Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Magical Blogorail: Celebrating at Disney - Honeymoons

Welcome to those of you joining me from Frontierland Station and those of you just hopping aboard. I am the final stop on our Magical Blogorail.

There are many things you can celebrate multiple times at Disney World like anniversaries and birthdays, but honeymoons only happen once (of course you can take your spouse on multiple other
"honeymoons" but there is only one first one).  My wife, Carly, and I planned on a Disney vacation for our honeymoon from the get go, but we wanted to do something different.  So we opted for a Disney Cruise Line land and sea voyage.  We did a 4-night cruise on the Disney Dream and then 3 nights at WDW.  It was incredible!  Truly one of the best trips I have been on and probably one of the best I will ever go on.  I could sit here and do a trip report on that vacation, but I could write 20 pages of details that we enjoyed on the trip.  Instead I will give you a few tips about honeymooning at Disney.  The plus is that they will include both Disney Cruises and Walt Disney World.  So here they are:

  One of the best pieces of advice I received before my honeymoon at Disney was to tell EVERYONE!  When you make travel arrangements, be sure to let the cast member know you are traveling on your honeymoon.  If you use a Disney certified travel agent, tell them over and over again.  I make sure I ask my clients what they are celebrating so that I can let Disney know or make special arrangements myself.  While you are in the parks, don't be shy, let everyone know why you are there.  It shouldn't be too hard as you will probably be pretty lovey dovey after the wedding anyway.  

2. Splurge on some once in a lifetime events
  While we were planning our honeymoon, I made sure to add some once in a lifetime activities for us to do.  While on the cruise we stopped in Nassau and I opted for us to swim with the dolphins at Atlantis.  Although pricey, we had the best time at this event and we got passes to the Atlantis waterpark included!  Also we indulged in a couples massage.  The experience on the cruise was indeed magical and extremely relaxing.  While I thought it would be a one hour event, our massage included a foot rub, hot tub time, hot stones massage, and then tea and fruit on a balcony.  Did I mention the cucumber water? It was awesome!  But word to the wise, one massage a trip will do fine, when you do two in two days, you tend to get a little sore!  Eat at the restaurants you have always wanted to and stay at the hotel that has always been a little out of reach.  I am not saying go into debt, but I am saying go for those experiences you have always wanted to try!

3. Table Service Meals are the way to go!
  Table service meals can be as intimate and personal as you want them to be.  For instance, when you make reservations for a meal you can put that it is your honeymoon on the reservation or just tell your waiter or waitress when they greet you for drink orders (Tell EVERYBODY).  Table service meals can also be some of the most romantic times of your honeymoon.  Our first night on the Disney Dream, we ate at Remy, a bit pricey, but it was the best dining experience of my life.  We rolled out of the restaurant 3 hours later.  At the world we had lunch at the Brown Derby.  A cobb salad was our selection to share and we received free grapefruit cake and champagne, because we were on our honeymoon (tell EVERYBODY).

4.  Try something new together! (yes even if you are an avid Disney traveler)
  As I have already said, we splurged on things that we would never do if it wasn't a very special occasion.  This is a tough one for us Disney geeks out there, but rack your brain for something that is new and different to try.  The reason we chose a Disney cruise is not because we had never been on a Disney cruise before, it was because we had never been on a cruise at all!  Everything about it was new for us.  When we got to Disney World, we stayed at the Polynesian hotel, a hotel that I had always wanted to stay at growing up, but could never afford to.  Along with old favorites we tried new things like eating at the Brown Derby and even trying out the dream that is eating inside the castle at Cinderella's Royal Table.

5.  Dress the Part!
  Ok so I know any person can just go in and buy the bride and groom ears at a store, but come on if there ever was a time to wear them, your honeymoon is definitely the time!  We wore ours proudly everyday on the ship and at the world.  We also bought matching cruise line t-shirts and sweatshirts that we still wear at the same time together (awwww!!!).  AND DONT FORGET THE BUTTONS!  Get a button that says you are on your honeymoon!  It is so encouraging and fun to hear congrats all day throughout the parks!  You can see our buttons on my camera bag in the pic below.

 6. Don't forget the camera!
  Commemorate your trip with fun pics around the parks.  I know, I know you are on vacation, who thinks about taking pictures?  Well all I know is that our house is full of pics we took from our honeymoon.  It really was the best!  Here is my favorite pic from our trip.  We took this picture with the seven dwarves at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.

Whew!  After all that, I now can't wait to write some more posts about our honeymoon a.k.a the best trip ever!

Thank you for joining Magical Blogorail Orange this month.  We will be back on July 24th with an all new theme.  Keep checking in with our blogs in between loops to keep up to date with our Disney news, photos, and stories.  If you are looking for more Disney magic, you can make your way over to The Magical Blogorail website to see all our members and their blogs, as well as all our previous loops.

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:
3rd Stop ~ I Am a Mommy Nerd 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Camp 2014

Thursday I arrived back from almost a week at a summer camp with our youth.  Every summer for the past 7 or 8 years we have taken our kids to the same place: Lake Forest Ranch.  Many churches around the area take their students to Centrifuge camps or other conference type locations.  Lake Forest Ranch is a Christian summer camp that focuses on one-on-one ministry.  Also they minister to the leaders at the same time.  Lake Forest Ranch is located in between Louisville, MS and Macon, MS.  Lake Forest Ranch or LFR has been ministering to youth for over 50 years.

During the summer I work for the non-profit that is housed inside of my home church.  The church is Calvary Baptist in Jackson, MS and the non-profit is His Heart, Inc.  We have been sharing the love of Jesus the inner-city Jackson for over 15 years.  I started volunteering 16 years ago with His Heart, I worked as an intern through my college career, and now this is my summer gig when I am not teaching.  His Heart has been such a blessing in my life to work for and every summer for the past 7 or 8 years I have been traveling with our youth to LFR.  The weeks at LFR are filled with some of my most cherished memories as a His Heart worker, but this year was incredibly special.  

This year my sister, Becca, and myself were the adult leaders that accompanied our 13 youth to LFR.  Traveling to camp is already a miracle as it cost us over $5000 to pay for everyone's way.  Through generous grants and help from local churches our kids were completely paid for.  The cool thing about our kids over the past few years is that we are not all inner-city.  We have a very diverse youth group, but what has been so neat is watching these kids from different backgrounds come together and love each other as if they were family.
Lake Forest Ranch is a non-demoninational camp and every camper is assigned to a cabin with students from a variety of backgrounds, beliefs, and churches.  Every day is full of activities that include: three meals, two worship services (called Pow-Wows), team competition events, afternoon recreation activities, and a special nighttime program that changes every day.  I really could write a book about all the experiences we had and new friends I made, but I will stick to some of the key moments in our trip.  

The Ropes Course

The highlight most years at LFR has been watching students conquer their fear of heights on the zip line or climbing wall.  This year LFR has built a brand new ropes course with many new elements to try out.  Most of our students tried at least one element and many of those did more than one.  It might surprise you that on one of our guys, Cameron actually did any of the ropes.  Our other boys did not attempt a single one.  Here is a picture of the main platform with the zip line, climbing wall, and flying squrriel all in one.

The top of the climbing wall had bells to ring to signal that you were at the top.

But easily the most terrifying element at the ropes course is the Leap of Faith.  This is where you climb up a pole about 30 feet off the ground and then jump off to hit a ball dangling in mid air.  Then you free fall until your harness is caught by the belay worker on the ground.  You truly have to have faith in the equipment and the people running the equipment in order to jump.

Watching our students climb and experience these elements was amazing.  Some of our kids come from very poor conditions.  They would normally never get to experience anything like this.  Some were terrified at the top and it took half an hour to get them to jump.  And yet some went in with reckless abandon, climbing and jumping with more strength and joy than I could have mustered.  I will never forget the look of joy on one of our girls faces as she flew down the zip line.  I don't think I have seen so much joy out of her in the entire 15 years we have known her.  I will always remember her elation of finishing the rock wall and being the first to ring the bell that day.  Joys like that are not easily repeatable, but they are always memorable.

Pow Wow and "East to West"

Pow Wow is Lake Forest Ranch worship.  The Recharge Worship band out of Sulfer, LA led the music and our camp speaker was Jason Curry.  Our kids loved the band and the speaker, in fact, they were the same as last years camp.  Our students said they did not want anyone else but Jason as the camp speaker.  Jason is truly one of the greatest speakers for ministry I have ever encountered.  He brings truth from the Bible in a completely accessible way.  Students and adults are constantly encouraged by his words.  Jason also used my favorite passage of scripture from 1 Samuel in a message on one of the last nights.  One main point that Jason hit home over and over is the fact that nobody changes tomorrow.  Anyone can make excuses and wait to "clean up their act" before they accept Christ, but the fact is that change has to happen immediately, not tomorrow.  Tomorrow shows results, change happens now.

East to West was the special worship service we had late at night on the second to last night at camp. Students were led out to the lake side apitheater by torch light.  On the way there every student picked up a dark rock from a table.  The dark rock signified their sin.  The whole bible study throughout the week was called, Write It on a Rock, and the verse was Romans 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ."  You could see hundreds of stars above the lake as every camper took their rock and cast it out into the lake.  On the way back they picked up a white rock to signify purity and starting a new life with Christ.  Couselors and adults were there ready to receive students who wanted to pray or just talk about the experience.  One student sat with me afterwards and told me it was time to make a change and that God was calling to him asking him to give it all for God's glory.  Powerful testimony.  East to West was named after the verse from psalms that states, "as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." (103:12).  

Church Group Time

The best time of our week had to be church group time, which is about an hour every day of just our church being together.  This time has been filled with some great moments through the years, but this year held the greatest moment that I have experienced as a worker with His Heart.  Cameron is our lone senior camper this year.  He has a great heart and giving spirit about him.  During the last night of our church group time, I asked Cameron to sit in the middle of the room and everyone laid hands on him.  It was at this point that I told the group that we would be praying for Cameron as he entered into the next phase of life.  Before we even started praying Cameron was in tears and soon almost every single one of our youth was verbally lifting up Cameron in prayer.  The true miracle of camp is more than just getting away from it all for a week.  The true miracle this week was seeing students whom I have known for years and yet have never heard pray out loud, lift up this young man to their Creator.  It was the most impactful and amazing moment of my time at His Heart.  After the prayer time, we all gave Cameron a group hug and really it was a hug for everyone.  This week we have grown so much.  We have grown spiritually, individually, and as a group.  I can't wait to see what is in store.

Journey Strong

Lake Forest Ranch Website

Jason Curry's Website

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Magical Blogorail: Review of Lou Mongello's 102 Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World

This review for 102 Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World by Lou Mongello is part of a Magical Blogorail sponsored campaign. Copies of the book were received free of charge for a review. Opinions are those of the reviewer and do not represent those of the author.  Your opinion may vary.

When I first stepped foot in the Disney online community back in 2007, one of the first podcasts I began listening to was WDW Radio.  Since then I have been an avid listener and supporter of the WDW Radio host, Mr. Lou Mongello.  Not only has Lou's show won Best Travel Podcast every year from 2006-2013, but he also is an author.  The Walt Disney World Trivia Books (there are two volumes currently) take trivia about Walt Disney World and turn that into fun for the whole family.  More about WDW Radio, The Walt Disney World Trivia Books, and Lou's popular Audio Guides and Dream Team Project can all be found at WDW Radio.  So I have "known" Lou for many years and when I saw that his new project was a book about saving money at Walt Disney World, I couldn't wait to take a look at it.

About the Book:
102 Ways to Save Money for and at Walt Disney World gives answers to that pesky question most people traveling to WDW have: how do I afford to pay for a WDW vacation?  Not only is this question answered, but it is answered with so much variety that any person who thinks WDW is out of the question for a vacation due to finances will seriously reconsider staying at home.  102 Ways to Save Money for and at Walt Disney World can be found at Lou's website and is offered in digital form as well as paperback.

My Review:
I knew that I didn't know everything about saving money at Disney World and for Disney World, but I didn't realize just how much I didn't know.  Reading this text was a journey through the mind of a true Disney "life hacker."  The tips begin not as you step on property, but months (or even years!) ahead of your travel dates.  Lou meticulously explains tips that might be obvious: saving for a trip, booking a room, how to dine, etc. to the obscure: partial day tickets, laundry problems, pressed pennies, etc.  What I love about the book is the dedication to details and the feeling that every stone has been upturned for you.  102 Ways is separated into obvious sections of the vacation planning process.  For instance, the chapter that includes when to book a hotel room comes before the chapter on dining.  Also every chapter in the digital version offers links to online content that coincides to the tip in question.  My favorite part of this service is that Lou lists the episodes of his podcast that match the tip.  As I was reading, I tried to see just how many tips you could use out of the 102 on one single trip. This I found impossible, but that was the beauty of the text, because the variety of tips gives everyone reading, no matter the background or financial level, the opportunity to save money (and much more than a few dollars) when traveling to the Disney parks in Orlando.  The book is easy to read and is great as a reference for any and all decisions in the vacation planning process.  Two mouse ears way up for 102 Ways to Save Money for and at Walt Disney World!

My favorite tip:
While reading 102 Ways, I continued to audibly say, "oh thats a good idea," and "wow, I never thought of that!"  Of course there were many tips that I knew about, but I am sure the typical traveler would probably never know without someone telling them.  No matter if it was a new idea or a known tip to me, this book organized and categorized them neatly in one volume for me.

Tip #87 Save Money at Table Service Restaurants included my favorite nuggets of information in the entire book.  Being a big fan of Disney dining at WDW, this tip included specific and detailed (including prices!) ideas of restaurants and items that could be shared by two people for a meal AND examples of where you can find the exact same item for a smaller cost in the park.  For example in the book Lou states, "Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom --- a bowl of New England Clam Chowder is $6.99 at lunch.  Get the same chowder at the nearby Columbia Harbour House for $4.99 a bowl."

Lou Mongello's new book 102 Ways to Save Money for and at Walt Disney World is a great read and very worth the cost.  Not only does the book contain details for each of the 102 tips, but it also includes 40 ideas of free things to do or have at WDW as well.  If you a Disney fan like myself this is a great addition to your Disney travel collection.  Check out our Magical Blogorail competition to win your own copy for free below!

Disney expert and podcasting pioneer, Lou Mongello, shares 102 ways you can have the most magical Disney vacation without breaking the bank in this comprehensive, detailed, 197-page guide.  102 Ways to Save Money For and At Walt Disney World guide is a MUST HAVE for any family planning toward a Disney vacation.

Purchase the Book Here 


Enter to Win a Copy of Your Own + a Walt Disney World Audio Tour from Lou Monghello

If you would like a copy of Lou Mongello's 102 Ways to Save Money at Walt Disney World please enter to win our giveaway below.  Please click here if the entry widget is not shown below.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I am your father

"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." - Neil Gaiman

"So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings." - Tolkein The Hobbit

"My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in." - Proverbs 3:11-12

"Train a child in the way he shall go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." - Proverbs 22:6

"No....I am your father." - The Empire Strikes Back

When I was born way back in 1986 many things in pop culture had already taken a foothold.  One was The Lord of the Rings trilogy and another was the Star Wars trilogy.  I knew nothing about these things in 1986 mainly because well I was an infant.  I used to love a good story read to me.  And I will always remember the night that dad either got tired of reading the same old stories or decided I was ready for something more and he brought in an old beat up looking book with yellow pages.  He said, "I read this book when I was young and I think you will like it a lot."  It started like this:

"In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.  Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."

At that moment I was completely lost in the world of Middle-Earth.  And I would continue to be for the next few months as my father read me this story.  I remember the spiders, Gollum, Beorn, the Trolls, and of course The Battle of Five Armies.  Also the death of two of my favorite characters was the first time a book truly made me cry.  It was around that same time that my father told me about Star Wars.  I remember watching the first movie at our old apartment that we lived in while my parents current house was being built.  Again I was opened to a whole new world of adventure and good vs. evil.  I could feel myself using the Force to move things and I WAS Luke Skywalker and lets me honest, every kid took a stick/light saber and made the noises while we fought enemy Stormtroopers.  The very next night we watched The Empire Strikes Back and the ending was the biggest shock of my life.  I don't think I have ever freaked out at a movie more than when those famous words were spoken.  We hesitated for a few months before watching Return of the Jedi, solely because my dad told me you saw Darth Vader's face at the end and I was really not ready for that.  I had nightmares about it.  But these were the days of VHS recordings and our whole trilogy of Star Wars movies were recorded from HBO.  So when we actually did watch Return of the Jedi the recording cut out before I saw Darth's face.  It took quite a few more years before I did and yeah it wasn't so bad.

Why do I tell these stories?  Well most everywhere on the interwebs on Sunday there will be Father's Day posts.  People will change their profile pictures to them and their dads, they will post great stories like the ones I tried to tell well above, and most of all people will eat Sunday lunch or dinner with their dads and then give him a giftcard, tool, or some other item of the manly persuasion.  I can't be with my dad this year on Father's Day because I will be at camp with our youth group, out in the middle of nowhere Mississippi, enjoying the fun and festivities that come with summer camp.  

The first thing that I must say about my dad out front is that he is nowhere near perfect.  That might always be the toughest lesson for a kid to learn growing up is that their dad is just like themselves....human.  But thats where I have to stop and say my dad is far from a failure.  He is a hard worker and has always provided for us way beyond the essentials of life.  Because of my dad's finance savy mind, we were able to take long family trips together every summer and we never missed out on something at school, church, or community because of money.  My dad showed me how to love my family and heritage.  He taught me how throw a baseball, how to drive a lawnmower and weedeater, 
 how to grill the perfect burger, how to play poker, how to swing a golf club, and thats really only getting started.  He also helped to teach me how to give your time at a church, how to use your connections to help others in need, how to lose and win gracefully and with the highest sportsmanship (this is referring to our love of Mississippi State NOT card games, where my dad is an avid cheater:), how to appreciate the smallest of things in life, and how to use your talents for others.  

But one of the greatest gifts that my dad gave me was not in the above list, in fact, it is something that not many sons can say their dad did for them.  My dad showed me that cancer could be beaten.  15 years before I was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma Stage 2B, my father was diagnosed with the same disease, same stage.  Because of the advancements of research and medicine my dad's struggle was a lot worse 15 years ago than my struggle this year.  But the point is that when I was diagnosed, I was not afraid of cancer, because I knew it could be beaten.  Also I had faith that God would deliver me from it and if not, I would praise Him anyway.  My dad brought me up to give back and that is why he is running a half-marathon in my honor in January.  And because my dad knows me he is running the Walt Disney World Half-marathon.  So because I want to give back too we are both running as are our famillies.  We run to give back to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society and help the next generation of cancer patients realize that dragons can be beaten.

So thanks dad, for teaching me how to love Bluegrass, a furry footed hobbit, Jedi, Bulldogs, family, God, and a good grilled burger.  And thanks dad for beating cancer and for loving me, while I did the same.  Happy Father's Day.

Journey Strong

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Great Start to A Radiating Summer

"When life gets rough, I like to hold on to my dream, of relaxing in the summer sun, just lettin' off steam." - Olaf "In Summer"

It has surely been a few weeks since my last blog post.  If you are keeping score:  Bryce 1  Cancer 0

So after I graduated from MSU a few Saturdays ago, I rounded out the school year and closed up shop.  It is always a little sad to see my empty classroom with all the books packed up and the floors clear for cleaning.  But it is also exciting, because in summer I work for a non-profit housed in my home church.  It is called His Heart, most of you will know it if you live in the Jackson area.  We work with families and kids in the heart of the city of Jackson, MS.    It is some of the most rewarding moments of my year.  We do our best to be the hands and feet of Christ to those families.  

His Heart Website: 

I also took a surprise trip to Walt Disney World with my wife and our good friends Zach and Jordan.  It was great to be at WDW again.  It was my first time visiting New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom and so many more new experiences.  I took over a thousand pictures and most of them will be used for future travel blog posts.  I can't wait to share the fun!  

Throughout the trip I wore a button that said, "I'm celebrating!".  On the button was written, "I am Cancer Free!"  Everyone else had buttons that said, "Bryce is cancer free!"  The response was humbling and uplifting.  Everyone who noticed not only congratulated me, but most shared their story with me in line or passing by.  I remember one cast member on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority or TTA for you Disney fanatics, said "I am too!"  I responded with, "It's great isn't it!"  He said, "Yes, everyday you appreciate more and more.  Have fun!"  Indeed, when we are faced with our humanity and realize that everyday is a gift and could be our last, we sure do live a little better.  That sure is an odd juxtaposition.

I have now been back home for almost a week.  I am still getting back to "reality" and have been working at His Heart collecting forms for Arts Camp next week.  I have stressed over getting everything back in order and back on routine.  Also I have been catching up on podcasts.  One of the best ones I listen to is the Ransomed Heart Podcast hosted by John Eldridge of Wild at Heart fame.  He spoke on the end times and how we are living in the days right before Jesus comes.  He spoke with such urgency and it truly made me think back on my urgency through the cancer journey.  We are a procrastinating people.  We say oh I'll share Jesus tomorrow or I'll start that book when I am out of school.  If the Lord has something on your heart to do, don't hesitate!  Start your dream today!  I am speaking to myself more than anyone.  There are so many things that I know I should do and yet I put it off.  Your life has a purpose.  Take it from me, I am not here to lead a nation or start a revolution, but I know that the Lord has great things in store for me to do.  I am just saying, be alert and be ready to act.  

Now for the radiation.  I met with my radiologist yesterday to discuss when radiation therapy will start.  Wow what a difference in cancer clinic visits.  Radiation is a whole other ballpark than chemo. The office staff was incredibly jolly and helpful.  We met with the business department (always fun) and then the nurse and the doctor.  I really could tell you details about radiation, but this was just an initial visit.  I will go back to get another scan with the Radiology department June 23 and then I will start radiation later that week.  Radiation will last 3 weeks!  That's right only 3!  This was less than half of the amount I thought I would receive AND it allows me to take our youth to camp at Lake Forest Ranch as well!  Great news to start off a great summer.

Thanks for giving me some time off, but I will be back at the blog much more during the summer!  If you want to follow more of what my summer entails you can follow my #79daysofsummer on Instagram.  Follow me @yelverto.

Journey Strong