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!

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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.

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.

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 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.

Brunch at California Grill; an Unforgettable Experience

We planned our last Disney vacation to get in on the free dining offer. We booked our stay at a value resort, and upgraded from the complimentary quick-service plan to the standard dining plan (DDP) for a little less than $200 for six days. With the standard plan one of our quick service meals was replaced by a table service credit. It also includes a refillable drink cup to be used at any Disney resort hotel. We really enjoy the quality and variety of the table service restaurants at Disney and prefer them to the standard “burger and fries” world of quick service restaurants.

On our last trip, also with free dining, we enjoyed dinner at California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary to celebrate my husband and my 10 year anniversary. California Grill is a signature restaurant, so if you plan on using the dining plan, each person will have to use 2 credits. I don’t spend my dining credits willy-nilly, so you better believe CG is worth it.

When we found out they were offering a Sunday brunch this year, I jumped on the website and booked a 12:30pm reservation for the 3 of us. Then checked out what the web had to say about it. The reviews were generally positive and we couldn’t wait to experience it.

 

Sunday morning, we walked from the Magic Kingdom over to the Contemporary Resort and took the escalator to the 2nd floor. We checked in and were directed to a special elevator to take us to the top of the resort. We stepped out into a lively scene with a jazz trio playing standards, bartenders busily filling champagne glasses with mimosas and people chatting and eating. The wait to be seated was made much more tolerable with a complimentary mimosa! There’s really not a bad seat in this restaurant, since the windows are huge and there’s a stunning view in every direction. Once we were seated, we were given menus, but told not to worry about ordering our entree at that point, since we had an entire self-serve buffet to enjoy first! The spread was mouth-watering. The stations included a Charcuterie station, a Greek yogurt and toppings station (fresh fruit, granola, and honey comb were on offer) as well as salads, the best deviled eggs ever, pastries, oh, and I almost forgot, sushi! Everything on display was incredibly fresh and tasty. My favorite was the aforementioned deviled eggs and a grain salad called Fregola salad. You can watch a video tour of the whole buffet, including the bloody Mary bar here

After about 10 minutes of noshing, our ever-attentive server was back to see if we were ready to order-that’s right, there’s more! You order an ala carte entree from the brunch menu. It was hard for me to decide between the pancakes (mmmm, pancakes…) and the poached lobster benedict (oh, how I suffer) so the server said it was no problem to add one pancake to my order. Todd got the steak, and little one got the chicken, which she took a bite of, then announced that she was full. The single pancake fulfilled my carb craving and left me with room to enjoy the lobster. Hubby was satisfied with the steak, although he did drip some pesky chimichurri down the front of his shirt and we all picked at the chicken and decreed it delicious, though we were all pretty darn full by this point.

After a few moments of sitting, sipping our coffee and walking outside to the fireworks viewing platform to take in the view, we were presented with dessert. Yes, it continues. Dessert was a selection of small sweets presented on a cake stand. Chocolates, madeleines (which were a tad dry and the only thing we didn’t finish) macarons, and linzer cookies. I’m thoroughly surprised we didn’t have to be wheeled out. Our dining experience took almost 2 hours, so plan this meal around a slow Sunday. You will not want to run to catch your Space Mountain Fastpass right after this meal. And don’t feel guilty about taking a long time. It’s a lot of food, and it’s an experience worth savoring.

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For $80 per adult and $48 per child (see why we like the dining plan?), you are treated like Disney royalty in a beautiful setting overlooking the Magic Kingdom. We thoroughly enjoyed this meal, and if we are on the DDP on a future visit, will definitely try to visit again. Don’t forget to hold on to your receipt so you can come back in the evening and watch Wishes from the observation platform. California Grill’s Brunch at the Top is held  Sundays from 10 am to 1 pm. Cost is $80 per adult and $48 per child. Complimentary valet parking is also available for this event. There’s a link to the full menu here.

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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!

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.