Dark Hope: Book One of the Archangel Prophecies   Thanks to my 15-year-old for reading and reviewing this book! Are angels actually out there? Do they live among us? How much is myth, and how much is truth? Does everything always have a reason? Monica McGurk explores the answers to these questions in her new book, Dark Hope.

Dark Hope is the first book in The Archangel Prophecies, a new, exciting, and dark series for young adults. Hope is anything but an average fifteen year old. Victim of an abduction when she was just three, sheltered from the real world under her obsessively overprotective father, and a strange mark residing on the back of her neck, Hope is finally liberated from her father’s watchful eye and brought to live with her mother. All seems to be normal until Hope meets a boy named Michael. He appears out of nowhere whenever she finds herself in peril and has a strange backstory as an emancipated youth. And who is that boy Luke who appears to have a fascination with Hope and a quarrel with Michael? As it turns out, Michael is actually Michael the Archangel, and Luke is one of the Fallen Angels. Hope is a part of a twisted prophecy and is exactly what the Fallen Angels need to achieve their mission of revenge and power. Michael and Hope must work quickly to stop the Fallen Angels from succeeding. Woven in with this story is the twisted tale of human trafficking and the past of a previous victim.

Dark Hope’s many twists and turns will keep readers interested and always guessing on what Michael and Hope’s next move will be. Dark Hope kept me hooked the entire way through, and I always wanted to read what would happen next. The book was well written and organized, but I think the story of human trafficking was a little out of place and didn’t really seem to tie in with the grand scheme of the story. I see that this is a special interest of the author, though, so that probably explains its inclusion.

Something else that bothered me was how reliant Hope seemed to be on Michael. She appeared to be a “damsel in distress” and was constantly having to be saved by Michael. Something minor that was uncomfortable was the romance between Hope, a fifteen year old, and Michael, who was somewhere around 10,000 years old. The book ventured through the various characteristics of the angels, such as shape shifting and immortality. The angels seemed to be a part of the supernatural world, which gave the story an interesting edge. I found the tie-ins with Hope’s past and her family’s involvement with the law after her disappearance quite clever and interesting. Overall, Dark Hope is a fascinating young adult novel with an intriguing premise that would interest any young adult with a curiosity for the supernatural.

You can find author Monica McGurk on social media:

Thanks to Clever Girls, one of you can win a copy of this book for the young adult in your life (or for youself — I won’t tell!). Enter below using the rafflecopter by Sept. 8, and I’ll choose a random winner Sept. 9

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I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Menu Plan Monday


Happy Menu Plan Monday, Labor Day edition!

I love it when I don’t have to cook. This week, I am blessed that my kids have offered to do some of the meal prep. I am so glad all my girls enjoy cooking. I think it’s great preparation for life. Let’s see what’s on the menu:

Monday: Daughter #3 wants to make tacos. We have tortillas, meat, cheese, and salsa — she wants to put these together and bake them in the oven. Afterwards, we may all bike to the DQ for a Labor Day treat …

Tuesday: 5-piano lesson day, so something easy:

Oven Roasted Chicken and Veggies

Cut up a couple of chicken breasts, a couple of carrots, a couple of potatoes – put in a roasting pan, then top with 1/3 c. olive oil and a packet (actually I use 1/2 packet) of dry onion soup mix.  Bake 45 minutes at 425.

I make this recipe a lot, and you can feel free to tweak it: add different vegetables, add more or less oil, adjust the temperature based on your oven, etc.

Wednesday: Daughter #2 cooks, vegan style:

Vegan Mac ‘n Cheese

2 1/3 Cups Soy Milk
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
5 Cloves Garlic
2 tsp Yellow Mustard
1 tsp Paprika
3 Tblsp Nutritional Yeast
1 pinch of chili flakes. Or, one chili
1 pinch dried Parsley.
1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil
250g Macaroni Pasta

Pre-heat oven to about 150C.

You’ll put water in your saucepan and cast in a small amount of Sea Salt. Boil this. Tip in pasta. And stir occasionally.

In a blender, pour in, and pop in, all your ingredients except the oil and parsley.
As it’s blending, open up the little peep-hole in the lid, and slowly pour in the oil. Keep blending.

Strain pasta.
Rinse pasta under cold running water, and pour strained pasta into a baking dish.

Drown it in the sauce from the blender. Mix well.

Sprinkle on the parsley and chuck it in the oven. After about 30 minutes, your taste buds say thank you.

And this chocolate vegan sorbet
Thursday: Daughter #2 again: Spicy BBQ Chickpea Burgers

With these buns

Vegan banana bread

3-4 large over-ripe bananas
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup applesauce
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Optional: 1 cup of blue berries
Preheat oven to 350F or 175C. Mush bananas in a large bowl, then combine lemon juice, applesauce and syrup. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine well. Then fold in berries. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on your oven. Allow to cool before slicing and serving.
Friday: Crockpot Pasta Fagioli soup — a friend pinned this. Doesn’t it look delicious? And, it uses tomatoes, which is great because there are lots of them in the garden now.

Saturday is the potluck kicking off the marching band’s competition season (Daughter #1 is a senior member :) ). Last year I made Homemade Hawaiian Rolls and they disappeared quickly. I think I’ll repeat that.

What are you doing this Labor Day? I hope it’s enjoyable, whatever it is.  More menu ideas at OrgJunkie’s.

Childhood Memories FridayI know I’ve written before about how much my sister and I enjoyed playing with Fisher Price Little People when we were kids. I know I’ve also written about the playhouse our dad built for us in the backyard.

Fisher Price Little  People 1975

I came across this photo the other day, from July 1975, and it brought back fun memories of summer days spent in the playhouse with my sister, creating an entire world with our little people, or “kids” as we called them. You can see our Fisher Price Town (we got this one Christmas and absolutely loved it — it included so many of the neat features Fisher Price toys were known for, at least at the time: a garage with a floor for cars that could be raised and lowered, a post office with a slot to put letters in, a fire station with a tiny room with a bed for a fireman to spend the night, etc.)

Behind that are a couple of houses we made from cardboard boxes. We loved decorating these with pages from wallpaper sample books, and furniture we created from jello boxes and construction paper. Wall artwork consisted of pop bottle lids with tiny pictures glued inside. Check out the tiny bookshelf complete with homemade books, and of course the finishing touch: a toothpaste cap trash can!

So what’s happening here? Mom’s inscription on the back of the photo reads “parade in kid town” and sure enough, I see a car starting the parade and some residents carrying flags close behind. Is that a firetruck in the rear? And look at all the crowds lining the street.

Such fun memories of carefree summer days — sure, it was hot in the playhouse in humid southern Indiana, but we had a box fan in the doorway and the heat didn’t seem to bother us much.

Did you play with Fisher Price toys as a child? What was your favorite?

Thanks to Dermagist for product to review. All opinions mine.
dermagist foot heel revitalizing creamI have a new nighttime routine I enjoy.

I relax with a mindless TV show or a good book, and rub Dermagist Foot & Heel Revitalizing Cream into my feet.

My feet, I must confess, look their age. Not long ago I had the opportunity to observe the heels of a friend 20+ years older than me. With alarm, I realized that they looked better than mine! It’s no wonder, I guess. My feet have a lot of miles on them. But my heels and toes can get into pretty rough shape.

Dermagist Cream has worked really well for me. One thing I like is its pump bottle container. This makes it easy to dispense. The 4 ounce bottle will last quite a while, since only a small amount is needed.

It’s thick, which makes for easy rubbing into one’s feet. And it has the refreshing, sinus-opening eucalyptus/mint-type smell that just seems to say “I’m working! I’m working!”

The cream feels nice and tingly going on, and my feet felt pampered for a while afterwards. Strangely (and gratifyingly — is that a word?), they even feel just-lotioned the next morning as I walk around.

If you have rough, dry feet and you’ve tried other products without a lot of success, I’d encourage you to try Dermagist. It’s not available in stores, but you can find it online at the above link. I’m pleased with it.

In the comments, I’d appreciate it if you could share any foot-care tips that work for you.

Nature’s Own Giveaway


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Book Chat

Book Chat book reviews contain affiliate links, and all my own opinions.

book chat

Here is WhereI enjoyed Here Is Where: Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History, and I think author Andrew Carroll and I are soulmates of a sort. He talks about enjoying learning about history, and then visiting the spot where various events happened — me too. Sometimes, I’ll read a non-fiction book and then want to visit the site where it happened SO badly, I can hardly stand it. Thus, my trips to Neuschwanstein, etc. I would love to see the sites of the Little House books, and I kind of did things backwards with Los Alamos — visited the site first, became interested, and then read a bunch about it. Carroll is also amazed in his research about just how many sites there are that played important roles in our history, yet are totally unmarked. Some of this may be because the buildings are privately owned now and the new owners don’t want the attention. But it also made me think of how much the news we hear about is shaped by the media. Who’s to say that the main story on the radio news each day is really the most important thing going on in the world? It’s kind of scary to think that there is so much that we don’t know.

Anyway, this book explores several bits of American history, and Carroll travels to the sites where they occurred to give us more interesting background tidbits. You’ll learn about Prometheus, the US’s oldest tree — well, it was, until a guy unknowingly cut it down in ’60s. Its components are still scattered around the site. You’ll also learn about the oddities of news reporting and why some things are reported as huge, while bigger events miss the spotlight altogether (the Sultana steamboat exploded on the Mississippi, killing about 1,800 — more than died on the Titanic. However, the Sultana incident happened just days after Lincoln’s assassination, eclipsing the event).

The chapters in this book reminded me a lot of vignettes heard on NPR. Although it dragged in spots, I enjoyed it overall.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for a review copy.


Saikei and ArtMy youngest daughter has always enjoyed plants, so about 18 months ago she and I joined a local bonsai club. We’ve learned so much about plants, and about bonsai, and about lots of things, really. Most of the club members have lots of life experience. It’s been a neat experience for my daughter and for me.

So, my daughter is co-librarian of the club now, and as such, the president wants a book review of one of the club’s books each month. Well, kids get busy, and so I have a feeling I’ll be doing most of these reviews. Here’s the first one: Saikei and Art : Miniature Landscapes.

Saikei, in case you didn’t know, is the practice of creating miniature living landscapes. Here’s an example:

Saikei and Art : Miniature LandscapesI learned a lot in this book. Author Lew Buller goes though his process for creating several saikei, talking about the types of trees he uses, the accessory plants he chooses, the trays/bases he uses, and so much more. I learned that saikei need to include 4 things:

  1. tree roots raised by stones above the edge of the pot
  2. a water feature (although often stones are used to represent water, because using real water can become a problem)
  3. accessory plants
  4. a full landscape, involving several tress (not just one)

So many aspects of saikei reminded me of photography — planning the landscape with varying principles of design in mind for maximum visual appeal (focal points, planes, shapes, etc.). I guess that makes sense, though, because — as the title states — saikei is an art.

I found the book interesting, and it includes many large colorful photos to help make it easy to visualize the saikei he talks about.


Out of My MindMy 13-year-old recommended I read Out of My Mind, and I’d seen it recommended elsewhere too, so when it was ready to head back to the library, I snatched it up to read. I’m glad I did.

It’s told by Melody, a 10-year-old with cerebral palsy. She’s never spoken a single word, but don’t let that fool you. She thinks just like you and I do, has a large vocabulary, and even makes the school quiz team (much to the surprise of almost everyone). This is a real victory for Melody, because she’s spent years in the special ed room being parked in front of the VCR, and being underestimated by seemingly every doctor, teacher, and peer in her life. It’s like somebody gave me a puzzle, but I don’t have the box with the picture on it, she says, and that seems an apt description.

Melody’s world opens up when she gets a “Medi-Talker” machine that lets her point to words and spell out phrases so that she can communicate better. This book is great for helping get kids (its target audience) or adults to think about what it might be like to deal with a host of difficulties most of us thankfully don’t have to. I have minor quibbles with it: some of the dialogue seems dated (do kids really say things are “tight,” for instance? I’ve never heard that). Many of the villains are totally over-the-top, and then there are two semi-tragedies at the end of the book — the first is a bit contrived, but the second seems totally unnecessary and unbelievable. Still, read this book. You’ll never look at the kids in the special ed room the same way again …


The StrangerI remember reading The Stranger for a literature class in high school, and being really moved by it, although at this point I can’t even remember why anymore. So when my high school senior daughter read it this summer and I saw it on the back-to-the-library stack, I plucked it up. It’s short, at just over 100 pages, and I was curious if it would still seem so affecting to me 30 years later.

“The Stranger” is one of the most famous books of the existentialist genre of the early 20th century. It’s the tale of Meursault, a solitary Frenchman who begins the novel at his mother’s funeral. Not long after, he seems to offhandedly commit murder, and then we witness his trial.

What struck me as I read this time was that Meursault seems clearly to have high functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome. He seems like a textbook case, with his apparent dissociation from any emotions and his matter-of-fact comments on everything, from his mother’s death to his shooting of the “Arab” to … everything: “I had never been able to feel remorse for anything.” Meursault, typical of those with AS, feels like a stranger in this world. Interestingly, Asperger’s was “discovered” in 1940 (although it’s only become more widely recognized in the past 20 years), while “The Stranger” was published at the same time, so the condition would not have been known at the time.

This a book that was more of a “wow” for me as a teen. Still, it’s an interesting look at human nature, social norms, and the oftentimes absurdity of the legal system. It made me think about life in a different way for a little while, and I always find that worthwhile and interesting.


Destined for DoonReview by Sophie, age 13:

Destined for Doon is the sequel to Doon, a book I reviewed back in early 2014.  A continuation of the first book, Destined for Doon is the story of Mackenna and Veronica, separated at the end of the last book.  Once again, the town of Doon is endangered by the Witch of Doon – this time in the form of a strange fungus that eats anything it touches.  It’s spreading quickly, and there isn’t much time left before the town and all of Scotland is overrun with these plants.  Can Veronica and Mackenna stop the fungus and save the kingdom before it’s too late?

Doon being one of my top five books of all time, I would rate this series/book 5 stars.  A great read and very relateable for middle to high school girls.

Thanks to Booklook for the free review copy!

See what others are reading at 5 Minutes for Books.

Menu Plan Monday

menuplanmondayMenu Plan Monday arrives on what’s a steamy hot week here in the midwest. It’s been a delightfully cool-ish summer for us up to about a week ago, so I shouldn’t complain (and especially not after the winter we experienced). But sitting at the first football game Friday night really felt like being in a sauna.

Last week went fairly well using the crockpot several times. We didn’t really feel any of the recipes I tried were “keepers,” but sometimes that happens. I’ll keep experimenting. But in the meantime, I feel like I should make some things people like “for sure” this week, since last week wasn’t so great. Look out for some family favorites.

Here’s this week’s plan:

Monday: Football Fiesta Casserole — one of the girls’ favorites, and requested for the week.

Tuesday: Chicken Parmesan – an easy family favorite

1 jar marinara sauce

4 chicken breast halves

2/3 c. shredded mozzarella

1/4 c. bread crumbs

2 T. olive oil


Pour marinara sauce in bottom of ungreased 12 x 8 dish.

Place chicken over sauce.

In small bowl, mix cheeses, bread crumbs and oil. Sprinkle evenly over chicken.

Bake at 350 30-35 min.

Serve over noodles.

chicken parmesan

Wednesday: Vegan Crockpot White Chili — left from last week, and no longer vegan as some chicken was added. Probably French bread in the bread machine too.

Thursday: Make your own pizza — I make the dough; each person adds toppings of choice to their own personal pizza.

Friday: Cheese Stuffed Breadsticks — these are really good!

IMG_5122Oh, and a quick note of thanks to daughter #2, who decided she’d make pancakes for our dinner last Friday (my husband was on his final day of a work trip, and he doesn’t like pancakes). Always a treat to get a break from cooking!

What are you cooking this week? More menu ideas at OrgJunkie’s.

Childhood Memories FridayRegular readers remember my longtime devotion to Princess Diana, which was at its peak during my high school years. It’s strange now to have a daughter who is a high school senior, because this causes me to re-think my own senior year.

Charles and Diana had been married about a year, I was busy writing my senior research paper on “The Royal Romance,” and yet I wanted to do … more. I decided to make a few dresses modeled on some of Diana’s.

After the wedding, I saw Diana in her honeymoon going-away dress. I thought it was the cutest thing I had ever seen. Alas, I couldn’t find a pattern like it, but I found one that was pretty close, and made some adjustments (as I recall, adding the sailor collar that Di favored in those days, along with ruffles to the sleeves). The result:

Princess Diana honeymoon going away dressHere’s the actual version, worn by Diana. Not too bad for a high school kid, huh? It’s still hanging in my closet, and these days I could fit approximately one leg into the skirt, but the memories remain.

Not content with that, I also wanted my own version of Di’s wedding dress. This was a bit ambitious, as you may recall her 25-foot train. I didn’t go quite that crazy, but at that time there was a pattern with a pretty good resemblance to the royal wedding dress. Yes, I still have the pattern. I’m not sure why, but …

Princess Diana wedding dress patternLooks like I made version “C” of the dress — the shorter version. Still, it was an undertaking. I see that it took 13 yards of fabric, and I remember spending many evenings hemming that ruffled hem (it was 24′ long!).

And here is the resulting pink confection. I made this specially for senior dinner, but I wore it several times (here, at a Career Key banquet). I specifically remember wearing the dress to senior Sunday at church. Afterwards, I went to the home of someone whose wedding I was going to play piano for. I walked into the house to confront a crowd of young adults with tattoos and decidedly more casual attire, and I remember them looking at me with … interest. I felt like Glinda the Good, minus her magic bubble! I wonder if Princess Diana ever felt like that?? :)

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Kate Gosselin, How She Fooled the World

Ah, Kate Gosselin. She’s come so far, from the overwhelmed wife and mom of twins who wanted “just one more” baby but got 6 — to now, when she’s divorced, made over to the point that she’s hardly recognizable as her former self, and fighting to find another platform to make money.

During the transformation, Kate went from being mostly liked to being a hugely polarizing figure. She still has some fans out there, but for the most part she’s looked upon negatively today.

Kate Gosselin speaking in Indianpolis

Kate Gosselin speaking in Indianpolis — yep, I went to see her.

As the Gosselin saga unfolded, Kate’s generally nasty personality and attention-grabbing antics were noted all over the internet. Rumors swirled that someone was writing a “tell all” book about her.

Well, the book is out, and it is Kate Gosselin: How She Fooled the World. I was anxious to read the book, having heard quite a bit about it, and I bought the Kindle version.

This is a difficult book to review. The author, Robert Hoffman, was a celeb magazine reporter assigned to the Gosselin family, so he has had quite a bit of access to them (especially Jon, who’s apparently a friend or at least acquaintance of his). The book is huge, at over 700 pages. It’s mostly not written in a narrative style, but more as a data dump: tons of Kate’s journal entries. Tons of tweets by Kate, grouped by topic. I found it interesting, since I’m fascinated by the whole Gosselin tale, but if you’re not, I can’t imagine wading through all this.

What did I learn? A few new assertions. One, that Kate had purposely set out to have sextuplets, and that she had possibly even adjusted the timing/amount of fertility drugs she was taking to increase her chances.  It was interesting, although disheartening, to watch her descent from Christian, churchgoing mom to someone who actively worked to book speaking appearances at churches and take in thousands of dollars from them, playing poor while in her real life she had stopped going to church almost entirely and was far from needy anymore.

She allegedly treats her kids and dogs very badly — once leaving one of the dogs outside whimpering in the cold all night while mocking it through a glass door. Another time, leaving one of her boys outside without a coat in sub-freezing temps as punishment for some infraction.

Since her kids’ arrival (and possibly even earlier), she is all about the freebies. Apparently she wrote to Gymboree when the sextuplets were born, writing “if there is a way my children could be a help in marketing your clothing lines, we’re all for it!” An incident is noted of her shopping at a Gymboree store, realizing that a gift card Gymboree had given her had run out, and calling from the store to see if they could load more money onto it.

Sometimes, the book veers into the petty: criticizing Kate for typos and misspellings (which comes across badly as this book is full of them from the author as well). Kate is also criticized for wrapping the kids’ Christmas gifts in plain paper. Sorry, but although I fault her for many things, I’ll give her a pass on wrapping paper choice.

So, a long, winding look at a rather nasty personality. Can you think of another way you’d rather spend 700+ pages of reading?

I didn’t think so :)

Disney Scary Rides

infographic courtesy of Sophie

I am not a scary ride junkie. I’m not a big fan of roller coasters. Having said that, while visiting Disney World, I wanted to enjoy the “Disney touch” that is given to rides, making them true experiences instead of just rides. So, I rode some rides that tested my limits. Here is my take on what the scariest Disney rides involve, so you can make a decision on whether or not each ride is for you.

In order, from least scary to most:

1. Kali River Rapids (Animal Kingdom) – This is a good “thrill ride” to start with if you’re scared of thrill rides. The thrills are mild at best, with one not-major drop and a high you-will-get-wet factor.

2. Splash Mountain (Magic Kingdom) – Another water ride, but this one has a bit more punch than Kali. There are two drops; a moderate one in the middle and a big, lose-your-stomach one at the end. Again, prepare to get wet.

3. Dinosaur (Animal Kingdom) – This ride is quite bumpy and jerky. It’s not a roller coaster so you don’t get drops and high speeds though. Throughout, animatronic dinosaurs constantly stick their heads out near you. I found it more rough than scary. My six-year-old rode it, but kept her eyes shut the whole time.

4. Test Track (Epcot) – In this ride, you get into cars and which are tested for temperature extremes, a hill climb test, a brake test, etc. These are all pretty straight forward. There are slight moments of fear (“Will we really stop before hitting the wall?” etc), but basically tame stuff. The last portion of the ride involves a “test drive” around curves at high speeds (up to 65 mph). It’s exhilarating, but I didn’t really find it scary.

5. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Magic Kingdom) – I think this is a great “starter roller coaster”. You are on a supposedly runaway train which careens through old west ghost towns. The scenery is great and it just flies by, so keep your eyes open. There are frequent turns, but no drops so I rate this a bit scary but not bad.

6. Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom) – I would call this the next step up from Big Thunder Mountain, as roller coasters go. Space Mountain is basically a roller coaster in the dark. You ride through “space” with light, stars and planets all visible at various times. It seems fast and has dips, turns, and the like, but no huge drops and no loops. I am afraid on “wild” roller coasters, and I did okay on this.

7. Mission: Space (Epcot) – This is an intense ride. It’s nothing like a roller coaster – you get into a space capsule with three others where you are “blasted off” for a mission on Mars. The ride was based on NASA astronaut training, and during it you may experience claustrophobia and motion sickness. I rode the more intense version (a milder one is available as well), and found the rocket launch (when the capsule is actually spinning) to be the most uncomfortable part. If you don’t like spinning rides, you may want to skip this one.

8. Expedition Everest (Animal Kingdom) – This is a roller coaster set in the Himalayas, where you are trying to avoid a “Yeti” on the loose. The coaster is fast and quickly into the ride you come up to a section of track torn up by the Yeti. You then plunge BACKWARDS through the dark mountain, before then going forward again and then BOOM! near the end the Yeti appears right above you. I found this to be a fairly scary roller coaster, yet the story behind the ride and Disney’s effects and scenery made it worth riding to me.

9. Tower of Terror (Holly wood Studios) – OK, I have to admit I was afraid to ride this one. My adventure-loving eight-year-old, however, loved it. You enter the Hollywood Hotel, get into an elevator, and quickly learn the elevator has developed problems. Then you begin a series of drops, some as large as 13 stories. All that I have heard and read confirms that this is a truly scary ride for those afraid of drops. The scenery (the window opens for a quick view at the top of the ride) and story behind the ride are fascinating, however.

10. Rockin Roller Coaster (Hollywood Studios) – I would rate this as the scariest ride at Disney World. Again, I was too chicken to ride, but my daughter loved it. The story is that you’re late to an Aerosmith concert, and the coaster is a car taking you there in a hurry. You go from 0 to 60 mph in 2 seconds, and have several loops, spins and drops before reaching your concert, all accompanied by lights and Aerosmith music.

There you have it! Enjoy your Disney trip and experience all the thrills you want, or just stick to the tamer rides. You’ll have a magical time either way. What are your opinions on any of the Disney rides? Leave a comment to help others out.