Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Magical Day

This is the second in a series of blogs about Disney and Disneyland.

Can you believe I'm writing another blog so soon after the last one? I decided I want to blog a little more often. In fact, I finally added a counter to my blog so I can actually see if people are reading this... Or if I'm only writing for my own cathartic benefit.

In my last blog I wrote about some of the magic I've experienced at Disneyland. I said my next post would be about my most magical day at the DLR. Since I had already thought up my next topic, I figured that now is as good a time as any to write it.

In July of 2008 I went to a convention in Los Angeles. Marie and the kids came with me and spent the week at Disneyland while I went to the convention. After the convention ended we stayed in LA a few extra days so I could also go to Disneyland. This was Disney's "Year of a Million Dreams," and Disney lived up to the claim.

We decided to start our day with a character breakfast, this was under the advice of one of my good friends. We did the research and decided that The Storyteller's Cafe inside the Grand Californian hotel was the best bang for our buck. It's missing some of the more popular characters like Mickey and Donald. However, it is rated as the best food among the different character breakfast options; it's also the least expensive breakfast.

We made our reservations for the first available time in the day, we didn't want to cut in to our time in the parks. This meant we had to be there really early. In fact we arrived before the restaurant opened. This worked out to our advantage.

This was our first time in the Grand Californian hotel, and Marie and I were awed by the beauty and detail there. Since we were there early, we did a little exploring. The hotel pool is right across from the entrance to the restaurant. We walked away from the door to the restaurant to look at the pool.

I don't mean to sound like a bad parent, but I was so awed by the hotel that I wasn't keeping an eye on my kids. So imagine my surprise when I turn around and see my son being walked towards us by a Disney security guard. All kinds of things went through my mind at that point, mostly I was thinking that this guy was going to chastise us for walking a little bit away from the kids.

But he didn't. In fact, he asked if Ryan could help him to open the restaurant. Of course we said yes. So Ryan and he walked over to the doors, stuck the key in the lock and opened the door. Ryan got to be the first one in the restaurant, and as a thank you they gave Ryan a bunch of balloons and a few autographed pictures of Mickey and friends. Ryan was so happy he was bouncing with excitement.

Needless to say the food was amazing! I still look forward to the omelettes made to order, the fresh fruit, and the carmelized French toast. The characters were fun; Chip & Dale, Meeko, Turk, and Keenai & Koda... All the woodland characters. During breakfast the kids in the restaurant all got up and played follow the leader, singing and dancing. All that and great service too.

After breakfast, and a suitable amount of time hanging around in the lobby of the Grand Californian Hotel, it was time to go into Disneyland. We had to repark the car (move it from the hotel to the Disneyland parking lot). Marie suggested that I take the kids into the park while she parked the cars.

While we were waiting I made my way into Frontierland... They have a pin trading store that I thought would be a good place to wait. I started chatting with a cast member in front of the store. When Marie arrived the castmember asked us if we had ever seen the show at the Gokden Horseshoe. We hadn't. The lady gave us a ticket that gave us reserved seats at a table on the front row. We were able to show up just minutes before the start of the show and have some of the best seats in the house.

I think at this point i should mention that i really enjoy Disney Pin Trading. Several cast members at the resort will wear pin lanyards and you can walk up to them and trade one of your pins for one of theirs. In fact, at times I can be very aggressive about looking for cast members with pins. It's the souvenirs we look for when we go to Disneyland.

So after we left Frontierland we started heading towards Critter Country to ride the Pooh ride. Along the way I spotted a cast member who seemed to be in a bit of a hurry as she walked past us. I didn't let that stop me. I literally cut off her path with the stroller (did I mention I'm aggressive when it comes to finding pin traders?).

In the process of trading with her... Marie mentioned she was looking for a specific pin. The woman smiled and told us she knew right where it is. She then walked us over to a pin store in New Orleans Square. She showed Marie where to fins the pin, then offered to buy it using her cast member discount. Marie, trying to be discreet, stood outside during the purchase got some cash out to give to the lady. When she came out of the store she gave Marie the pin and refused to take any money for it. She said it was a gift. She also gave a pin to Ryan.

Throughout the day we kept having great and magical experiences. It was a great way to end a trip, and even though Marie and the kids had survived an entire week at Disneyland (including an actual earthquake), nothing could dim the magic we felt that day.

These are the experiences that keep bringing me back to Disneyland. It's funny that I had to grow up to appreciate the magic of Disneyland... As a kid I always chose to go to Magic Mountain. As an adult I recognize that Disney is not only set up better for the family experience, but it's just a well planned and run park.

To be honest I don't remember all the rides we did that day. I don't remember all the characters we met. What I remember is feeling like after all the time we had already spent at Disneyland, the park could still surprise me; and that's saying something.

- Posted using my iPhone

Monday, October 19, 2009

Snapshots of Magic

A lot of people have asked me how I can keep going back to Disneyland so often. My answer is simple: It's the magic!

I thought I would take the opportunity of an 11 hour drive to write a little about it. I just hope I can give a peek at the fun I've had.

A while back my friend told me that I have to do a character breakfast as part of my Disney experience. We combined that advice with a desire to see Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and went to breakfast at the Storytellers Cafe.

My friend was right. We had an amazing experience. In fact that breakfast was just the start of a very magical day at Disneyland. Maybe my next blog will be about that day. It's a great example of what I'm talking about, but I promised snapshots, not a long story.

We enjoyed our breakfast so much that we've been back four times since. The Grand Californian didn't disappoint either... Every time we go there I am awed by it's beauty and it's attention to detail. It's my goal to stay there for a few nights someday... But it's pretty expensive, so it probably won't be any time to soon.

Obviously these aren't the best quality pictures. I just wanted to show a little bit of the beauty if the lobby and lobby floor.
The thing about the breakfast at the Storytellers cafe is that the characters aren't the most exciting. It's Chip & Dale along with some of their woodland friends. No Mickey, no Minnie, no Donald. The upside is that it's some of the best food in the resort and it's the least expensive character breakfast.

Having eaten there so often we have made a few discoveries. Of the four times we've eaten there it has only come close to disappointing us once; this trip actually. This trip we started our breakfast a 7:50 am, later than we ever have before. What we found out is that it gets really busy the later into the day you arrive.

The crowd wasn't too bad when we arrived. But people kept arriving throughout breakfast. This meant that the characters didn't really have enough time to interact with us. It also meant that the food had to be prepared faster to keep up with the demand. It was still good, but not totally amazing.

Lesson learned: go to breakfast early. It avoids the rush, the characters have more time for each of the kids, the food is better, and you have plenty of time before the parks open.

We have been to Disneyland on crowded days and on slow days. It seems obvious that it's better to go when the parks are not crowded. It's important to have a plan for dealing with the crowds. It's possible to have fun on a crowded day, but it means you have to compromise on your to-do list.

Yesterday was as busy as I've ever seen it. It turns out there was a huge charity event at the park yesterday morning, and the park was full of the participants. It was so bad that we couldn't even park at the Mickey and Friends lot; nope, we had to park off-site at the Garden Walk mall.

If you're at Disneyland for several days, one crowded day isn't that bad. If you're only there for one day you need to reassess what you consider most important to do while at Disneyland. For us it meant that we had to ignore most of the rides at Disneyland. We also spent more time at California Adventure.

Lesson learned: It's better to go for multiple days, one day makes it difficult to get everything done, especially with kids.

California Adventure is smaller than Disneyland, but it's also less crowded. It's a great way to escape the crowds at the bigger park. It also has some if my favorite rides; Soarin' Over California and Toy Story Midway Mania are both amazing rides.

California Adventure is marketed as a park for older guests. It is smaller than Disneyland, but Disney is pouring millions of dollars into improving the park.

They are adding a whole new area to the park based in the Pixar movie 'Cars'.

They are creating a whole new nightime spectacular to compete with Fantasmic, and they are redoing the entire Pacific Wharf area. Below is a picture of the empty lagoon and all the equipment they will need fir the new show "World of Color". Sorry about the quality of the picture but I had to take it from the cage on the Fun Wheel.

Speaking of the Fun Wheel... If the newly remade Mickey's Fun Wheel is any indication... It's working!

The other great thing about California Adventure is that there are always interesting things to discover. Between the Aladin stage musical at the Hyperion Theater, the future of the park at the Blue Sky Cellar, or learning how to create "magic" at the Animators Workshop. There are plenty of things to see that have little or nothing to do with rides.

This time the Animators Workshop had a really cool display on zoetropes, the turn table would spin fast, it didn't really seem to make much of a difference until they started flashing a strobe. All of a sudden the spinning table came alive with the different characters being animated by your mind processing the spinning images. How COOL is that?!

Going back to Disneyland I feel like I should point out what Disney does right. The magic of Disney is found in the details. They believe in taking care of the guests... But that's just a small part of it. They try to take care of the small details. Even the ones that guests aren't likely to see or notice.

Candy corn stalks

Candy corn grapes

Sign on the Monsters Inc ride

The little details make it fun to keep coming back to see what you can find this time. Disney makes you want to come back to find that next hidden Mickey, or to meet that next character you've been trying to find, or to see what little changes they have made. It's even worth going on the Jungle Cruis over and over agan to see what new corny jokes gave been added to the tour.

Sometimes that level of detail can be overwhelming. That was the mistake we made yesterday. We wanted to see and do everything, but we were spread to thin and ended up robbing ourselves of time by trying to do it all without a real plan.

Lesson learned: plan your time. Don't try to do all of both parks in one day, you'll run out of time. Focus on what you really want to accomplish. You might be able to do a few things in both parks. But trying to hit all the highlights of both parks can make it hard to really experience either park. Although I do admit that a well planned approach would help you to do more than we did. It's very inefficient to walk back and forth "Willie-Nillie".

The highlight of the trip yesterday was absolutely the Halloween Screams fireworks show.

It was probably the best fireworks show I've ever seen. They devoted different parts of the show to different villians. There were new fireworks I hadn't seen, lasers and projections that were cool, a flying ghost dog (Zero), and flame jets shooting 20 - 30 feet tall.

Anyway, this has been a long blog to not really talk about our trip. I fear I didn't accomplish my goal. I guess my next blog will have tell the story of our most magical day at the Disneyland resort.

For now I'll end with one last but of magic. After the first time we took Ryan to Disneyland when he was about 21 months old we asked him if he had fun. He couldn't say much, but he nodded his head very enthusiastically and said, "Again... Please!!" The look on his face will stay with me forever. You can't tell me that's not real magic!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why do we Pray

My friend Megan posted a blog titled "Why do we pray?" I wrote this very long response, and it turns out I can't leave it as a comment on her blog: this girl's life.

Since I couldn't leave it there, I figured I'd leave it here. That way other people besides Megan can read my thoughts on Prayer.

You've probably heard me say that I live a charmed life. And it's very true. I can say that I have always known that Heavenly Father is listening. In fact, I'm blessed enough to realize that quite often he's listening a heck of a lot better than I am!
There are plenty of scriptures that deal with prayer. One of my favorite passages about prayer actually comes from the Bible Dictionary -

As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7: 7-11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.

I love how it talks about the difficulties about prayer. Because we all go through challenges. Sometimes it is hard to kneel down and pray when you know how many problems you have. Sometimes all you want to do is hold on to the feelings of anger and frustration you're feeling, and you know you can't if you're going to pray. And yet, those difficulties are a direct result of forgetting that he is our Father! Show me a loving parent who doesn't long to provide his/her children what they need most.

I can tell you several stories of the power of prayer. Stories from my own life. I have literally been witness to miracles resulting directly from prayer. But the power of prayer isn't found in the grand "faith building" events. The power of prayer is in the everyday miracles that come from bringing our will in line with the will of the Father. The power of prayer is demonstrated by the increased strength and insight that only comes through daily communication with God.

Even many non-religious people recognize the power of meditation and personal reflection. The way I see it, praying can be a lot like talking to the best Psychoanalyst ever. You know he'll always listen. You really can tell Him anything. And best of all.. it's free!

You ask if my faith in a higher power extends to prayer. I say it began with prayer.
What do I ask for or communicate to God? How often do I pray? Allow me to use another scripture:

Alma 34:18 - 27
18 Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.
19 Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
20 Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
21 Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
22 Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.
23 Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.
24 Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
25 Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
26 But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
27 Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.

Or, to put it more bluntly.. I really do try to pray about everything. I will pray about the silliest things sometimes ("Please, help me find this piece of paper I'm looking for") I also pray about important things ("Please, help me to know how to raise my kids!). I will pray often throughout the day. I honestly think I should pray more often; but I'm still working on it.

I can only think of one answer to how long, or short, a prayer should be. A prayer should only be as long as you need it to be. At no time should you end a prayer or continue a prayer just because it's what other people expect. Remember that you're talking to your Father, and he doesn't compare you to his other children. He's just glad to hear from you.

Having said that, I had a mission companion who once suggested that I spend an entire week every night on my knees praying for at least 5 minutes... preferably out loud (and most preferably not in a room that would bother him!). :) He suggested to me that spending that much time in prayer would force me to express more gratitude for the blessings in my life. And you know what? It worked... I honestly felt like my relationship with the Savior improved, and I was quicker to recognize the good things in life.

It's important to note that these five minute prayers are for your personal prayers. When you're praying in a group prayers should be kept pretty short, or you lose the attention of the rest of the group.

Can I make a blog suggestion Megan? You put out a request to get everyone else's feedback. You've been mulling this (apparently) simple question this week. I'd like to know the answer to your own question.

Megan, why do we pray?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Avoiding the New Baggage Fees

(taken from

Ways to ignore airline baggage limits...

Many of the airlines have placed weight restrictions on baggage. I figured I would share a tip that allows you to beat the 50 pound baggage limit...

I dropped the family off at the airport this week and noticed several couples waiting inline. They were traveling to Puerto Rico when the counter agent told them there would be an additional fee for overweight baggage. Another person standing in line heard this conversation and took some items out of their bag and put them into the backpack they were carrying.

This next couple made it to the counter and placed their bags on the scale where the counter agent preceeded to put the baggage tape/sticker on the back and handed it back to the couple to carry over to the TSA baggage folks. Of course, the counter agent moved along to the next customer when this couple decided to simply take stuff out of their backpack and place right back into their luggage.

Of course, TSA is solely responsible for checking bags and doesn't really care if someone either adds or removes stuff prior to it being handed to them. In many airports, especially when crowded you could do this without a TSA agent nor counter agent seeing it.

In other words, you are an idiot if you pay for exceeding baggage limits...

I don't think I agree that you're "stupid" for paying excess baggage fees. I think it's important to show integrity at all times. At the same time, I think it's negligent on the part of the airlines to not pay attention to this inconsistency. And if you're just barely over the weight limit, this could be a way to prevent unnecessary costs.

Friday, December 12, 2008

UBTA Direct Member of the Year

I'm really excited. Yesterday we had the UBTA Annual Holiday Luncheon. It's our last meeting of the year and it's about prize raffles and recognition.

Last year when I went to the UBTA holiday party they gave an award for the Direct Member of the Year. Membership in the UBTA is broken down in to two main categories, Direct members are "buyers" of travel services, and Allied members are "sellers" of travel services (like rental car vendors, hotels, airlines, etc).

Anyway, when I saw them give the award last year I decided I wanted to be the kind of member in the UBTA that would get that award. Deep down that should probably read, "I wanted the award."

Guess what...

I received the award and recognition as the UBTA 2008 Direct Member of the Year. I was very surprised and honored that the board had voted for me to get the award. This is even the 2007 - 2008 board that did the voting (not the 2009 - 2010 board that I'm on).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Role of a Travel Management Company

So I've spent some time recently considering the role of the travel management company relative to its clients. This is not an easy question to answer because everyone is looking for something different in their travel management company. No two travel programs are identical.

Having said that, there are some basic concepts that any TMC should accept as their responsibility. I'm talking about the basic concept of managing travel. Essentially this is what the client is paying for. This list isn't meant to be all-inclusive. It really is just an opportunity to start a discussion.

As a travel program administrator, I see this question from two perspectives: from the perspective of my travelers, and from my perspective as the program administrator.

Looking at it from my travelers’ perspectives, there is really only one question--can I get where I need to go at the best price? For the most part, the traveler doesn't care if they work with AMEX, BCD, CWT, or anyone else. What they care about is how hard it is to book travel and how long it takes them to make the reservation. They care about whether their ticket is issued, so they can get on the plane when they get to the airport. The only time they really even notice which agency the company uses is when something goes wrong and they are looking to resolve a customer service issue.

So the traveler's question is a deceptively easy one to answer. Either it's easy to book, or it's not. Either they have a ticket when they arrive at the airport, or they don't. Assuming most agencies have a similar track record from the traveler’s perspective, the real issues are from the perspective of program administration.

First and foremost, the relationship between a TMC and its client should be a partnership. The TMC's client account manager and the client have to work together to create and maintain a successful managed travel program. The client has to be available to meet with and discuss issues with the TMC. The TMC needs provide value in those discussions, to make it worth the client's time.

Second, the integrity of the data is crucial. If you can't trust the information provided by the TMC, then you will have to spend a significant amount of time validating data rather than managing the travel program. The TMC has a duty to provide timely and accurate data. Data validation still needs to occur, but it goes a lot faster if the client can trust the information they are being given.

Another aspect to this point is that the agency should not be charging extra to provide data to its clients. The cost of the reporting should be included in the existing fee structure, regardless of whether it's an advisory fee + transaction fee model or a transaction fee only model. A basic part of managing the travel program is to run reports and review data. There are times when you need additional reports during the month, and it shouldn't cost additional to retrieve your own data.

Third, the TMC should know the business of travel and the TMC's representative should have a clear understanding of what is involved in travel management. The client shouldn't have to educate the TMC; they shouldn't have to define terms like PNR, GDS, or open jaw. The agency representative loses credibility when the client has to explain travel basics to them. If I'm going to use a consultant, I expect them to be an expert in their field.

Fourth, the agency should provide good and useful technology. They shouldn't be pushing a specific technology just because it drives up the TMC's revenue. They can invest in technology; they can even make money on their technology. If the agency is pushing for an inferior product, it only shows that the agency is more interested in profit than in partnering with the client to create the best program possible.

Fifth, customer service issues should be quickly and satisfactorily resolved. It shouldn't take six months to get a refund on a charge that was obviously an error. The agency's different departments should be knowledgeable and willing to listen to an explanation before they make a determination. There are few things more frustrating then having proof that you're right and not being able to get a response because the agency isn't willing to listen.

Finally, the agency has a responsibility to its clients to be continually improving their process and their service. An agency can't rest on its laurels; it can't afford to ignore the fact that there are a lot of TMCs out there. Visit any business travel trade show and you'll see just how many there are, each one vying for my business. The travel industry is too dynamic for an agency to remain stagnant just because they're the biggest, or because they're local, or for any reason. If an agency wants to keep their clients, they need to have the best product at the best price period. Especially as the economy continues to struggle, companies are going to look closer than ever at value.

So a travel manager has to ask whether their agency is meeting these basic needs with the obvious follow-up: Would another agency meet these needs better? It's entirely possible that your current agency, whatever it is, does meet your needs. That's great. It means your agency has listened to you and is meeting those needs.

As I said previously, this is all information I have shared with my agency. I believe in setting clear expectations. That's part of my responsibility as a client.

What do you think? Did I miss something basic? I'd like to hear from you, whether you agree or disagree.


Monday, December 1, 2008


So I've had some people request that I actually post blogs. I figured it couldn't hurt.

I have been writing blogs for professional reasons. So I figured I might as well post them here. People may not be interested, or even understand what I'm talking about, but at least you'll know I still exist.

So the primary focus of this blog should now be primarily business travel related. Of course, I'll probably still throw in some personal stuff as well.