Cleaning Up the Crunch

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with Cascade. All opinions are 100% my own.

What’s better than Taco Tuesday? How about when Taco Tuesday lands on National Crunch Taco Day?! That calls for a full blown Mexican Fiesta! Since everyone in my home absolutely loves Mexican food, I had no complaints from the family. Ground meat, corn shells, taco seasonings, sour cream, salsa and queso made the kitchen smell divine. Even my husband (who is normally a burrito kind of guy) sat down and celebrated with a crunchy taco in honor of the occasion.

Anytime my whole family can sit down together during the week to share a meal is a good day. But glancing at the kitchen quickly whisked me back to reality. While tacos are super easy to make, our little fiesta sure did use a lot of dishes. From the skillet to the queso bowls and baking pan to festive plates, this meal had the potential for many tough to clean pots and plates.

Thankfully, I learned all about how to properly load a dishwasher and I had Cascade Platinum Action Pacs under my sink. I’m not sure that I will ever get over the jitters that skipping the pre-rinse and soak causes me, but the amount of time saved by my Cascade Platinum is greatly appreciated. Not only do I get back valuable time with my family (or to take a siesta), but my dishes are spotless, too. Did you know you can even leave your dishes in the sink for 24 hours and Cascade Platinum will STILL successfully tackle the dried on mess?

Learn more about how to get Cascade Clean here.

Treat Yourself Sweetly and Support Ronald McDonald House Charities, Too

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with McDonald’s. All opinions remain 100% mine.

What’s better than a bowl of vanilla soft serve? How about vanilla soft serve blended into a thick, creamy shake?  But, what if that shake had a purpose? Even better! From March 11-17, you have the perfect excuse to head to a participating McDonald’s and indulge in any McCafé Shamrock product. For each McCafé Shamrock product sold during this time, McDonald’s will donate 25¢ to Ronald McDonald House Charities®.

These proceeds will help programs right here in New Orleans like the Ronald McDonald House®  which opened in 1983. Located on Canal Street, this 15 bedroom house serves as a home-away-from-home for an average of 85 families with children in the hospital each month. In addition, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile provides free immunizations for children in New Orleans and surrounding parishes and local McDonald’s owner/operators offer college scholarships to students in financial need who have demonstrated academic achievement, leadership and community involvement. I love that my purchases can directly benefit families in my own community!

Ronald McDonald House

Looking for more ways to help? Support Ronald McDonald House Charities year-round by donating your change in the RMHC Donation Box or purchasing a $2.99 Happy Meal at participating McDonald’s in the greater New Orleans area. McDonald’s donates 1¢ to RMHC for every Happy Meal and Mighty Kids Meal sold. Check out this short video to see how these programs help those in need:

Head to a participating McDonald’s in the greater New Orleans area (let them know you are coming on Twitter!) and grab a Shamrock Shake for a cause!

Dining on the Disney Wonder

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. And while this was the third time I have attended, this was the first that included Disney on both Land AND Sea. I was elated to learn that we would be boarding the newly re-imagined Disney Cruise Line Wonder for three fantastic nights! From the moment we stepped on the ship, my family and I felt like royalty which carried through to each of the three on-board restaurants we visited.

Unlike other cruise lines, your family will rotate to one restaurant (keeping your same table number and servers) each night providing you with three completely different dining experiences. In true Disney fashion, dinner was much more than delicious food. Walking into each restaurant, you are transported to another place whether it be to New Orleans at Tiana’s Place, under the sea at Triton’s or right into the middle of a Disney classic in progress at Animator’s Palate, each experience is unique and sprinkled with pixie dust.

Dining on the Disney Wonder

Tiana’s Place

Tiana's Place on Disney Wonder
Being from New Orleans, we are huge fans of Disney’s Princess and the Frog. Seeing your hometown, traditions and culture come to life in animation is truly magical. So we were excited to learn that our first night on board would be spent at Tiana’s Place! Walking through the door, you feel like you are in the middle of the movie from the decor to the entertainment. It’s just like Princess Tiana would have wanted! The jazz band played some of our New Orleans favorites and were even led by the alligator, Louis from the movie. The big finale was a traditional second line that got everyone involved and dancing. We felt right at home!

Tiana's Place table settings
 

Tianas Place Entertainment

Triton’s

While Princess Tiana is our favorite, Ariel comes in a close second. My youngest daughter is obsessed with mermaids so you can only imagine how excited she was to dine at Triton’s. Themed after Ariel’s father, King Triton, you are surrounded with serene ocean colors and regal decor.

Triton's Menu
Triton's table setting
We felt that this was the most upscale of the three dining rooms on the Wonder but the Cast Members still made the experience fun for the kids by surprising them with magic tricks table-side. We loved that our table servers followed us to each restaurant and we really loved telling them all about our adventures.

Animator’s Palate

Animator's Palate sign
Ever wish you could be in an animated film or wish you could be one of Disney’s esteemed Imagineers? Then Animator’s Palate is a must do on the Disney Wonder! The dining experience starts off just like any creative process….a blank canvas. The entire restaurant is themed in black and white and frames on the wall display primitive sketches of well known Disney characters. As the meal progresses, color is slowly added until the sketches comes to life in animated clips topped off with a visit from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice (aka Mickey Mouse from Fantasia).

Animator's Palate dessert
Animator's Palate decor

If you are lucky enough to dine in Animator’s Palette more than once on your cruise, you get to become an official Animator! You create a character and through the magic of Disney, your creation comes to life on the walls set to some pretty catchy music. This was such a fun experience!

 

You won’t have a bad dining experience at any restaurant on the Disney Wonder! The themes are very well executed and the entertainment is so much fun for the kids. No stuffy restaurants here! I loved that we could sit down as a family each night, recap our adventures and plan for the day ahead.

We did not get a chance to dine at Palo, the 18 and over restaurant onboard the Wonder. If you’ve been, share your experience in the comments!

Dining on the Disney Wonder

Disney Social Media Moms Celebration: Take 3 (Day 1)

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy. While I did pay a fee to attend the conference, our stay was greatly reduced.

I will admit that the very first Disney Social Media Moms Celebration was truly a magical experience. Spending the night in Cinderella’s Castle is not something you easily forget. After all, I am totally a princess now and wear my glass slippers everywhere I go. The second #DSMMC sent us West to Disneyland and my family and I loved seeing a totally different Disney. But, third time’s a charm, right? I was over the moon excited to receive the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration Land and Sea invitation!

Disney Social Media Moms Celebration Badge

After surprising my kids on Christmas with the news of visiting the Mouse, we had to wait 45 long agonizing days before boarding the plane. But the anticipation was well worth it when we pulled up to the Disney Port Orleans Riverside Resort! Being from New Orleans, we have never stayed at this resort because we thought it would be too much like home.  And it was….but in a really cool way. In typical Disney fashion, every detail was well planned and beautifully executed from the Plantation style exterior to the horse and carriage rides at night.

Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort

Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort

Our first conference day began by taking in the sights and smells of many different countries on the newly imaged Soarin’ ride in EPCOT which was truly breathtaking. After the excitement, we headed to a buffet breakfast and to hear about new initiatives from conference sponsors: Alamo, Hanes, and GoGo squeeZ (represented by Olympic Champion, Dominique Dawes) and perused the Expo where I got to taste the new limited edition Beauty and the Beast tea from Twinings, check out the Beauty and the Beast inspired items being sold on HSN, and even snap a photo with the infamous magical rose.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast Twinings Tea

By the power of Pixie Dust, I was able to snag an ADR for the “Be Our Guest” lunch and my family and I continued the Beauty and the Beast themed day! What I loved about this restaurant is that you order at the counter but then are free to take a seat and relax while your food is brought to you by a Cast Member. Plus, the menu was much more robust that a typical counter service meal and really very tasty!

Disney's Be Our Guest Restaurant

Using our Fast Pass+, we hit all of our favorite (and new) rides in the park. It was easy to come to a consensus and we all loved the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train the best which we rode three times consecutively. Thanks to Disney’s Express Transportation, we hopped over to Hollywood Studios to attend more Disney Social Media Moms Celebration magic.

Disney's PizzeRizzo Restaurant

Dinner was served (thanks, Alamo!) in the new PizzeRizzo (a New York Italian style restaurant) owned by the Muppet, Rizzo. This two story eatery even features an Italian wedding reception hall which already has a reception in progress you are free to crash! Following dinner, we were treated to special VIP seating for the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular fireworks show which was out of this world (pun intended). Even to this non Star Wars family, we were literally blown away by this show so I am going to save my story for a dedicated post on the topic in order to do it justice.

Energized but exhausted by the day’s activities, we headed back to the Port Orleans Riverside to get a good night’s sleep before boarding the Disney Cruise Line’s Wonder. Stay tuned for our adventures at sea!

The Best $15 I Spent at Walt Disney World

A few days ago, my family and I returned from an epic adventure at the Disney Social Media Mom Celebration. As part of the event, I gained inside access to upcoming Disney movies, resort and park news which I can’t wait to share with you (posts coming soon). The conference agenda was jam packed with pixie dust which only left us a few hours to explore Disney World on our own. Armed with our Fast Pass+, I set out to maximize the fun in a minimal amount of time and in the process, I found an invaluable resource you must know about.

Disney’s Express Bus Transportation is hands down the best $15 I have ever spent at the parks.

Disney's Express Bus Transportation

Because we had only a few hours in the parks, we intended to hit EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios in a single day. Ambitious? Maybe. But we did it thanks to the Express Transportation service! So why is this service arguably the best $15 I have ever spent at Disney World? Let me break it down.

On the first morning, I simply asked our Disney resort concierge to add the Express Transportation tickets right to our Magic Bands. The cost is just $15 per person per day (and $24 per person for extended stays).  Because the service does not begin till 10am, you will make your way to the park and go through security as usual. When entering our first park of the day, EPCOT, we stopped at Guest Services to inquire about the Express Transportation schedule and location for pick up. The buses run every 30 minutes but you want to get the daily schedule so you are not wasting precious park time waiting for the next bus to arrive.

In EPCOT, the pick up location is near Guest Relations by Spaceship Earth. Just look for the signs and check in with the cast member who will scan your Magic Band. You will promptly be escorted backstage and onto an Express Transportation Bus which uses behind the scene roads to get to your destination quicker than using the regular park transportation. Another plus? You are dropped off inside your desired park allowing you to skip the long walk and security lines.

No lines. No crowded buses. Shorter commute. Less walking. No security lines. Faster to the fun! BEST.SERVICE.EVER.

We were literally the only people on the bus which allowed tired eyes to take a quick nap and rejuvenate. The Express Transportation dropped us off inside Magic Kingdom near Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin which was made it super easy to get to our “Be Our Guest” reservation in plenty of time. Again, don’t forget to ask the bus schedule when you arrive at the park if you plan to hitch another ride that day.

Disney's Express Transportation

After hitting all of our favorite rides in Magic Kingdom, we headed back to the Express Transportation pick up, checked in and were on our way to Hollywood Studios (again being the only family on the bus). The bus dropped us off right behind Tower of Terror allowing us to again skip security lines and head straight to the magic.

If you have Park Hopper passes and plan to hit multiple parks in one day, the Express Transportation is WELL WORTH THE PRICE. A few final notes:

  • Since the buses drop you off inside the parks, you will miss the “grand entrances” to each park (for example, walking down Main Street towards Cinderella’s Castle). If those photo opportunities are important to you, be aware that you will have to double back to see them.
  • Because you are behind the magic when you are escorted to your bus, photos and video are discouraged.

If you are looking for a way to pack more fun into a Disney vacation, definitely consider the Express Transportation option! We found it to be truly magical!

Top Five Places to Get King Cake in New Orleans

UPDATED for the 2017 Carnival Season!

If you are not from New Orleans, January 6th might just be an ordinary day, or perhaps you know it as the Epiphany or King’s Day.  But for us New Orleanians, January 6th marks the start of something spectacular….CARNIVAL!  The parades, floats, marching bands, traditions and throws are all great fun, but my favorite part of Carnival is the KING CAKE!

King Cake Baby King’s Day (January 6th) is celebrated as the date the gift-bearing kings visited the baby Jesus. The King Cake is baked in honor of the three kings and the baby (plastic, porcelain or gold) placed inside the cake symbolizes the baby Jesus. Originally, these oval cakes were a simple ring of dough with a small amount of decoration. Today’s King Cakes are much more festive! After the rich Danish dough is braided and baked, the “baby” is inserted. The top of the ring or oval cake is then covered with delicious sugar toppings in the traditional Mardi Gras colors: purple, green and gold.

In New Orleans, King Cake parties are held throughout the Carnival Season (generally on Friday). The person who receives the slice of cake with the baby inside is asked to continue the festivities by hosting the next King Cake party.

If you are looking to be a part of this NOLA tradition, I thought I would help you find some of the BEST places to buy King Cake (and I should know because over the course of my 41 years, I have tasted a LOT of King Cake!).

5 (tie).  Party Palace: Typically, I have seen these King Cakes in PJ’s Coffee stores, but now you can order these thick, heavy on the icing cakes online, too!

5 (tie). Marguerite Cakes: If chocolate is what you love, Marguerite offers a Brownie Delight cake that is truly spectacular. Their traditional King Cake (in my opinion) has a hint of almond flavoring making this cake different than the rest.

4.  Gambino’s:  While Gambino’s is known for their Doberche Cakes, they make a mean King Cake, too! These King Cakes can be stuffed with cream cheese, pecan praline, raspberry, peach, pineapple, blueberry, strawberry, lemon, apple, cherry or chocolate brownie!  I recommend the cream cheese!  Gambino’s offers some great packages to give out-of-towners a real Carnival experience.

4. (tie) Haydel’s:  In September, Haydel’s created a World’s Record for the largest King Cake ever made… it actually circled the New Orleans SuperDome! This Carnival, they are celebrating by offering the World Record King Cake Care Package which includes one large Traditional or Filled King Cake plus Haydel’s own Mambo Beat Mardi Gras Magazine, a king cake history scroll, one pack of Haydel’s Coffee and Chicory, Haydel’s Specialty Bead Pack, this year’s handcrafted Porcelain Collectible (while supplies last), Mardi Gras CD, Mardi Gras poster and a World Record Edition Mardi Gras cup.  Follow Haydel’s on Twitter so you don’t miss any special deals!

sucre king cake

Sucre King Cake…sooo pretty!

3. Mandeville Bake Shop (Krummel’s):  Not on the Southshore?  No problem!  Try out this Northshore favorite!

2. Randazzo’s:  Making King Cakes since 1965, Randazzo’s is the favorite of many locals.  The line remains out of the door, through the parking lot and down the street which means they are doing something right! From now through Mardi Gras Eve (known as Lundi Gras), you can have a King Cake shipped just about anywhere!

2.  Sucre:  Even though I was born and raised in New Orleans, I was just introduced to the Sucre King Cake a few years ago for a product review.  This is by far the prettiest King Cake I have ever seen….and one of the tastiest.  For only $20, you can own a slice of heaven! I absolutely cannot wait to get one this year.  In fact, I loved it so much, I shipped a few of these to friends last year so I wouldn’t be the only one to love Sucre!

1. Don Phuong’s Oriental Bakery: My new favorite for 2017! I am a sucker for cream cheese icing and this King Cake does it perfectly. This bakery is located in New Orleans East but I have found a few places in Lakeview (Pizza NOLA) and Metairie that carry the cakes for those who don’t want to travel (even though it’s totally worth the trip).

Check out these related posts:

How to host a Mardi Gras Party

Bake Your Own Traditional New Orleans King Cake

Happy King’s Day!  Where are you going to get your King Cake?