Planning Our Next Walt Disney World Trip!

Well, we agreed we were going to skip Disney this year and take our 10 year old to Universal Orlando. But things change, and when Disney’s “free dining” promotion came out in April, I couldn’t resist the temptation to just see what was available. Luckily, the dates were extended an extra 3 weeks early to Disney Chase Visa cardholders. Meaning instead of August 20th, we could book free dining starting August 2nd (this is why having the Disney Visa is a good thing, even if you don’t plan on using it often.)

After grabbing a reservation at an All-Star resort (not exciting, but fine) I continued to look around and couldn’t believe my eyes when a value studio popped up at Animal Kingdom Lodge for a few hundred more than we would be paying for our stay at All-Star, and we wouldn’t have to upgrade from the quick serve plan (stays at deluxe resorts include the standard dining plan.) We’re normally not Deluxe resort-type people. We figure our hotel just needs a clean room and a decent pool. But hey, if you twist my arm, I guess I’ll stay at a deluxe resort complete with a savanna with zebras, giraffes, and ankole cattle, one of the best pools on property and 3 of the best restaurants in all of the Walt Disney World resort. So we are doing 4 nights at AKL with free dining! We are so very excited.

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In addition, months before I booked this trip, I decided to try out renting Disney Vacation Club points to see what it was all about so I could report back about my experience. So after we check out of AKL Jambo House, we check in for one night to AKL Kidani Village, which is the DVC only part of Animal Kingdom Lodge. We will be staying in a Savanna view studio. With me so far?

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photo credit: Loren Javier via flickr

Then, while planning our week, something else happened…Disney released the dates for the 2018 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, with the first date being the night we are scheduled to leave. And is also the day before my husband’s birthday. We happen to love the Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom, even if we have to go in August. So, we added on a 2 night stay at Pop Century, taking advantage of the room discount promotion currently going on.

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We are looking forward to seeing the brand new Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios. We have a Fastpass for Slinky Dog Dash and plan to “rope drop” Alien Swirling Saucers. I’m very excited to try some of the yummy-looking food at Woody’s Lunch Box, too. We will also be spending a lot of time in Animal Kingdom in Pandora, one of our favorite places!

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Our dining reservations are all set as well. We will be trying some new restaurants, like The Plaza in Magic Kingdom, Trail’s End at Fort Wilderness, and Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge. We’ll be hitting our faves Tusker House, Garden Grill, and Be Our Guest too. We simply love free dining and can’t wait to try some new snacks on this trip.

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photo credit: Nicole Pacitti via flickr

So, those are the details of our 7 day August trip. We can’t wait to share all the fun with you! Make sure you keep up with all our adventures by subscribing to the blog.

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Top Disney Questions…Answered!

Hello out there! It’s another snow day in the south (at least we have actual snow for this one) so what better time to throw a movie on Netflix and do some blogging? I have joined a few Disney trip planning groups on Facebook, because I like to share my views, help newbies, and learn from others who have been to Disney a lot more that me! I’ve noticed that there are many of the same questions asked on these groups, so I figured I’d do my best to answer some of these questions here. Read on to see if I answer some of your Disney-related queries!

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When should I go to Walt Disney World? If you can go at any time during the year, the best months for crowds and weather is early to mid-November, and early December, as well as most of January to early February. September crowds tend to be low, but the weather is more unpredictable. There really is no “low’ season anymore due to all the new stuff happening at the parks, so plan to visit when good weather is more likely and crowds won’t be at their peaks. These peak times to avoid if at all possible are spring break, early to mid-summer, and holidays.

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Where should I stay? I always recommend that people stay at a Disney resort hotel if it’s at all in their budget. The perks are just too awesome, and there is a Disney hotel for every budget. There are certain times of year you can get a room on property for under $100! If you have a larger family, you might look at Art of Animation suites or the Cabins at Fort Wilderness. There are so many great resorts on property that you should strongly consider it. If you’re looking for an upscale, amenities-rich experience, look into the deluxe resorts. I have enjoyed both moderate and value resorts, since we are focused on enjoying the parks, and just need a bed, decent pools, and some food.

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How far ahead should I start planning? I always say, the sooner the better with Disney. Decide on your travel dates, then start researching to decide what tickets you’ll need, where you want to eat and where you’ll stay. Dining reservations can be made 6 months out and Fastpass+ can be made 60 days out for guests staying on property (see? Perks!) Can you plan a trip in a month? Yes, but be prepared to not get the restaurants and Fastpasses you want (character meals book up fast as do FP for popular rides.)

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Should I get the Dining Plan? The Disney Dining Plan has its pros and cons. The prices have gone up for 2018 and now include alcoholic or specialty beverages, so if you don’t imbibe the strong stuff, it might not make financial sense. We love the Dining Plan when it’s free. We get it included with a package at certain times of the year and do our research to get the most out of it. Paying out of pocket for food is going to make the most sense for most families, but do the math and see if it works for you.

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Where/ What do we eat? The Disney parks and resort hotels have every kind of food imaginable, from chicken strips to Kobe beef with bordelaise sauce (seriously, check out the menu for Victoria and Albert at the Grand Floridian here.) Check the Disney website under dining for every menu for every restaurant on property. If you have special dietary needs, alert the staff when you arrive at the restaurant and every effort will be made to accommodate your request.

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Where is Harry Potter Land? The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is at Universal Studios Orlando. This is a different park from Walt Disney World Resort. ‘Nuff said.

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So, there you have it! The most common questions about travel to Walt Disney World answered. Still have questions? Post a comment here!

Disney Cruise Tips!

Hey everybody! I can’t believe it’s been a month since our first Disney cruise. It was such a fantastic time and it was over way too soon. As always, I want to share some tips I learned. I hope you find this helpful if you are planning to cruise in the near future.

  • Consider a Park-n-Cruise package if you’re driving into the port. We sailed out of Port Canaveral and spent the night before the cruise at a nearby hotel offering a package. We simply left our car in the hotel parking lot, had our luggage at the pickup spot at the front desk and that was literally the last time we touched our luggage until it was in our room on the ship. The shuttle picked us up and dropped us at the port, where the porters whisked our bags away (you DO tip these guys.)
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The “Sail Away” party at Port Canaveral
  • It’s okay to get to the port early. We got to the port just before they opened, and had to wait a bit to get in. But being at the terminal when they opened meant no waiting to check in and a very short line (about 5 minutes) to meet Mickey in his captain’s attire (a hint for this is to get in line before he comes out. Most people don’t know what the line is for.) We did have to sit for about an hour waiting to board the ship, but there were TVs for the kiddo and I caught up on my social media. The port does get crowded and the line for Mickey was really crazy not too long after we met him.

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  • If it’s your first cruise, invest in a lanyard with a pouch. Your Key to the World card is your room key, and your way on and off the ship at port. It’s really important that you always know where it is. I lose things, often. Having the card snug in its pouch around my neck meant I always knew where it is.
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My husband on Pirate Night!
  • Another tip for first time cruisers is keep walking! When we first entered Cabanas, the cafeteria-style buffet restaurant, the dining room was packed and the buffet line was really long. We then discovered that the restaurant has two identical buffet lines. If you keep walking past the crowd a little further into the restaurant there is plenty of open seating and the line was not as crowded. This goes for elevators too. There are elevators in the mid, front and aft of the ship. Do a little walking if the elevators are packed and try a different set, or take the stairs.
  • Try to connect with your co-cruisers before you set sail. Search for a Facebook group for your cruise date. This is a great place to sign up for fish extender groups, (I’ll talk about fish extenders later) ask questions, and make friends. We found a penpal for my daughter (a shy only child) who we met up with on the ship, and they played together several times. We also joined a trick or treat group though our FB group that made the cruise a little extra fun!
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No, Stitch was not her penpal!
  • Miss the crowds by hitting Castaway Cay early. We had no wait to disembark or to catch the shuttle to the beach. And had our pick of chairs on the beach. This is a really important tip if you plan to snorkle, as that area of the water gets super duper crowded after about 10:30. Plan to snorkle early for clear, uncrowded water.
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The beach fills up quickly!
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No waiting for photos at Mount Rustmore
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We had an empty beach for a few minutes

These are a just a few things we learned on our cruise. We definitely did not know what we were doing for the first couple days, but the cruise staff are very friendly, helpful, and accommodating, so don’t hesitate to get help! Have you done a Disney cruise? Comment and let us know your thoughts! We fell in love and are ready to plan our next one.

Adventure in Pandora! Part Deux

Hi again! We’re finishing up our trip report of Pandora: World of  Avatar in Animal Kingdom. We visited back in August, only a few months after it opened to the public. Like I said in the first part of this post, we are not huge Avatar fans, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying this new world that Disney has brought to life. It’s, in one word, astounding. The area consists of two rides, a gift shop, a quick-serve restaurant (and a little drink/ snack outpost) and an interactive area with drums that the kids can bang on for a while. There is plenty to see here that will take up an afternoon, so plan enough time to explore and check out all the details.

We ate two meals at Pandora’s counter service restaurant Satu’li Canteen. This place was a total crowd pleaser. We were with an unadventurous eater and I was nervous that the bao bun cheeseburger and the boba balls would turn her off. Luckily they offer a hotdog wrapped in a crispy/flaky dough with handmade chips ($6.79 or one quick service credit). Crisis averted! The rest of us were excited to try the rest of the menu. My munchkin and I ordered from the bowl menu-pick a protein, base and sauce. I love an interactive menu experience ($11.49-$12.99 or one QS credit.) My husband tried the cheeseburger steamed pod ($10.99 for 2 or $7.49 for 1 in the kids’ menu) a steamed cheeseburger pod stuffed with ground beef, ketchup, mustard, pickle, and cheddar cheese, which he liked (it was not my cup of tea, but I’m weird about ground beef.) The bowls were fresh, delicious and very filling. This dish gets my vote for top quick-serve dish at Animal Kingdom (sorry to all you Flame Tree fans!) The desserts were visually intriguing and really tasty! We loved the blueberry cheesecake.

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We also visited Pongu Pongu (“party party” in the Na’vi language) the kiosk serving drinks, cocktails, and one snack. We sampled the “Night Blossom”, a frozen mix of limeade, apple and desert pair topped with boba balls ($5.99 or one snack credit), and the Pongu  Lumpia, a mix of pineapple and cream cheese in a spring roll wrapper ($2.99 or one snack credit.) This is the perfect snack combo for waiting in the winding, endless queue for Flight of Passage, as the sugar content will perk up even the sleepiest traveler. But, seriously, the drink was really tasty, and the spring roll, although a bit messy. had a really good flavor.

Speaking of Flight of Passage, I have to say a bit about the most talked about Disney ride this year. We had the opportunity to ride this 3 times on our visit, and I would have ridden it more if not for the outrageous waits. The premise for this ride is that you are taking part in a program that pairs Na’vi avatars with us regular folks, so that we may experience what it’s like to ride on the back of an Ikran, or banshee, a flying creature native to Pandora. The preshows (there are two), which pair the riders and avatars, and fill us in on the background of this program are great…the first time. Having to stand through them every time is a little boring. But the payoff is the ride. Straddling a bike-type ride vehicle, you get supports behind your back and calves, keeping you nice and snug. Donning your 3D glasses, you’re transported to the wilds of Pandora. It’s unbelievable-the scenery, the feeling of movement and the breathing of your Ikran beneath you. I might have cried just a little bit. I recommend succumbing to the magic of the ride. It is tempting to look around at the other people and figure out the mechanics of the ride, but that will take you out of the experience, and you won’t get as much out of it. The photos below show just a few parts of this very detailed queue.

The last thing I want to talk about is the transformation of Pandora when darkness falls. The sounds are different-the nocturnal creatures are now awake and calling to each other-and most impressively, the bio-luminescent plants are now glowing all around you. The only thing more beautiful than Pandora during the day is Pandora at night. Plan to visit this area at both times. It’s truly magical. Overall the Valley of Mo’ara at night is a peaceful and bewitching place to explore, where the emphasis is placed on the natural beauty of this alien land.

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Photo courtesy of Disney Parks Blog

So definitely make this part of your next Disney trip. We recommend visiting around lunch time and then again before the park closes so you can experience all aspects of the land. Flight of Passage Fastpass should be your first priority, since standby lines for Na’vi River Journey are usually a bit shorter. And plan for a meal (or two!) at Satu’li Canteen. Most of all enjoy and take the time to soak it all in!

Have you experienced Pandora yet? What was your reaction? We’d love to hear your comments!

Our Experience in Pandora: World of Avatar

Hi gang! We got the chance to take a Disney vacation not too long ago. We were going to wait until next year, but once I thought about all the new offerings Disney has rolled out this year, I knew we just had to check it all out. I mean, we just went last December and since then Disney has introduced Rivers of Light, Happily Ever After, and Pandora: World of Avatar. We really enjoyed the two new night-time shows, but we weren’t prepared for how much we loved Pandora. The rides, the food, and the theming were all above any expectations we had. Here’s a look at our experience here last August.

Pandora is the newest land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom based on the movie “Avatar.” I like sci-fi and thought this movie was pretty interesting from a special effects perspective, but felt the story was a little predictable. Well, you don’t have to be a huge fan of the movie, or even have seen it to appreciate Disney’s take on the Navi-inhabited planet of Pandora. It starts as you enter the land from Discovery Island or Africa: the insects begin to sound familiar but strange, like cicadas or crickets but somewhat “alien.” As you see the sign for the Valley of Mo’ara (the area of Pandora that you’re visiting) the vegetation definitely looks odd.  There is a giant plant pod, alien vines and sounds of creatures not of this world. That’s the great thing about Disney. You feel completely immersed in this land from the moment you enter.

We thought we would take advantage of Extra Magic Hours and “rope drop” or head straight over to Flight of Passage (the new ride everyone is talking about) when the park opened. Well, about 300 other people had the exact same idea! It’s moments like those that make me feel a little naive. So we shuffled with a huge crowd of people through the entrance of Animal Kingdom to the queue for FOP, and continued to walk, and walk to the end of the queue as it continued through the length of the land almost into Africa and then wrapped back around into Pandora. Try to imagine it and I bet you’re not even close. We had a Fastpass for this ride a few days into out trip and figured it was not worth spending 2-3 hours of our morning just waiting for one ride, so we left, walking towards Africa and literally hopped onto Kilimanjaro Safari with no wait.

After spending some time in the rest of AK, we returned to Pandora for our first Fastpass of the day, for Navi River Journey, the other ride in the new land. This is a boat ride through Navi territory at night, with the relaxing sounds of the native flora and fauna immersing you in a new and amazing world. I loved this ride! There are no thrills, but the details are overwhelming. You could ride it over and over and still never see all that’s going on. The animatronic shaman was astounding, and the beautiful Navi singing was so lovely. It was stuck in my head for most of the day.

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Photo credit: James Bareham via theverge.com

We then had a chance to walk around and explore before our brunch reservation. Wow. How incredible this place is. I couldn’t stop staring at the floating mountains above us. The waterfalls, the towering straw figures, the strange plants were breath-taking.

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When we came back in a few days to use our Fastpass for FOP, the kids couldn’t wait to get back into Pandora. We felt pretty awesome gliding past all those poor souls in the stand-by line (it was about 110-210 minutes at most times during our visit.) We still had to wait for about 10 minutes. This is a slow loading ride with 2 pre-shows, which I’m sure contributes to the ride’s long waits. We finally got to enter the room where we got “matched” with an avatar, then went to another room to watch a video about the Ikran, or Banshee that we would soon be riding via avatar. Yeah, it’s kind of complicated, but then we loaded onto the ride, straddling a chair and restraints came up behind our backs and calves. The ride began, my life was changed, and I couldn’t wait to get back on. Yes, this ride is unbelievable. I can see why people are willing to wait so long. It’s a simulator-type of ride and if you are prone to motion sickness, you might need to avoid it.

The kids wanted to go back on immediately. Instead, we went to the gift shop “Wind Traders” so they could pick out a souvenir to cement their allegiance to the Na’vi way of life. We then headed over to Satuli Canteen the new quick-serve location that has gotten rave reviews from most visitors…

We’ll stop for now as this review is getting a bit long! Look for part 2 as we review the food and drink in Pandora. Have you visited Animal Kingdom recently and had a chance to stop by Pandora? What did you think? Leave a comment below!

So, You Want to Save on Your Disney Trip…We Share Our Strategy!

Maybe you just booked your next Disney trip and are ready for our cost-saving tips. Or, maybe you’re in the dreaming phase (the phase we’re in about 99% of the time.) Either way, our strategy for saving is useful for anyone interested in vacationing at Disney on a budget.

My husband and I divide up vacation prep as follows: I make the spreadsheet, book ADRs, Fastpasses and hotels, and he figures out how we can pay as little as possible for the trip. It works out well, since I obsess over  eating food, not paying for it! This is our process for saving.

  • We start out by seeing what discounts are available for the time period we’re looking to travel. Either that, or we see a great offer, and decide if we can get away from school and work. As you know if you’ve read this blog in the past, we love the free dining promotion.  For us, it’s better than a room discount because we mostly stay at value resorts, where the room discount is not as deep. That is usually offered late summer through December, and we can usually make a short trip happen somewhere in this time frame.
  • Next we start saving. We have a change jar that gets filled up with extra cash, found change etc. which gets turned in at our Credit Union and put in a separate vacation account.

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  • Meanwhile, we use a rewards credit card for all our purchases, using it like a debit card. We make sure we never carry a balance on (paying interest is the opposite of what we’d like to accomplish!) We used to use the Disney Chase Visa, but changed to a low fee card with a higher cash back rate. 2% doesn’t seem like much but it adds up over the year or so it takes us to save.

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  • We pay for our vacation with discounted gift cards. We buy our gift cards online  (with our rewards card) at BJ’s Wholesale Club for $94.99 per $100.00 card. We also use Ebates, which is a handy way to get cash back on your online purchases (1% for BJ’s) It can be time-consuming to type in all the gift card numbers to pay for your trip, but I just picture myself walking down Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom and the time flies by.

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So here’s a rundown of our savings for a $3000 trip (or about a week for 4 people.) We buy $3000 in gift cards from BJ’s for $2849.70. We get $28.49 back in a check from Ebates, and $56.98 back from the credit card (in a credit or straight cash back) For a total savings of $235.77 or roughly 8%.

So with a little discipline and foresight we have found a way to save a pretty significant amount for our vacation.  We have heard of other creative ways such as setting a budget for food, and whatever you save you put in a Disney fund.  So please share your ways to make a trip to the Magic Kingdom a little easier on the wallet. If you’re interested in getting money back on your online purchases from Ebates (yes, you get an actual check!) use this link here

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What We Learned from Our Last Disney Trip

Hello dear readers! Wow, autumn is starting to happen all around me and I realized that I haven’t written in some time. I wanted to write a blog post while our last trip was fresh in our minds, but back to school means back to work for me, so, here we are!

We got back from our last trip a little over a month ago and it was different for us in several ways. For starters, we had an extra person with us–we usually just travel with our little family of 3, but this time we brought a friend of my daughter’s. My 9 year old isn’t as entertained by her parents as she once was, nor is Disney as sparkly and magical as it was when she was 5, so we invited a travelling companion. It worked out really well, and I wish I could afford to bring this friend on all our future trips. We also went at a new time of year. We usually go to Disney in November or December, to avoid high crowds, and high temperatures. Now that I’m a teacher, we really can’t just travel any old time of year. When free dining opened up, we took advantage of the extra week offered to just Disney Visa cardholders and went the 3rd week of August. I actually enjoyed many things about going this time of year that I didn’t think I would. The longer park hours, no holiday parties to cut into our Magic Kingdom time, more pool time in the afternoons, and in general just a more laid-back vacation. But the heat was a huge factor. I remember standing in front of the stage at Hollywood Studios watching “Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away” and feeling like I was standing on the surface of the sun. In addition, it was our first trip with our newer nicer camera. Which meant that we got a lot of great shots, but some shots failed miserably due to its unskilled user. I still have a lot to learn about digital photography.

So, without further ado, here are some things I learned on our last trip:

Be flexible.  When I book a Disney trip, I enter planning mode pretty much from the moment I click “check out” on the confirmation page. I am a detail-oriented spreadsheet kinda gal and my family might possibly get tired of me asking if they would rather eat at Skipper Canteen at 5:15 or 5:25. Vacationing with kids, however. means that sometimes you just have to go with the flow. We had a Be Our Guest dinner reservation booked for our first night of our trip, when it gradually dawned on me that the girls probably would neither appreciate the food, nor want to sit down for a long meal on our first day. So, with much gritting of teeth, I canceled, promising myself a meal there on our next trip. Also, when the girls got worn out from the intense heat, and I could see in their eyes that ALL they wanted to do was go back to the resort and hang in the pool, it was time to go. No matter how much I wanted to do Space Mountain one more time.

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Sometimes you just need some pool time.
Being prepared for weather can make or break your trip. We knew what to expect of Florida in August, and we still were not prepared for the intense heat and humidity that greeted us each day. Luckily, I had purchased a number of items that saved us from fainting and kept us from getting too crabby and irritable. Cooling towels and personal fans really helped the girls get through the trip. The necklace fan proved to be the best purchase, as it was sturdy and we didn’t need to worry about forgetting it somewhere. We also bought a travel umbrella to shade us from sun and rain. I really prefer an umbrella to a poncho or rain jacket. It’s more versatile, and I have a hard time putting myself in a plastic sheet when it’s 90+ degrees and raining. Taking air conditioning breaks at any chance was also helpful. Cutting through a gift shop or ducking into Country Bears gave our bodies a chance to cool down.

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Beautiful but hot!
It’s not going to be possible to see and do everything. Okay, so I knew this already, but this trip really hammered it into me. I missed doing some of my favorite things on this trip. And…it’s…okay (taking a deep breath as I write this.) With young children, you have to make decisions about what to do and see, because they have a limited window of time when they’re going to be into it. We made some compromises with the girls. One day we missed rope drop (gasp!) at Hollywood Studios to let the kids sleep in, eat a leisurely breakfast and play in the pool. They really needed a rest! In exchange, we went to late night extra magic hours at Animal Kingdom that night to spend more time in Pandora (because there is never enough time to spend in Pandora.) We still had a great day and had energy for that late night. It meant that we missed meeting BB-8, but I had to just…let it go (like my friend, Elsa.) It’s harder if you know you can’t come back to Disney for a year, or 2, or ever, but just go with the flow and you’ll have a much better time.

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Pandora at night. Photo credit: Athena Iluz via flickr
Well, these are my main takeaways from our last Disney trip. We had a fantastic time and I would definitely do a summer trip again. What do you think? Have you ever learned any valuable lessons while on vacation? I’d love to hear your comments. Stay tuned for some more from our trip, like a review of Pandora, and how free dining worked out for us this time.

Disney Freebies!

Hello lovelies! I haven’t posted in some time because…lack of inspiration to be honest. Summer, amiright? But fear not, we’re back! This will be a quick post to talk about some things you can get at Disney for FREE! That’s right, there are a few things you can get without opening your wallet (or charging to your room) at the most magical place on earth.

  • Fastpass+  I included this because of a few conversations I’ve had recently where people have urged me to “pay for the fastpass thing!” I have to fill them in on the fact that Fastpass+ is a totally free service included with park admission. For those of you new to Disney, Fastpass+ allows you to skip the stand-by line and skip right onto your ride of choice. You may reserve 3 per day in advance, and when those are used, you can continue to reserve one at a time for the rest of your day using a kiosk in the parks or the My Disney Experience app. This is something that many other parks charge money for and it’s nice to see Disney throw it in as a freebie.

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    Fastpass+
  • Celebration buttons  You’ve scrimped and saved to treat little Bobby to a trip to Walt Disney World for his birthday-let the world know about his special day! You can get a nice big Happy Birthday button (or other celebratory occasion) at your Disney resort or at one of the parks. Most cast members will even take the time to write the requested name on the button and tape over it to keep the ink from wiping off. This makes a great free personalized souvenir and the person wearing the button will get lots of special greetings from cast members.

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    Don’t forget your celebration button!
  • Water  Ok, this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you’re trudging around in the Florida heat, it seems like quite a luxury to have a free cup of ice cold water to quench your thirst. This freebie can often eliminate the need to bring a bulky water bottle into the parks. Any counter service restaurant (that has a soda dispenser) will be able to do this for you, just ask!
  • Cool transportation  Who doesn’t want to ride on a monorail or a beautiful ferry? All transportation on Disney property is free! You can take a boat across the Seven Seas Lagoon from the Poly to the Magic Kingdom, or from Port Orleans to Disney Springs, or take a tour of the Lagoon resorts on the monorail. You don’t even need a park ticket for this freebie.

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    Photo credit: wdwinfo.com
  • Resort Entertainment  All Disney resorts offer some sort of entertainment. From poolside games for the kids and outdoor movies by the pool to live music. You don’t have to be a guest of a resort to enjoy their offerings (except for the pools.) Fort Wilderness is known for their campfire and sing along with Chip and Dale. You can even bring S’more fixin’s (or buy some if your forgot yours.) The Grand Floridian offers live piano music during the day and then in the afternoon and evening, the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra entertains with jazz, Disney tunes and ragtime. At Port Orleans-Riverside, the legendary “Yeeha Bob” plays piano, sings and offers a knee-slapping good time-for free!
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    Entertainment at the Grand Floridian

     

Those are my top freebies at Walt Disney World. Do you have anything to add to my list? Comment and let me know!

Free Disney Dining 2017 Breakdown

Hey Disney fans! Spring has reached our corner of the world and I’ve been out in the garden and neglecting all other things in my life. So on this particularly cool, over-cast day, I’m getting back to the blog. This Monday, the long-awaited arrival of the free dining promotion was released on the Disney website. I wanted to quickly breakdown the details of this promotion and tell you how to still get in on the frenzy.

Disney offers several discounts throughout the year, from room discounts to specially priced packages. But the free dining promotion is by far the most talked about and anticipated. Here’s what it is: a free Disney dining plan for everyone staying in your room for the length of your stay. Free food! At Disney! Sounds pretty amazing, right? So, on to the details to see if you can take advantage of this great promotion.

The check-in dates are as follows: August 21st-September 30th, November 14th-20th, 25th-27th, December 8th-23rd. Your check-in date must fall on one of these dates to qualify. In addition to these dates, if you hold a Disney Chase Visa, you can check in from August 13th and still get free dining!  Book now through July 7th.

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Most resorts are included in this deal. The only exclusions are the campsites at Fort Wilderness, 3-bedroom villas, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort – Little Mermaid Standard Rooms and Bungalows at Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows. Specific resorts excluded are All-Star Movies and Port Orleans-French Quarter. The way the offer works is this: stay at a value or moderate resort and receive the quick-serve dining plan or stay at a deluxe resort and receive the standard dining plan. With the quick-serve, you get 2 counter service meals per day, a snack, and a refillable cup. With the standard plan, you get a table service meal, a counter service meal, a snack each day and a refillable cup. You do have the option of upgrading from quick-serve to standard for about $20 a day per adult.

Ariel's "Part of Your World" at Disney's Art of Animation Resort
Matt Stroshane, photographer

You must purchase a minimum of a 2 day park hopper park ticket for everyone in your party. The number of meals you receive corresponds to the nights of your hotel stay, not your ticket. So, if you have 6 nights booked, but don’t want to go to the parks everyday, you could buy, say a 4 day park hopper ticket and still get 6 days of free meals. In my humble opinion, if you are looking to do a trip on a budget, it is most prudent to book a value resort and upgrade your dining plan. Let’s look at some numbers! We’ll look at a 5 night stay in September for 2 adults and 1 child for all the following scenarios.

Scenario 1: Staying a Pop Century and upgrading the dining plan: standard room and 6 day park hopper ticket with free quick-serve dining= $1931, with the upgrade=$2116

Scenario 2: Staying at Coronado Springs and upgrading the dining plan: standard room and 6 day park hopper ticket with free quick-serve dining= $2264, with the upgrade= $2449

Scenario 3: Staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge with standard dining included: standard room with 6 day park hopper ticket= $3302 (no upgrade needed.)

So, unless you are dead set on staying at a deluxe resort or moderate resort (which offer better amenities, bigger rooms, etc,) the best choice financially is to plan your stay at one of the awesome value resorts. We have heard that Pop Century is the one to book for this promo folks (so, of course, we did!) Another option, if you are not big eaters and are willing to brown bag it everyday, is to take the room discount. This is a great deal for people who would like to stay at a moderate or deluxe resort, are willing to eat cheap and don’t like park hopping. Prices for the same dates with one park a day 6 day ticket and standard room are: Pop Century $1755/ Coronado Springs $2056/ Animal Kingdom Lodge $2513. So, as you see, free dining is not actually free, as you are paying full price for your room, but eating at Disney is expensive. The value you get with this promotion is great if you understand how to get the most value from the dining plan.

As you see, it is possible to do Disney cheap(er). Being flexible in your travel dates obviously helps, as most of these dates are when school is in session. The rooms for this promo go quick so start planning. We are taking advantage of the Disney visa dates and going before school starts in August. And yes, we are fully planning to sweat, wear our ponchos through the storms, and take afternoon pool breaks. We are just so excited about all the new attractions and shows Disney is unveiling this year and can’t wait to go (and eat) again!

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Are you planning on taking advantage of free dining this year? Let us know in the comments!

6 Questions to Ask When Budgeting Your Disney Trip: Part 6!

Well, here we are at the end of our little series.  We have tried to give you some tips to help out in budgeting your dream Disney trip, from food to travel to lodging. The last post deals with upgrades, and boy does Disney give you the chance to upgrade your experience at every turn. But which ones are worth it and which can you do without?

  • Park Hopper and Water Park upgrade: We talked at length about this topic in a recent post , so we won’t revisit it in too much detail. We like the Park Hopper option so if one park closes early, we can continue the fun at another park. If you are taking a more leisurely vacation or are traveling with very little ones, you might want to skip this upgrade and stick to one park a day.
  • Upgrade your dining plan: Some people can’t imagine a vacation without the deluxe dining plan. With that upgrade you get 3 meal credits and 2 snacks per day included in your plan. It might make sense if you have a long list of signature (2 dining plan credit) restaurants you’d like to try, but in our opinion, all those sit down meals take too much time away from the parks. Imagine the travel time it takes to get to all those meals! We recommend to skip this upgrade.

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  • A room upgrade. We upgraded to a water view room at Caribbean Beach on our first visit. I shuddered at the thought of staying at a Disney resort and having a parking lot view! The room was nice, but in all honesty, we weren’t in the room enough to enjoy it anyway. Upgrading to a preferred room might be good if you want to be closer to the resort food court and transportation to the parks. We don’t mind walking at the resort. It lets us get a feel for the property and enjoy the theming. If this is not you, look into a room upgrade and see if it fits in your budget. For us, a standard room saves money and works out just fine.

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  • Dessert Parties/ Dining Package: We have done both upgrades. The Wishes Dessert Party was enjoyable, but even I admit, my eyes were bigger than my stomach and I probably didn’t consume enough desserts and specialty beverages to make it worthwhile.  The upside to dessert parties and dining packages is the reserved seating for such events as Illuminations, Fantasmic and the Candlelight Processional (an insanely popular holiday event at Epcot.) We have done the Fantasmic dining package twice, but only because it was included in the dining plan. If we had to pay out of pocket, we would pass it up and get Fastpasses for the nighttime show instead. If you have a special occasion to celebrate, a dessert party might be a fun way to go. They average $79 per adult, so make sure the person being honored likes sweets!

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  • Tours/ After Hours Events: Disney offers several behind-the-scenes tours at the parks as well as after-hours events. We did one such event called Early Morning Magic (read about our experience here ) and I thought it was totally worth the splurge. The tours range greatly in price and, while I’ve never done one, I have thought about treating my Disney-nerd husband to the 5-hour Keys of the Kingdom tour (at $99.00, we couldn’t all afford to take part.) If you’re really desiring to do some behind-the-scenes exploring, try the “Behind the Seeds” tour at Epcot. At $25 for adults and $20 for kids, it’s a steal, and you get to tour the gardens in the Living with the Land ride.
  • Holiday Parties: We have to say, Disney does an awesome party! There are currently 2 “hard-ticket” holiday events that you can attend; Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. We have done the Christmas party two times and watched many videos of the Halloween party on Youtube. They feature uncommon character meet-and-greets (think Jack Skellington and the 7 Dwarfs) complimentary treats and exclusive holiday-themed shows and parades. In addition to that, the wait times for rides are much shorter than during the normal park hours. The only downside is the cost. The parties run from $72 to over $100. The way we have budgeted for the parties in the past is to use the party as one of our park days and not buy a park ticket for that day. We go to the pool or visit resorts during the day and then show up at the gates ready to get into the Magic Kingdom at 4pm (the party runs from 7pm-midnight, and guests can enter at 4pm.) This way we spend about the same amount on tickets, but can experience the holiday festivities!

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So, there you have it. Six questions to address when planning a budget for your Disney vacation. Answering these questions should give you a great idea of where your money will be going on your dream trip. Do you budget for a splurge or keep it frugal? We try to balance restraint with spending carefully on special experiences. Tell us what you think!