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!

Looking Back…And Ahead

Happy New Year Disney fans! 2018 is coming in with a wallop with this cold weather. Am I right? As I get older, I become increasingly intolerant of the cold. So as usual, my thoughts turn to my favorite warm place-Disney! I wanted to muse on our Dis-related experiences in 2017 and look forward to what we are planning in 2018. Very exciting stuff!

My favorite Disney moments of 2017 were as follows:

  • Watching Happily Ever After for the first time. Wishes was a great fireworks show, but Happily Ever After upped the ante. The addition of castle projections, new, exciting pyrotechnics and great new songs highlighting Disney from the 90’s and my favorite, Moana, had me tearing up more than once. I really lost it when Tinkerbell flew down from the castle. The fact that they kept my favorite part from Wishes made me love the new show even more.
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Photo credit: Justin Callaghan via flickr
  • Visiting Pandora and riding Flight of Passage. Well, duh, this is stating the obvious. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who visited Pandora and wasn’t impressed. I just couldn’t get enough of this incredible place. From the floating mountains at dusk to the bio-luminescent plants glowing at night, everything about it was magical. And Flight of Passage is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’m so glad we got to visit while Animal Kingdom was having Extra Magic Hours in Pandora from 10pm-midnight. It let us spend even more time oohing and aahing and made the stand by lines for both Pandora rides much more manageable.

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  • Music of Pixar Live! I enjoyed this show Hollywood Studios so much. The music was wonderful, and paired with footage from the movies and the actual characters on stage, it was an overall excellent experience. I can confidently say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house during the “Up” sequence.

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  • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. We were so lucky this year to be able to attend the Magic Kingdom’s hard ticket Halloween Party. We had such a blast watching the Boo To You Parade, the Hallowishes fireworks show and the treat trails, where we filled up with a year’s supply of candy. I can’t wait to do this party again.

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Now, looking ahead to 2018, we have some exciting things lined up.

  • Our daughter is now 10 years old and a huge fan of the Harry Potter books, which of course means…that we are going to Universal Studios Orlando this year! I am excited to explore a completely new park(s) and especially am looking forward to checking out Volcano Bay. We’re staying at Cabana Bay, which looks super fun and kitschy and has an awesome lazy river. That will happen in August.
  • We are planning a tentative November trip to Disney to check out Toy Story Land! We are hoping for the Free Dining promotion, and are planning a split stay so we can rent DVC points and stay a couple of nights at a Deluxe resort (our first time!) We’re thinking Animal Kingdom Lodge or the Boardwalk Inn. We want to check out some DVC resorts because…

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  • We’re buying into the Disney Vacation Club this year!! It makes sense for us and I have been doing a LOT or research into it. We know that we want to vacation at Disney most years. And as much as the value resorts are great, mama likes Deluxe digs. I’m going to do a whole post on what I’ve learned so far about DVC and explain why it’s a good fit for us.

So that’s where we are for 2018. We are excited to experience some new things and revist our perennial favorites. We’ll keep you up to date on all of it, as always! Do you have any Disney plans for 2018? Let me know in the comments and be sure to subscribe to keep up with all our adventures.

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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!

Halloween with Mickey at the Magic Kingdom: A Trip Report

Hello Disney fans! We just came back from our very first Disney cruise last week and, oh my goodness, was it incredible! (We will share every detail in an upcoming blog post, but stay with me here.) A few weeks before we were set to leave on this wondrous adventure, my husband and I were watching yet another vlog from Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom. I sighed, longing to see the Boo To You Parade and Hallowishes fireworks in person. Then I did what I do from time to time and checked to see if there were tickets for the party available the night before our cruise shipped out (because, remember, there’s no harm in looking!) I think you know where I’m going with this.

SO, our plan changed. We would leave Saturday instead of Sunday, add a night at our cheapie Cocoa Beach hotel, drive out to Orlando (about an hour from our hotel) book a lunch at a resort near the Magic Kingdom, and attend the Halloween party (knowing we would be exhausted the morning of the cruise, but as long as we could get our bodies and luggage on the shuttle, all would be well.) It was not cheap. There I said it and I regret nothing! This was not our most budget-minded move, but more in the vein of, “you only live once and why not go crazy once in a while” But we were so excited–we were going to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party!

Sunday afternoon, we drove straight to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge where we had lunch reservations at Whispering Canyon Cafe, one of the many restaurants on my Disney dining wish list. We were early and toured the lobby and grounds of the resort, taking photos in our costumes (Princess Anna, Jyn Erso, and Nick Wilde) with the resort as a gorgeous backdrop. We knew the servers at this establishment had a reputation for acting sassy to guests (on purpose!) so we were ready when the server threw a handful of straws and bev napkins on our table. The food was really good comfort food. Barbecue and bison burgers are the highlights. We finished our meal amused and satisfied and made our way to the boat to Magic Kingdom.

The ride over was serene but cold! I was oh so glad I had made a simple Anna-esque cloak lined in velvet to keep out the wind that was kicking up. It would indeed feel like a Halloween night at this party. We docked at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom at about 3:30, got through bag check and waited with a crowd of people at the entrance gates. I got a chance to see the other costumes and there were some really creative ones and some really simple ones as well. At about 3:50 they started letting people through the tapstiles. We gleefully entered, got our wristbands, and got our picture taken at a Photopass location right in front of the train station, There was no wait for this as I guess people were eager to get into the park.

We had made a couple of fastpasses for Peter Pan and Space Mountain, both of which had insane wait times (when did Disney get so busy in October?) After riding those we did Peoplemover and got our first seasonal treat, which was candy corn ice cream from Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies. Wouldn’t you know, my husband licked it before it could be photographed. It was tasty, and luckily for me, didn’t taste a whole lot like candy corn. We headed towards Main Street on the train from Fantasyland, as it was getting close to party time. We followed the signs to a path behind Main St. where the party festivities were gearing up. We got our trick or treat bags, and got a chance to check out some exclusive party merch (I had to get the 2017 MNSSHP pin with vampire Mickey. So cute!) and hit our first candy spot.

We headed over to Adventureland and rode Pirates of the Caribbean, which was walk on, then hit some trick or treat spots, marked with large inflatable pillars. We happened upon the Cadaver Dans in Frontierland doing a great show of music and bad bad jokes. It was absolutely fantastic. Brer Rabbit was just hanging around in Frontierland causing general mischief and taking selfies with fans. It confirmed that Frontierland is one of my all-time favorite parts of the Magic Kingdom.

We focused mainly on special entertainment and Photopass spots, as there were many spots with “magic photos” especially for the Halloween party. We checked out several character meet and greets, but for us, waiting in lines didn’t seem like a good use of time. Characters like Moana, Jack and Sally, and the Seven Dwarfs had the longest lines. It seemed like when we did get in line, the characters were about to join the parade and wouldn’t be back for 30 minutes or so. That was kind of disappointing. We skipped the first parade, opting to catch the later showing, and headed to the hub area when it was over to get a good spot for Hallowishes fireworks show. We stood off the hub, near the Plaza Ice Cream Shop. What an amazing show! I was so awed.  And the crowd was more sparse than I thought it would be, so we really did have a great view of the castle and pyrotechnics.

 

It was time for more eating and trick or treating. We made our way back to Frontierland where we would watch the second parade showing. It was a spectacular parade. I love the “Boo to You” song and play it on Youtube all the time now. It’s so darn catchy. I wish we had been in a spot with slightly more light for picture taking, but it really made the parade more spooky.

We ended out the evening by (finally) riding Haunted Mansion. All the cast members were dressed even more morbidly that usual. We caught some of the last showing of the castle stage show “A Hocus Pocus Villian Spectacular” but it was indeed midnight and our petite Cinderella was done. We stopped along Main Street and got some last minute photos and caught the bus back to Wilderness Lodge. My poor husband then drove us back to Cocoa Beach as the little one and I promptly passed out. What a great night! I highly recommend this party (as well as Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.) The tickets can be expensive, but it’s worth it to cut back somewhere else to make this fit in your budget. The chance to dress up as a favorite Disney princess in the Magic Kingdom is not something you get to do everyday and it was a night I’ll never forget!

Our 3 Favorite Disney Eats

We are gearing up for our next trip to Disney next week! We are at the 3 day mark, and that’s when I begin to panic about remembering to pack everything (we forgot our trading pins on our last visit and I felt awful for our daughter, who had so much fun trading the time before.) I am still tinkering with our dining reservations, but am pretty satisfied with our lineup. In narrowing down my decisions, my husband and I were reading reviews about a Magic Kingdom restaurant with a western theme. One review was glowing, and the next dreadful. It made me realize that you really can’t depend on reviews. One person’s culinary masterpiece is another’s prison meal. That being said…we thought we would share with you our favorite overall dining experiences at the Walt Disney World resort. These are meals that we still talk about and try to experience every time we visit. Let’s begin!

Favorite Disney Eats

  1. California Grill. It’s hard to go wrong with a signature meal. One would hope that for the money you’re paying, that the meal and service would be unforgettable. We have experienced dinner and Sunday brunch at the California Grill and they were both amazing meals in every aspect. The service is attentive but not overbearing, the food is fresh, flavorful and beautiful to look at. And that view (see the photos.) Now all this doesn’t come cheap and I doubt we would have gone if not for the Dining Plan, since it is not for the budget-conscious. But, if you have the dining plan or are planning a celebration meal while on property, this is the way to go.
  2. Tusker House. We devoted a whole post to a review of this Animal Kingdom character buffet. Generally considered to be the best character meal at Walt Disney World by those who know, we always schedule a late breakfast at Tusker House. The number one reason is the food. Basic breakfast is provided, and yes, you will get your beloved Mickey waffles, but the menu also includes African and Indian-inspired dishes that are fresh and full of flavor. The other main draw of this establishment is the character interaction. Mickey and the gang are here and we always have such a blast with these guys. We highly recommend taking time out of your Animal Kingdom visit to dine here and experience this place for yourself.
  3. Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. Another experience in the “not-so-budget-friendly” category, Hoop-dee-doo will cost over $200 for a family of 4. Why do we recommend it? Unlimited food, like ribs, fried chicken, baked beans, salad and strawberry shortcake is brought to your table and served family-style. The extra perk of this dining experience is unlimited beer and wine for mom and dad! The entertainment is the real draw here. The musical show that accompanies your meal is classic Disney. The 2 hour Vaudeville-style show will have everyone clapping along before long. The interaction with the audience is so much fun. We got to stand up and celebrate our anniversary in a fun and special way. If you are looking for something very different that will become a favorite, and you have 2+ hours to spend dining, we highly encourage you to give Hoop-dee-doo a try.

So, there you have our top 3 dining picks for Walt Disney World. Have you tried any of these restaurants? What are your favorite dining experiences? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Questions to Ask When Planning Your Disney Trip Budget: Part 5

So far in our series of questions to ask yourself when planning a Disney vacation budget we’ve looked at: where you’ll stay, when you’ll travel, what kind of tickets you’ll need and how you will get there. The next question we’ll tackle is, “What will we eat while we’re there and how do we afford it?”

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Food, glorious food. I get pretty excited about planning meals for our trips. My husband might say that I’m obsessive about finding the perfect reservation at the perfect time of day. I love trying new places and revisiting old favorites, but I am aware that all those restaurant meals can add up quickly. Here we’ll look at some options for keeping costs down while still enjoying the culinary delights that Disney has to offer.


  • Consider bringing food from home. In our situation, we go “snack and breakfast” shopping at our local Aldi (a great discount grocery store) a few days before we leave for vacation. We purchase bars, cheese and peanut butter crackers, cheese cubes, salami, toaster pastries, soy milk and cereal, and trail mix, along with drink mixes to liven up our bottled water. I pack a plastic tote with our food, bring some zip-lock bags to pack with snacks each day, load it in the car and we’re set. If you’re flying, we understand you can’t bring all that food with you. Amazon is a fantastic resource for buying groceries and you can have them delivered right to the resort (for a small fee!) Just stop by the front desk and pick them up when you arrive. Another idea is placing an order at Walmart and choosing a store close to the parks. This is the closest one I found. You can set a time to pick up your order and it’s a free service. However you do it, just make sure you have a good assortment of snacks for long days at the parks. It stinks to have a hangry toddler when you’re about to meet Cinderella at the Magic Kingdom.
  • Think about checking out the Disney dining plan. This is a hot topic among Disney veterans. Some people can’t imagine a vacation without it, and some think it’s too much money for too much food. We’re somewhat in-between on the matter. On our first vacation to Disney, we paid out of pocket for our meals. We did some sit-down meals and a character meal, but we ate a good share of quick-service and I felt like we had to be really careful budgeting for our meals. With the dining plan, everything except tips is prepaid, so it feels like you can really treat yourself. On our last two trips, we had free dining. Even though we didn’t pay for the dining plan, I tried to maximize our dining credits. Meaning, I tried to find the most expensive character meals and ordered the most expensive entree at the quick-serve restaurants. We pride ourselves on finding the priciest snacks and meals that we don’t have to pay for!
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    All this food for one snack credit? Yum!

  • The Tables in Wonderland card could work for you. If you are a Florida resident, annual passholder or DVC member, you are eligible for Tables in Wonderland. This card gives you 20% off all food at participating Disney restaurants. It does have an annual cost. Click this link for a list of restaurants that participate in the program.
  • Use the Disney website to get an idea of how much to budget for food. Once you have snacks bought, use the Disney website to look at menus and prices for the restaurants you’d like to visit. You can pretty much budget out every meal you’ll be eating on Disney property. For example, say you were interested in trying 50’s Primetime Cafe in Hollywood Studios. You might decide to have the meatloaf at $18.00 and skip the soda in favor of one of their famous peanut butter and jelly milkshakes ($6.00.) Now you know what you’ll be spending and how much to allow for a gratuity. The Disney Dining Calculator is another resource for meals like buffets, that don’t always have an exact price on the Disney site. You plug in the number of people in your party, and where you’ll be eating for each meal and it can help you decide if the dining plan will be a good value for you or not.
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Entree Menu at 50’s Primetime Cafe

I hope these tips can help you navigate the world of dining at Disney. By no means is it cheap to eat “in the world” but it is good to have some tricks up your sleeve for keeping costs down.

6 Questions to Ask When Making A Budget for Your Disney Trip: Part 1

When planning a Disney vacation there are so many questions that need to be answered when deciding on your budget. We feel that these questions are some of the most important factors in planning your vacation. We often talk about how nice it would be to be able to go at the drop of a hat, and stay at the Contemporary or Polynesian Resort. Unfortunately that is not in our budget! So how do you decide on what you can afford?

These questions will help you figure out what the majority of your budget will be spent on. By spending a little time planning at the beginning you will be able to figure out what works best for your party. You may save a substantial amount of money by looking at the trip this way. Over the next couple of posts we will go into detail about each of these questions.

The first one is “How will we get to Disney?” Your two choices, obviously, are flying or driving. If you don’t live within a day’s drive of Orlando, you will probably be flying. We don’t have much experience first-hand with air travel to Disney, but MouseSavers.com has an entire post dedicated to helping you find a cheap flight. So start looking at your options even before you book your exact travel dates. Many airline sites will give you the cost on a particular day and allow you to search the calendar around your chosen departure date for cheaper fares, so you may discover substantial savings if your travel dates are flexible. Florida does have quite a few airports, so flying to Tampa or Sanford may be more economical. If you do fly to another airport, you have to factor in the cost and hassle of a rental car. If you are staying at a Disney resort and you fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO), Disney provides a free shuttle known as Magical Express, which, in addition to whisking you away to your resort in comfort, lets you bypass baggage claim and have your bags magically brought to your room!

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If there are many people traveling with you, it may be more cost effective to drive to Disney. We are nine hours away, which is manageable as a day trip.  We have found that if we drive several hours and get a hotel room in Jacksonville, where we can find really cheap rates, we can get up early and get a full day in the park. Same thing when we leave. We left after a full day at the park after seeing Fantasmic! and drove 2 hours to St. Augustine beach, which made the drive the next day a little more enjoyable. And we got some much needed beach time after a crazy and fun-packed week.

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Either way you slice it, you’re going to have travel-related expenses (unless you live in Orlando, lucky ducks!) but deciding what mode of transport works best for your family, while keeping an eye out for deals, will be your first decision of many in your Disney trip planning!

Stay tuned for Part 2, as we talk about the next important question, “Where will we stay?”

Countdown to Disney!

Todd here. As our trip to Disney sneaks up on us,we can’t believe we are less than a week out from leaving! What follows are five things that may be overlooked in your excitement, and cause you excess running around and stress right before your trip.

 

  1. Pet/ House-sitting. Have you confirmed with your neighbor that they are going to come and feed your fish or hamster? Fortunately, we have family that lives very close, but if you don’t, make sure your neighbor or trusted pet-sitter has a way to get in your house. If you are boarding pets, confirm that you are still on the books and all shots and vet visits are up to date.

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    photo credit: Sara Spildener via flickr
  2. Snacks. We make sure to have snacks for the car and for the hotel and to bring into the parks. We live within a day’s drive so we try to plan ahead for when we are on Disney property and bring a plastic tote of snacks in the car. We bring along many snacks like cheese crackers, fruit, and granola bars to name a few. They are easy enough to throw in your park bag when you don’t want to spend a snack credit or buy a $1.69 banana. We bring protein bars, cereal and toaster pastries for a little breakfast in the morning before hitting the parks. Also we pack drink mixes. They are easy to carry and since you can get free water at any Disney restaurant they are a fun way to surprise the kids with lemonade or fruit punch, or try a Starbucks iced coffee mix for the adults.

    snacks
    Snacks at Animal Kingdom
  3. Electronics. Even though our phones are great and we can do so much on them, I like to have a laptop back at the room. Try typing that email on your phone or trying to transfer money to your checking account when you realize that you did not pay your power bill before you left!  You also can upload pictures and videos from your camera and phone to the laptop so you can free up space on the memory cards. I also like to bring a power strip to make sure that we have plenty of plugs and everyone can charge their phones in the same place, so you aren’t running around in the morning looking for a phone. Finally, a way to save money is to make sure you have portable chargers. Disney does have a good program that allows you to exchange chargers but it costs $30 to start and do unlimited exchanges in the park. Or you could buy a charger at Best Buy for $7.99 and charge it overnight so it’s ready to go each day.

    peoplephones
    Make sure your camera is always ready to go!
  4. Itinerary. We have a spread sheet with a plan of how we are going to spend our days, including park hours, fast passes, and ADR’s. You can double check your reservation times in your “My Disney Experience” section of the website, or on the app. Check the Disney site to confirm hours closer to your arrival date as hours commonly change. This is a good time to check for any restaurant reservations that you haven’t been able to get. If you are diligent enough you may be able to snag a better time or a restaurant that was sold out months before. Many people will drop ADR’s as their trip gets closer. Finally I like to make sure everyone has an idea of timing for the trip. We are going to leave late in the afternoon and drive to Jacksonville, FL I have downloaded the directions to the hotel in my phone since at that time of night traveling on the interstate all the exits start to look the same. Click here for a look at our Disney Itinerary spreadsheet.
    road
    It helps to know where you’re going and how to get there

     

  5. Weather. If you are traveling between May and September, I can guarantee two things. It will be really HOT, and it will probably rain every day. But other times of the year Florida weather can be a little more unpredictable. So make your clothing choices wisely before you leave on your trip and before you leave for your day once you get to the Sunshine State. Granted, if you get rained on or really cold you will have a nice unplanned souvenir and getting a  $45 sweatshirt with Grumpy on it just because you are freezing is not the best idea. Also be aware of the night time temperatures. Once the sun goes down, there is a chance you will get cold and no one wants to call it a night before “Wishes” starts. Remember, if in doubt, layer!sky-beach-vacation-summer

So by just doing a little planning ahead and using your brain you can save money, time, and plenty of complaining by doing a few last minute things to make sure your trip can go off without a hitch.

 

 

Which Disney Resort is Right for You?

One of the most important steps of trip planning is determining where to rest your weary bones after a long day (and night) at the parks. There are many factors to consider when you’re deciding on one of the 34 unique resort hotels on Disney property. Here we look at the 3 resort categories and what the major differences are at each level.

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

Value: The resorts included in this category are Art of Animation, The All-Star resorts, Pop Century, and the Campsites at Fort Wilderness. One of the most awesome things about the value resorts is the kid-friendly theming. Giant characters decorate the grounds, immersing everyone in the magical world of Disney before even stepping foot in the Magic Kingdom.

Each resort has one large pool and at least one other pool, although there are no slides at these pools. The only dining options at this level are quick-serve, cafeteria or food court-like dining. The room size is slightly smaller than the other categories of resorts, averaging 260 sq. ft. One disadvantage to the value resorts is the distance to the parks. They are the farthest away and the buses may take up to 20 minutes to make their way to and from the parks.That may not seem long, but when it’s standing room only after a long day of walking, you will be counting the minutes. Rack rates on average for a standard room at the values  start at around $100 and can go as high as $200 and more during peak season. If you have young children who would appreciate the theming, are on a tight budget and plan to be visiting the parks much of the time, a value resort might be the perfect match for your family.

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Moderate: The resorts in this category are Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Port Orleans-Riverside, Port Orleans-French Quarter, and the Cabins at Fort Wilderness. The moderates have a slight increase in price over the values, with resorts in this category starting at just under $200 to almost $300 at popular times of year for a standard room. With that price hike, you get slides at the pools (the jaguar slide at Coronado Springs is a blast!) and more dining options. All of the moderates have table service restaurants and several bars and lounges.

Room size increases to  comfy 314 sq. ft. at the moderate level. The theming may not be as appealing to kids, but that doesn’t mean each resort is not immaculately themed and beautifully detailed. The moderates are closer to the parks, which means shorter bus rides. One thing you may not appreciate about the moderates is they tend to sprawl over a large area. This may mean walking several minutes to get from your room to the pool or dining. This is a disadvantage for some, but we always find it an enjoyable way to get familiar with the layout of the resort. If you’re traveling with older children or other adults, and plan to spend more time enjoying the pools and restaurants of your resort, a moderate could be a great choice.

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Deluxe: the deluxe resorts are Animal Kingdom Lodge, Beach Club, Yacht Club, Boardwalk Inn, Contemporary, Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and Wilderness Lodge. There’s not much bad to say about Disney’s deluxe resorts. The beautiful theming, various dining options, and close proximity to the parks make them all highly desirable.

Want to watch the evening fireworks at the Magic Kingdom from your room? Then a theme park view room at the Contemporary, Polynesian or Grand Floridian is a must. Of course, luxury comes at a price, and you will be spending anywhere from $380 for a standard room at Wilderness Lodge to $1000 or more for a park view room at the Poly. The room sizes vary at the deluxe resorts, but range from 340 sq. ft. to 422 sq. ft. for standard rooms. Needless to say, dining at this category is abundant and most resorts have a signature dining experience in addition to table service and quick service dining. The amenities are top-notch; from kids’ clubs to spa and concierge services, your every need is attended to. If you are truly looking to spoil yourself and your family, you can’t go wrong with a Disney deluxe resort.

Whatever you’re looking for in accommodations, Disney’s got it. No matter which resort category fits in your budget, you can expect complimentary transportation to all Disney theme and water parks, themed pools, restaurants, and access to Extra Magic Hours at the parks. Keep in mind that even if you don’t stay at a deluxe resort, you are free to tour the grounds, eat at the restaurants and enjoy the ambience. It’s a great compromise if your budget says value but your heart says deluxe.