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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! August 2015 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on August 31, 2015

MMM positiveWelcome to the latest edition of The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! the longest running monthly look at the Disney Outlet Stores in Orlando. As you can see, thanks to a landslide vote, the Outlet Report is continuing despite it’s negative impact on my mental health (more on that later). However, no matter how crazy the Vineland Ave outlets make me, nothing can take away from the incredible month we had in the theme park world. The D23 Expo came with the announcements of Star Wars land, Toy Story Land, and more details on the incredible World of Avatar coming to Animal Kingdom. You can read both of my articles about the D23 news including one written BEFORE the convention and one written AFTER. Not to be outdone, Universal announced that it would be building a Fast & Furious attraction while getting rid of Disaster and Beetlejuice. Fast & Furious has actually quietly become one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood history. Furious 7 has made over $1.5Billion dollars this year and to put that in perspective Frozen made “just” $1.27Billion. What a great time to be a theme park fan.

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

Our first item is actually one of my favorite things that I have ever bought inside a Disney park and it was at Star Wars Weekends two years ago. This Star Wars Bowling Set was originally $21.95, marked down to $12.99. The bowling balls are the Death Star and a thermal detonator, how great is that?

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Luke Skywalker could bullseye womp rats in his T-16 but can he hit a 7-10 split?!

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If we have to get a thousand bad Star Wars items just to get one great one, I guess I can live with it.

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Refillable Mugs at Universal Orlando – Worth it or Wasted?

by on August 28, 2015

One of the first things I noticed that was different at Universal Orlando and SeaWorld versus Walt Disney World is the refillable mugs inside the theme parks. What I didn’t realize until after my first few months of becoming a regular Universal Orlando visitor is the substantial variety of refillable mug programs available throughout Universal Orlando. There’s four options just in the theme parks themselves, then there’s two different programs at the Universal hotels, and finally two programs inside CityWalk, oh and none of the programs can be combined. So in hopes of helping you navigate through the busy waters of all the refillable mug options I’d like to share the details of each option. I’ll also give my stance on if I think each mug is worth it or wasted.
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In the theme parks

Character mugs – $15.99 /  $0.99 refills

Wasted: If you or your child is a big fan of a specific character then the character mugs might be a good value for you. Personally, I think their clunkier size make them impractical for repeated, every day use. However, they certainly are unique and add to the fun of being inside the theme parks.

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Regular refillable cup and Black Transformer mug – $8.99 / $0.99 refills

Worth it: If you are an Annual Passholder or will be visiting for an extended amount of days, the basic refillable cup is a good deal. The $0.99 refills are not limited to the day of purchase, so you can easily get your money’s worth considering one fountain soda is $3.19. If you use the refillable cup more than 3 times you’ll have spent your money wisely. There are also a good amount of food and beverage locations throughout the park to snag your free refills. The downside is the refills are your basic fountain drink variety, not the fancy smancy Coke Freestyle flavor selection.

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! July 2015 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on July 31, 2015

Welcome to the latest edition of The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! the longest running monthly look at the Disney Outlet Stores in Orlando. How long? Today marks the two year anniversary! What started out as a simple $1 bet between Len Testa and Laurel Stewart to see if they could take a simple Florida blogger and turn him into a two time runDisney medal winner/PizzaMania champion, has blossomed into into a wondrous creation which has been around to see the debut of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Diagon Alley, and the Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The best rags-to-riches story this side of Cinderella, our monthly treks into Orlando’s Disney Outlet Stores have provided highs and lows (and then even more lows) in order to deliver you, Dear Reader, a glimpse into a world which very few have lived long enough to tell about. A sincere thank you to each and every one of you for taking the time to read this little article, and stay tuned at the end for YOUR CHANCE to vote on the future direction of The Magic, the Memories, and Merch!

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

The first surprise was seeing new Frozen and Big Hero 6 Tsum Tsums. It’s surprising because when I went to Disney Springs to see Avengers: Age of Ultron in May, these very same Tsum Tsums had just arrived to Once Upon a Toy. Word on the retail street is when new batches of Tsum Tsums arrive at Disney Springs, the old stuff has to go, so we could be seeing lots of Tsum Tsums in the near future.

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Hans, Anna, Sven, and Kristoff Tsum Tsums.

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Hiro, Fred, Go Go Tomago, and Wasabi Tsum Tsums.

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SATURDAY SIX: Six Reasons We Love Disney’s OLD KEY WEST Resort

by on July 18, 2015

This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at Six Reasons We Love Disney’s Old Key West Resort. One of Walt Disney World’s biggest strengths against all of its competitors is the wide variety of unique resorts it has on property to offer guests. We’ve covered several here on the SATURDAY SIX including Value Resorts such as Art of Animation and Pop Century, Moderate Resorts with Port Orleans French Quarter and Riverside, and Deluxe Resorts including the Contemporary. While our reviews on both Animal Kingdom Lodge and BoardWalk Inn & Villas included a Disney Vacation Club component, today we are going to take a look at our first DVC exclusive resort with Old Key West.

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In fact, Old Key West was the very first Disney Vacation Club resort built at WDW. Originally named Disney’s Vacation Club Resort in 1991, it wasn’t until 1996 when the name was changed to Old Key West. With its pastel colored buildings and lush vegetation throughout, the resort definitely stands out from the other hotels on property. When Walt Disney said “Here in Florida, we have something special we never enjoyed at Disneyland…the blessing of size” he may have been foreshadowing Old Key West, as the resort itself is massive.

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Welcome to Conch Flats, the mythical town of Disney’s Old Key West Resort.

 

With the sprawling size comes some downsides, including many rooms being quite far away from the check-in area and several of the resort’s amenities. There is an internal bus system, and the grounds are gorgeous to walk across, but it may be a shock to guests who have not stayed at such a large resort. Thankfully the TouringPlans Hotel Room Request will help make getting a room closer to front easier, but it is still something to consider. That said, the size of Old Key West is also a positive, as it is one of the best places at WDW to spend time at outside of the parks because there is so much to do. So sit back, grab a plate of conch fritters and an ice cold margarita and let’s begin counting down our top six reasons we love OKW starting with…

# 6 – The Sandcastle Pool Area

Anyone who travels with their family on vacation knows how important pools are when it comes to selecting a resort. For our family, pools with slides now rank above any E-Ticket attraction or dining experience at WDW. Old Key West has a total of 4 pools spread out across property, but the Sandcastle Pool located by the front of the resort is where you want to be. In this area you’ll find the main pool along with its incredible 125 foot waterslide and a plethora of  nearby activities. There are several play areas for the younger set, a whirlpool spa, a sandy beach, and even a themed sauna!

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The Sandcastle Pool at Disney’s Old Key West Resort.

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Theming around the Sandcastle Pool.

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! June 2015 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on June 30, 2015

MMM positiveWe have reached the end of June and the non-stop amount of theme park new continues. Most importantly, our prayers were answered and Disney World banned the use of selfie sticks at any of its four theme parks, two water parks, and DisneyQuest. Over at Animal Kingdom, snacks shaped in the form of animal poop became an instant success last week, generating more viral attention for Disney than I have seen in years, yet they have already been taken off the market. Meanwhile at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Frozen Summer Fun began its summer run, but with the good comes the bad, as it was also announced that The Magic of Disney Animation would be joining the Studio Backlot Tour, the Legend of Capt Jack Sparrow, Sounds Dangerous, American Idol Experience, and the Sorcerer’s Hat in the great big theme park in the sky. Universal, already in the middle of building an E-Ticket attraction (Skull Island: The Reign of Kong), a new hotel (Sapphire Falls) and a water park (Volcano Bay) also just committed to what looks like a MAJOR renovation of the Incredible Hulk Coaster and the removal of what is expected to be Twister: Ride It Out for a rumored attraction based on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Don’t the theme parks know it’s summer and they are supposed to be resting on their laurels while the theme parks are packed?!

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

This trip started off with a surreal experience at the Disney Character Warehouse on I-Drive (close to Universal) because everything in the store was 50% off the already discounted prices. A lot of stuff that was normally in the store was gone though, such as Tsum Tsums, most of the pins, all the plush, etc. Later in our journey I’ll explain why this once-in-a-lifetime sale was happening. However, to show the type of deal that this was, that next level bananas Mama Melrose sign had been brought down to “just” $30 after all the discounts were applied. I was tempted to buy it, if only as a gag gift for Len Testa, but somehow held back.

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I promised to all that I will personally buy the BoardWalk Pizza Window sign if it is ever for sale. Because that will mean the place has finally been closed and I’ll be in euphoria.

It’s long been known that WDW Today’s own Matt Hochberg is terrified of the Dinosaur attraction at DHS, and you can imagine why if his parents ever got him this photo frame as a kid. I actually wish Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights merch was this scary. Originally $14.95, this was marked down to $7.99 (and keep in mind that would be $4 after the final discount.)

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Mesmerizing.

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Update: 10 Things to Know About Disney’s Armed Forces Salute

by on June 29, 2015

If you didn’t hear the good news, Disney has extended the Armed Forces Salute to cover the rest of 2015! Yay, Disney! Again! I have covered the Armed Forces Salute in a previous blog post, and this is an update of that post with the latest changes. Let me once again begin this blog post with a heartfelt thank you from me to Disney on behalf of our military personnel and their families. I’ve been a military spouse for 26 years now (and a military brat before that), and I understand the personal sacrifices that are made each and every day by Service members and their families. It’s awesome that Disney recognizes it in some way as well.

Disney has sold slightly discounted (in the neighborhood of 5% off) tickets for the Armed Forces at military bases for many years. The last several years there has been a substantial additional discount on certain tickets for military, but with more restrictions (and much bigger savings). Once called the Armed Forces Salute, the last couple of years Disney hasn’t really made a point of calling it anything other than a military discount. To distinguish between the ever present slightly discounted tickets and the steeply discounted tickets I’ll refer to it as the Armed Forces Salute.

The Armed Forces Salute can be a bit confusing. To be fair, the military has lots of categories of military personnel (active duty, Reserve, National Guard, retired, separated, Allied military assigned to the US, etc…), so it’s no surprise there are lots of nuances to Disney’s Armed Forces Salute.

Fantasyland Wide 2 009 1. Eligibility – Eligibility has changed over the years and actually seems clearer now.  Any active duty or retired Service member, National Guardsman, Reservist, or Coast Guard is eligible. Foreign military assigned to US military bases (with a US ID card) in the United States are eligible, as are 100% disabled veterans with an ID card that says “DAV/PRIM” and Medal of Honor recipients. If the eligible member is not present, their spouse is eligible. That’s it, though. No matter how deserving some other groups are (and there are many deserving groups), Disney did not choose to include those groups within this specific promotion. But, even within these rules there are complicated situations, so call Disney (or ask in the comments section below) if you still have questions.

2. Promotion Dates – The current Armed Forces Salute was scheduled to end on October 3, 2015 but Disney has now extended this promotion to end in December of 2015. The room discount will end December 23, 2015 and the tickets must be used by December 20, 2015. The Disney World tickets must be purchased by December 17, 2015 and Disneyland tickets by December 18, 2015.

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Extra Hotel Fees and Costs You Need to Budget For

by on April 29, 2015

Going on vacation is such a treat. It’s a fantastic privilege that can pay off in so many ways. But if you don’t factor in all the extra costs and budget appropriately your vacation can go from being refreshing and rejuvenating to frustrating and stressful. I’m a hotelier at heart and I am continually surprised, and saddened, whenever I come across guests who did not anticipate different hotel fees and other extra costs that can pop up when staying at a hotel. So to help you plan and budget, let’s talk about the most common costs.

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Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort – it may not have a lot of hotel fees, but it carries some of the highest room rates in Orlando. Photo source: Disneyworld.com

 

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The Magic, The Memories, and Junk! April 1st Photo Report of a Non-Disney Owned Outlet Store

by on April 1, 2015

MMM_JunkWait a minute… didn’t we just do this yesterday? No, Dear Reader, you are not having a case of Deja Vu. We are back for a brand new Outlet Report, except today we are going to travel outside of the two Orlando Premium Outlets that contain the official Disney Character Warehouse stores, and venture into one of the many Disney stores located off property. We’ve all seen them, because they are everywhere. International Drive… State Road 535… 192… if it’s a main road in the theme park corridor of Orlando, there are going to be these knock off shops. Almost all promise cheap t-shirts and Florida souvenirs, and its surprising just how much of the exact same merchandise is in many of the various stores. While I would strenuously recommend you stay away from any place offering you “free” or cheap theme park tickets, heading into these souvenir stores can be fun because you can find items you’d never see on Disney property.

We narrowed down the list of options and chose to spotlight Theme Park Outlet, mostly because we love the name. It is located in the Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores off State Road 535 (the exact location will be at the end of the article).

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The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! March 2015 Photo Report of the Disney Outlet Store

by on March 31, 2015

MMM positiveThough the March Hare is about to leave us on the last day of this very month, you need not worry because the April Fool has arrived a day early and is here with a brand spanking new Outlet Report. So take a break from hunting for Easter Eggs at Epcot, put aside your souvenir mugs from the soft opening of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, hold off on booking that breakfast reservation for Be Our Guest, and be sure to pick your jaw up off the ground because it’s still there from finding out the Magic Kingdom opened up Aunt Polly’s on Tom Sawyer Island earlier this week. 

Prepare yourself for a trip to not just one, but BOTH Disney Outlet Stores in Orlando (physical addresses for both are located at the end of every edition of MM&M.) That’s right Dear Reader, I did the impossible and braved the I-4 traffic and horrendous parking situations at both outlets, for YOU.

Enough jibber jabber! Who is ready to hit the Outlets? Remember that clicking on any picture will open a full size version of it (don’t say we didn’t warn you).

Our first stop is the Disney Outlet closer to Universal at the end of I-Drive and was surprised to see the first ever Tsum Tsums show up. I’ve seen them before at Once Upon a Toy in Downtown Disney, but never felt compelled to buy one at $6 a pop. That said, unlike Vinylmation, I can definitely see the cuteness factor and why people would want to collect them. The only Tsum Tsums available were the seven dwarfs and only the ones pictured below. Of course I bought them all.

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Your Disney Trip Planning Timeline

by on February 10, 2015

TouringPlans logoIf you’re planning a trip to Disney World and reading this blog, you’ll have already seen multiple references to certain milestone dates for your vacation: You can make most restaurant reservations 180 days in advance of your arrival, for example. And that got us talking about what a comprehensive Disney trip planning timeline would look like.

Sure, we’ve tackled trip planning subjects before, including Erin Foster’s  and Evan Levy’s excellent Trip Planning 101 series. But we’ve never tried to fit an entire timeline into one page…until now.

Let us know in the comments if we’ve missed anything.

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