Saturday, October 6, 2012

Once, Twice, Three Times To Disney

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  (Hey that would make great lyrics for a song wouldn’t it?) 
I think people who sweep tend to be dreamers.  We dream of winning cruises, cash, computers, and so much more.  In my previous posts I told you how I was able to win not one but two happily ever after trips to the magic kingdom.  Never could I have imagined that I could win another trip to Disney but I did.
When I learn about a contest or sweepstakes one thing I love to do is to read the prizes offered.  Sometimes the prizes are trips to faraway places or maybe a band new car.  I honestly can’t help but imagine myself winning even though I realize that the odds are certainly not in my favor.
I’ll be honest; the first thing I noticed about the ESPN Guys Guys Weekend Sweepstakes was that all the major prizes gave you flowers from  I simply love flowers and the possibility of winning the grand prize and receiving flowers every month for a year was so exciting. 
The fact that the grand prize also consisted of a trip to Disney World seemed too good to be true.  I’d already won two trips to Disney how could I possibly win another trip?  It was all too mind-boggling. 
To enter you had to vote each day on the Wow Moment of the Day in Sports poll question by agreeing with one of the moments or submitting your own.  I entered faithfully every day and dreamed of winning flowers.  When the sweepstakes was over I pushed my dream aside as one that was nice to imagine but it was finally time to wake up and smell the flowers because I didn’t even win the Arrangement of the Month 3 Month Bouquet Club. 
It turns out I spoke too soon.  When I had won my second trip to Disney the judging agency had tried to reach me by phone, email, and finally by Fed-Ex before they finally let me know I had won.  In this particular case, the sponsor had messaged me through Facebook several times and then as a last ditch effort wrote me an email through my Thrifty Maven blog.
When I contacted them I learned I had WON the Grand Prize.  I was so excited about the flowers I almost forgot all the other great things included in the prize.  So let me share with you what I won.

Grand Prize: A Guy's Guy Weekend including a trip for two to meet ESPN Radio personalities at ESPN Audio's Guy's Guys Weekend at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL from March 1 - 4, 2012. The trip includes airfare, 4 days at Disney's Yacht Club Resort, a Welcome Reception including dinner, drinks, and fireworks, a "Drive Time" night NASCAR racing experience at Richard Petty Racing, optional 18-holes of Golf at Disney's Magnolia Golf Course, a Saturday afternoon Atlanta Braves baseball game at the Champion Stadium at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, and !iViva Los Guys! "Casino" Night. The winner will also receive a 1-800-Flowers Arrangement of the Month 12 Month Bouquet Club, Stock Yards The Twelve-Month Club, and a Sony PS3 Sports Champions Move HW Bundle. (ARV: $10,498.71) 

I was in thrilled and shocked all at the same time.  I was hoping that my husband would be just as excited about the prize and he was, about parts of it at least.  You see my husband is not a Disney Dad.  I will not repeat the things he says about Disney in mixed company but suffice it to say that he would be happy to never visit Disney again as long as he lives.  I guess you could say we’re a mixed marriage.
People often ask me what was my favorite win and that can be a difficult question to answer.  I really loved when I won Redskin football tickets from a local radio station when my son was about 13 years old.  The tickets alone were a godsend considering at the time we were really struggling with me going to school and working two jobs.  The prize was even better than that because it included a limo ride to the game and we actually got to sit on the field on the press bench.  How amazing is that?
I could list a variety of just-in-time wins that allowed me to take my boys to a Baltimore Orioles game, Renegades hockey tickets, circus tickets, Ice Capades tickets, and even WWF tickets.  There was the time I won my youngest son the bike he so desperately wanted or I when I won their birthday cakes at a time when our budget was so tight it squeaked.   
 Maybe it was the time I won a trip to the Bahamas and we stayed at the Atlantis Resort.  This amazing trip even included a limo ride to and from the resort.  Our room in the Royal Towers had a breathtaking view of the ocean.  The resort’s attractions include more than 20 swimming areas, water slides, saltwater sports lagoon, 3-mile beach, health spa, casino, multiple restaurants/bars, children's clubs, and 140 acres of waterscape attractions. What an incredible trip!
If you were to ask us that same question now, my husband and I would answer simultaneously, “Our favorite win was the ESPN Guys Guys Weekend trip.  That’s saying a lot considering how my husband USED to feel about Disney.  After this trip, my husband developed such an affinity with Disney World that he actually offered to take me again one day.
So let’s start with what made this trip so fantastic that it made my husband a Disney convert. 

It all began at the airport.  Once upon a time I saw a movie where a celebrity was being picked up at the airport.  A man in a suit holding a sign bearing her name waited for her to escort her to the waiting limo.  In the back of my mind I’ve always thought of this as something very upscale, certainly far beyond my childhood expectations.  I really never thought I’d ever ride a plane let alone have a driver picking me up at the airport.  Now thanks to sweeping I’ve had this happen several times.
Since I knew I was riding Disney’s Magic Express to our hotel I didn’t expect anyone to meet us at the airport.  I was so wrong.  The wonderful people from ESPN met us with a big sign that said “Guy’s Guy’s Weekend” and they welcomed us to Orlando and told us where to meet our contact at The Yacht Club.
I simply love Disney’s Magic Express because it saves you time and money because you don’t have to rent a car for your visit.  If you plan to stay on Disney property, you should definitely take advantage of this service as well as the luggage pickup/drop off service – it helps to make your trip magically delicious!
When we arrived at the Yacht Club I couldn’t help but feel as though I stepped into the grand hotel featured in the movie “Somewhere In Time.”  This Disney Deluxe Resort has a 1880s Martha's Vineyard nautical theme. 
We met with our ESPN Guy’s Guys Weekend contacts and they were so friendly and efficient.  I just knew we were in god hands.  One thing I really loved was the lanyard with the weekend’s schedule attached.  This was a GREAT idea.  I didn’t have to worry about throwing out some piece of paper or forgetting it in the room.  Everything I needed to know was right there for me. 
On the way to our room I played one of my favorite games, finding the hidden Mickeys.  They can be found in the carpeting in hallways leading to guest rooms. 
After checking in, we decided to check out the grounds. The Yacht Club and Beach Club Resorts share one of the nation's largest sand bottom pools, Stormalong Bay. The pool is a "mini-waterpark", featuring a sand bottom swimming area, lazy river, a large slide from a wrecked ship just outside of the play area on the beach, and even sinking sand.  We decided that we would hit the pool after we walked over to Disney’s Boardwalk.
I love to window shop but I very rarely get the chance to do just that.  The Boardwalk is reminiscent of the Coney Island my Grandparents would have known.  They even had classic midway games and street performers.
One of the first places I visited was the Boardwalk Bakery.  Oh the endless choices to satisfy any sweet cravings throughout the day with assorted cakes, pies and pastries fresh from the bakery's oven.  Hubby asked if I wanted a cupcake knowing by weakness for them but I was able to resist because I wanted to save room for our dinner. 
Having said this one might wonder why I then decided to stop in the Seashore Sweets store.  This store specialties at this old-fashioned shop are saltwater taffy, fudge and other "Confections Served with Affection."  Somehow, some way, I was able to resist and walked away without even some fudge.  I’m not going to say this was easy, just that I did it.
Next we went on the hunt for the Disney Cookbook I wanted.  I love to cook and I really was excited about the idea of making some of the signature Disney meals at home. 
After we dropping off my cookbook back in the room we decided to make a quick trip to Epcot which was in walking distance.  I’d never been to Disney World without kids and I didn’t realize that it could be so much fun.  Finally it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready to meet in the lobby for the walk to Epcot.
As is our habit we arrived in the lobby a little early and eventually people started drifting down to the gathering area where we were met by a Disney cast member who walked us over to the Terrace des Fleurs.
Just as its name suggests, the Terrace of Flowers is an enchanting outdoor location filled with beds of fresh flowers. Beautiful stone architecture houses fresh floral, adding color and décor to this fairy tale setting. There were stunning views of the Eiffel Tower and the Paris cityscape, twinkling in the background. 

The menu for the Welcome reception included:

• Tomato, Mozzarella, Balsamic and Micro Basil Martini. 
• Pan fried grilled vegetable fritter with sweet pea puree, and balsamic reduction
• Seared Wagyu Beef Tenderloin, with Mushroom Ragout served open face on Grilled Ciabatta
• As well as beer, wine, and soft drinks. 
I had NEVER stayed in any of the parks for their fireworks but away from all the hustle and bustle of people jockeying for position I always avoided them. This venue made watching the fireworks the most romantic and enjoyable thing to do.

Actually to simply call IlluminNations: Reflections of Earth night time show fireworks is missing the mark.   The show utilizes fireworks, pyrotechnics, laser lights, fountains, and fire to create a visual production on the park's World Showcase Lagoon. 
When we arrived back in our room we found a huge gift suitcase waiting for us with hats, t-shirts, lots of snacks, a deck of cards, and even a stuffed Mickey Mouse.  If my trip had ended the next morning I would have felt I lived my dream win.  Little did I know what was yet to come.
The next morning Darryl and I head over to Kouzzina’s for breakfast.  I began the day with Steel Cut Oatmeal with Bananas, Walnuts, and Honey Drizzle.  Darryl had the Stacked Kouzzina Breakfast – Two Poached Eggs, Kalamata Olive Toast, Artichoke Spread, and Sweet Potato Hash with choice of Bacon or Chicken Sausage.  It was the perfect way to start the day.
Since we didn’t have to meet for the Exotic Car Racing Experience until 12:30 we decided to take a dip in the pool.  I have to admit that I felt guilty because I was there swimming in this great pool while my grandkids were in school.  The guilt didn’t keep me from having a great time.  My favorite part was the little ducklings that were swimming around the pool with their mom.  They were only a couple of days old and their mother had built a nest by the pool.  I could have just watched their antics for hours, but we didn’t have hours because eventually we had to go back to the room to get ready for the big event.  

I say big event because the Exotic Car Racing Experience was the part of the trip my husband had looked forward to since the moment I told him about it.  We were taken to the Richard Petty Racing facility for a day of racing.
Our racing adventure began with an explanation of how our groups would proceed through the day’s activities.  There would be an opportunity for each of us to drive an exotic car and participate in go-cart racing before participating in a team building activity.  
Before driving the exotic car you go through a 15 to 30 minute safety class and I wonder if I was the only one who felt like they were back in their Driver’s Ed class.  I was worried that they might wreck the car let alone scratch it in some way. 
Once our safety class was over everyone got to draw for their cars, changed into our jumpsuits, and the experience began.  I drew the Lamborghini Giallardo Superleggera.  I’m going to admit I am not a car person.  My husband and my sons laugh at me because there are only three cars I can identify by sight.  That’s it.  Everything else is a blue car or a red car.  
I was aware that a Lamborghini is a very expensive car.  This made me even more nervous about taking the wheel.  I suppose if my husband had told me that the base price of such a vehicle was $237,600 he would have had to peel me off the ground before placing me inside the vehicle. 
When it came down to my Lamborghini driving experience I would evaluate my personal performance as poor.  I felt sorry for my driving coach who must have been bored by my top speeds of less than 50 miles per hour.  I drove like the little old lady from Pasadena who only drove her car to and from church on Sundays.  As a matter of fact, I’m willing to believe that I personally hold the record for the slowest driver at that track ever.   I don’t care if they tell everyone how slow I went because when it was over I realized that this really had been an amazing once in a lifetime experience for me.
On the other hand my husband truly appreciated the fact that he was driving a Ferrari 458.  My husband is the kind of guy who can appreciate and Italian car.  He realized that his ride’s base price was about $229,825 and he couldn’t wait to get it out on the track.  After the first lap he had that vehicle cruising around the track at 119 miles per hour.  As a matter of fact his driving coach told him how really impressed he was about the way he handled the vehicle. 
My husband had an ear to ear grin that was permanently part of his face the whole day.  If you know my husband, then you know that while he’s not a dour man, he’s not Mr. Smiley either.  Not that day, he looked as happy as a little boy who discovered that Santa had left him EVERY SINGLE THING he’d ever wanted for Christmas under the tree.  
I had brought some of the snacks we got with us but I need not have done so.  Once again Holly and her people had seen to everything.  There was ice cream, soda, peanuts, and my new favorite, hot dogs on pretzel buns.  
My favorite part of the experience was the team building activity.  It was a drive along experience with a twist.  Everyone was divided into groups and each group was competing against each other.  Every group member had a job and each person had to do their job well in order to get into the winner’s circle.  
Darryl was the first one in the passenger seat and when he finished his three laps he was on an adrenaline high.  Everyone wanted to know what it was like and he was more than happy to tell them.  I think I was the only one afraid about the opportunity to travel over 100 miles an hour on a race track.   I remember screaming when the car took off as if I were on the scariest roller-coaster.  I wanted to close my eyes so I wouldn’t be so afraid but I convinced myself that I should keep my eyes open because this was a one of a kind experience.  

After our team’s big win we celebrated at the Drive Time Dinner Celebration.  Once again the food was absolutely amazing. 

The Menu Included:
• Sugar Caned Skewered Warm Water Lobster Tails with Crispy Slim Jims
• Sun Dried Cherry and Leek Chutney sprinkled with Dry Butter Powder
• Mini Corn Dog Brochette with a Budweiser Mustard
• Barbeque Rubbed Pork Ribs
• Mashed Potato Fritter Bar Toppings included:  Crawfish Tails, Bacon, Meatballs, Roast Chicken, Grilled New York Strip Steak, Broccoli, Peppers and Onions, Chives, Smoked Gouda, Pepper Jack Cheese, Chili, and Smoked Cheddar Fondue. 
• For dessert there were Caramel Milk Chocolate Shots with Graham Cracker Crusted Marshmallows

There was also beer, wine, soft drinks, music and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves  Then my husband, you remember him, the anti-Disney guy, nudged me and in a very excited voice said, “Look Cathy there’s Mickey and Minnie Mouse.”  How exciting and we even got to take pictures with them.  This photo is one of my favorite photos of the two of us because you can see that the smile is still plastered on his face.
I remember saying to Holly, how wonderful everything has been.  I couldn’t stop thanking her.  Then she said wait until tomorrow.  I insisted that there was no way they could top that day but I soon learned that the word NEVER does not exist in Disney World.  

The next day was a chance to see the Atlanta Braves play the Detroit Tigers at the ESPN Wide World of Sports.  I like baseball.  For me half the fun is sitting in the stands and people watching.  If the weather’s nice then it doesn’t matter whether my team wins or loses I’ve still had a great time at the old ball game.  I didn’t expect my husband to be so excited about the game though.  After all he’d only been to three games in his life and he really didn’t seem to enjoy them the way I do.  What I didn’t know was that his day at the races had changed everything for him.
Usually when I went to games I sat in the cheap seats.  This does not mean I never sat in the good seats.  As a matter of fact one time I had a date with someone from the Toledo Mud Hen’s and he got me a seat in the player’s wives and girlfriend’s section.  I think we were both impressed with the opportunity to sit in the luxury suite at the Champion Stadium at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. 
Once again our meal was catered and there was plenty to eat and drink.  

The menu included:
• Ropa Veijas Braised Shredded Beef with Cuban Bread
• White Corn Arepas stuffed with Shrimp Enchiladas
• Tripletas Sandwich with Beef, Pork, and Chicken topped with Fried Potatoes
• Pepperoni Pizza Dip
• Cilantro Lime Salsa
• Border Slaw
• Guacamole
 They even remembered the peanuts and the cracker jacks! 

I usually get so nervous meeting people but now it just seemed so easy to meet the others in our group and it had been so long since I’d ever felt so good about being at an event or party.  Everyone was just so friendly.  Then just when I thought things couldn’t get better Mickey came to visit us.  Oh and I think it bears mentioning that Mr. UnDisney was just as happy about the arrival of the mouse as I was. 
By this point I just couldn’t imagine that anyone or anything could make this trip more memorable for us.  I don’t think I could have wished upon a star for such an amazing trip.  We still had one more party to attend and I could scarcely contain my excitement.
We left the game a little early to catch a nap and boy was that a good idea.  There was just no way I could have imagined the lengths the sponsors went to to make !iViva Los Guys! "Casino" Night one of the most memorable nights we’ve had in a long time. 

When we were led over to the ballroom where the party was to be held we were greeted at the Currascaria with a Caipirina. A Caipirina is a cocktail is made with nature cane rum and fresh muddled lime juice. It was oh so good.

While Darryl and I had imagined a steak and potato meal we proved once again that we didn’t have a Disney level imagination. We were going to experience a churrascaria. If you’ve never been to one Passadores (meat waiters) come to the table with knives and a skewer, on which are speared various kinds of meat and you tell them if you’d like some or if you’ve had enough.

Our passadores came by offering us Brazilian Picanha Beef, Parmesan Crusted chicken, Garlic Grilled Shrimp, Brazilian Coffee Rubbed Pork Loin, Brazilian Sausage, and Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper Lamb Chops.

Soups were Feljoada which is a sausage and black bean soup and Sopa de Legumes which was a vegetable and rice soup.

Accompaniments included Brazilian Cheese Bread, Sweet Fried Bananas, Arroz de Rodeio, Esquites ( a warm corn salad), Chimichurri (made with chopped fresh parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and red pepper flakes). and Red Salsa. There was also an open bar.

I really enjoyed the people at our table. We had a very interesting political discussion and while we didn’t always agree I felt that these were definitely people I’d like to see again.
After we’d eaten to our hearts content it was time to gamble. While I do sweep, I seldom gamble. I’m far too cheap to do so. My husband loves to play cards but I don’t feel confident enough in my ability to play for money. Fortunately for me there was no money involved. I could win or lose to my heart’s content. Darryl was in his element and I just wanted to hug Holly for making this evening, no day, no entire trip so perfect. Did I really have to go home the next day?

The evening ended with drawings for autographed sports paraphernalia. We wound up winning two autographed baseballs. Then all too quickly it was time to go back to our room and get some sleep.

The next morning we tried to sneak over to the Polynesian for breakfast but I didn’t realize that this was a character breakfast and of course it was all sold out. Instead we went next door to the Grand Floridian and had breakfast at the Grand Floridian Café. Darryl had the American breakfast that included two Eggs served with Bacon, Sausage, Biscuits, Breakfast Potatoes, and a choice of Juice. I was able to order oatmeal with bananas, pecans, and brown sugar so I was happy except for the fact that it was time to leave the magical kingdom.

I said nothing to Darryl but Darryl leaned in and asked me about going back to Disney again. Really? Go to Disney again? Christmas time? Really? I thought you hated Disney? Well it turns out my husband is now a Disney convert. Who knew?

We were thrilled to be part of the team for four days of fantastic hospitality and the ultimate“Guy’s” activities. The people who worked to put this all together did a truly amazing job and I just can’t say enough about how thankful we both are.

The other benefit of winning this prize is that the fun keeps coming. Every month I receive an arrangement of flowers from 1800Flowers and a shipment of meat from Stockyard Meats. Don’t forget we also got that Sony PS3 Sports Champions Move HW Bundle.

The morale of this story is that when you wish upon a star, or dream about winning a sweepstakes, your dreams can come true and sometimes be even better than you ever imagine.

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