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Give Kids the World – Where Magic Lives

In 2009, when I first joined the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, I thought it was an awesome opportunity to raise awareness for an organization that I have always thought was one of the most amazing on the planet.  Can you imagine this – you are the parents of a very sick child, and every day of your life is filled with doctors, nurses, needles, medicine, schedules, treatments.  There is no playing outside, soaking up sunshine, relaxing, smiling.

Our First Giant Check!



Then someone calls you and tells you that your family will be receiving an all expenses paid trip for a week at the Most Magical Place on Earth.  I know – you think it’s Disney World – but it’s not.  It’s Give Kids the World.  Families relax in fabulous accommodations; are provided with theme park tickets to places like Disney, Sea World, and Universal; and treated to a week full of smiles, laughing, and playing – all those things kids are supposed to be doing!



Each star represents the wish of a seriously ill child

You know now why Give Kids the World is the charity that the Moms and I chose to support.  As moms, how could we NOT be a part of the daily sprinkling of pixie dust that takes place at Give Kids the World?

For the third year, my amazing Disney loving Mom friends are raising money to support GKTW.  Please take a minute to Like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, and DONATE!


Walt Disney World Moms Panel – Round 2

This is the photo taken of the 2009 Walt Disney World Moms Panel during our training weekend.  It was and always will be one of the most amazing times of my life.

I know there are many of you who are disappointed that you haven’t gotten the coveted round 2 e-mail today, and I wanted you to know that it doesn’t mean you don’t have the magic required.  There were so many people who helped me gain the knowledge I have of Walt Disney World, and many of them have applied year after year for the panel without success.  You are all equally as qualified as each one of us standing in that photo.  Sometimes, though, that pixie dust gets caught in a gust of wind and lands where it may.  Next year, I hope the wind is blowing ever so slightly in your direction!

For those of you who are celebrating – and nervous – CONGRATULATIONS!!  I know what it’s like to be in your shoes (although I have to tell you, when I got my round 2 notice, I was wearing knock off Ugg boots from Target – you probably have better taste in footwear!) .  You’re probably a bundle of nerves and a barrel of excitement – and it’s all good!

Best wishes as you move on in answering the next round of questions and recording that video message that will let the folks at Disney see the real you shining through!  If I can be of any help with words of encouragement, you certainly know where to find me.

Via Napoli – A Gastric Bypass Restaurant Review

On our first night in Orlando, some of the Moms from the Walt Disney World Moms Panel had decided to do a quick meet up at Via Napoli.  It was all 2009 Moms, and we figured with all the events of the weekend that were planned, it would be one of the few times we’d get a chance to catch up with each other.

As you know if you’ve ever made reservations for a large party at Walt Disney World, they do not guarantee you will be seated at the same table.  In our case, they gave us 4 tables, but they separated the tables so that there were 2 tables pushed together, a space, then another 2 tables pushed together.  This made for 2 very distinct parties at dinner, even though we were all one group.  It was virtually impossible for those of us at one table to co-mingle with those people seated at the other table, even though they were right next to each other.

We all placed our orders at the same time – some people ordered pasta dishes, some ordered pizzas to share, and salads and appetizers were ordered.  Then food began coming out in all sorts of weird sequence.  We got our fried calamari appetizer at the same time that the folks at the other table got their salad.  We also ordered salad, but our salad was delivered to the other table, and because it was assumed it came with the meal, the other table enjoyed the salad.  Eventually, a salad was brought to our table, at the same time that some (but not all) of the pasta dishes began to arrive.  Finally, when everyone was finished eating – except for those of us that ordered pizza – we started asking about the pizza.  Eventually, it was brought to the table, but by then, the meal had already gone into it’s second hour, and the part of our party that had already eaten was ready to head out to get some sleep for their big race the next morning.  This was definitely not a meal conducive to enjoyable conversation, nor did it allow us all to eat together.

Okay, so how’s the food?

The fried calamari, as it was on my first visit, is delicious.  You’ll know if you’ve had gastric bypass surgery that some calamari can be overcooked to the point that you can’t swallow it, but this is not the case here.  The calamari is delicately breaded, fried to a crisp outside, not chewy inside perfection, and served with a very good (not great, but very good) marinara sauce in which you can dip these delicious morsels.

The salad is good, not overly dressed, but again, nothing special.  If you want the family style salad, it adds $4 per person to your bill, but it does make a nice complement to the pizza.

And the pizza!  That’s what you’ll come here for, after all!  You will find other pasta dishes, but if you want a true taste of Italy, it is here, in the pizza.

The wood fired pizza ovens are a sight to behold, and you might want to run in even if you don’t have a reservation just to view them – they are wonderful!  But they pale in comparison to the expertly prepared, authentically Italian pizza that comes from them.

The pizza margherita, which we ordered specifically for the kids, has a thin crust, not chewy and dense, so it makes it a very easy crust for many gastric bypass patients to enjoy.  The sauce is so fresh, it absolutely pops – you can smell the tomatoes almost as if you were chopping them at home yourself.  The mozzarella cheese isn’t shredded, so each bite offers a nice mouthful of fresh mozzarella.  And the added bonus of fresh basil just makes this one of the best pizzas I’ve had since I was in Naples (Italy, not Florida).  To paraphrase Paula Deen, this pizza is so good, it will make you want to slap your Mama Mia!

The other pizza we tried was the Pizza Piccante.  I worried a little about this pizza, because sausage can be a tough item to get into a gastrically altered tummy, but this was perfect!  It wasn’t terribly fatty, and I found no hard, gristly pieces in the sausage.  It was spicy, but not too spicy, and in small enough chunks that it didn’t overpower the freshness of the other ingredients.  The broccoli rabe on top of the pizza was well cooked, although I think I would have liked to see a little less of the bitter green on top of the pizza.  It was a delicious addition, but the bottoms of the stalks are a bit denser and were not as tender to eat, so more than a bite of them on the pizza made it hard for me to enjoy.  I’d recommend the pizza whole heartedly, but for the gastric bypass patient, I’d ask them to go light on the broccoli rabe.

Thank you, Zannaland for this photo, and check out her review at http://zannaland.com/via-napoli-revisted-more-than-just-pizza/

Overall, this is an excellent dining option if you are going just for the food.  There is plenty for you to eat whether or not you’ve had surgery, and everything is fresh and delicious.

However, I just can’t see my family going here on many Walt Disney World vacations.  It eats up way too much time during a theme park day, and having our meal with friends end up so scattered and disjointed didn’t make for an enjoyable evening.

This place gets an A+ for food, but definitely takes a hit on service with a D.

Don’t forget – check out my friend Suzannah’s blog on Via Napoli to get another opinion!


Wine and Dine Weekend – FINALLY! Some Dining!

So, we’re in warm, sunny Orlando, and it’s time for lunch.  That can only mean one thing.  What’s that?  A Dole Whip?  I wish.  No, for us, it’s off to the Mara at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge to see our oldest daughter at work!  She is in the Disney College Program, and quick service is her area of expertise.

So, I walk in with the other two girls, and Brighid is busy with customers.  You can see in the photo that she is cleverly disguised as, well, Brighid in her work costume, but for some reason, that little beanie on her head totally threw Granuaile off.  Word of advice to police agencies throughout the country – do not rely on this child as a witness in any criminal investigation.  Her powers of observation leave much to be desired.  I have to almost shove Granuaile under Brighid’s nose before she realizes, “Hey, that’s my SISTER!”, at which point, she ran over, disrupting the guest Brighid was helping.  Dear Brighid’s Boss, If Brighid’s cash register was off today, it’s totally my fault.  Signed, Brighid’s Mother.

Lunch at the Mara was mac and cheese for Granuaile, a burger for Eilis, and the African stew for Jim and I to share.  I love this stew, with it’s combination of flavors.  It’s a great autumn food, even if autumn is in Florida and it’s 88 degrees outside.

No meal at Animal Kingdom Lodge would be complete without a zebra dome.  Yeah, I’ve had gastric bypass.  Yep, done the diabetes thing.  But how can you resist?  I had one.  And a half.

I’d love to stay and chat here at the Mara – or at least wait until Brighid is done work, but I have to go.  Eat.  Again.  I am meeting some of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel BFFs at Via Napoli, and I can’t wait for some Moms Panel hugs!

Wine and Dine Weekend – Episode 2

We arrive safely at the Orlando International Airport, but we’re starving and tired.  We hop on Magical Express (I so appreciate this complimentary service more and more each time we use it).  It is truly nice not to have to run to claim the luggage and worry about dealing with it when you get to the resort, especially if you’re room isn’t ready.  The ride is cool, comfortable, and gives us not only a chance to relax, but also the opportunity to raid Jim’s bounty of First Class snacks.

We arrive within 40 minutes to Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort, and there is no line at all at check-in!  The girls and I wander over to the High Rock Springs Pool while Jim heads for check-in, but he’s nearly done by the time we wander back over to him.  Guess what?  The room is already ready!!  Get the heck outta here!  That never happens to me!

Our room is in THE perfect location!  We are in the Springs section, and you literally just walk right into the first floor room off the parking lot.  It’s gotta be easily the most convenient room we’ve ever had.  I can almost see the Carriage House from here, and the gate to the pool is just across the street from the parking lot.  This is awesome!

There is just one thing….

The room is an accessible room, and my immediate thought is this perfect room isn’t really ours.  We are really in Congress Park, way in the back, where it will take an hour and a gallon of water to get me from our room to the main building.  I hesitantly ring the front desk, but I worry about karma, and if I’ve taken a room really meant for someone who needs the amenities here, I just know that not only will I be struck by lightening, but it will be just as they’ve loaded my treat bag from Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party with Clark bars, so I won’t even get to enjoy their crunchy peanut buttery goodness.  The double whammy, so to speak.

I call the front desk, and they immediately transfer me to the Room Assignment gods, who inform me that if the room had been needed by a guest, my butt would not be standing in it.

WHEW!  We get to stay in the cool room 🙂

It’s time to check my time, because I am meeting my Moms Panel Moms at Via Napoli for dinner.  Dinner?  Oh yeah – but wait, we haven’t even had breakfast yet!  No wonder I am slurring my words, broken out in a cold sweat, and panting like a starved dog!

Now where to go for lunch?

Wine and Dine Weekend – Episode 1

As with all good Skamarakas Family Trip Reports, this one starts with chaos and mayhem.  After deciding to make this weekend trip, I decided to go back to school.  That means that in addition to the kids each missing two days of school, I’m missing two days of school.  I scrambled to get the kids’ stuff ready to go, coordinate my nurses schedules, make sure my doctor was okay with the trip, got my assignments emailed to me, and picked up the homemade soup and pierogies Pop-Pop was sending to Brighid.

WHEW!  I can finally begin packing to get everyone there, clothed.

Except there’s a bad storm coming up the east coast.  And despite multiple conversations previously about whether it was better to fly or drive, now that flights have gone up by $50 per person, it appears we should have made the decision to fly.  So now that the trip will be even more than we budgeted for, we’re flying!

Okay, so how much do they charge per piece of luggage?

Now I have to pare down everything I planned on bringing.  When I have successfully put everything in two suitcases that I absolutely NEED to bring, it is nearly 11 o’clock at night, and we have to be up at 5 to head to the airport.  Did I even make dinner?  No worries – they’ll probably be eating the soup Pop-Pop made on the plane as it defrosts all over us.

The rain on the way to the airport is torrential, and I am so glad I don’t have to drive 1100 miles in this kind of weather.  I’m nervous enough about the drive to Philly!  We are soon on the shuttle headed to the terminal for our first restful break of the morning – time to grab breakfast, something to drink, go to the potty.

Uh, no.  Check in is nothing if not chaotic.  We somehow got put on two different reservations; I’m not sitting with the kids, who somehow got put in emergency rows, where they aren’t even allowed to be, and Jim, who is of course Jim, is assigned an upgrade to first class.  It’s just me and Bob Uecker in the last row of the plane.  Seriously.  The last row before the potty.

By the time we’re all straightened out, the girls and I are all sitting together; we still have the LAST row on the plane; and Jim is still in first class.  But now we have to race to the gate because they are going to be boarding in a few minutes.

Good thing we’re right next to the bathroom.  It’s so hard to make a potty stop when you’re speeding through the airport trying to make sure the flight to FL doesn’t leave without you!