SATURDAY SIX: 6 Things Your Family Needs To Pack For Your Disney Trip

by on October 29, 2016

saturdaysix_asseenonThis week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Things Your Family Needs To Pack For Your Disney Vacation! Getting ready for a Disney vacation is one of the things we love to do the most. It means your trip is almost here! Once you’ve gotten together your clothes, ponchos, and medicine, what else do you need to bring on your trip to The World? Good news, that’s why we’re here. After pestering an exhaustive investigation with many vacationing families, the SATURDAY SIX is ready to give you a list of things to bring to Disney that you didn’t know you needed to bring. These items are designed to make your life easier, or to make your trip more memorable. The only “rule” we had was that every item had to cost less than $20 (and believe it or not, almost all of these items can be found in some fashion at your local Dollar Tree.) The first ever SATURDAY SIX informercial is ready to go, so sit back, make sure you remembered to pack your reading glasses, and let’s begin our list with….

# 6 – A Pop-Up Hamper

Everyone loves to pack for a Disney vacation, but rarely do we consider what we are going to do once we are done wearing our special outfits. There are almost no rooms at Disney hotels that have a hamper, and the ones that do only have them for towels. If your family is like ours, you generally pick an area in the room (usually a closet) and just start throwing your dirty clothes on it until the pile almost becomes sentient like the talking Trash Heap in Fraggle Rock. In the past, we would go to the resort’s gift shop and ask for an extra large bag to try and stuff all the clothes in, but this was as about as fun and useful as it sounds. We finally realized it was a much better idea to bring a pop-up hamper with us.

Mesh pop-up hampers are affordable, compact, and  will allow you to stay organized while keeping all of your family’s dirty clothes in an area that doesn’t make you want to apologize to MouseKeeping if you run into them in the hallway.


Pop-up Hamper from the Dollar General. Kids love the cute animal designs which makes it easier to get them to actually put their clothes into it.


It doesn’t take long for dirty clothes to pile up while on vacation.


Would you like paper or plastic?



# 5 – Mini M&Ms Container For Pressed Penny Change

Weekly readers of this fine blog know how much we love pressed pennies. They are an extremely affordable souvenir, and one that is easy to collect and carry with you. What’s not as fun or easy, is having to carry around the actual change to get the pressed pennies. Pockets full of change are noisy and annoying, while having to dig through a change purse can also be frustrating. An easy solution to this problem is buying a tube of Mini M&Ms and storing your change in there. The tube is the perfect size for quarters, and your life will be much easier if you load your change in to the tube in a two quarter/one penny stack. This is going to allow you to pop out the required 51 cents for a pressed penny as easy as a Pez dispenser.


Getting change ready for a vacation.


Two quarter: one penny ratio is crucial in time management.


Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?

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Walt Disney World FastPass+ Strategy Update

by on May 4, 2016

Kiosks? We don't need no stinkin' kiosks!

Kiosks? We don’t need no stinkin’ kiosks!

Remember a couple of months ago when we released a three part series on Disney’s FastPass+ service at Walt Disney Worldhow to use it, the best strategy for getting the most out of it, and then hacks and tips to make it even better? Well, Disney had to go and enhance the service, rendering some of our advice outdated. Well, consider it outdated no more. Read on to find out how these changes impact the process of making your picks, and the strategy to using the FastPass+ system!

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The Basics: Selecting the right Walt Disney World Moderate hotel

by on April 4, 2016

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.


As we continue our Back to Basics series, it’s time to take a look at one of the most beloved Walt Disney World hotel categories: the Moderates. In previous Basics posts we first discussed how to select the right Walt Disney World category, and later dug into how to select the right Walt Disney World Value hotel. The Moderate category hotels are a great blend of quality theming, beautiful atmosphere, a strong selection of amenities and features, all without the higher price tag found at the Deluxe resorts. They are some elements at the Moderate resorts that are also found at the Value resorts, but you can definitely see these are a step up from the Value category.

Caribbean Beach grounds

Caribbean Beach grounds – photo by Brian McNichols

It’s important to remember there really is no right or wrong choice, but rather a matter of deciding what hotel fits your specific needs the best. There are four hotels in the Moderate level.  For each hotel we’ll discuss as many features and elements as possible. I’ve included information for each of the hotels with the following categories:

  • Room features
  • Resort layout
  • Food and beverage
  • Transportation
  • Pool
  • Recreation / Activities
  • Additional information

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

First came the Deluxe resorts. Then in the 90’s, the Disney Decade, the first Moderate resort came unto the scene: Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort, which was a prototype of sorts. Disney had never built a resort that was scaled back in order to provide a more affordable price tag, yet it couldn’t just be a hotel, it needed to be a resort. Caribbean Beach ushered in a new resort experience for Walt Disney World, and while it does have its flaws, there is lots of beautiful scenery and enjoyable amenities.

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The Basics: Disney World Resort Discounts

by on March 23, 2016

Pop - Grounds 8

Remember the 90s? Pop Century Resort does…sort of

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.


Okay, here’s the situation: You’re looking at your hotel options for a week’s vacation in Disney World (and if you’re now singing Parents Just Don’t Understand, congratulations, you’re as old as I am).

Seriously though, there are a lot of Disney resort options and there is also a wide range of prices associated with those hotels. Luckily, there is almost always some sort of discount available on Disney resorts if you know how to find them and are alert when they are released. What follows is an overview of what discounts are often available and how to book them.

What Are Resort Discounts?

Put simply, Disney often makes many of their on-site hotel rooms available for an amount cheaper than the full rate. There are often two main types of discounts for any given season: Standard room-only discounts and discounts specifically for Annual Passholders. These discounts generally range from 15-35% depending on the type of resort and type of discount.

What Types of Discounts Are There?

Let’s look at what’s available right now for non-Florida residents: March 23, 2016. There are currently two discounts open to the general public and two discounts for guests with a Disney World Annual Pass. They are:

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The Basics: Dining at Walt Disney World

by on March 16, 2016

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

With four theme parks, a couple dozen resort hotels, and thousands upon thousands of guests on any given day, it should come as no surprise that there are a lot of places to eat at Walt Disney World. To a first time guest, when and where to eat is likely something that isn’t thought to be a big deal. You’re hungry, you see somewhere that looks good, and you go eat there. Unfortunately for most first time guests, getting a table at a restaurant at Walt Disney World is not as simple as going to your local Olive Garden on any given evening. Disney has a great many mouths to feed every day and only so many tables from which to feed them. Toss on top of that the great theming and Disney character presence at many restaurants coupled with “free dining” promotions driving guests to eat three-squares every day and what you have is a recipe for crowded and fully booked restaurants, seemingly year-round. So yes, like most things at Walt Disney World, where and when you are going to eat is a decision you need to make months in advance.

Disney’s restaurants all generally fall into one of a few categories. First are the carts and stands. These are vendors around the park selling everything from ice cream bars and popcorn to craft beer and eggrolls. Enjoying the offerings from these stands requires no advance planning and as such they are from whom you will be purchasing most of your meals if you pay no attention to the rest of this article. Even this comes with a caveat…during Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival in the fall (and to a lesser extent the Flower & Garden Festival in the spring) booths are set up throughout World Showcase featuring international cuisine and libations. They are equal parts a great option for people who don’t have advance dining reservations and something people need to plan to wait in line at, especially on weekends.

As far as actual restaurants, there are two basic styles: Quick Service (or “counter” service–think fast food) and Table Service (sit-down, with waitstaff) restaurants. Quick Service are the most casual and allow for no advance reservations (with one exception that I will mention below). They are located all around the theme parks, in the water parks, and at the resort hotels. Cuisine ranges from standard American theme park fare like hot dogs and pizza to gourmet macaroni & cheese and sushi.

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The Basics: Meeting Characters at Hollywood Studios

by on March 14, 2016

Character meet

Hollywood Studios has a pretty solid line-up of Character Meet and Greets, including some great Character Meals.

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

We’re back again with another installment on Character Meet and Greets at Walt Disney World! We’ve already headed back to the basics with meeting characters at Epcot, and then we traipsed over to the Animal Kingdom. Today it is time for [insert dramatic pause] Hollywood Studios! (You’d never have guessed that from the title, right? And yes, I’m intentionally saving Magic Kingdom for the end.)

Character meet and greets can be magical for both adults and children alike, so even if you’re traveling without kiddos in tow, give some consideration to making time to meet the many characters who live in Hollywood Studios. (Expect maybe for the Disney Junior characters. That might be weird.)

Hollywood Studios offers some interesting characters, but it is worth noting that right now the park is under quite a bit of construction, which means that there could be more changes to character meet and greet offerings and locations than one might expect. For example, although you can meet Mike and Sulley from Monster’s Inc. at the moment, that character meet is scheduled to be closed on April 2, 2016. Just remember to double-check the character schedules right before your trip so you’re not taken unaware in the event any last-minute shuffling is done.

One of the major themes that seem to be occurring with my character meet and greet articles is that Disney has decided that right now is the best time to shuffle characters around! (I’m not kidding – the Epcot article was written and scheduled and the day before it was published Disney removed THREE of Epcot’s meets. Sigh.) Anyway, as I’m penning this particular article another announcement has come forth about adding new characters at Hollywood Studios. Check out this Touring Plans article for details about the new Olaf and Mickey and Minnie meets, which are coming soon.

Before I start with the details on who you can meet where in Hollywood Studios, I’m going to review the basic meet and greet tips I provided in the first two articles of the character meet series. Feel free to scroll past this section if you’ve already experienced it! (Or re-read it and see if you can spot the tiny adjustments I made to each version. And before you even ask, OF COURSE I’m providing new photos!)

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The Basics: Selecting the Right Walt Disney World Value hotel

by on March 11, 2016

This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

In a previous Back to Basics post we discussed how to select the right Walt Disney World hotel category. Now it’s time to dig in and select the right hotel in each category. We’ll start off with the Value resorts. It’s important to remember there really is no right or wrong choice, but rather a matter of deciding what hotel fits your specific needs the best.

For each hotel we’ll discuss as many features and elements as possible. I’ve included information for each of the hotels with the following categories:

  • Room features
  • Resort layout
  • Food and beverage
  • Transportation
  • Pool
  • Recreation / Activities
  • Additional information

Essentially the Value resorts exist as two campuses: Disney’s All Star Resort and Disney’s Pop Century / Art of Animation. At Disney’s All Star Resort there are three individual hotels: Sports, Movies, and Music. At Disney’s Pop Century and Art of Animation each are two individual hotels but are situated across from each other.  The set-up and features of these two campus are very similar. I’ll break down each individual hotel’s features and include any information that pertains to the campus as a whole.


Photo by Brian McNichols

Disney’s All Star Resorts: Movies, Music, and Sports.

  • Room features

The room features for all three of the All Star resorts are essentially the same. However, at Music there are also about 190 family suites available. I’ll get into the features of that room type momentarily. Guest rooms at the All Stars are small at 260 square feet. Almost all rooms sleep four, plus one child in a crib. Themed touches of musicians and music styles at Music, athletes and sports equipment at Sports, and a selection of Disney films at Movies, adorn themed linens, wall décor, and fixtures. Light-finish wood furniture and dark, patterned carpet provide an upscale touch, however, you’ll most likely find that these rooms don’t beckon you to linger. My personal recommendation is if you are traveling with small children then the rooms will be just fine. However, if you have pre-teens, teenagers, or other adults then you’ll most likely find the standard rooms at any Value resort to be a tad uncomfortable.

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The Basics: A Timeline for Your Disney World Trip

by on March 7, 2016

Castle (6)This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

My previous article in the TouringPlans blog Back to Basics series focused on using the TouringPlans Crowd Calendar to decide when to go to Disney World. Once you’ve made that all-important decision, it’s time to start planning the details of your trip. Using a timeline is an excellent way to keep your trip planning on track. It’s also a fun way to ratchet up the excitement as you count down the days to your vacation.

This article starts with a chart showing essential milestones in a Disney World planning timeline, followed by an example of a timeline used by a family preparing for their trip. Plus, learn how subscribers can receive personalized alerts and use their own Dashboard on to ensure they don’t miss the crucial dates in their timeline.

© Sarah Graffam

Use a Disney World Trip Planning Timeline to Keep You on Track for Making FastPass+ Reservations and More

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The Basics: Meeting Characters at Animal Kingdom

by on March 2, 2016

AK-Characters-1-467x700This is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.


Character meet and greets – love them or hate them, they’re a pivotal part of a Walt Disney World vacation. I already waxed nostalgic on the magical memories that can be made at a character meet, and I encourage you to check out my first article (which focuses on Epcot) in the Character Meet and Greet portion of our Back to Basics series. For my second foray into the detailed world of characters and where they live, we’re headed off to the Animal Kingdom!

Animal Kingdom is not a park I traditionally associate with a large number of character meet and greets, but one major thing it has going for it is uniqueness. While you can find your traditional characters there (Mickey, Minnie, etc.) you can also find others who only appear in Animal Kingdom. In actuality, Animal Kingdom has a pretty solid line-up of characters! (I have no idea why I have some sort of mental block saying that Animal Kingdom isn’t prime real estate for characters – it is!) Before we start on the rundown of characters you can find here, let me give you some basic meet and greet tips. (Feel free to scroll past the following section if you read it in the Epcot article. Do I at least get bonus points for swapping out the photos?)

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The Basics: FastPass+ Strategy

by on February 29, 2016

TouringPlans logoThis is a continuation of our Back to Basics Series. Scroll to the bottom to see our other Basics posts.

Welcome back! This is the second in a three part series about DisneyFastPass+ service and how to make the most of it.  It assumes that you already know what FastPass+ is and how it works, so if you have no idea what we’re talking about, please take a moment to read through my recent primer on that topic.  For the rest of you that know how to use FastPass+, be aware that FastPass+ should allow you to spend less time in line, but depending upon how you use it, it can either save you a lot of time, or essentially none at all.  This will hopefully help you fall into the former category!  Let’s go!  

Selection Strategy

FastPass+ Kiosk LogoSimply stated, your goal in selecting your FastPass+ selections is not just to reserve the attractions that are on your to-do list, but it should be to
select the attractions that are on your to-do list that generate the most significant waits.  For example, I love Mickey’s Philharmagic, and we make sure that we experience it at least once on every trip.  With that said, I would never spend a FastPass on it, because doing so wouldn’t actually save me any time in line. On the other hand, while Peter Pan’s Flight is nowhere near my favorite attraction, it remains a must do and not having a FastPass+ for it potentially sets me up for a soul-crushing wait of an hour or more, so it’s always one of my first picks, even over attractions that I prefer in the abstract. 

A detailed look at which attractions you should FastPass and which you shouldn’t is beyond the scope of this article (if you do want detailed advice for selecting your FastPass+ reservations, check out our advice pages for the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom), but here’s a quick list of attractions in each park that are no-brainer options for FastPass+ if you want to experience them:

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