Disney Character Dining Ranked by Us for You!

Hi folks! I have been deep into planning mode lately. Our August trip has evolved from just Universal Orlando to a hybrid Disney/ UO trip, but I’ll share more of that later. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of wishing that I was back at Walt Disney World, soaking up the warm temperatures and hanging with my favorite characters.

One of the things we love most is character dining at Walt Disney World. Even though our daughter is growing out of it, she’s still a pretty good sport about it. Character dining is a great way to meet your fav characters and get a great (most of the time) meal! We thought it would be fun to rate each of the character dining meals we have experienced to help out those who may be having trouble deciding where to try. The “location” category is for how convenient or special the restaurant’s location is, while the “atmosphere” category rates the overall feeling of the restaurant. This is, of course, our personal opinion. Yours may differ. With that being said, enjoy our character dining ratings!

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Tusker House— Food: 5 Character Interaction: 5 Location: 5 Atmosphere: 4                                      Characters include: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Daisy

Garden Grill— Food: 4 Character Interaction: 5 Location: 5 Atmosphere: 5                                        Characters include: Mickey, Pluto, Chip, Dale

Akershus— Food: 4 Character Interaction: 5 Location: 4 Atmosphere: 5                                               Characters include: Snow White, Ariel, Aurora, Cinderella, Belle

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Hollywood and Vine (L, D)— Food: 2 Character Interaction: 4 Location: 5 Atmosphere: 3               Characters include: Goofy, Minnie, Mickey, Donald, Daisy

(Hollywood and Vine also has a character breakfast with Disney Jr. characters which we’ve never personally experienced. )

Crystal Palace— Food: 3 Character Interaction: 4 Location: 5 Atmosphere: 5                                      Characters include: Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet

Cinderella’s Royal Table— Food: 3 Character Interaction: 2 Location: 5 Atmosphere: 5                    Characters include: Ariel, Jasmine, Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, Belle

1900 Park Fare (B)— Food: 4 Character Interaction: 3 Location: 4 Atmosphere: 3                               Characters include: Alice, Mad Hatter, Pooh, Mary Poppins

1900 Park Fare (D)— Food: 2 Character Interaction: 5 Location: 4 Atmosphere: 3                              Characters include: Cinderella, Prince Charming, Drizella, Anastasia, Step-Mother

‘Ohana (B)—Food: 4  Character Interaction: 3 Location: 5 Atmosphere: 4                                              Characters include: Lilo, Stitch, Mickey, Pluto

Chef Mickey’s— Food: 3 Character Interaction: 4 Location: 4 Atmosphere: 3                                       Characters include: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto

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Cape May Cafe (B)— Food: 4 Character Interaction: 5 Location 3 Atmosphere: 3                               Characters include: Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Daisy

Trattoria al Forno (B)– Food: 5 Character Interaction: 4 Location: 4 Atmosphere: 4                          Characters include Rapunzel, Flynn Ryder, Ariel, Prince Eric

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That about does it. We didn’t rate Mickey’s Backyard BBQ at Fort Wilderness, as we have not done that experience, and probably won’t any time soon (it’s out of our price range!) I hope you’ve found this post useful, or at least mildly entertaining. At any rate, we had a blast remembering  our past character dining experiences. What’s your favorite character meal? Let us know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

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!

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 Planning A Disney Budget: Part 3

We’re back with the next part of our Disney vacation planning series. The oh-so-important question this time is, “When should we go to Disney?” There are several factors to consider when deciding on the time of year to schedule your trip. Hopefully you have some flexibility in planning and can take advantage of our tips!

Weather: As I’m sure you are aware, central Florida can have some pretty extreme weather. The time of year you choose to go can make or break your trip. We have a zero tolerance policy for humidity and daily rainstorms, so we know to miss June-September. We always strive to visit from early November to December, and have been very fortunate to have wonderful weather.  Highs most days were in the 70’s and low 80’s on our recent trips, and lows were in the 60’s.  On our last two trips there were only 2 days when we needed to wear long pants to the parks during the day. Prices are lower during these times, due to school being in session.

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Photo credit: Benjamen Benson via flickr

School Holidays: I’m assuming that there are a few of you out there that are interested in sharing Disney magic with your children. If your children are school-age you may immediately think of visiting during major breaks such as Christmas, summer or spring breaks.  You have to remember that the rest of the nation has the same breaks more or less, meaning the crowd levels are insane and since those periods are in high demand, prices are sky-high. Only you can decide if you want to battle crowds and pay more, or take your kids out of school to visit during a slower time of year.We have taken our daughter out of school in 2nd and 3rd grades, and got her homework for the week before she left. We enjoy special discounts since we are traveling at slower times of the year, and to us that’s worth it. As our daughter gets older, we will have to re-think when we go, since taking her out won’t be an option. Long weekends with teacher work days are an option for shorter trips.

Crowds: Spring break, summer, Christmas, Independence Day. I strongly advise you to avoid these times when planning your trip. The prices will be crazy. The crowds will be crazy. The wait times for rides will be crazy. Get the picture? Besides bad weather, nothing ruins the magic more than large crowds. Yes, I understand the allure of wanting to spend holidays at Disney, but it’s just…not…worth…it. Our top recommendations for low crowds are January-February (excluding holidays), October-November (not Thanksgiving!) and early December. (You can still experience all Disney’s Christmas entertainment in early December.) If you choose to go on the busy times, proceed at your own risk!

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photo credit: Brett Kiger via flickr

Special Offers: If you are looking for discounts for your Disney trip, there are some that become available throughout the year. Disney usually releases their specials 4 to 6 months ahead of time. This means if you want to travel in May, start looking for offers in December and January. The most common discounts are room only and package deals, and the free dining offer. Disney Tourist Blog has a  great post that talks in-depth about each discount offered. Do the math on any special offer to make sure it works for your situation. We prefer free dining to a room discount, because we stay at moderate or value resorts (which only get a 10-15% room discount) and it saves us more money to get 3 free dining plans for the length of our stay. If you are traveling as a couple and plan to stay in a deluxe resort, the room discount would be a better deal.

As you can see, the timing of your vacation has a big impact on how much you will shell out for your big trip, and how much enjoyment you will get out of your time in the parks. It will be one of the most important decisions to make about your trip so plan wisely. Use our pointers to help you plan for a trip that makes the most sense for you and your budget.

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?”

A Review of “Early Morning Magic” at the Magic Kingdom

Hi everyone! We just got back from our trip on Saturday and are trying to settle back into the routine of making our own coffee and having to make my own bed every morning. Geez, you get so spoiled on vacation. Oh, and Christmas is in 4 3 days but who’s counting? We had a great time at Disney, and forged ahead through lack of sleep, a grumpy nine year old, and a pulled calf muscle (ouch!)

 

We pride ourselves on saving money on our Disney trips, but usually treat ourselves once each trip. Disney is well known for offering upgrades or add-ons for your family vacation. Many folks choose to pay a little more to have an exclusive event added to their itinerary. These include dessert parties, holiday parties, and after hours events. Last spring, Disney debuted a new event known as Early Morning Magic-Fantasyland, and soon after started a similar event in Hollywood Studios. For $69 per adult and $59 per child, your party gains entry to the Magic Kingdom early and has unlimited access to 3 of the most popular rides in Fantasyland-Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Peter Pan’s Flight. Also included in the price is a breakfast buffet, which takes place in Pinocchio Village Haus. I figured, “Hey we’ve paid more than that for a meal at Cinderella’s Royal Table, and I’d much rather ride rides without a wait for an hour. What the heck!” So, I booked our party of 2 adults and 1 child for Tuesday morning (it only occurs on select Sundays and Tuesdays) and planned how I was going to get the 3 of us up and ready so early while on vacation.

We were ready to go by 6:45 am (miraculously) and decided not to trust our fates to Disney transportation. We drove to the Ticket and Transportation Center (did you know you can park free at any of the parks with your resort parking pass?) and as we entered the TTC, a Cast Member asked us if we had early dining reservations. We explained we were doing Early Morning Magic and he ushered us over to an area where a bus was waiting-apparently only the resort monorail runs that early in the morning. We were whisked away on our “private” bus to the front of the Magic Kingdom by 7:25, got our bags checked quickly and were greeted by a cast member asking if we had early reservations. We were directed to a line at the far left of the entryway to the park. This queue consisted of the Early Morning Magic folks as well as all people with pre-park opening reservations at Crystal Palace, Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Royal Table. A cast member came through and checked our Magic Bands for our reservations and gave the three of us each a special wristband.

 

At 7:44, there was quite a crowd behind us, and at 7:45 am on the dot, the rope was dropped and the crowd surged through the tunnels under the train station and out into Town Square. We walked at our quick but relaxed pace, got some nice shots on Main Street (they did have Photopass photographers out!) and in front of the Castle.

We immediately went to 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, where CMs were checking for wristbands, and rode 5 times in about 20 minutes. We then walked over to Winnie the Pooh, and rode twice. You had to get off of the ride each time, but walking back through the queue took only a few seconds. Then over to Peter Pan, which we rode 4 times. We each sat in a different spot each time so we could see new unique details in the ride. It was approaching 8:45 am now, and folks who had rushed through their early breakfasts were already lined up at 7DMT, but were not yet permitted to get on the ride. We sailed past them and rode again 2 times. Then it was 9, the park was officially open, and we decided to get over to Space Mountain to ride before the lines started. We actually waited about 20 minutes to ride Space Mountain, and then it was time for breakfast!

 

We sauntered back over to Fantasyland and showed our wristbands to the CMs at the front of the restaurant. There was a well-stocked double sided buffet with breakfast goodies, as well as coffee, juice and hot water for tea. There was fruit, frittatas, french toast, bacon, sausage, assorted meat and cheeses, and a selection of pastries. The restaurant was not at all crowded and the food was hot and fresh. We went up several times and only felt slightly rushed when a CM offered to “clean all that up” for us as we sat lazily talking and sipping coffee (this was about 10:15 am) Understandably, they had to get the dining room ready for lunch. All the staff there was very friendly, and a couple of Cast Members stopped to talk to us and offered to take our picture. So, by 10:30 am, we had ridden 4 of the most popular rides at the Magic Kingdom, got some great photos taken and enjoyed a delicious breakfast.

 

So, the question is always, “Is it worth it?” To which I usually reply, “It depends.” Is it in your budget to splurge a bit? If so, I think this add-on is a good value for what you get. Do you like rides? My daughter is crazy about the Mine Train and I adore Peter Pan, so for us, it was really exciting to ride multiple times without waiting. If your little one is more interested in meeting princesses, an ADR at Cinderella’s Royal Table is a better splurge. We had a blast and I’d certainly consider doing it again. Disney Early Morning Magic-Fantasyland runs on select Sundays and Tuesdays from 7:45-10:00 am, breakfast is available from 8:30-10:00 am. Regular theme park admission is required.

 

10 Things We Love about Walt Disney World: Pt. 1

I think a lot of people are confused when we tell them how much we, the adults love being at the Disney parks. Yes, a huge part of it is sharing Disney magic with our 8 year old, especially when she was in her six year old full-blown princess obsession. Even at eight, watching her eyes light up when she met Cinderella’s Prince Charming was unforgettable. Aside from that, there are many reasons why we are so in love with this most amazing place. Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Main Street, U.S.A. Walking through the gates of the Magic Kingdom into Town Square, bustling with activity, and making your way through the crowd to Main Street (representing an American town between 1890-1910) is a first you’ll never forget. There are so many things to love about this section of the park. The Main Street Trolley Show is a song and dance show that takes place every morning with dancers in seasonal turn-of-the-century costumes. The Main Street Vehicles take weary visitors up the hill towards Cinderella Castle. There are countless details to take in. Make sure to read up on all the little details the Imagineers conjured up, like the party line telephone where you can listen in on some good old-fashioned housewife gossip. Don’t hurry through this part of the park. There is so much to discover.

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    Main Street Trolley Show
  2. The Monorails: What can I say about this mode of travel around the Seven Seas Lagoon, and to Epcot, except that it’s pretty darn cool. Especially when it goes through the Contemporary Resort. It’s transportation that is so uniquely Disney!

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    Monorail at Epcot
  3. The parades. Specifically the Festival of Fantasy parade at Magic Kingdom. Watching for Maleficent’s mechanical dragon to breathe fire never gets old. The costumes are, well, fantastic, and the floats are so imaginative and fun. It’s also a great chance to see many characters, from princesses and princes, to Mickey and his buddies.

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    Colorful Dancer at the Festival of Fantasy Parade
  4. The food. Yes, for a theme park, Disney has some amazing food. We love the character buffets, such as Crystal Palace, at Magic Kingdom, and Tusker House, at Animal Kingdom, for meeting characters and filling up for the day, but there is literally something for everyone. For example, Epcot has a veritable world of dining options for every taste in World Showcase, from Moroccan to Norwegian to French and beyond. We recommend “eating around the world” if your stomach (and wallet) are up for it.

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    Epcot’s Very Own English Pub
  5. The Characters. Yes, I’ll admit it. I get giddy when meeting my favorite characters from childhood, whether it is Tinkerbell, Mary Poppins, or Piglet. There is just something magical about interacting with characters you’ve read about or watched in films. I think what makes it so special is that the cast members who play the characters are so completely committed to bringing those characters fully to life. It was so much fun to hear Anna talk about her adventures with Olaf and Kristoff, and to listen to Mary Poppins give my daughter advice on cleaning her room. I can’t stress this enough-you don’t have to be a kid to meet and enjoy the characters. Just willing to let a little magic in your heart!
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Anna Sharing Stories from Arendelle

How to these compare to your favorite things? Look for the next five things we’re crazy about at Walt Disney World coming soon!