Archive for October, 2011

Trip Planning 101: Celebrating at Walt Disney World

by on October 31, 2011

Your birthday! Your anniversary! Your graduation! Your retirement! Your recovery! Your promotion! Your reunion! Your return from service! Your new baby! Your college acceptance! Your big win! Your engagement! Your honeymoon! Your new job! Those are just a few of the reasons people celebrate. And they’re also some of the reasons people celebrate at Walt Disney World.

When I’ve answered questions for the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, one of the most frequently asked types of questions was, “I’m celebrating X event at Walt Disney World. What can I do to make it special?” So what’s the answer? How can you make a celebration special at Walt Disney World?

MAYBE THE TRIP IS THE CELEBRATION

Please consider that you need not jump through any magical hoops to make a Disney celebration special. A trip to Walt Disney World is special all by itself. Space Mountain and a hug from Mickey! Seriously, life really can’t get much better than that. If you’re celebrating something for a child or a first-time guest, just walking through the front gates of the Magic Kingdom will make them feel on top of the world. Indeed, for a sensitive or easily overwhelmed youngster, a fancy to-do may be counterproductive, resulting in tears all around.

OK, MAYBE YOU WANT A JUST LITTLE BIT OF SPECIAL ATTENTION

Disney has long offered free buttons to guests as a way to publicly proclaim that they’re having a special day. These buttons are available at the guest relations offices at each park. Additionally, they often have a supply at the hotel check-in desks and at general ticket sales windows. (Please be aware that the free buttons are NOT the same thing as the for-purchase trading pins.) Buttons come in may styles and periodically change. Over the past 2-3 years I’ve seen: First Visit, Happy Birthday, I’m Celebrating (with a blank to fill in the occasion), Happy Anniversary, Family Reunion, Just Engaged, and Happily Ever After. These buttons don’t confer any special priorities, but they do let cast members and other guests know that you’re having a special day. You’ll likely get lots of extra smiles. Tom Bricker gives more great insight into birthday buttons in the post Celebrating Your Birthday at Disney.

If you want to take things up one notch further, you should make a point to tell EVERY cast member you encounter that it’s your special day, this includes cast you speak to when making room and dining reservations. Nothing is guaranteed (really, I mean it), but it’s not uncommon for birthday or anniversary celebrants to get small perks like free cupcake at dinner, a commemorative certificate, or a balloon in your room.

IT’S NOT A PARTY WITHOUT A CAKE?

Your first instinct when planning a celebration is to order a cake. If that’s what you want to do, Disney has a special hotline set up for just this purpose. A cake hotline. Why does this not exist in the real world? To order, call 407-827-CAKE (407-827-2253).

Not to be a killjoy, but I’m going to ask you to think out of the box with me for a minute here and say maybe you don’t actually want or need a cake, even for a birthday. This goes double if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan. Here’s my thinking … First, there are desserts at Walt Disney World that are far more delicious and delightful than a plain old slab of cake. I’d rather have crepes from Chefs de France, ‘Smores from the ’50s Prime Time Diner, or the bread pudding at ‘Ohana. Slip your server a birthday candle and they’ll bring it out singing. Also, if you’re on the Dining Plan, your meal comes with dessert. Do you want cake on top of that? The answer may be yes, but I’m asking you to think about it.

My point is, do something different. Try to conquer the Kitchen Sink at Beaches & Cream. Have Dole Whip for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sample every kind of fudge at the Main Street Confectionery. The more off-the-wall your sweet treat is, the more your special someone will remember the celebration.

This cake went uneaten. We were completely maxed out on dessert consumption.

DECORATE YOUR ROOM

A great way to add oomph to your celebration is to decorate your hotel room. You can do this with streamers and balloons brought from home. When my family spent our first Christmas at Walt Disney World, I purchased several small artificial trees at Target, and we brought them on the trip and decorated them at the hotel together. If you’re not a do-it-yourselfer you can enlist the help of the Disney Floral and Gift Basket team. These dreammakers can be found online or at 407-WDW-GIFT. They have a number of room decorating packages available. They can also customize a basket for you. If you have something very specific in mind, get on the phone and speak to someone directly.

NEXT STEPS

Beyond these basics, the best way to “plus up” a Disney trip to make it a Disney celebration trip is to take an honest assessment of the person or event you’re celebrating. For example, my family celebrated my twins’ sixth birthday at Walt Disney World. At the time, the were relatively indifferent to many of the rides at WDW, but were completely obsessed with meeting the characters. To make their day extra special, we booked not one, not two, but three character meals for that day: breakfast at the Crystal Palace, lunch at Cinderella’s Royal Table, and dinner at Chef Mickey’s. Obviously this was faaaar more food than we needed to consume, but it was the very best thing their first grade minds could imagine, so we indulged. And six years later, they still talk about it.

Just because “women like spas,” or “men like sports,” doesn’t mean that’s what you should automatically turn to for your celebration. Take the time to talk with your special someone about what their wildest dreams are. If the celebration is meant to be a surprise, you can be oblique about this, or enlist a trusted friend to do some sleuthing for you. For example, if my husband sent me to a Disney spa for my birthday, I might feel awkward or uncomfortable, but if he brought me a bouquet of those fancy Mickey balloons they sell on Main Street (something I’ve always wanted but never had), I might possibly faint from bliss. This is truly at time when it’s the thought that counts.

To get your thought process rolling, below are some ideas about activities you can add to your Walt Disney World vacation that will increase the celebration factor. Please note that while some of these ideas are quite expensive (tours, private events), many of them are inexpensive (personalized Mickey ears), or even free (watch Wishes from the beach).

ROMANTIC CELEBRATIONS

On your honeymoon, proposing, celebrating an anniversary? Here are some ideas to put the romance in your trip:

    • Take a horse-drawn carriage ride at Port Orleans or Fort Wilderness.
    • Have the Disney Florist send two dozen red roses to your room.
    • Book a dinner at the posh Victoria & Albert’s restaurant.
    • Order in room service, then place the do-not-disturb sign on your door.
    • Grab a blanket or extra towels and watch the Wishes fireworks presentation from the beach at the Polynesian.
    • Book a private fireworks cruise.
    • Snuggle into an arcade photo booth for some mid-kiss portraits.
    • Win your sweetie a prize at Animal Kingdom’s Fossil Fun Games in DinoLand, U.S.A.
    • Enjoy a couple’s massage.
    • Go for a midnight swim in your resort’s “Quiet Pool.”
    • Sit in the backseat of a car with a fancy drink and watch campy movie clips at the Sci-Fi Dine-In.
    • Drop the kids at a Disney child-care center and sneak back to your room for some alone time.
    • Take the Characters in Flight balloon ride at Downtown Disney to get a bird’s eye view of the world. (Just don’t drop the ring if you’re proposing.)
    • Arrange a vow renewal with Disney Weddings.
    • Offer to let your sweetie sleep in, while you take the kiddos to the park.

A romantic hiding spot at the Animal Kingdom.

ADULT FUN CELEBRATIONS

Celebrating a milestone birthday, college graduation, or military retirement? Here are some ideas for adults looking to celebrate:

  • Drink around the World Showcase at Epcot.
  • Spend a day at the Saratoga Springs Resort spa.
  • Take a backstage tour at the Magic Kingdom.
  • Book a suite or stay in a nicer resort than you usually do.
  • Dine in a Signature Restaurant.
  • Invite a surprise guest.
  • Create a special Touring Plan, using only the guest of honor’s favorite rides.
  • Plan a shopping spree.
  • Stay at the park until the very end.
  • Go parasailing or waterskiing at the Contemporary.
  • Get tickets to Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba at Downtown Disney.

CHILD FUN CELEBRATIONS

Is your child celebrating a birthday, straight-As on her report card, or scoring the winning goal? Here are some ideas for kids looking to celebrate:

    • Book three character meals in one day.
    • Get a makeover at the Bibidi Bobbidi Boutique or the Pirate’s League.
    • Go to the Downtown Disney AMC theater and let your child create the ultimate custom Coke Freestyle beverage.
    • Go on a candy crawl through Epcot.
    • Ride Space Mountain ten times in a row.
    • Meet your child’s favorite character, every day of the trip.
    • Go on a pirate cruise.
    • Have tea with Sleeping Beauty.
    • Take the Wild Africa Trek (one of the few backstage experiences open to children).
    • Start a pin or Vinylmation collection and spend the trip trading.
    • Let the child choose the day’s itinerary.
    • Put a present under your child’s pillow to find when he wakes up.
    • Host a party at Goofy’s Candy Company at Downtown Disney.
    • Try to find all the hidden Mickeys at the Magic Kingdom.

The Wild Africa Trek is great for kids.

CELEBRATING WITH A GROUP

  • Go to the Hanes Design-A-Tee Store at Downtown Disney and get matching shirts for everyone.
  • Have dinner at the Hoop Dee Doo Revue – the ultimate in festive dining.
  • Arrange for a private IllumiNations dessert party.
  • Get a private cabana at a resort pool or water park.
  • Conquer the Kitchen Sink at Beaches & Cream.
  • Have the ultimate mini-golf tournament.
  • Spend a sing-along evening at Jellyrolls on the BoardWalk. They’ll play all your favorite songs.
  • Get personalized Mickey Ears for the gang.
  • Have a photopass photographer grab goofy shots of the entire group. Order and share the CD.
  • Make a Disney “goody bag” for everyone in your group.
  • Participate in a Run Disney race together.
  • Create a Disney trivia scavenger hunt. Have a friendly competition among members of your group.

Overall, it doesn’t really matter what you do to celebrate as long as it’s heartfelt and joyful. But those giant Mickey balloons sure would be festive wouldn’t they? Not that I’m hinting or anything :-)

What special celebrations have you had at Walt Disney World? What milestones have you marked in the parks? Have you found a unique or innovative way to celebrate? Let us know in the comments below.

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Resort Review – Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort

by on October 31, 2011

For our trip to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, my wife and I were on a bit of a shoestring budget.  After all, the holidays are coming up, so Christmas shopping was more of a priority than this vacation.  Trying to have our cake and eat it, too, though, we decided to save money wherever we could on this trip, and focus our dollars on experiencing the Festival.  Thus, we made the fateful decision to stay at Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort.

The bus area at All-Star Sports. Photo copyright Disney.

There was really no other option for us.  We couldn’t swing a Moderate resort, and Pop Century, our home away from home, was booked solid.  So, instead, we got a very good Annual Passholder rate at All-Star Sports at just $85 a night, including taxes.  To stay anywhere else would have cost us at least $115 a night, so that was $30 a day that we could apply to the Marketplace booths.  Sounds good, right?

We were planning to arrive at Walt Disney World late at night.  Really late at night.  So we booked our room and did the Online Check-In ahead of time, letting Disney know that we’d arrive after midnight.  Weary from the road, the wife and I strolled into the lobby of All-Star Sports around 12:30 a.m.   As always, there was a line at the check-in, but there were enough people there for us to get service right away.  However, despite the fact that we did Online Check-In, no one had made up the folder to ease our check-in process.

The rooms at All-Star Sports were very nice.

The cast member who discovered this and checked us in could not have been more gracious about it.  She apologized for the inconvenience, quickly got our folder together and explained everything necessary.  We were placed in the far back of the resort, where they put the cheap folks.  We ended up in Building 4, the Center Court building that is all the way around the back of the resort.  I suppose in theory we could have been farther away from the main building, Stadium Hall, but it would have been difficult.

That was to be expected, however, for our low rate, and we were driving, so the hike to the buses was not a concern for us.  If you were staying at All-Star Sports, however, and did not have a car, you would have to get a preferred room to avoid a huge hike back to your room from the bus stop.

The room itself, though, was a pleasant surprise.  It had been several years since I had stayed in one of the All-Star resorts, and I was not expecting much.  I was wrong.  The room was nicely furnished, very clean, and had obviously been upgraded in the last few years.  The TV/dresser assembly was similar to that you would find in Pop Century, with a large wooden entertainment center and a 42” television.  All the typical Disney amenities were there: broadband internet (for a price), a safe, recycling bin, two double beds, a separate sink and mirror from the bathroom area.  Everything was very clean and nicely arranged, including a towel Mickey on the bed when we arrived.

Might want to update the photos in Stadium Hall. Randall Cunningham was Vikings QB in 1998!

When we awoke the next morning, we wanted to grab some breakfast in our rooms before heading over to Epcot, since we were not making rope drop.  Since I had a car, it was as easy to go to the McDonald’s just outside the gates of the All-Star resorts as it was to go to Stadium Hall.  Easier, in fact, since I could drive thru at McDonald’s and be back at my room without parking or trying to wade through the lines in Stadium Hall.

This proved to be a wise decision, because my experiences at Everything Pop had spoiled me.  Stadium Hall’s food court is about half the size of Everything Pop, and while it offers a similar style of food, the service was nowhere near on par.  When we arrived back at the hotel on our first day there, we were hungry and looking for a quick dessert or snack.  Unfortunately, the pastry case was practically empty, and the line for fresh ice cream sundaes was 15 people deep at 10 p.m.  The snack cases were half full, but nothing interested us.  I grabbed a couple of waters, and we relied on some snacks from our car to tide us over.

Empty pastry cases? Not even chocolate chip cookies?

Then came the second problem.  We decided to relax and watch some TV, but we could not locate the remote.  We managed to turn the TV on manually and make it work, but that was an inconvenience we did not need.  Eventually, we would call the front desk and get a remote, but should we have had to?

As I said, the beds and the room were fantastic.  That’s the bottom line of what you should expect from All-Star Sports.  We both slept well and enjoyed the time we spent in the room.  However, none of the amenities of the resort, like the pools, the food court or the bus system were convenient enough for us to make them worthwhile.  The buses were not needed because of our car, while the food court we tried to use, but it just did not fit what we were looking for at that time of day.

If you’re looking for a place to crash after going commando touring throughout the day, then All-Star Sports will offer a great value for your money.  If, however, you want to be able to relax and enjoy your resort as much as the parks, then you will want to look at Pop Century or more likely a Moderate resort.  All-Star Sports compares favorably with similarly priced offsite hotels, but if you’re paying to stay onsite, it’s probably worth an upgrade.

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TouringPlans.com Friend Feed – October 31, 2011

by on October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween to you all!  It’s the spookiest time of the year, so hopefully you’ve all stocked up on candy and are avoiding hitchhiking ghosts.  But the terrors of the season are not enough to keep us from keeping you up to date.  Let’s take a look at what the websites and podcasts that TouringPlans.com sponsors have been up to this week.

The Halloween festivities continued over the last week at Disneyland, with a pumpkin patch at Downtown Disney, Mickey’s Halloween Party and much more.  Dateline Disneyland is your place to see the last of the Halloween decorations at Walt’s original park.

Halloween has become a big deal in the Disney parks, not just domestically but around the world.  The Mousetalgia podcast devoted its episode this past week to that exact subject, delving into what each of the Disney parks do for their Halloween festivities.  As they say, from Nightmare Dim Sum to horror mazes, you never know what you’ll find.  Get in the Halloween spirit with this show.

My favorite Halloween tradition is to go out trick or treating with my kids, then come home and watch the Ichabod Crane part of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.  I always love watching the Headless Horseman galloping after Ichabod.  On this week’s Disney Film Project Podcast, our episode is all about that movie, including the Mr. Toad parts.  Take a listen.

Disneyland Live is chock full of news every week, especially about things like the Disney California Adventure overhaul.  But the Halloween spirit was strong in this video of a home in Riverside, California, where the homeowner has rigged lights to perform “This Is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas.  You have to see this, and then scope out all the other news going on at the Disneyland Resort.

One of my favorite things to chat with my Disney friends about is how things used to be at Epcot Center.  Remember the 80′s?  When Figment reigned supreme over the park, the Dreamfinder was out wandering around, Horizons gave us a glimpse of the future and the Living Seas had Sea Cabs?  The boys at WDW Today do, and they talked about it on a fantastic episode this week.  Take a listen and reminisce with them about the fun of Epcot in the olden days.

One of the best things about early Epcot, and even the Epcot of today, is the World Showcase.  Especially the films of the various countries around World Showcase Lagoon.  This past week’s WEDway Radio took a look at what the hosts dubbed the International Film Festival, and ran through all the countries and the amazing sights and sounds they have to offer in their pavilions’ films.    Listen to this show and you’ll have a new appreciation for the films of World Showcase.

The WDW Newscast went a little Betamouse this week, as Lou Mongello talked all about the technologies in Walt Disney World and those that are about to debut.  Everyone’s probably heard of the mysterious Next Gen project by now, but have you heard about the holiday tag for Magic, Memories and You?   Or what about the test of FASTPASS for the Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade?  Check out what Lou has to say about all of it in this week’s episode.

The Be Our Guest Podcast crew has been quite busy over the past few weeks, what with the events early in October and catching up with their fans’ trip reports.  They took some time this week to catch up on all the news that has come out of Walt Disney World in the last few weeks, including Avatar coming to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the addition of free Wi-Fi in some resorts and the new policy of requiring credit card guarantees for advanced dining reservations.

As busy as October was at Walt Disney World and the other Disney Parks, though, November shapes up to be just as action packed.  You’ve got the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival winding down, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party beginning and Thanksgiving dinners around the various Disney restaurants.  This week’s AllEars Newsletter featured these and many other November tidbits.  Subscribe now to get all the information about upcoming events at Walt Disney World.

Disneyland is prepping for Christmas, as the decorations go up on Sleeping Beauty Castle and in New Orleans Square.  The MousePlanet Disneyland Update brings you the latest on what’s happening as Disneyland gets geared up for the holidays.

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print this week from the podcasts and websites that we follow and sponsor.  What’s going on in your neck of the woods?

 

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Winnie the Pooh FASTPASS Unavailable During Queue Refurbishment

by on October 29, 2011

The Many Adventure of Winnie the Pooh attraction at the Magic Kingdom will not offer FASTPASS during a refurbishment of its interactive queue from November 2-9, 2011. The current FASTPASS queue will be used as the standard queue during the refurbishment period.

Rumors abound as to the purpose of this refurbishment, especially considering that the new interactive queue just opened in November of last year. The redesigned queue has not stood up well to the abuse of daily guest use, and several elements have broken.  One entire section–Tigger’s Bouncy Place–was closed shortly after the grand opening because park management deemed it too potentially hazardous for guests (it has springboard panels in the ground for guests to “bounce with Tigger”).

Notably, Tigger’s Bouncy Place took over the location of what was the old FASTPASS distribution area for the ride. During the first renovation, FASTPASS distribution for the Pooh attraction moved across Fantasyland to the rarely-used machines for Mickey’s Philharmagic (such shows have high capacities and tend to use FASTPASS only during peak periods). There is a rumor that since the Bouncy Place never worked as planned that Disney might put the FASTPASS machines for the ride back in their original spot.

If anything, here’s hoping Disney gets some of the practical effects working again in what remains of the interactive queue. As a proof of concept for future interactive queues coming to the expanded Fantasyland, it’s not currently doing Disney any favors having guests see it in its current state.

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Desert Inn and Suites – Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotel Review

by on October 29, 2011

On a trip to Disneyland this spring, my wife and I stayed at the Anaheim Desert Inn and Suites. At Walt Disney World, we would never even entertain the idea of staying off-property. However, at Disneyland we stay exclusively off-property. First, because proximity isn’t an issue at Disneyland; we could see both Space Mountain and the Tower of Terror, attractions in two different Disneyland parks, from our hotel’s front entrance. Second, because the three official Disneyland Resort hotels can be quite expensive.

Now, this isn’t to say we wouldn’t stay at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel or Disneyland Hotel if given the chance. Heck, we’d even stay at Paradise Pier Hotel for the right price! Even though the rooms in off-property Disneyland-area hotels at which we’ve stayed have been mediocre at best, the price and location have always been right. The Anaheim Desert Inn and Suites certainly wasn’t downright disgusting (the same cannot be said for the Anaheim Plaza Hotel & Suites), but it certainly was playing fast and loose with the term “suites” in its name. I suppose they meet the requirement if a suite is merely a “large room,” but I think suite connotes a certain level of quality and/or elegance. Perhaps that’s just me.

That said, Desert Inn was not a bad hotel by any means. The room was large and passable, albeit very dated in appearance with the exception of the flat screen television. Our bed was reasonably comfortable, and it was nice having a king size bed, plus a couch and coffee table, as well as a mini-fridge in our room. The room was clean overall, and was perfect for our purpose on that trip–it was simply a place to sleep. The amenities beyond the room were questionable. I ventured to the free continental breakfast one morning but didn’t eat anything after seeing the location where it was served, and the indoor pool didn’t seem nice, either. If you plan on spending much time at your hotel beyond sleeping and getting ready in the morning, you might want to look elsewhere.

The per-night prices of Desert Inn, and similar “budget” Good Neightbor hotels on Harbor Boulevard are typically very good at less than $100/night, especially considering their location. By staying at hotels this close, we’re able to avoid renting a car, instead taking the Super Shuttle from the airport to our hotel. The 3-5 minute proximity to the Esplanade also allows us to make stops at our room during the course of the day to pick up and drop off various items (tripod, coat, etc.) that we don’t want to carry for the entire day. For the reasons of price and convenience alone, I would recommend Desert Inn. I have heard other hotels along Harbor Boulevard offer nicer rooms and amenities, notably the Anaheim Howard Johnson, which has quite a following among some Disneyland Guests.

Below you’ll find a video of a Desert Inn and Suites room, along with several photos.

Please let us know whether or not you’d like to see more resort/hotel photos and video of other Disneyland Good Neighbor Hotels in the future by leaving a comment. Likewise, if you have any suggestions or feedback, let us know! (Video of hotel rooms for every Walt Disney World resort is  something on which we’re currently working. Here’s a sample from Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort.)

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Cheering for the Halloween 5K

by on October 28, 2011

Continued from part 1…

As much as I like running and being in the thick of a race, I also enjoy cheering for my friends when they run in a race.  Night time races aren’t too bad to cheer for, but the real trick is that you have to get up before dawn to cheer for a morning race.  In order to do this you pretty much need to be waking up and getting to the race at the same time as the runners.  The Disney Halloween 5K was scheduled for 7 am and, despite that I was running the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Relay later that night, I was going to be there.

With most Disney races, whether you are a runner or a spectator you have a choice for getting to the race.  You can drive to the race, you can take special bus transportation provided by Disney, or you can catch a taxi.  I’ve driven and bussed for both cheering and running.  My suggestion is that for a 5K race, whether running or cheering, unless you’re at a resort right next to the park where the race is hosted, one that is convenient to both the start and finish lines, drive to the race if you have a car available to do so.  Whether running or spectating, for a 7 am 5K you’re expected to be at the race by 6:15 am.

Talking with my running and cheering buddy Shalon we planned to have her pick me up at around 5:45 am at Boardwalk.  This meant a 5 am wake-up.  Now, when I need to wake up at a specific time in a hotel, I never rely on the front desk or in-room alarm clock as both have failed me in the past.  Instead I use my iPhone – I set the volume all the way up, pick an alarm sound that will wake me, make sure it’s plugged in, and not within arms reach.  In case you’re wondering I always go with the old Batman Theme as I’d likely sleep through any Disney music.

Almost as soon as I woke up, I texted her to let her know I was on time and verify that she was too.  Coordination like this is always important when you’re on a tight schedule, but not on your own.  I got ready, ate some breakfast, and headed down to meet her.  When she arrived, we drove over to Animal Kingdom as it was the location for the 5K.

As with driving to any race, getting to a spot to park can be a madhouse and this was no different.  Since there was a lot of in car time to be had, we made contact with one of our friends we were coming to cheer for, Betsy.  Turns out she was also stuck waiting to park and we arranged a meeting location.  About 15 minutes later we were together along with a group of Be Our Guest Podcast folks.

After some talking, hanging, and last minute bathroom runs, the runners all headed into the corral – lining up along according to what they feel is their per mile race time.  Shalon and I wandered about checking out some of the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party decorations that had been brought over.  Then we lined up along the fence at the starting corral to see the opening fireworks – every Disney race starts with fireworks.

Not long after the racers started moving along, as planned, we met up with Matt and Raena, husband and daughter to our good friend Shelley who was also running in the 5K – her very first.  I was very excited for this, like me Shelley had come a long way to become a runner.  Together we waited for Shelley and Betsy to pass us, and about the same time we saw Shelley, Betsy popped out of the crowd of runners to give her a hug.  It was a touching and exciting moment, tears and smiles all around.  Raena was so very proud of her mother.

Once the runners pass the start line at an Animal Kingdom 5K they spend their first mile circling the outer edge of the parking lot making their way toward the main gate of the park.  Fortunately, spectators can take a shortcut by making their way along the sidewalk to a cheering spot by the front entrance to the park.  When we got there, for whatever reason, there were very few people here to cheer on the runners.

As a runner I know this, cheering helps keep you going. And it doesn’t matter if you know the people you see or not, you’re there to cheer, so cheer for everyone you can.  So we cheered for everyone who ran by.  We saw Rikki and others from the Be Our Guest Podcast run by.  And not too long after Shelley came by in a whirlwind of happiness and excitement, followed by Betsy with a smile on her face as well.  Not long after we watched them head into the main gate to Animal Kingdom we headed back to the finish line.

Finish line cheering at any race can always be tricky.  I personally try not to get right at the finish line, but rather somewhere along the home stretch.  It’s always a great vantage point, and for that last bit of the race, some runners still need need a good cheer or a hand slap to get them motivated for the finish.  Don’t be discouraged if you can’t get up against the fence for the race course right away, people will generally clear away once their runners have passed.  Be patient and wait for an opening.

In the meantime, it’s also a great time to get to see all the costumes being worn by the runners.  And Disney races have a lot of participants in costumes generally speaking.  More so in this race as it’s the Halloween 5K.  Plenty of princesses passed us by as well as faeries and some chimney sweeps and convicts – fortunately Batman was on the scene.  And special mention goes out to Cruella De Vil who finished the race wearing heels.

Soon enough Shelley came running by hands held high, I’m pretty sure she even did a little victory dance before reaching the finish line.  Matt and Raena went to greet her while Shalon and I continued to wait for Betsy.  Eventually they made their way back to us to wait for Betsy, and we didn’t have to wait too much longer she came running by, again all smiles.  We then all moved toward the finish line and award area for the runners to greet Betsy.  Both of our runners had finished.

Overall, it was an easy race to cheer for – there’s not a lot of distance to be covered by spectators.  You’re not allowed to cheer inside Animal Kingdom during a 5K race, however you are allowed to be anywhere along the parking lot’s inner edge to cheer for runners.  As you can see above, I prefer being at the Start line, the 1 mile marker, and then back at the Finish.  This will give you two breaks between cheering for your runners, which makes cheering more leisurely.

From there Shalon and I gave hugs all around and then headed off to Magic Kingdom for the 40th Anniversary celebration.  I still had a long day and night ahead of me.  And, oh yeah… Betsy and Shalon were up to something…

What about you?  Have you run a Walt Disney World 5K before?  Any 5K?  Any other Disney race?   Are you interested in trying one out?  Are you interested in cheering?  Running?  Already a runner?  Are you up to something?  Run, run as fast as you can…

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Foto Friday – Spooktacular Disney World Halloween Photos!

by on October 28, 2011

Since changing my unpopular weekly “Foto Fridays” blog entries to the equally unpopular entries I affectionately refer to as “Tom goes on various diatribes about random things,” a lot of you have contacted me, requesting–nay, begging and pleading–that I bring back Foto Fridays. (Editor’s note: according to our records, Tom has been contacted about this once, and by a dubious individual purportedly named “Bom Tricker.”) So, by popular demand, and in the spirit of the holidays, I thought I’d bring back the hit-sensation, Foto Fridays, for a special Halloween installment!

Without further adieu, here are some of Halloween photos, direct from the TouringPlans archive, in redacted, South America!

Welcome, Welcome, Welcome

Our first photo is a look back at the Magic Kingdom’s Train Station in the simpler days, back when fall decorations were allowed to exist by themselves, without visually-clashing messages about letting people begin to remember things. This 2009 photo showcases the first hint of fall in the Magic Kingdom most Guests are likely to see, and is a precursor of what’s to come.

As we head deeper into this kingdom of magic, the place begins to transform. The leaves change colors and this musketeer appears to tell us of the evil magic spell that has been cast upon this kingdom. He then rides off into the sunset, letting loose foreboding quacks that echo as he vanishes over the horizon.

Balloon Lady

Once night descends upon the Magic Kingdom, the nocturnal creatures come out for a spooktacular celebration. That’s right, bats! As one author once remarked, we can’t stop here, this is bat country. Well, unless of course we need to stop to purchase a balloon!

With such scary creatures in the Magic Kingdom, perhaps it’s time to head elsewhere. Let’s blast off to Disney’s Hyperion Resort on Space Mountain. Wait…it appears spiders have wrapped this popular attraction in their twisted web!

As our plan to blast off proves unsuccessful, we head back to Main Street, where we encounter a ship of undead pirates. Uh-oh, who are you going to call in this terrifying situation? Perhaps the Ghostbusters…

Brilliant idea! To chase off these undead demons, we enlist the assistance of this Ghostbuster and his four-legged friend. Presumably ghosts are fearful of lanterns and this pooch eats bats, spiders, and other creepy-crawlies. These heroes should keep us safe in this magic (presumably, the dark kind) kingdom for a while!

The ghouls and creepy-crawlies are back, and there are no dogs around to save the day (except Pluto and Goofy, but they seem content dancing to pop beats over in Tomorrowland–lazy dogs). Well, if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right. Let’s rid the place of frights with some carefully timed explosions. That should scare them away!

As the clock strikes midnight, it’s time for us to head down the haunted corridor of Main Street, U.S.A., Ghouls and goblins have transformed this normally cheerful street into an eerie and ominous vision of a street straight out of Amityville!

Finally, as you exit the haunted corridors of this “magic” kingdom, bid farewell to these kind pumpkins. They expect to ‘see ya real soon.’ Perhaps there’s a single vacancy of which we’re unaware somewhere in this haunted kingdom?!

But wait! On your way out, as a special gift for Halloween (Halloween is a traditional American gift-giving holiday, right?), we present the above image as a downloadable computer wallpaper, in the four most popular monitor resolutions, as determined by our expert statisticians…or as guessed by me, for your personal consumption. Guaranteed to contain fewer calories than most popular Halloween candy!

If you’ve read that entire story, my apologies. Hope you enjoyed a glimpse at Halloween in the Magic Kingdom. For more of my Halloween Disney photos, click here.

What’s your favorite thing to do for Halloween in Walt Disney World? Do you want to see more TouringPlans desktop wallpapers released? Do you have other random comments you’d like to share? Let us know, and give us your feedback, in the comments!

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Project Exotic to Debut at Walt Disney World Speedway in January 2012

by on October 28, 2011

The Walt Disney World Speedway, located adjacent to the Magic Kingdom parking lot, has spent most of the last decade relatively unused. The track was originally designed and built in 1995 for the Indy 200 at Walt Disney World, an Indy Racing League (IRL) event. Though popular enough to warrant Disney parking all of Magic Kingdom’s inbound traffic at Epcot on race days, by 2001 the IRL commission and Disney couldn’t agree on race dates. The contract was quietly dropped, and the track was removed from the league schedule.

The Richard Petty Driving Experience began using the track in 1997 during the IRL off-season. This kept the track in place and functioning through the 2000′s, albeit in a much less prominent and visible way. Many guests to Walt Disney World today don’t even know that the Richard Petty Driving Experience exists. The Experience essentially allows guests to ride along with professional drivers or even drive real race cars along the track.

To bring more attention and tourists to the track, the Richard Petty Driving Experience is expanding to offer guests a chance to drive exotic sports cars. Per the shiny new Project Exotic website:

An all-new track driving experience, featuring some of the world’s fastest and most exotic supercars, is coming to Orlando in January, 2012.

This heart-pounding exotic car driving experience is being designed by Petty Holdings LLC, best known for the Richard Petty Driving Experience, the undisputed leader in automotive ride and drive entertainment in the U.S.

Here at ProjectExotic.com, you’ll find the latest news from the exotic car driving experience industry and updates as we close in on the opening date of this sure-to-be-exhilarating exotics track experience in Orlando.

ProjectExotic.com will also provide a forum for input from exotic car enthusiasts like you. We’ll want to hear first-hand from people who know – or are ready to discover – the adrenaline rush you can only get with your hands on the wheel and your foot on the floor of a world-class supercar.

The website also has a survey that collects visitors’ opinions regarding the name of the new offering and allows them to rank and rate the various sports cars that may be offered.

Are you interested in zooming around the track in exotic sports cars? Have you done the Richard Petty Driving Experience before? Let us know in the comments.

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Trip Planning 101: Your Arrival Day

by on October 27, 2011

Arrival day at Disney World can easily be the most exciting–and the most frustrating—day of your vacation.

    We’re finally here!
    But we only have half a day.
    We’re finally here!
    Should we use up a theme park admission? Stay at the hotel?
    We’re finally here!
    Go shopping? Bite our fingernails in panic all afternoon?
    We’re finally here!
    Now we have two minutes less than the last time we checked our watches.

Check in to your hotel--then check out some activities--like Donald!

Since many, if not most people spend a good part of their day in travel, not to mention sweating mundane details like wondering if their baggage is enjoying Saskatchewan, arrival day carries with it its own peculiar set of issues. But with a little foresight, the day can also offer its own set of enjoyments — even if your baggage is carrying on without you somewhere else entirely. (Read this article on our blog for info on arriving and getting to your hotel as well as other aspects of transportation.)

IN PREPARATION
You probably already know this, but baggage can get lost. Even if it doesn’t, it might be awhile before you and it are happily reunited. So make sure you have everything you will need in the next several hours with you on the plane. If you are driving, keep a separate bag earmarked for your arrival day. Have with you:

  • Any medicine
  • Sunscreen
  • Bathing suits
  • Shorts, T-shirts, sandals, hats, sunglasses
  • Puzzles, games, other stuff to amuse the kids
  • Snacks

MORNING
For some people, morning may be spent in midair or traveling down the interstate while the children and Aunt Francine play “Alphabet” for the four thousandth time. Others, perhaps more fortunate, may find themselves actually arriving at their destination. If you’re lucky enough to get there in the morning, you still have most of a day ahead of you, and you’re raring to visit a Disney park, consider the Animal Kingdom. It’s the smallest park, so you have the greatest chance of seeing pretty much all of it. Even if you arrive in the afternoon, there’s a good chance that you can tour the park and not stray too much from one of our Late Arrival Touring Plans. If, however, you don’t want to be under those kinds of time constraints, especially considering how much a theme park admission costs, consider some of the options in this article.

You could immediately run from your hotel to a park....or not.

AFTERNOON
Before the fun actually starts, you’ll need to check in, get your maps and other informational materials, and get your bearings. There’s a good chance that your room won’t be ready, but you’ll be allowed to use the facilities. The lines to check in can sometimes be annoyingly slow, so make sure you have stuff to amuse the kids or, better yet, another adult who can take them off to explore. At the check-in desk, ask any questions (bring a list with you), check on any dining reservations, and then do a quick tour of the hotel so you know the layout.

Here are some thoughts on how to spend your half day so you don’t feel like you’re just waiting for the real fun to start.

  • Have a Hotel Day: When do kids ever get enough time to swim? Hang out at your hotel or check out other hotels nearby. Many have great attractions in and of themselves, from arcade games to watercraft.
  • Downtown Disney: Shop at the stores you’ve had to rush past before. Eat some ice cream. Play at the Lego Store. Have a meal at your leisure without it interfering with your Touring Plan.
  • Have a nice lunch: When you follow a Touring Plan, even though there’s time set aside for meals, you often feel rushed. This is a great to opportunity to book a meal without looking at your watch every five minutes. If you know you’ll arrive in time, book a lunch and use the rest of the day for shopping or swimming.
  • Play miniature golf: A great personal favorite, and Disney’s courses are among the best. You’ll feel like you’re doing something Disneyish without actually being in a park.
  • Think outside the parks: In fact, think outside Disney World. If you feel like leaving the resort, consider attractions like Wet ‘n Wild water park or Gatorland. Seriously. Gatorland advertises itself as “Florida’s best half day attraction,” which seemed unduly modest–until we went. It’s enormously fun, but they’re right on target about the time frame–you can pretty much see everything you need to in half a day. It costs less than a theme park (even factoring in cab fare from many locations) and it’s completely unlike anything else. Be sure to check out the gift shop, although you, like us, might be queasy about viewing live alligators and then buying gator bits to snack on.

EVENING
This is the time to splurge on a nice sit-down meal. You’ll be able to enjoy it at your leisure, it’ll get everyone in the Disney mood, and you won’t have to worry about fitting it in around anything else. Be sure to book way ahead of time, and leave yourself enough time to get there. Choose a restaurant with a view of the fireworks (like ‘Ohana or California Grill) or splurge on a show, like the Hoop-De-Doo Musical Revue, or Cirque Du Soleil’s La Nouba.

What are your thoughts on how to make the most of your arrival day? Tell us in the comments!

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Trip Planning 101: Packing for Your Walt Disney World Vacation

by on October 26, 2011

You’re going to Walt Disney World! You’ve chosen your travel dates and made you reservations, but what should you bring with you? To help you with this issue, we’ve created a handy downloadable TOURINGPLANS PACKING CHECKLIST.

The checklist includes it all, but the rationale for many of the checklist items is broken down here. Packing for a Walt Disney World vacation involves gathering five types of basic items:

  • Clothing
  • Toiletries
  • Documents/Money
  • Electronics
  • and Miscellaneous.

CLOTHING

My biggest suggestion when assessing your clothing needs is to check the Orlando weather forecast 2-3 days prior to your trip, particularly if you’re traveling at any time other than mid-summer. I have been to Walt Disney World in the winter when temperature lows were in the 20s (F). That means you’ll need jeans, sweaters, jackets, and gloves, not shorts and tank tops. Also winter trips tend to have greater temperature fluctuations. Bring layers that you can take on/off throughout the day.

All WDW resort hotels have laundry rooms for guest use.

I’m not a fan of chores while I’m on vacation, so I usually skip doing laundry on my trips, but you should know that coin-operated guest laundry rooms are available at every Walt Disney World resort hotel. This can come in handy if you have an accident-prone child or are trying to take a long trip with only carry-on luggage. If I won’t be doing laundry on my trip, I tend to pack at least one or two extra shirts and changes of underwear and socks for each person in my family. It’s amazing how much better fresh clothes can make you feel after a sweaty day in the parks.

If you’re checking bags, keep one change of clothing in a carry-on in case of delayed or lost luggage. I also recommend bringing clothing in a carry-on for your return flight. Don’t even get me started about the nine hour delay I had at Orlando International with a sick child, no stores open, and no extra clothes.

Shoes are big topic in Walt Disney World planning circles. The only footwear restrictions I’m aware of at Walt Disney World are that you must be wearing shoes in the theme parks and that Heelies (or similar) cannot be used in their wheeled form. I’ve seen guests sporting flipflops, sneakers, Crocs, sandals, boots, Uggs, ballet flats, and even stiletto heels while touring the parks. You should wear whatever makes you most comfortable. Be aware that you will be walking for MILES during your trip; blisters are a common complaint in the parks. This is not the time to try something new. If you’re traveling during the summer months, you may want to bring a second pair of walking shoes in case your feet get soaked in one of the frequent Florida downpours. Trekking in wet shoes can be quite unpleasant.

TOILETRIES

As I noted in the post Your Walt Disney World Hotel Gift Shop: What Did You Forget? Chances Are They Have It, the Walt Disney World resort gift shops are well stocked with any personal care items you may have forgotten. However, prices will be more than you’d pay at home, and you may not find the exact brand you’re looking for.

I’m going to give a quick shout-out to a favorite website of mine, minimus.biz. Minimus is a great source for travel-size items of all sorts including toiletries, baby care items, snacks, and even toys. As always, double check the TSA website for current carry-on rules.

Bring more prescription medication than you think you’ll need. Delays happen.

Several members of my family take daily prescription medications. Twice in the past year, we’ve had Disney-related vacations unexpectedly extended by several days due to weather issues. I had packed extra meds, but just barely enough. If there are any must-take prescriptions needed by your family, I encourage you to bring at least 3-4 days more than you think you’ll need. Having copies of your prescriptions can facilitate getting replacements if your travels are delayed even further. And of course, prescription medications should never be placed in checked luggage.

DOCUMENTS/MONEY

When I’m home, my wallet contains a few dozen items: grocery cards, frequent buyer cards, department store credit cards, etc. When I travel, I leave all that behind and just take the basics: driver’s license, basic credit cards, and health insurance ID cards. It’s easier to carry fewer items and it’s easier to replace fewer items if they become lost or stolen. If something unfortunate does occur, your recovery time will be much quicker if you have photocopies of each of the items you have with you.

It also truly pays to make copies of your Walt Disney World park tickets. On my most recent trip to the parks, my 12-year-old daughter’s ticket fell out of her bag – lost. Disaster (and a big replacement cost) was avoided because I had taken a cell phone photo of the ticket’s bar code. As soon as we realized the ticket was gone, I brought the photo to guest relations and the ticket was reissued within minutes.

For easy replacement, copy the back of your tickets.

I also encourage you to take your ID and health insurance cards with you into the Walt Disney World theme parks. ID is required to verify resort room charges over $50. Insurance cards may be necessary if you have the unfortunate circumstance of having to travel directly from a park to a medical care situation. (Yes, it’s happened to my family. Hey, if you visit enough, things are bound to happen.) There is a school of thought that suggests you can spend a day at Walt Disney World with only your ticket-encoded room key on your person. I strongly discourage this.

You won’t need large amounts of cash at Walt Disney World. Credit cards and room charges are accepted at almost all on-site locations. However keeping some on hand is always advisable. You may need to pay a taxi driver or tip your bellman. If you’re driving from the airport, there are several tolls along the way. Having dollar bills can speed your journey. There are ATMs in the Disney theme parks and resorts.

ELECTRONICS

Between phones, iPads, iPods, cameras, and computers, my five person family travels with a minimum of a dozen electronic gadgets. Before you leave home, make sure that you have all the required power cords and chargers. I routinely pack a power strip to facilitate the charging of all these items – much easier than tripping on cords all over the room or worrying whether your phone charging in the bathroom is in danger of falling into the sink. And needless to say, never pack eletronics or their chargers in checked luggage. There’s nothing more frustrating that having your flight delayed for hours and having no way to recharge your dying cellphone.

I’ve also become a big fan of portable external device chargers. I use a Mophie case for my iPhone, but there are similar, and less expensive, options for other devices. I find that when I’m in the parks, I’m checking Lines for ride updates, calling my kids, playing Where’s My Water (addictive, trust me) during waits, and taking photos of characters; a single battery charge barely makes it through the day.

Sleep-specific headphones can help keep the peace.

Speaking of cameras, there are PhotoPass photographers in the parks that will take shots of your family at some locations. However, the photographers are not everywhere and the PhotoPass prints/CDs get expensive quickly. I strongly encourage you to bring some sort of photographic equipment with you into the parks. I’m a sucker for Goofy and kids with big Goofy grins.

Two other plug-in items I like having are a booklight and sleep-specific headphones. The odds of a family all falling asleep at the same time in a hotel room is minimal, these items can help make everyone more comfortable.

MISCELLANEOUS

Here a few notes about “everything else:”

  • Gum – They don’t sell it in the Disney parks or resorts. And they don’t sell it at the Orlando airport. If you need gum to help with ear-popping on your flight, be sure to pack enough for your return trip as well.
  • Zip-top bags – The travel uses for these are endless: Save your child’s unfinished snack for later. Keep your wet bathing suit contained in your luggage. Contain your collectible pin collection. Throw a few in your bag and you’ll thank me later.
  • Ponchos or umbrellas – Rain showers are common in central Florida. The parks sell rain gear, but it’s much more expensive than what you’ll find at home.
  • Laundry bag – When I travel with the family, I pack a mesh laundry bag. This gives the kids a specific place to corral their sweaty duds at the end of the day.

Additionally, if you fall into one of the categories below, you’re going to need bring some additional gear:

  • Guests with babies/toddlers
  • Guests with elementary age children
  • Athletes
  • Guests traveling during special seasons
  • Guests with upscale dining plans
  • Pin/Vinylmation traders
  • Guests planning to eat in their hotel room
  • Guests driving to Walt Disney World

GUESTS WITH BABIES/TODDLERS

Walt Disney World hosts many, many thousands of pint-sized guests each year. The parks are well equipped for children. But they may not be well-equipped for YOUR child. When my kids were small, they had VERY specific preferences for things like pacifier and baby food brands. If your kids are choosy, bring supplies from home.

Disney rental strollers can be uncomfortable for small kids.

Diapers and related supplies are available at Walt Disney World, but they may not have exactly what you need. For the complete run-down, take a look at the post Disney and the Diaper: Managing Diaper and Potty-Training Issues at Walt Disney World.

Stroller-related questions are hot topic in Disney circles. Just check out the comments on Ryan Kilpatrick’s post The Great Stroller Conundrum. I personally always recommend that you bring your own when you’re traveling with babies or toddlers. Your mileage may vary.

TRAVEL WITH ELEMENTARY AGE CHILDREN

Costumes are NOT required for character meals, but many children (particularly girls) don’t feel like they’ve had the full Disney experience until they’ve had a meal at the parks in costume. Be aware that the most basic Disney princess dress sold in the parks costs nearly $70.00. Bring a $12.95 Wal-Mart dress with you and no-one will be the wiser.

ATHLETES

There are numerous sporting activities available at Walt Disney World. If you’re interested in working off the Dole Whip and churros you consume in the parks, then don’t forget your running shoes or tennis racket.

SEASONAL CONSIDERATIONS

If you’re visiting Walt Disney World in September or October, you might want to pack a costume for Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Costumes are not required, but they can add a bit of festive flair to your experience.

Winter trips can be chilly if you’re not prepared. Some Walt Disney World visits in January and February are much more pleasant if you’re prepared with hats and gloves.

UPSCALE DINING

A few of Disney’s signature dining experiences have a minimal dress code. Or, if you’ll be dining at the posh Victoria & Albert’s in the Grand Floridian, you’ll need posh attire. Check the Walt Disney World website for current requirements.

TRADING

Pin trading and Vinylmation trading (my personal vice) are great ways to personalize your park experience and facilitate interaction with cast members. If trading is your thing, then don’t forget to bring your supplies with you.

Don’t forget your Vinylmation or pin traders.

BRING YOUR OWN FOOD

If you’re trying to economize, bringing breakfast items and snacks from home is a great way to keep on budget. Cereal boxes, granola bars, and nuts are easy to transport. Guests can bring food items into the parks (alcohol and glass containers are not permitted), but large coolers are not allowed. Bring a small soft-sided cooler with you if you’d have food items you’d like to keep cold.

DRIVING TO WALT DISNEY WORLD

If you’re driving to the parks, you have a bit more leeway in what you can bring. Don’t forget items to make the drive more comfortable for the kiddos, particularly if it’s a long one. Beach towels can be a great thing to have if you’re going to the water parks, and as an added bonus, they can do double duty as drive-time blankets.

WHAT TO ACTUALLY BRING INTO THE PARKS?

So you’ve hauled all your stuff to Orlando, but what do you actually bring into the parks with you? If you’re just traveling with adults, you may be able to get away with just pocket items: your cards and tickets, your phone, and a small tube of sunscreen. (Consult the checklist for necessary paperwork.)

If, like me, you’re more of a “be prepared” person, then a small backpack works perfectly for park touring. In addition to the above items, use the backpack to tote: your camera, first aid supplies, snacks, a water bottle, rain gear (umbrella or folded ponchos), a light sweater (chilly air-conditioned restaurants), tissues, Purell, and more sunscreen.

Contents of my in-park emergency pouch.

The first-aid stations in the parks do stock pretty much everything you’d need for minor scrapes or illness, but I find it MUCH more convenient to have these things with me. I have a four inch square fabric pouch that I always carry in the parks. It contains: 2 Purell wipes packs, 3 or 4 doses of Tylenol, single-use dental floss packs, 3-4 hair bands, Benedryl Quick Dissolve strips, 4-5 Band-Aids, 2 doses of Immodium or Pepto Bismol, safety pins, a folded zip-top bag, and an emergency panty liner. All this weighs only a few ounces, but something in the pouch has come into use nearly every time I’ve traveled to Walt Disney World. Your contents may be slightly different depending on your family’s needs.

Guests traveling with young children will need to tote even more gear into the parks. In addition to the pocket and backpack items I’ve noted, you’ll also need diapers, wipes, baby food, bottles, bibs, and a host of other childcare paraphernalia. My family liked to use our stroller as a “home base.” We packed the diaper bag with all the essentials for the day and left it in the stroller. When we went off on rides, we just took a smaller bag with us that contained valuables, 1 or 2 diapers and wipes, and some basic snacks. As we went back to the stroller, we replenished our “go bag” as needed. Obviously you’ll need to assess your own comfort level with leaving anything unattended in your stroller, as there is the very small possibility here of loss/theft. However, this is extremely rare, and if you make sure to take your camera/wallet with you, the potential damage is limited.

Emergency pouch packed up. My phone, in its Mophie charger case, for size reference.

Let me add that with small children, the amount of “stuff” you can convince yourself you need is nearly unlimited. (The downside of the “be prepared” syndrome.) Yes, you can bring a plastic stroller cover in case of rain and an extra stroller blanket in case of a chill. Or you can improvise with a poncho and towel. It’s impossible to plan for every situation; try to have a MacGyver attitude and enjoy the adventure.

My last tip is that I always pre-pack the bag that I’ll be bringing into the parks and place it into my main luggage. For me that usually means that I load up a backpack with the items listed above (minus liquids, which I add later) and drop it into my regular suitcase. I typically arrive at my Walt Disney World hotel mid-morning, before my room is ready. With a touring bag pre-packed for the parks, I can just pull it out of the suitcase, drop my luggage at bell services, and be on my way to the parks in minutes. No searching for the camera, ponchos, and sunglasses; it’s all right there, ready to go.

So folks, what are your packing strategies? What have I forgotten? What have you forgotten on your Disney trips? What’s missing from the checklist? Let us know in the comments below.

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