It is warm and buttery and completely addictive. I always wish I had bought more since family and friends end up stealing some. In the wine store in this pavillion they also have a wine flight with cheese plate that I'm dying to try but tragically skipped this time. We had lunch at Via Napoli, in Italy, where they have arguably the best pizza I've ever had; and I live near NYC, so yeah. They cook the pizza in three massive ovens, each named after one of the famous volcanoes, and it truly is Italian style, softer in the middle. I have eaten here before and this trip I had the Carciofi Pizza, which is a white pizza with truffle oil, mozzarella, artichoke, and amazing fontina cheese. It is incredible but I sadly couldn't finish the whole thing. I highly, highly recommend. It was another hot day so, after lunch, we grabbed a frozen Grey Goose Citron Lemon Slush in the France pavillion. It was expensive but definitely large enough to split, which we did. The lemon was refreshing and the alcohol taste was subtle but not lacking at all. We spent a long time at Epcot, wandering through the various shops and enjoying the scenery. It's impossible to pick a favorite pavilion, although if they ever added Greece that would have to win my heart. Stores I wouldn't miss include the massive Mitsukoshi department store in Japan, the back alleys of Morocco that transport you fully there, and the "outdoor" nighttime marketplace in Mexico. I spend way too much money at Epcot every time and have purchased a small Moroccan lantern, tea mugs and candy from Japan, Murano glass wine stoppers in Italy, and soaps from France. Every time I go to Epcot, I find something new, and I can't wait to see what I'll discover in the future.

Magic Kingdom:

We saved the best for last and made sure I'd be spending my birthday in the Magic Kingdom. We arrived early, but after opening, and I immediately went to guest services to get my birthday pin. This is the best part of being in Disney for your birthday, as you receive "Happy Birthday's" from cast members, characters, and even strangers. During the day it was very hot and we got a frozen lemonade slush. When we went to way for it, the cast member told me not to worry about it and to have a great birthday. I was completely taken by surprise and it made my day so special. Also the frozen lemonade was perfect for a hot day, tart and sweet. We got it at a stand in Frontierland. But I jumped ahead of myself. We arrived and got breakfast from the Starbucks on Main Street and took it down the side alley between the stores. This is one of my favorite hidden spots. There are a few tables and chairs with umbrellas and it is usually empty. You can watch all of the people on Main Street without being part of the crowds. I am proud to say we did almost all of the rides in Magic Kingdom, including the new Seven Dwarves Mine Train. The wait for that one was around 90 minutes, but I was excited to be on a new ride. It would have been even better without the large middle school groups and angry parents, but I loved looking inside Snow White's house at the end. We had lunch at Be Our Guest Restaurant (!!!!) which was incredible in both theme and food. We sat in the West Wing, which is spooky with lightning and the torn portrait. At first I was disappointed we sat in there instead of the larger Ballroom, but it ended up being much better as it was quieter and less crowded. I ended my meal with a "Grey stuff" cupcake which was rich and delicious. We rode some more favorite rides like Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, and charged up our phones at the sitting area near the Tangled themed restrooms. In the evening, we ate at Columbia Harbour House, so that I could get my beloved "Lighthouse" sandwich, hummus and veggie slaw on multigrain bread. After that we went 45 minutes early to the reserved Fastpass section for Wishes fireworks. I am glad we did this but to be honest I would not recommend it. We had no idea you could get there early, but the guy let us in so we were able to snag a spot right by the little fence with no one blocking our view. If you arrive on time, though, you will most likely have a view that is worse than one you would have outside of this section. The fireworks were amazing as usual and I cried again. After the fireworks we decided to run to Splash Mountain and ride it again. This was the best decision ever. There was one other couple there so zero wait time and I asked to sit in the front, as earlier in the day I was in the back and my face was blocked by the person in front of me. We all got soaking wet and the view of the castle at night was wonderful. I would definitely do that again. Overall a pretty perfect birthday. 

I apologize for the super long post, but I always have way too much to say when it comes to Disney World. I am most likely going again in April and will try to post an actual review with photos and such. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My Battle With Myself

Wanted to apologize quickly for not using this blog for months, I have long and complicated excuses but I'll just say life has a lot of sudden turns. Thanks for reading!

Last week, I was on one of my usual Pinterest binges when I came across a photo quote someone had pinned. It showed a sketch of a girl standing with her back facing the viewer, her hands clasped behind her back. The quote read "And I said to my body, softly, 'I want to be your friend.' It took a long breath and replied, 'I have been waiting my whole life for this.'" - Nayirrah Waheed. I immediately pinned it onto one of my own boards and a few days later worked up the courage to post it on my Instagram. I have, since then, looked back at it a few times each day, remembering the words and how it made me feel.

For the past five years I have been waging a silent war against my body. Everyone knew I felt some insecurities about my weight, but I am average to below average weight, so any comments I made were responded to with a prompt and decisive "But you look great, don't worry!" And I would leave it at that, not wanting to delve into my psyche and reach the real problem. My mom would often ask me when I became this way, shunning pizza and bagels and french fries in favor of carrots and kale. She would complain that I used to be more fun and not as concerned with how my stomach looked. I'm not sure if I'll ever have an answer to that.

My senior year of high school, I began to lose some weight. Not a lot, but enough to change my jeans size from an 8 to a 6. This trend continued when I went to college and accompanied some of my friends on their trips to the gym. I used the elliptical or the bike, watching my roommate run on the treadmill and thing "wow I could never do that." My overly health-conscious roommate's attitude toward food rubbed off on me, and I ended up losing around 15 pounds. This was helped along by a bad breakup that spring of my freshman year (it seemed so tragic at the time, now, not so much) and I began to count calories. I understand that it's good to be aware of how many calories are in something, especially if it's a candy bar or something else that might trick you into thinking it's not too bad for you. However, this environment Americans diet in, of allotting yourself calories and fitting your food into that, is toxic. My allotted 1600 calories seemed like so much on paper, so I lowered it to 1200. I would challenge myself to come in under that amount, thinking it would help me lose weight faster. By this time I believed being skinny would make me happier and more loveable. It didn't. I was down to around 800 calories per day when I realized I had taken it too far. I was on my way to being a size 2. I was hungry all the time, I no longer enjoyed meals, and all of my mom's friends kept commenting on how skinny I had gotten. That really messed with me. I figured if they noticed my losing weight, they'd notice me gaining it back. By that next December I had become extremely self-conscious eating around people. I would take my frozen diet meals and eat alone in my dorm room. I wasn't enjoying my school atmosphere and my roommate's boyfriend had taken to asking about my small meals and making fun of my "one piece of lettuce" type of dinners. For many reasons, I made a quick decision to leave my expensive, prestigious university and enroll in my large, state school. It was the best decision I've ever made.

That next semester I made friends with a guy in my dorm who would go to the gym a lot, mostly to run on the treadmill. I told him I could never do that, I used a doctor's note in high school to get out of running the half mile for goodness sakes! But he said if I wanted to, I could start very slowly and jog a quarter of a mile. I took the challenge and ended up being able to do it. I slowly increased until I was running a half mile. I gave myself the idea that I would run a 5k by the time the semester ended. It was around this time I also gave up meat, eating more fish, veggies, grains etc. May rolled around and I hit my 3.1 mile goal. I was stunned and got the crazy idea to sign up for a half marathon. I knew there was one in Disney World where you run through the parks and, as a massive Disney fan, I couldn't resist. That summer was the most difficult of my life, due to a medical emergency I'll explain in another post. I refused to give up and in January, as the sun rose in Florida, I crossed the finish line and promptly began to cry. Running had forced me to live outside of my boundaries and fuel my body in a healthy way. No eating or less food meant no energy to run those miles. I felt on top of the world and ran two more half marathons that year. It was nothing short of life changing. However after my third, I injured my foot, I believe now my arches were collapsing. I had to cancel two races I had signed up for, and have not run any serious miles for the last two years.

This long break from running began to take its toll and I ended up in the place I found myself a couple of weeks ago. I was making jokes about my body daily, pulling on the skin of my stomach and pushing it in at times, trying to get it to be smaller. I have had anxiety attacks in public places, thinking the person laughing near me was actually laughing at how I look. I have stood with my arms across my stomach, I have avoided beaches and pools. The most common thing I have found myself doing was brought to my attention by my ever-loving boyfriend who hates hearing me beat myself up. I had acquired the habit of questioning those around me, immediately after eating anything, if what I ate was okay. Doesn't matter if it was a salad or pasta or some carrots and hummus, I would ask repeatedly "that was okay right, not too bad?" and wait for validation.

I am now determined to change. I am exhausted from being that person. I want to be healthy and get back to running and eat good things to fuel my body, but I also want to be able to have birthday cake without wanting to vomit afterwards. I want to go to a movie and split some Junior Mints with my boyfriend without feeling guilty for the next three hours. I am tired and so are my friends and family. It is time for a change. It has been one week and every meal is an effort to not say and do those things. I look back at that picture and remind myself that my body and I are stuck together for life, and we might as well be good to each other. I think about the people who love me and how sad I would feel if they treated themselves the way I treat myself. I think about my younger sister and how I feel sick to my stomach when she bad mouths her body the way I do, wondering if I am responsible for that. I refuse to pass this along to my future children. I want them to jump and dance and play and enjoy life, including both lettuce and cake. In the end, it's all about that war I waged five years ago, except I realized there is no victory in this war.