Sunday, 24 February 2013

Introducing....The Zonta Club of Melbourne, Florida

source: japanprobe
HA I'm back ! Time flies when I am the Raffle Queen for our Zonta Pre-Loved Fashion Sale!

But I really want to share something new with you.

because you know many of our life events are touched with mixed feelings all at the same time? This post is kinda like that.

There are lots of emotions.

But they all belong to same family:

happiness, care, fun, achievement, friendship, connection, intelligence, lighthearted, joy, dedication

all the emotions I relive when I remember my very short time meeting the fanjabulous ladies at the Zonta Club of Melbourne, FL

(I have to remember that FL bit - to stop confusion for those who know Australian cities.)


Did you know there are Canaveral Marshes? I have no idea why Google thinks they are soooo important
I had a brief moment with these ladies but scored the jackpot in being there for the Christmas party!

After enjoying a delicious and HUGE dinner at the Yellow Dog Cafe, They played this fun little game I've not seen before. Everyone brings a Christmas decoration secretly wrapped. One at a time, members choose a parcel at random and see what is inside.

Parcel selection is serious business
Parcels contain some of the most fun and lovely little decorations

Before leaving Canberra, I went to the Bredbo Christmas Barn (one of the best Christmas shops IN THE WORLD - really!) and secured some Christmassy koalas

In your turn you have the choice to select a secret package or steal someone else's decoration. Let me explain, using this poor gentleman:

Scores a lovely olde worlde car decoration
Oh Noes! It is stolen!  (is that the back of your head Belinda?)
Chap has to go continue the cycle - get a new secret decoration or steal someone's else's
Simple but good fun. I ended up with this lovely 'under the sea' type glass ball, which I stole, and then promptly played the guilt card of "this is my special souvenir of Florida" that maintained its safety!

It's not all Christmas parties at the Zonta Club of Melbourne. Let me show you how they fill their time the other 11 months of the year. 

Wait to see how busy these ladies are and if you don't have time to read all of this - you could just watch the summary video down the end of this post!

Their advocacy work is connected with one of the world's most insidious problems: human trafficking. Within the club there is a Human Trafficking Prevention and Education Committee, and a representative sits on the Brevard Council Commission and has immediate input into the government and community coalition tackling the issue. The club also keeps themselves and their community educated about this issue and spread news articles and information pieces on their advocacy web site and facebook pages.

3 club members Claire, President Gail, and Sandy recognise the adoption of the Brevard anti-trafficking resolution
That advocacy and service page also shows how they support several women's refuges, Jane M Klausman Women in Business Scholarship, and their own scholarship called the Zonta / Meehan Scholarship for women working towards improving their quality of life and self sufficiency. Their Young Women in Public Affairs prize honours Monica Jean Campbell, a local high school senior who was killed by her boyfriend. They also give out a M.A.T.E.S. award - Men Acting Toward Equality of the Sexes. Now that's an idea I would like to steal.

In conducting their advocacy, in addition to the anti-trafficking commission they are active in the community as members of the Space Coast Rescue and Restore Coalition; Melbourne Regional Chamber of Commerce; Greater Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce and the Brevard Cultural Alliance. 

Talk about being integrated within their community!

The other side of a Zonta Club is the fundraising. All of these projects have to be funded. So ZCM have two unique major fundraisers:

Christmas Decorations celebrating the history of the Space Coast. Now going for 15 years, a new design is released annually to celebrate famous buildings and points of interest in the local area. The decorations are boxed up with Zonta info and make a great stocking stuffer. Check out the whole collection.

How could I not celebrate with the NASA Rocket Garden and Florida Oranges?!
Of immense importance and connecting to all women across the world is their Annual Chocolate Festival!  Every year they run a yummy tasty celebration of all things chocolately to find the best chocolate treat.  The 2013 Festival is coming up on Sunday, 24 March - so if you can get to Melbourne - GO and enjoy the chocolately goodness whilst supporting the Zonta projects.

2012 winners!
The ladies gifted to me a box of the very special, locally made Grimaldi's Chocolate coated potato crisps!

You have to try these when in Orlando!
 These kept my February District Board meeting humming along!

Here are the inventive chaps with their latest creations
By now you must be thinking 'this is amazing!' or perhaps 'typical Zontians - doing sooooo much'. How much longer can this post go? Well their busy-ness and hard work did not go unnoticed.

The Zonta Club of Melbourne were the winners of the 2012 Governor's Cup award for District 11. Now that baby is not easy to win - you have to be an all rounder - in service, advocacy, fundraising, administering your club, upholding Zonta administration - the most active and productive out of the District's 42 clubs. And it is the 2nd time they have won it, and were runner up in 2011.

And now you know these ladies work hard - they also know how to party! After the Christmas party, Sandy took us all to the local trannie bar to check out her friend "Roz". What a hoot!

I was singing Donna Summer songs for days
Perhaps it would come as no surprise that the ladies found themselves being profiled on Florida Today. Just get through the introductions and they are the first story up. (then stay on for a cute kitten!)


Did you catch all that?!

So what do you think? Are the Zonta Club of Melbourne fabulous? Here is a club living the mission of Zonta and making the world better by making a world better for women.

Please keep doing your great work Ladies!

I need to do a big shout out to President Gail for co-ordinating my visit to the club and her warm email welcome in the weeks in advance. This included co-ordinating several members - Belinda and Doris on the day of the meeting to make sure I found them. HUGE thank you to Doris who with no notice took me in to stay the night - and then found herself up 'till 3am chatting. (and it was intelligent, fun, educative and passionate!). And Doris with Sandy organised additional presents and entertainment for me. 

Do you want to profile your club or showcase one of your projects for the whole Zonta world and other readers to see? Just email Mrs. Banks and make it happen.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

How to save the big bucks on your Disney hotel accommodation

If I'm gonna fly all the way around the world to Orlando, you can guess what I'm gonna do


yep - I'm going to Disney World.

 Oh .... I skip a beat everytime i see those purple gates! (source:
As if you haven't already worked that out.

You're welcome to join me .... always happy to have friends to beat at Toy Story Mania and listen to my screaming on Splash Mountain. (not because of the drop, but because of that relentless song)

extreme chess

I only recommend going to WDW with a plan. Without, that way there be dragons - and crazy, queuing, hungry, unhappy people who have spent far too much money. Get organised and be a person who has spent far too much money on your desired hotel, desired restaurants, and avoiding the queues.

Today I share the technique for how I can afford such magnificent lodgings for such low prices.

Disney Vacation Club

or DVC - kinda like a complex timeshare arrangement.

Now I haven't bought into DVC but there are some 145,000 out there who have and it is possible to "rent" from those people.

Animal Kingdom Lodge studio apartment

Let me summarise:

DVC works on points - differing amounts of points are needed for different hotels, different room types, different times of the year, different days of the week. Work out when you are going, for how long and where you would like to stay, what room, and the DVC chart tells you how many points you need. 
Boardwalk Inn villas recreate the Atlantic Boardwalk - very plush

Then you find an owner and "rent" your required number of points. Typically points cost for $10 - $13@. So if you need 100 points for a week somewhere, obviously your cost for your accommodation will be $1,000 - $1,300. Divide by 7 and you'll get your nightly cost - which you can use to compare to the ordinary cash rack rate charged by Disney.


Let me give you an example. Here is the cost of my stay last year at Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort. I stayed 9 nights in a studio in December, during the "value" period.

Beach Club Studio Apartment - walk to Epcot and huge swimming area, with pool, slides, lazy river, and sandy bottom!

Full price rack rate = $407 per night (I know - absolutely ridiculous - NO ONE is to pay these rates)

Disney did eventually announce a discount for paying cash - 30% off for general public, 35% off for Annual Passholders.

Discount price  = $265 per night (this is more normal)

DVC points @ $12/point for 124 points = $1,488

DVC average daily rate = $165 per night.

This represents a 60% discount off the "silly rack rate nobody pays" and 25% off the Disney "pay cash" discount offer.

1 bedroom villa, Bay Lake Tower at Contemporary Resort - right next to Magic Kingdom and on monorail
Here's an example for June 2014: 7 nights at Disney's Boardwalk Inn, the week before Convention, in a studio apartment, standard view (a.k.a - the carpark)

current advertised full price = $571 / night (CRAZY)
current DVC rental cost = $185 / night (Ka-ching! back in MY pocket)


There is NO OTHER CHEAPER WAY TO GET A DISNEY ROOM (unless you are some kind of insider and then you need to call me .... really)

So I hear you calling out: "Mrs. Banks - how do I get these amazing discounts??"

  1. Decide how many beds & rooms you need, and choose your dates.
  2. Get online and look at the DVC resorts and pick your hotel, and desired room type. (allears site is the best! Photos and videos of every room)
  3. Get online and select a broker, e.g.:
All of these sites have resort overviews, point and cost calculators and very helpful people who will assist with your questions and make your resort booking for you.

Boardwalk Inn Villa Grand Villa (source;

The price you pay for not paying the price

HA HA - guess what - there's no such thing as a free lunch! (except when you sit through a timeshare sales pitch)

The lower price means:
  • Do your research and get in the queue with a broker more than 12 months out from your check in date.
  • The booking is made between 11 months - 7 months out and you have to pay at that time.
  • There is no cancellation or alterations (get travel insurance)
  • Being a self-contained apartment, housekeeping is limited - or pay extra to secure daily service.
  • Doing this is CRAZY popular and you have to have 2nd choices & patience cause everyone is chasing this deal.
1 Bedroom Villa, Bay Lake Tower, Contemporary Resort

Having Fun

You don't have to do a DVC rental - you may want to stay in one of the other hotel style resorts - or don't want to book and pay upfront. There will be a general public discount (e.g. 30% off) from Disney released closer to the date. There really is no excuse for paying the ridiculous rack rate.

1 Bedroom Villa at Squirrel Wilderness Lodge 1860's American west rustic Yee Hah! All the pine makes it smell like Christmas! .....or Ikea
So will you join us in WDW the week before convention? Do you want more info on DVC? Shout out in the comments.

Oh - and I'm looking for some people to share a Grand Villa with me .....


Tuesday, 5 February 2013


Today I am having a quiet day at home, kittens are snoozing, there is no sound except the occasional tweeting bird. I look out the window at my pond and watch the silver eyes, one at a time, dart down for a drink and flit back up into the solid wall of tall bamboo greenery that is my neighbours backyard.

Suddenly I am slowed down, peaceful, quiet and reflective.  And my mind flits to the last time I experienced such gentle, lush, watery, green-ness. The Wekiva River.

I went kayaking with the Central Florida Kayak Tours. Kenny and Jennifer run a range of tours and I choose the daybreak birdwatching photographers tour.

For this 4 hour tour, I had a front row seat and Kenny at the back did all the paddling and I did all the shooting. It was wonderful - I felt very luxurious being paddled around and having quiet commentary from the rear.

When we first set off the day was very cloudy and a gentle rain was falling, but this cleared up very quickly for a beautiful clear day. The Wekiva River permanently runs as it is fed from underground springs. The name Wekiva comes from the original American Indian local people - the Creek language - and means "spring of water".

Federally designated as one of Florida's 'wild and scenic rivers' the area is mostly pristine and undeveloped. There is an abundance of wildlife and I spotted many birds, including sea eagles, woodpeckers, heron and egrets. 


As the day heated up, I saw many yellow bellied turtles sunning themselves on the logs. Despite our quiet and gentle paddling, these guys would fall into the water as soon as they spotted us.

The area is also home to alligators - but they proved harder to spot

The banks of the river are an untouched swamp of trees and vines, and at the waters edge many water lillies, and aquatic grasses. In typical Florida style, the trees are dripping with spanish moss.

The Limpkin is an endemic bird here - fairly good size bird which predominately eats apple snails. And there can only be apple snails, due to the high mineral content from the underground spring water supply. Thus nature balances itself.

I loved this tour - and would love to do it again. Not just because Kenny did all the paddling! We were the only ones on the river for the whole 4 hours - it was so peaceful and being low and slow on the water we were able to get up close and personal to the amazing diversity of wildlife and greenery.

In the heat of June, a daybreak tour starting at sunrise would be the only way to go. Otherwise one would be stuck out on the water in full sun and blazing heat. Kenny tells me that in summer he has some other places to visit where there is a sandy beach and swimming is possible. Perhaps a spot with less alligators.

I am willing to book a group tour if we can put one together. I suspect it would cost approx. $50 per head, which would supply the guide, the kayak, wet pack bags. Bring your swimmers, cameras and any snacks / food / beverages you desire. It would be an early morning start - or an overnight stay in a closer location - as the Wekiva River is a 1 hour drive from the Marriott World Centre in Lake Buena Vista.

Is this something you would like to do when you visit Orlando?