Why Dragonfly Ventures?

I’ve been asked on more than one occasion on why I choose the name Dragonfly Ventures so I thought I wound share my story.

There are different meanings on what Dragonflies represent depending on the culture.  But mostly Dragonflies symbolize freedom and change and being okay with change.

In Native American cultures (I am 1/8th Cherokee), the dragonfly spirit means you must consciously make an effort to express your hopes, dreams, needs and wishes. The dragonfly spirit is the essence of the winds of change, the messages of wisdom and enlightenment; and the communication from the elemental world. Its medicine beckons you to seek out the parts of your habits which need changing. You can turn to the dragonfly to guide you through the mists of illusion to the pathway of transformation.

Here’s a story I found that also signifies the Dragonfly meaning:

The Dragonfly Once, in a little pond, in the muddy water under the lily pads, there lived a little water beetle in a community of water beetles. They lived a simple and comfortable life in the pond with few disturbances and interruptions. Once in a while, sadness would come to the community when one of their fellow beetles would climb the stem of a lily pad and would never be seen again. They knew when this happened; their friend was dead, gone forever. Then, one day, one little water beetle felt an irresistible urge to climb up that stem. However, he was determined that he would not leave forever. He would come back and tell his friends what he had found at the top. When he reached the top and climbed out of the water onto the surface of the lily pad, he was so tired, and the sun felt so warm, that he decided he must take a nap. As he slept, his body changed and when he woke up, he had turned into a beautiful blue tailed dragonfly with broad wings and a slender body designed for flying. So, fly he did! And, as he soared he saw the beauty of a whole new world and a far superior way of life to what he had never known existed. Then he remembered his beetle friends and how they were thinking by now he was dead. He wanted to go back to tell them, and explain to them that he was now more alive than he had ever been before. His life had been fulfilled rather than ended. But, his new body would not go down into the water. He could not get back to tell his friends the good news. Then he understood that their time would come, when they, too, would know what he now knew. So, he raised his wings and flew off into his joyous new life!

After our parents died, my sister and I adopted the Dragonfly and it’s symbolism.  Maybe as our coping method, maybe not.  We just know that we were drawn to it. We got matching dragonfly tattoos.  We give each other gifts of dragonflies.  It keeps us connected as we embrace our changing lives.

As for the Ventures part… it signifies venturing out.  Whether that’s for travel, business or just life.

Freedom, change, venturing…it’s all why I love to travel and explore the world!

GoBites helps hungry travelers

Snacking on the go just got a bit easier, thanks to GoBites, a company that promises to deliver wholesome snacks directly to your door.

Hungry travelers will no longer have to rely on over-priced, sometimes stale and unhealthy options available at airport kiosks. GoBites offers subscriptions for packs of 14 pre-packaged snack packs delivered to your home or office weekly, bi-weekly or once a month.

Go Bites 2Each GoBites is a portion controlled “mini-meal” made with the finest, nutrient-rich ingredients from around the world. Everything they use is 100 percent natural and most of their ingredients are USDA Certified Organic. Their nutrition team takes the guesswork out of snacking by offering a smart lineup of GoBites that are just the right amount, the right mix and the right flavor.

GoBites has over 26 varieties of snacks available with options for vegetarian’s, vegan’s, gluten-free and those wanting a Mediterranean-friendly choice. The Apricot Gluten-Free Granola was substantial with a nice little bite and the Umami Crunch was a savory and satisfying light snack.

Go Bites 3Other options sampled were Das Glut which had just the right amount of sweet and nutty crunch and the Pineapple Coconut Mix which was quite tasty with organic pineapple and coconut.

All and all, GoBites is a good option, especially for those on the go. Just order, they’ll arrive at your doorstep and then pick a package and put it in your purse or backpack.

Go BitesSubscriptions start at $27.86 a month with free delivery. For more information visit gobites.com

Unforgettable Boston

This article was originally published in the Simpsonville Sentinel and at Yahoo.

 

With all eyes on Boston over the past several weeks, many have connected and have come to admire the resilient people that live in this city steeped with our nation’s history. With strong ties to South Carolina, including the Greenville Drive’s Boston Red Sox affiliation and Fluor Field modeled after Boston’s Fenway Park, to the stones that built Fort Sumter direct from Boston area quarries, the Upstate has a close relationship with this amazing, unforgettable city.

BostonBoston is a great, walkable city; in fact it’s been nicknamed America’s Walking City, so no need for a rental car once you arrive. The T subway system is also pretty extensive so when you don’t feel like walking just hop on the subway to get to wherever you’re going. Unlimited 7-day passes are available for just $18.00 per person and you can either pick up a map or download one to your smart phone to figure out which routes you need.

Once you arrive, check in at the Nine Zero Hotel. Part of the Kimpton hotel chain, this sleek, modern hotel has been ranked as one of Boston’s top luxury boutique hotels. It’s conveniently located on Treemont Street, right across from Boston Common, America’s oldest public park. It’s also right on the Freedom Trail, close to the Theater District and Chinatown- in the heart of downtown Boston.

Boston 007Once you’re settled in, walking the Freedom Trail is a great way to get to know the city. Park Ranger’s lead free tours daily from the National Park Visitor’s Center at Faneuil Hall and other companies offer costumed guided tours or, you can pick up a brochure and take a self-guided tour.  The walking trail covers 16 sites that are significant landmarks in American Revolutionary history. Landmarks include Paul Revere’s House, Bunker Hill Monument, The Old State House and the Old Corner Book Store.

Boston Duck Tours are another fun way to sightsee around the city. These tours leave from the Prudential Center and are especially popular with families. Tour guides have nicknames like MackinQuack and make history fun as you ride in an amphibious vehicle. You’ll learn about the history of Boston’s Back Bay, see the gas lamps and brick sidewalks that define Beacon Street and plop down into the Charlestown River before checking out where the USS Constitution, aka Old Ironside, is docked.

The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum is another good way to immerse yourself in American Revolutionary history. This floating museum features live actors, high-tech exhibits and authentically restored tea ships. Upon entering the museum you will be given a feather and a card issuing you a new identity.  You will then be ushered into a room where you will meet new colonists like Paul Revere and Sam Adams. After proclaiming your independence from England, you’ll explore the ships and throw tea overboard just like the Sons of Liberty did on December 16, 1773.

Before checking out other attractions like the New England Aquarium, Museum of Science and the Skywalk at the Prudential Center, get a CityPass. Many larger cities offer these handy booklets, with Boston being one of those, and are available at any visitor’s center and at several kiosks throughout the city. They contain prepaid admission tickets to Boston’s most popular attractions and offer almost a 50% discount. Some attractions also let you skip long lines with these passes so they are definitely worthwhile.

Bostons Little ItalyIn a city with a Dunkin Donuts on every corner, Boston has plenty of options when it comes to dining, but the North End, aka Little Italy, transports you into another country. When you cross over onto Hanover Street and enter the North End Historic District you feel like you are in Italy. Little, Old Italian women are busy sweeping the stoops in front of their restaurants and the smell of fresh baked bread is heavenly sweet. From cannolis at Modern Pastry (forget famous Mike’s where the lines are longer with tourists) to pizza at Regina’s, a no frill’s pizzeria that has been here since 1926, the dining possibilities are endless. With over 100 restaurants in this small (.36 miles) area, crowds line the streets on many nights so if you don’t have reservations there may be a long wait.

There are so many things to do and see in Boston. Be sure to stop into the Boston Public Library to see the amazing architecture, marble statues and painted murals. Take in the amazing city view from the Prudential Skywalk Observatory. Go shopping along Newbury Street, the shops at Prudential Center and Faneuil Hall. Sample food from the largest food court I’ve ever seen at Quincy Market and visit the seals and penguins at the newly refurbished aquarium that’s been under repairs by Raleigh Aquarium Maintenance for a few months.

Whew…and that’s only a fraction of what Boston has to offer. There are also world-class museums and many other historically significant sites. Each of Boston’s 21 distinctive neighborhoods has its own charm and vibe, making each one and the whole city truly unforgettable.

Springpad is an Awesome, Visually Smart, Social iPhone App

I recently received a press release about an app called Springpad which touts itself as an organizing and remembering tool. I’m a loyal and fervent user of Evernote and somewhat of an organizational nut so I was intrigued and decided to check it out for myself. It’s funny that I hadn’t heard of Springpad, even though it was named one of TIME Magazine’s top 50 iPhone apps of 2012.

Considered to be more visual, smart and social than Evernote, Springpad does have some advantages. The free app features Notebook templates like Movies to Watch, Recipes to Try and Books to Read. You can choose from different designs and colors for each notebook which adds a “custom” feel to it.

Once the notebook has been created, you can search and add items. For example, in the Movies to Watch I added Silver Linings Playbook which I want to see one of these days. Not only was the item easy to search, but it added the image of the movie poster, critic reviews, cast info and video links. I could then choose to share my notebook with others or even make it public and allow people to “follow” my notebook.

Springpad PlanningIn addition, Springpad also provides task management with integration to Google Calendar, a personal shopping assistant which alerts you when prices change. Travel planning is also fun using Springpad by “grabbing” or “springing” items such as;

  • Create To-Do and Packing Lists and sync with your calendars, and create alert reminders
  • Collect Ideas and Inspiration you find online of things to do, restaurants to visit, and places to stay
  • Connect to Google Maps, Foursquare and Yelp! for directions and planning your route
  • Track Your Travel Budget and compare prices automatically of products you see and save on the web, and be notified of a price drop
  • Collaborate with your friends, family or whoever you choose to pool your travel ideas and with anyone with which you want to share your itinerary

Here are some examples of real user-created notebooks to plan their vacations;

So for a completely free app (it even has unlimited data storage), it’s a keeper. Will I use it for all of my notes-probably not. I still like Evernote’s organizational structure for those. But, I will use Springpad for things like shopping lists, vacation planning lists, movies I want to see, etc.

Look out Evernote, there’s another kid on the block and she’s a little prettier and more social.

 

 

 

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Caribbean Paradise at Punta Faro Resort on Isla Mucura

Located about three hours away from Cartagena and accessible only by boat, this small island paradise is a way to get away from it all. The island itself is a national park and Punta Faro Resort has eleven acres and 45 rooms on the 24-acre island in the San Bernardo Archipelagos.

But don’t mistake its small size for thinking there is nothing to do. The island has a dive shop, kayaking, paddleboards and windsurfing. There is pretty good snorkeling right off the beach or you can take a boat out to other reef areas. Meals are all included and are served in the open-air restaurant on the property.  Down by the beach there’s a bar, hammocks and massage tables.

Most of the people who work at Punta Faro live on Santa Cruz del Islote, which is considered to be the most densely populated island in the world.  Boat tours are daily from Punta Faro to this tiny island that has less than an acre of land and is home to about 1250 people. Island residents only have electricity for a few hours a day, water gets delivered 3 times a week and they walk through each other’s kitchens to get to their own homes.

I could have spent days or weeks at Punta Faro just relaxing on the beach and swimming in the gentle sea. It’s easy to see why it’s a popular getaway for locals and I hope to return to this island paradise one day soon.

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Cartagena, the Historic Caribbean Walled City

An easy, short one hour flight on Avencia Airlines will get you from Bogota to Cartagena de Indias.  This walled-city is full of history and charm. Founded in 1533, it’s a Unesco World Heritage Site and people come from all of Colombia and the world to visit.  In fact, over 30% of the people in Cartagena work in tourism.

As a base of exploration here, the place to stay is inside the 11-kilometer walled city. The Hotel Charleston Santa Theresa is a five-star, top-notch hotel and one of my favorite hotels that I have ever stayed at.  You’ll know you’re surrounded in luxury from the rose petals in the bathroom to the top-of-the-line toiletries and sheets.

Then get out and explore!  Cartagena is a walkable city and it’s great to get lost and wander the cobblestone streets and squares. Simon Bolivar was very important to this city and there are several monuments, a square and buildings in his honor.  There is another part of Cartagena called Boca Grande, which you can get to by a short taxi ride from the historic area.  This area is the “new” part of Cartagena and from what I could see doesn’t really offer much.  It’s more condo rentals than anything else.

Castillo de San Felipe is the largest fortress built in America by the Spanish Empire in 1657.  It was built for protection against pirates while shipping gold to Europe. You can tour the fort on your own or take a guided tour.

A bicycle is another great way to get around the city and a bike tour by Cartagena Bike Tours will get you acclimated. Gerardo Nieto is a native Cartagenero and will provide you with the history of the city as well as point out film locations of movies like Love in the Time of Cholera and The Mission. You can ride your bike on top of the colonial walls. Stops include local squares, historic homes and getting coconut water from a street vendor.

Another way to tour around is to take a horse-drawn carriage ride at night.  Just ask the hotel or flag one of the carriages on the street who doesn’t have passengers. A catamaran ride at sunset is another great way to experience Cartagena from a different perspective.  Catamaran Maxicat provides drinks and appetizers while cruising along the shoreline of Cartagena.

I wasn’t overly impressed with a lot of the food we had in Bogota but Cartagena was a different story. My favorite was Don Juan Restaurant.  Chef Juan Felipe Camacho, studied in Spain at a Michelin-starred restaurant and combines that Spanish influence along with fresh ingredients to serve up some really good food.

Another local favorite was La Cucina Pepina, located in the Getsemani neighborhood.  Mama Pepina was a sociologist and doctor before she decided to publish a cookbook and become a chef.  They serve traditional Colombia Caribbean home cooking. Fruit juices are popular in Cartagena too and Mamoncillo and Corozo juices are native.

I wouldn’t recommend Cartagena for its beaches even though there are a couple of public swimming areas, as there is a lot of volcanic rock directly offshore.  Most locals go to the Rosario Islands for a beach day or to Punta Faro for a relaxing weekend.  We went to Punta Faro. Read my post on Caribbean Paradise at Punta Faro Resort on Isla Mucura.

 

Bogota, Colombia a Chic Capital City Nestled in the Mountains

This post is long, long overdue but better late than never, right?  This is the first of 3 posts on Colombia, South America.

I was graciously invited to visit Colombia earlier this year. Once considered the “bad boy” of South America, Colombia is trying hard to change the world’s perception of the country.  Where once drug cartels made the news and headlines, today’s Colombia is considered a safe, emerging global travel destination. From the capital city of Bogota, located high in the mountains, where history and cultural attractions are plenty, to the historic Caribbean city of Cartagena de Indias. Here are a few highlights from my trip and things not to miss when you plan your own visit to Colombia.

First stop was Bogota, the capital city nestled in the mountains. It’s hip, chic and full of culture.  Located at 8612 feet, it’s the largest city in Colombia and also the third-highest capital city in South America. The temperate here remains cool, an average of 57 degrees, even in the middle of summer.

As a base for your exploration, The Hotel Avia is a nice, clean, modern hotel that is centrally located in the main restaurant district.  It has an award-winning French restaurant, spa and gym along with comfortable rooms.

Unless you are an experienced driver in Latin American cities, I suggest either a taxi or use the Transmilenio bus system to get around the city. There are over eight million people that live in Bogota and a good majority of them use the bus system so it’s pretty efficient. Also traffic seemed to pretty heavy no matter what time of the day it was and roadways went in all different and crazy directions.

A must stop on the places to visit in Bogota is the Museo Del Oro.  This museum started in 1939 in the old Central Bank Building. It expanded in 1968 and now has an amazingly large collection of over 35,000 pieces of gold and pre-Columbian artifacts.  Ever heard of El Dorado?  Well this museum has El Dorado collections.

 

The Casa de Narino or Presidential Palace offers free tours seven days a week.  You must sign up online at least five days ahead of time and be prepared to leave all of your bags and cameras with the front guards.  It’s a great tour and worth the effort to set it up. The Palace boasts Baccarat crystal chandeliers, Italian sculptures and tapestries.  Tours are done in both Spanish or English just be sure to indicate your preference when you sign up.

Since 1640, this sanctuary has been a beacon atop Bogota’s eastern mountains. Cerro de Monserrate offers amazing views of Bogota and is accessible via funicular or cable car.  Once on top of the mountain, you can tour the church, eat at one of the two restaurants or just take in the sights.

A great area to just explore and walk around is La Candelaria.  This preserved historic site is Bogota’s oldest neighborhood.  There are pedestrian-only, cobblestone streets, centuries old homes and churches and is a burgeoning art community.

Of course since Colombia is famous for its coffee, with over 900,000 coffee farms, no trip to the country would be complete without experiencing a cup of java. At E&D Café not only can you order your favorite coffee concoction but they have a coffee lab where you can learn about and taste different beans and flavors.

Food choices range from ChibChomBia in the La Macarena Zone where the restaurant serves up typical Colombian food such as Arepas, which are sweet corn pancakes, Empanadas and Ajiaco Soup, which is a typical Colombian soup with chicken, rice, potatoes and avocados.  Fruit juices are very popular at lunch and you can order a variety of flavors made with either milk or water.

For dinner, Andres D.C., is a four-story restaurant and nightclub.  Dancing is on the ground floor with restaurants tables on the other three. It’s uniquely decorated with each floor named.  You could be in hell, earth, purgatory and heaven.

Keep in mind these are just the highlights.  There is a ton of things to do and see in Bogota.  I only had one day (yes, it was a very long day!) but I would suggest spending at least a couple of days to tour this magnificent city.

Next, we flew to Cartagena so read my post on “Cartagena, the Historic Caribbean Walled City” to continue the adventure.

 

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You Can Come Home Again: Mesa’s Changing Face

I grew up in Mesa, Arizona and  I have fond memories of the town.  And, while Mesa has certainly changed over the years, a lot of things are still the same.

During the Spring, many people flock to Hohokam Park to watch the Chicago Cubs baseball team practice.  My fondest memory during this time however, is driving down Gilbert or McKellips road each year to watch the pavement wash away as the Salt River flooded.  New bridges have now been built so the roadways don’t wash away but water is still released each year when the snow starts to melt from the Northern part of the state.  It’s amazing to watch the “controlled” flash flood washing over the gritty desert landscape and putting a river in it’s place.

Christmas time brings memories of stopping to get an ice cream cone at Dairy Queen on Main Street and  walking around the Mormon Temple looking at the lights. Each year, the Temple has an amazing light and Holiday display complete with nativity scenes.  This is still one of the best and free lights display in Mesa during the holidays.

Orange groves dotted almost every corner and in the early summer evenings,  we’d stop and pick some oranges (sh….don’t tell anyone) and eat them right in the car.  It’s hard to describe the sweet smell and the tangy goodness that you can only get from an orange picked freshly from a tree.  Oranges still play an important role in Mesa’s agriculture and while there aren’t orange groves on every corner, there are plenty.  I’d suggest though stopping by a roadside stand to purchase your oranges.

Where we once cruised down Main Street on Friday and Saturday nights there is now a vibrant arts center that attracts nationally known talent.  Many of the downtown shops have changed with only a few (such as Milano‘s Music) remaining throughout the years and today the streets of Mesa are lined with cute boutiques and cafes.

One of the best still undiscovered secrets is The Park of Canals. Not only is there a great, small botanical garden area but there are archeological ruins of canals dug by the Hohokam Indians thousands of years ago.

Everytime I visit Mesa, I am amazed by the city where I grew up and how it has not only held on to it’s past but it’s embraced it’s future.

 

 

 

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Book Review: The Longest Way Home

I recently received a review copy of The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy and normally find biographies boring and too reflective for me to get the entertainment value that I like when reading a novel.  But, I decided to give this one a shot.

I had previously read some of Andrew’s articles in travel magazines, liked his writing style and knew that after Keith Bellows, editor of National Geographic Traveler gave him a shot, he added travel writer to his resume in addition to his acting career(you may recognize his name from Pretty in Pink and St. Elmo’s Fire).

The book is part biography and part travel tale and I actually enjoyed it.  Andrew takes a hard, introspective look at himself and why he is who he is while traveling and embarking on the journey towards marriage.  His travels take him to places such as Patagonia, Costa Rica, the Amazon and Kilimanjaro.  I loved the attention to detail that really set the tone of each place on his journeys and it made me want to visit each even more than before.

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Lots and lots of trips!

As we hit the dog days of summer things are not slowing down at all.  I had to pull together a list of trips I have taken over the past year and ones I have coming up.  It’s quite a list!  I love my job.

 

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Most Recent Trips

This summer has been a busy one!  In addition to traveling around the Upstate of South Carolina for local articles and working on my hiking book, here are the trips I have taken recently and that are coming up…

June

  • Bogota, Columbia
  • Cartagena, Columbia

July

  • Brasstown Resort in Georgia
  • Boone, NC

August and beyond

  • Savannah, Georgia
  • Franklin County, Florida
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  • Lynchburg, Virginia
  • London, England (TBD)

That’s my schedule for now.  It absolutely will change :).  Lots of fun though!

 

Book Review: The Travel Writers Handbook by Jacqueline Harmon Butler and Louise Purwin Zobel

After a busy travel schedule the past few months, I’m finally getting caught up on some of my reading.  Here’s my review of  The Travel Writers Handbook by Jacqueline Harmon Butler and Louise Purwin Zobel.

First published in 1980, this book is on its 7th edition.  The travel writing field has changed dramatically since that time and the writers have done a good job in making sure the content is updated and relevant in today’s market. They also provide insight on not only the nuts and bolts of HOW to be a travel writer but also how to THINK like a travel writer.  I especially liked the To Market, To Market chapter which provided many “outside the box” markets to pitch travel articles to. There’s a query letter section that provides tips on how to structure your pitches and what has worked for them and what hasn’t.

All in all it’s a handy addition to any travel writers library and would be an invaluable resource to new travel writers just starting out or as a handy reference for season professionals.

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Colombia

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to Colombia. No, that’s not Columbia, Couth Carolina but Colombia as in South America.  I have to admit that even though this destination had been on my “bucket list” for a long time, I was a little hesitant at first about the trip.  After all, I grew up in the 80’s where the only thing you heard about Colombia was the drug cartels and violence going on.  I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Colombia is a beautiful country and the people are friendly.  I never felt unsafe, even in Bogota.  That’s not to say that there aren’t neighborhoods that you shouldn’t go into, just like any other big city.  But for the most part it was a clean, modern, progressive city.  We toured around the city, visited the Museo del Oro, an amazing gold museum.  We visited the Presidential Palace, the La Canderleria neighborhood and I was introduced to different kinds of fruits and Arepas. Next we were off to Cartagena and it was amazing!  The old part of the city is surrounded bu a wall and is a great  blend of old world history and architecture.   Where highlights include sitting at an outdoor cafe, under the moonlight directly across from a hundreds years old  church.   From carriage rides and bike tours to just walking along the cobblestone streets, each turn leading to a new discovery.  Sign up for our RSS updates as we publish great articles on this amazing country.

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Book Review: The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World Planner

Okay, I have to admit, I was a little skeptical when I received a copy of this book to review.  I mean, how many books can possibly be written about the Mouse’s Kingdom?  A quick search on BarnesandNoble.com shows 989 results-that’s a lot.  But right away I could see that this book was a little different.  First, it’s not just a book telling you where to see, what to eat and what to do.  It’s got several organizer pockets and a journal section so you can chronicle your trip and keep it as a keepsake.

The book does have all of the “usual” information about how to plan your Disney vacation, when to avoid the crowds and what to expect while in the Magical Kingdom.  It also gives a fairly comprehensive overview on each resort so you will have a good idea which one will fit your family’s needs and budget, including options outside of the park.

Every restaurant, retail store, ride and attraction are also detailed and is meant to be used as a reference for while you are in the park.  So if you find yourself in Frontierland and need a bite to eat, you’ll know that there are three choices, what the price range is for each and if the Disney Dining Plan option is available.

The book also covers Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Downtown Disney and several of the Disney Water Parks.

So bottom line is that if you’re a first-time visitor to Walt Disney World (or an infrequent visitor) and want to make the most out of your trip then this planner and book could prove to be an invaluable resource.

Information on the book:

Based on the popular family travel guide The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World, F+W Media brings you The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World Planner: A Complete Organizer, Journal, and Keepsake for Your Unforgettable Vacation (April 2012) By Susan Veness and Simon Veness (ORLANDO). This guide is more than just a place to keep your important phone numbers and schedules. This all-the-fun-in-one journal is a celebration of the happiest place on earth—and a peek inside its magic!

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