Allergy-free Disney

I do love the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival – not so much for the topiaries and concerts as much as for the FOOD. The “Outdoor Kitchen” booths give the park the same vibe as the Food & Wine Festival held at Disney in the fall.

For both events, Disney provides you with a handy “passport” to make sure you can keep track of everything you want to see/do/eat. Conveniently, Disney notes gluten free and vegetarian options with icons right on the menu:

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I wonder why Disney stops there, though. There are so many other common food allergens out there that I think most patrons would appreciate seeing clearly what’s safe for them to try at the F&G or F&W festivals. I did ask Guest Services about an allergen menu while I was at Epcot over the weekend, and they shared no such thing existed. They did mention that cast members at each of the booths would be able to tell me if a specific allergen was present, however.

So I tried out this “ask” method and waited in line at the “La Isla Fresca” booth. The cast member was unsure whether soy or dairy was amongst the ingredients in any of their delicacies, and asked the chefs behind the booth. But I don’t think they knew offhand either, as they also had to check, and quite some time passed before I was given an answer. Everyone was friendly enough about it, and I appreciated they didn’t seem to mind the inconvenience. Still, I think it would have been a better experience for everyone involved had I already had the information in my printed booklet.

I know the “passport” could become very cluttered if they try to identify all allergens. Some foods are easy to identify right in the menu description. For example, it’s very easy to see if a dish contains shellfish, peanuts, or tree nuts. But things like soy, dairy, and eggs could be hiding in sauces or marinades, so maybe Disney could start by listing out the harder-to-see allergens. This would help cut down on lines at the booths and increase sales in the event individuals with allergies are passing on the food booths because they are unsure if the food is safe for consumption.

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Disney Book Club

Not to be confused with the Disney Reading Club (but certainly inspired by it), the Disney Book Club is for older readers that are looking for a book discussion group with a magical twist. I envision that Disney Reading Club members would eventually become avid Disney Book Club leaders once they hit adulthood.

A Disney Book Club could provide a social outlet for Disneyphiles to find each other in their local communities, meet for coffee/tea/beverage of choice, and engage in intellectually stimulating conversation over whatever book was the required reading for that month. Wouldn’t it be cool to sit around a table and share how Marty Sklar inspired us to bring creativity into our own daily lives?

Not much is needed to get started:

  1. A website similar to “Meetup” that allows leaders to form their own local chapter of the book club, advertise events and meetings, and recruit members.
  2. A reading list. Disney has a book publishing unit, so they could easily put out a recommended reading list to group leaders.
  3. A list of discussion questions for each book that is on the aforementioned list. This would help leaders provide structure to their monthly meetings.
  4. And some rules. We always want to keep WWWD (What Would Walt Do?) in mind. I’d look to Disney for guidance here, as I’m not privy to all of the rules. (yet… I’m still working here on landing employment with the Mouse. Maybe they’d like me to project manage this idea?)

I have not heard of a book club charging for membership so I would not recommend Disney make this a fee-based service. However, it would be great free advertising for Disney when a new book is published, and sales of existing books could see an uptick.

Disney Reading Club

I have a younger family member who doesn’t enjoy reading. Books are like kryptonite to him. It’s really unfortunate because I absolutely love reading and have tried to share some of my favorite books with him, but he prefers screens: TV, video games, and browsing the internet. I really wish he had had access to a place like Vibe – the teen club on Disney Cruise Line – during his formative years to get him away from those screens.

Anyway, it got me thinking about incentives that were offered to me during my childhood to get me to read books. Mind you, I loved reading from the time I was three years old, so I didn’t really need any incentives. But I still thought it was pretty awesome that my local Six Flags offered free tickets to the park for children who had completed 50 hours of reading over a period of two months, as monitored by a responsible adult. I got to go on my very first looping roller coaster, the Great American Scream Machine, as a result of completing my 50 hours of reading.

I was thinking Disney should get in on this action to encourage kids to step away from their screens for a bit. Disney’s “Magic of Storytelling” program provides books to children in need, so kudos to Disney for getting some books into little hands across the country. But my proposal suggests taking this a step further and getting children to READ those book. Disney could offer free Parks tickets to kids who completed 50 hours or more of reading in a two month period, just like the Six Flags program I remember from my childhood.

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Is a Disney Reading Club going to generate revenue for Disney? Probably not, unless you consider that perhaps parents who otherwise would not have planned a Disney vacation might be adding it to their agenda. I’m also not pretending to be so naive to think that all adults are “responsible,” and will maintain 100% honesty in signing off on their child’s reading hours, especially if they stand to gain a savings of $100+ for a one-day Disney Parks ticket.

Still, there’s some value in the additional goodwill towards Disney it would create, as Disney could help take part in shaping future generations of readers. In fact, we could incentivize many different actions that children have a hard time doing on their own – whether it be reading books, eating vegetables, or getting exercise – in this manner.

Vibe

Happy Friday, everyone. And Happy St. Patrick’s Day! For my readers who are parents of teenagers out there, are you at all concerned about what your teen is up to this Friday evening? For today’s idea of the day, I’m continuing yesterday’s train of thought on how awesome the children’s clubs are onboard Disney Cruise Line. Of equal awesomeness is the teen club, Vibe.

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Inside Vibe

I’ve only been on board the Fantasy and Dream – I understand the club is a bit different on Disney’s older ships, the Magic and the Wonder – so this post reflects what I know from the Youth Activities Open Houses I’ve attended on the cruises I’ve taken. The teen hangout offers spaces to watch movies, play video games, or just recline and relax. There’s also secluded outdoor space where teens have their own personal swimming pool and deck games like ping-pong and foosball. Youth counselors facilitate structured activities like karaoke nights and dance competitions.

Oh, and there’s a bar. They serve smoothies and coffee.

Being a teenager today looks very different from the teenage years of the prior generations, Xers and Boomers. Outside of school-sponsored events like sports and extra-curricular activities, most teens today interact with their peers and the rest of society through screens (multiplayer online video games, text messages, Facebook, etc.). Sure, interacting through screens is something teens can do safely at home, but what are they missing out on in their social development?

Disney could take Vibe to different cities across the country to provide a fun, interactive space where teens can meet new people, learn new skills, and get out in the world in a safe, supportive environment. Vibe wouldn’t need to be open every night; perhaps once each week or month. Disney could charge a per-night fee, or provide annual memberships at a slight discount – like offering Vibe Annual Passholder memberships. It would just be a new way to bring Disney across the country, and make Disney a positive influence in shaping the next generation.

Landlubber Lab

This comes as a surprise to NO ONE, but Disney Cruise Line has the best kids’ clubs on board their four ships. Looking back on everything I’ve written about DCL so far, I’m surprised the only reference I’ve made to the Oceaneer Club/Oceaneer Lab was in regards to their amazing automatic hand-washing machines. Yes, those are very cool, but that only is a fragment of the fun factor inside the kids’ clubs.

Where else besides the Disney Dream can an aspiring Han Solo fly the Millennium Falcon?

Star Wars: Millennium Falcon

Image courtesy of Nerdist.com

Or see Andy’s Room from Buzz and Woody’s perspective?

Andy's Room Oceaneer Club Disney Dream

Image courtesy of Disneycruiselineblog.com

The design of the kids’ clubs on board the ships – combined with activities planned and facilitated by DCL Youth Activities Counselors – inspire creative and imaginative playtime for children. So I’m thinking Disney could make a fortune if they had structured daycare centers around the country that were set up the same way as the Oceaneer Club on board DCL. Good for Disney AND good for children.

Critics of this idea might say that having land-based daycare centers like this might reduce cruise bookings for DCL, but I scoff at that. Taking a Disney Cruise is just as much a vacation for the adults as it is for the kids. And there’s so much more besides the kids’ clubs that DCL offers that you just can’t get on land. In fact, I wouldn’t mind having easy access to spas and poolside bars like I do on DCL. Is there such a thing as a working adult daycare center? I’m gonna mull that one over a bit for a future blog post.

The problem of redundancy is lessened if the daycare centers on land are differentiated just enough from the ones on the ships to make sure they still offer new, exciting experiences for daycare patrons who are taking their first or fortieth Disney Cruise. For example, maybe instead of piloting the Millennium Falcon like they do on the Disney Dream, kids can play in X-Wings at their land-based daycare centers. Maybe Nemo’s Sub (which used to occupy the space that the Millenium Falcon is in now on the Disney Dream) can be brought back to the land-based daycare centers.

The real challenge here is going to be maintaining waiting lists in all of those neighborhoods that offer a Disney daycare center. Families would need to plan five years in advance of having children to get their kiddos into the center! Maybe Disney could give priority to children of Annual Passholders, Disney Vacation Club members, D23 members, etc. – the more Disney memberships one has, the higher on the waiting list they’d be.

And yes, the daycare centers would definitely need those handwashing machines.

Green Thumb

It’s timely that I’m planning on attending Epcot’s International Flower & Garden Festival this weekend. It may not feel like it today in Florida, but Spring is coming, and I’ve got plants on the brain.

My husband and I moved into a newly-built house last year. We were given a pretty basic landscaping package with the home – a few trees, some shrubs, a bit of grass. It makes the house pretty enough to fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, but we’re ready to upgrade. I want my backyard to feel like my little oasis in the middle of an otherwise busy city.

I don’t have a green thumb, however. I know my strengths, and landscape design isn’t one of them. So about a month ago, my husband and I asked around our neighborhood for reputable local landscapers, and one name kept popping up. Let’s call him “Jim 1.”

We invited Jim 1 out to our house and instantaneously received good vibes from him. He walked around our small property with us, throwing out design ideas, sharing tips on which plants to keep and which ones would breed mosquitos, and even giving us suggestions for gutter installers. (Gutter installation is another project we have on our list of to-dos). Within a week, he drew up a plan and came back out to our house to discuss it with us. We suggested a few weeks to Jim 1’s design, and Jim 1 shared he’d get back to us with a quote.

And then… we never heard from him again. My husband sent a few emails, left a few voicemails, and even sent a carrier pigeon. After two weeks passed with no word back from Jim 1, we assumed he didn’t want our business and moved on to the next recommended landscaper on our list. We’ll call him “Jim 2.”

Jim 2 proceeded in much the same way as Jim 1. He came out to our property and took a few notes. We even gave him Jim 1’s design plan as a starting point. And, just like Jim 1, we haven’t heard from Jim 2 in over a week.

I’m starting to think it’s not the Jims… something must be wrong with us.

In any case, I was reminded that I attended the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival at this time last year knowing that I would be doing my own gardening project at some point, and took lots of photos of things I liked at the festival. Like this one:

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A small deck, a rock garden, and a few potted plants… beautiful, right?

I wish I could just hire someone from Epcot to come out and do this for me.

Enter today’s idea for Disney: start a chain of landscaping businesses! The Parks are so beautifully maintained, and not just during the Garden festival. Couldn’t Disney send their top landscape designers to train people across the country to install Disney-quality gardens for customers? Maybe even sell a few Mickey Mouse topiaries?

This business idea would go hand-in-hand with my Disney Home Decorators idea. Clients who want their homes to feel like Disney World on the inside surely want the same for the outside.

Disney pricing, of course, would apply, so you know it wouldn’t be cheap. I might be biased at this point, but I’d happily pay a surcharge knowing that someone was actually going to do the work – and do it well!

 

Disney Parks Scavenger Hunt

I’m having Disney World withdrawal. My husband and I pop into one of the Parks at least once each month, but it has been a bit of a hectic start to 2017 and we haven’t kept up with our scheduled Disney visits. We’ve been doing Disney-ish things, don’t get me wrong:  Ben and I went to Disney Springs to watch La Nouba for Valentine’s Day in February and we were on the Disney Cruise in January. But I think we’re overdue for a trip to the Parks, and plan on heading to Epcot this weekend for the Disney International Flower & Garden Festival.

I do anticipate crowds, as we’re in the midst of Spring Break season. But that’s ok – we’re both very patient people. We’ve even invented our own game to play while waiting in line for rides. We haven’t come up with a creative name for it yet, but it’s a scavenger hunt of sorts. And, no, it isn’t finding hidden Mickeys.

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Mickey is three circles, people. You can find hidden Mickeys everywhere.

 

Here’s how our game currently works: While in the car on the way to the Parks, one of us will pick the first “target” to find – say,“child wearing Yoda t-shirt” or “sad person who just dropped delicious treat on ground.”

The first person to find the target wins a point and gets to select the next target. Whoever has the most points at the end of the day wins. There’s no real prize involved, other than keeping us occupied while we wait for whatever attraction we’re standing in line for.

We thought about bringing our game public a few months ago. (We didn’t for a very good reason that I’ll share in a moment). Here were the rules of:

  1. One week prior to our planned Disney Parks attendance, we would post on Facebook a request to our friends to help us identify targets to find for our next scavenger hunt.
  2. Ben and I would then compete to find each target our friends posted. The first person to find a target on the list would post a photo of the find.
  3. If Ben or I found your particular target and posted a photo of it, then you would be entered in a contest to win that day’s “Best Find.” That would encourage our friends to come up with really creative things to find that were still realistic. (While seeing Tim Allen wearing a Buzz Lightyear t-shirt would be super awesome to find, it is highly unlikely we’d see that on any given day at Disney World. We want the game to be playable, mind you). If we did not find your item, you would not be eligible to win that day’s “Best Find.”
  4. All friends would be encouraged to “Like” their favorite target photo on Facebook. The person who submitted the target that got the most likes would win “Best Find.” We’d then send that person a goodie from Disney World on a subsequent trip to Disney.

Fun, right? It would be a way to get our friends who are also Disney fans – but live outside of Florida – to participate in a Disney-ish experience.

Only there’s one small problem: Not everybody likes their photo taken, and a lot of people are particularly sensitive towards having photos of their children taken by random strangers. So we didn’t go live with the game out of respect and understanding that some people just don’t want to show up in our Facebook feed.

However, if there was a Disney-sanctioned and monitored version of this game, that might be a different story. Maybe Disney could hand out a wearable visual cue – say stickers, buttons, or wristbands – to those who are willing to play the game and don’t mind having their photo taken. I know I’d feel just a little less sad if I dropped some ice cream knowing that someone may just be winning their scavenger hunt that day.

I know the idea needs some refinement. I’ll give it some more thought. Gamers out there, what do you think? Would you be a willing participant in a Disney photo scavenger hunt?