Trip Planning

Tokyo Disney Resort Trip Planning Guide

by on July 29, 2015

18741086704_6694d4a43f_zYou want to go on another Disney vacation, but where do you go? You’ve been to Walt Disney World more times than you can count and you can recall every small detail of Disneyland because you’ve covered every square inch so many times that it makes your head spin. Next you think “Maybe a Disney Cruise?” Not happening, your brother-in-law wants you to wait until little Sally (your niece’s second cousin, twice removed) graduates from sixth grade so you can all go as a family. Disneyland Paris? No way, they’re in the middle of more refurbishments than there are blades of grass on Earth. Then it comes to you, Tokyo Disneyland. You remember your curiosity being piqued from seeing pictures of DisneySea online. “Doesn’t that place have a volcano?” Hell yes it has a volcano, and I’m here to tell you that it’s awesome. You’ve found your next Disney destination, and hopefully with this Tokyo Disney Resort trip planning guide I will help you plan it.

Step 1: When to visit Tokyo Disney Resort

Tokyo Disney Resort, or TDR, is always going to have huge crowds and high wait times, especially on the weekends. I’ve spent thousands of hours in the American Disney parks but have never seen anything like the crowds during a weekend in Tokyo Disneyland. With that being said there are a few times out of the year where crowds are smaller than they usually are, but this luxury may come at the cost of poor weather or multiple attraction closures due to refurbishments.

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Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Is It Still Worth Your Time?

by on July 27, 2015

Hat demolition

The Sorcerer’s Hat is one of many recent departures from Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Another day, another closure. The Magic of Disney Animation has seen its last pen stroke, adding it to the ever-lengthening list of attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios that have been shuttered without any replacements announced. Indeed, in the time it’s taken you to read this opening paragraph, Disney has probably closed 3 more attractions. With this being the state of affairs, you may be thinking that there’s no good reason to bother with Hollywood Studios in its current form and that you should cross it off your list until some time in the 2020’s — and that seems to be a popular refrain within the Disney fan community.

This perception notwithstanding, however, the reality is that most of the closures were of attractions that were already waning in popularity, while the things that have served as the backbone of the park over recent years are still alive and well. While it would be tough to argue that Hollywood Studios is a “must-do” or that you should build a vacation around it at this point in its life cycle, there remain plenty of good reasons to pay it a visit:

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MyMagic+ and Last-Minute Trips: Planned Spontaneity Advanced Course

by on July 24, 2015

Spaceship Earth MyMagic+

Sometimes you just need a last-minute trip to Disney World.

If you caught my previous article on planned spontaneity and MyMagic+, there is one flaw you might have noticed – it requires that you know far in advance that you are taking a trip to Walt Disney World. So the question is, “How do you plan for spontaneity when you decide to take a trip in the next 30 days?”

Before I launch into my method for planned spontaneity for last-minute trips, I first want to make one tiny thing clear: you don’t have to plan for spontaneity to be spontaneous on a trip to Disney World. (Don’t be alarmed, you read that right.) If you want to go sans FastPass+ and wing it with restaurants, you will still be able to have an awesome time. I prefer to use MyMagic+ to its fullest, and for me that means planning in such a way that I can go off-book about 50% of the time and have a plan the other 50%.  If you’re a planner like I am, then this should be right up your alley.

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Menu Monday: Whispering Canyon Café Breakfast Review

by on July 20, 2015

Today we are visiting one of my favorite on property breakfast experiences:  Whispering Canyon Café.  I say experience because it is so much more than just a place to eat.  Whispering Canyon is a place to laugh and have a good time.  It is a character breakfast of sorts, but not with your traditional Disney characters and at no additional cost; No Princesses, Mickey, or other Fab Five member here.  The characters I am referring to are the wonderful Cast Member waiters and waitresses.  They bring the restaurant alive, and keep our family coming back for more.

What:  Whispering Canyon Café
Where:  located directly off the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge
When:  Breakfast is served every day 7:30-11:30am
“The goings-on can get a little loud, and that’s just the way we like it.”

To play or not to play.

To play or not to play.

Our last waitress, M.T., was a real hoot.  We had a blast with her sarcastic humor.  She knew how to work her “audiences” as well.  She could read the patrons at her table perfectly and acted accordingly.  The table to our left was a family with 3 children.  She joked with the children and even put one of them “in jail”.  The large table to our right was not in the mood for fun.  They had clearly just come to eat breakfast and not partake in any of the shenanigans.  M.T. reacted accordingly and they got your normal no-fun-all-business waitress.  They were perfectly content.  We have a darker sense of humor and she seemed to tune right in to it.  We were in stiches before our order was even taken.

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Planned Spontaneity: MyMagic+ for the Spur-of-the-Moment Vacationer

by on July 17, 2015

Fastpasses

Ahhh, the good old days!

MyMagic+. Love it or hate it, it’s the reality of Walt Disney World vacations. Whether you are making dining reservations at 180 days or FastPass+ selections at 60 days, MyMagic+ is enough to make your average spontaneous vacation-goer break out in hives. Like me, I’m sure you’ve heard — an possibly participate it — talk of the good old days, where paper FASTPASSES were king and you could always find a walk-up reservation. Alas, we live in the now, and right now planning ahead is the name of the game. So, what is an impulsive tourist to do?

I’m going to preface my answer by first calling myself out as the type-A, uber planner that I am. I’m absolutely thrilled to have joined the Touring Plans team, in part because Touring Plans has fed my Walt Disney World planning obsession for years. It’s true, I think MyMagic+ is about as awesome as your average Disney cupcake, but I understand that I might be the minority on this one. (Don’t judge me!) But just because I am a planner, that doesn’t mean my traveling party is, so I’ve managed to develop a formula for leveraging MyMagic+ to its fullest advantage while leaving in room for those fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants types.

Festival of Fantasy Circus Swing

Looking to fly by the seat of your pants?

At this point I’m sure you’re asking, “What is this magical Disney secret?! Open those gates so I may unlock your secrets and exploit your riches!” (Humor me, people.) Are you ready for the big reveal? My huge secret to Disney happiness? This is it: I PLAN FOR SPONTANEITY. Before you start calling me crazy, follow my train of thought on this one. I know that if I want to eat at the restaurants I want, I have to make the reservations far in advance. I know that if I want to ride the rides I want, I have to book my FastPass+ selections as soon as the window opens. No matter what, these two things hold true. So if I want to have an unscheduled block of time to do whatever I decide in the moment, I have to plan for it.

Easier said than done, right? Not necessarily. I’ve spent the last couple of years improving my approach, and while it may not be perfect, it is pretty serviceable, if I do say so myself. I’ll walk you through my method step-by-step, and perhaps you’ll find some aspects that will work for your traveling party!

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Tips and Tricks for Maximizing Suitcase Space

by on July 13, 2015

Photo - Angela DahlgrenI’ve read many a post on what to bring to Walt Disney World. In fact, I’ve even written about the topic here and here! However, I don’t often see posts on how to maximize the space in ones suitcase. So, today I bring you just that. Whether its a trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, here are my space-saving tips!

Note: This article is targeting toward a more casual vacation. I’m hopeless when it comes to packing for business & formal events. Huge overpacker. 

Make a packing list

For me, this is crucial. It is the ONLY way I won’t forget anything. As you place the item in the suitcase, cross it off your list. This may also prevent you from overpacking.

Extra tip: The night before, I like to make a list of all the last minute items I’ll need to add (i.e. phone charger, toothbrush) the morning I leave.

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Religious Resources at Walt Disney World

by on July 12, 2015

For some people, maintaining religious practices is important even on vacation. Although Walt Disney World is not immediately thought as a destination for people of faiths, it’s popularity and universal themes for all people does mean that people of all faiths come to the vacation capital of the world. Here are some of the resources for finding a house of worship, descriptions of special events or attractions of interest for faith communities, and some additional religion-specific information for three of the major religions in the United States.

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Horseback Riding at Disney? Yes please!

by on July 8, 2015

Sometimes I need a vacation after my vacation to Disney. Up at the crack of dawn for rope drop, running from one end of the park to another for fastpasses and character meets, staying up late for the fireworks or even the Kiss Goodnight; It can really tire me out sometimes. Luckily for me, all I have to do is take a breath and realize that this IS a vacation. I can go at a slower pace and not spend all day, every day in a park. The resorts and Disney Springs nee Downtown Disney area have just as much to offer if you merely look.

Tri-Circle-D Ranch

After a few days of hitting the parks hard on our last trip, we decided to slow it down and spend a day enjoying our favorite resort area: the Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness Campgrounds. The night before our “break” we checked with the front desk at our resort for reservations for horseback riding at the campgrounds. They had two openings so we signed up.

My husband and I had wanted to go horseback riding for quite a while; It was part of my bucket list in fact. We had researched places in our home state to go, but why settle for an ordinary horse, when you could go horseback riding on a Disney horse? It just seems even more magical.

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Backstage Tales Tour Review

by on June 25, 2015

Earlier this year, Disney discontinued two of their behind-the-scenes tours at the Animal Kingdom (Backstage Safari and Wild by Design) and replaced them with a new tour called Backstage Tales. The new tour a mashup of the two, weighted heavily with Backstage Safari experiences. If you’ve previously been on Backstage Safari, consider yourself covered.

Bird food

Bird food

A key difference between the old tours and the new is a change of the participation age limit. Backstage Safari (which, not surprisingly, took place backstage) had an age requirement of 16. Wild By Design (which was an on-stage experience) had an age 14 requirement. The new Backstage Tales allows guests as young as 12 years old to participate. I took the tour with my 15 year old twin daughters.

Disney used standard-sounding boilerplate language when they described why the tour was changed — something along the lines of “due to guest feedback and demand.” While I’m sometimes suspicious of the real motivation behind comments like that, I can assure you that when answering questions on the Disney Parks Moms Panel, we did indeed get many questions from guests requesting behind-the-scenes educational experiences for their younger children. The reduced age requirement is terrific news for budding veterinarians and zoologists who want an early look at the inner workings of animal care at the park.

The tour consists of seven parts:

  • Introductions and Getting to Know You
  • Visit to the Aviary (Pangani Forest Trail area)
  • Visit to the backstage rhino and elephant habitats
  • Break time and snack, with presentation by animal care specialist
  • Visit to the animal nutrition center
  • Visit to the backstage area of Conservation Station, including an animal operating room
  • Visit to the backstage komodo dragon habitat

IMG_5619

Introductions and Getting to Know You

This tour starts early, 7:30am. While younger teens will enjoy getting to see the backstage areas, they will almost certainly NOT like the early hour. Theoretically, you should be able to get an “early character meal” bus from your resort to the Animal Kingdom, but I wouldn’t risk it. If you’re going to take this tour, plan to get to the park with your own car or via a taxi or Uber. Also note that the food cart outside the park gates may not be open when you arrive. You should grab breakfast at your hotel prior to leaving for the tour.

Guest check-in takes place just outside the park gates, toward the left as you face the park. There’s a bit of housekeeping when you arrive. Adults must sign waivers for themselves and any children in their care. Also, IDs are checked for adults. All guests are issued name tags and audio headsets that make it easier to hear the guide’s narration.

Your guide will introduce him or her self, giving a brief synopsis of where they’re from and their history with Disney. They will then ask the guests to introduce themselves, giving their name where they’re from, and some other bit of information. On various tours, I’ve been asked to tell my favorite Disney character, my favorite ride, my favorite animal, or what I’m looking forward to about the tour.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 11.08.07 AM

Once the business is out of the way, guests pass the park gate touchpoints using their admission media. (I was going to say swipe their tickets at the turnstile, but that’s so 2013.)

Visit to the Aviary (Pangani Forest Trail area)

The first stop on the tour is at the Pangani Forest Trail aviary. Along the way, the guide will share stories about the history of the Animal Kingdom park. Some of these are the same as what I encountered when I took the Wild By Design tour in 2014. Photography is allowed on the AK park paths and in the aviary, which is a public space.

At the aviary, we were greeted by a bird care specialist. He discussed the nesting and feeding habits of many of the species housed at the Animal Kingdom. A highlight for several guests was an opportunity to feed the birds by tossing mealworms to them. Guests who chose to do this were offered gloves, if they wanted to use them. The mealworms made our group extremely popular with the birds, making this a terrific opportunity to get photos. The feeding also made it easier to see that all the birds at the aviary are banded with identification tags. We learned from the keepers that every bird is located and counted every day.

IMG_5640

Visit to the backstage rhino and elephant habitats

After the aviary, we slipped behind the scenes and boarded a van to take us to the rhino and elephant barns. Before getting in the van, we were asked to put away our cameras. Most folks just slipped them into their bag or pocket. I was wearing a large DSLR and just put the lens cap on, which seemed to satisfy the guide that I wasn’t covertly snapping pictures.

At the rhino and elephant barns, we were met by a large mammal specialist who described some of the training the animals receive to facilitate their medical care. We were also welcome to ask as many questions as we wanted about life on the “savannah,” work at the Animal Kingdom, animal breeding, or anything else we could think of. The barns are spartan and much more zoo-like than the wooded areas that guests see inside the park. Backstage it’s mostly iron and concrete. The animals are given some “toys” and distractions, but the barns are primarily a business area. While at the barns, we did see elephants backstage getting cared for, but all the rhinos were out for viewing in public areas. This will vary daily depending on the needs of the animals and the facility.

IMG_5646

Visit to the backstage area of Conservation Station, including an animal operating room

When you visit the public areas of Conservation Station (the building in Rafiki’s Planet Watch at the end of the Wildlife Express train ride), you may see animal care specialists performing procedures on creatures from behind a glass wall. On the Backstage Tales tour, you get to go into one of those rooms and see the medical equipment up close. We learned about the different types of tools used to examine different size species and got an overview of the areas of expertise of the cast members that work at the Animal Kingdom.

During our visit, we happened to see part of an examination of a sedated fennec fox. This is one of my daughter’s favorite animals, so she was in awe. You may or may not see a live animal procedure during your tour, depending on the needs of the facility.

IMG_5628

Visit to the animal nutrition center

After another brief van ride, we stopped at the stop animal nutrition center. This is almost like the kitchen for a large restaurant. There are delivery bays for fruits and vegetables — from the exact same vendors that provide human food for the parks. The produce must meet the same exacting specifications as the food for the guests. We also got to see storage areas for hay and specially prepared pellet-style nutritional supplements for some specials. Additionally, there were freezers for the meat fed to carnivores.

The main room of the nutrition center features several work stations where staff have “recipe books” with precise measurements of food to be delivered to each animal each day. These were “plated” into individual storage containers for transportation to the feeding stations throughout the park.

A particularly interesting area was a shelf full of enhancement items to make the food more interesting for the animals. This included things like jam, peanut butter, and ground spices, which are periodically added to some animal foods to keep them interesting.

Break time and snack, with presentation by animal care specialist

Near the nutrition center, we visited a classroom area in the backstage education building. We were given an opportunity to use the restroom. Then we were provided with snacks (rice krispie treats) and given souvenir metal Animal Kingdom water bottles, which we could fill from a bottled water cooler.

While we snacked, we were visited by a conservation specialist. Our specialist spoke primarily about Disney’s efforts to support the wild sea turtles near the Disney Vacation Club resort in Vero Beach, Florida. We learned about turtle reproduction and migration patterns. This talk didn’t have much to do with the Animal Kingdom park itself, but it was a good opportunity to learn about Disney’s dedication to conservation issues, and to get out of the heat for a few minutes.

Visit to the backstage komodo dragon habitat

Our final stop was the backstage habitat of the Animal Kingdom’s komodo dragons. We watched a dragon trained to be step onto a scale to be weighed. When the dragon performed the desired behavior, he was rewarded with a “fuzzy,” a frozen baby mouse. The behaviors of the dragons, and all the animals, is completely voluntary. They are rewarded for compliant behavior, but they are never punished for non-compliance.

At the dragon habitat, as at every stop, we were allowed to ask as many questions as we wanted about animal care and behavior, Animal Kingdom operations, or staff training. The Backstage Tales tour is particularly nice because it’s one of the few behind-the-scenes opportunities for guests under the age of 16. If you have a child interested in a possible career in animal care, this is a unique chance to see what their future might be like. In my opinion, the price is reasonable for the amount of time and personal attention you get from the professional staff.

IMG_5637

The Details

  • The price is $90.00 per person, plus tax. All ages pay the same price. Disney Vacation Club, Annual Pass Holder, or Disney Visa Holder discounts may be available. Inquire at time of booking.
  • Theme park admission is required and not included in the price of the tour.
  • There is a 48 hour cancellation policy. You will be charged the full price of the tour if you no-show or cancel less than 48 hours before your tour.
  • The tour takes place from 7:30am to about 11:15am daily. The tour may not be conducted during holidays and during special events.
  • The tour takes place substantially outdoors, rain or shine. Come prepared for the weather.
  • Open to guests ages 12 and up. Guests ages 16 and up will need to provide photo ID. Children under age 18 must be accompanied by a paying adult.
  • Reservations must be made in advance, over the phone. Call 407-WDW-TOUR (407-939-8687).
  • Photography is not allowed during backstage portions of the tour. You make take photos during the on-stage portions of the tour.
  • Meet outside the gates to the park 15 minutes prior to start time.
  • Guests are given audio headsets to better hear the guide while walking through the park.

Have you been on the Backstage Tales tour? Is this something you’re considering for you or your kids? Are there any questions you have? Let us know in the comments below.

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FAQ Dining with Kids on Disney Cruise Line

by on June 24, 2015

A common refrain on Disney cruises is, “If you see it, eat it.” It’s no secret that, for many guests, a key attraction of cruising is the food. This holds true for kids as well as adults. Just the thought of the unlimited ice cream available on the pool deck is enough to send some kids begging you to book another voyage. Here’s everything you need to know about dining with kids on Disney Cruise Line.

All the Mickey waffles you can eat on the Disney Fantasy

All the Mickey waffles you can eat on the Disney Fantasy

THE BASICS

What type of restaurants are on board the Disney ships?

Much like the Disney theme parks, there are five main classifications of dining venue on board the Disney ships.

  • Counter Service. This is the equivalent of the quick service venues in the parks. You walk up to a counter, ask for your food, a cast member hands it to you, and you take it yourself to a table. The counter service restaurants are primarily located in a cluster on the main pool deck of each ship. Typical offerings include pizza, small sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, fresh fruit, chicken fingers, etc. You’ll also find fountain soda dispensers and soft serve ice cream dispensers nearby. All these items are included in the cost of your cruise. There are additional counter service windows located near the theaters on each ship. These counters offer packaged snacks like M&Ms, fresh popcorn, and canned sodas. These items are not included in the price of your cruise.
  • Rotational Dining. This is the equivalent of the standard table service restaurants in the parks. You are seated at a table and presented with a menu, a server takes your order, brings your food, and clears it when you’re done. With the exception of a few specialty beverages, the cost of these meals is included in the price of your cruise. There are three rotational dining venues on each ship. These are also known as the main dining rooms (MDRs).You will “rotate” through the three main dining rooms on different nights of your sailing. The longer your voyage, the more times you’ll experience each restaurant. But don’t worry about getting bored, the menus change nightly.
  • Buffet. While the buffet-style restaurants in the Disney theme parks hew closely to the table service model, the buffets on the ships are more like a cross between a food court and a school cafeteria during the breakfast and lunch hours. The buffet location will operate as a table service location for dinner service. With the exception of a few specialty beverages, the cost of these meals is included in the price of your cruise.
  • Cafe and Lounge. This is the equivalent of a Disney World hotel bar, or the in-park Starbucks (though they don’t serve Starbucks coffee). Each ship has several cafes, offering specialty coffees and teas, and lounges offering primarily adult beverages and soft drinks. None of the beverages here are included with your cruise, but there are snack-size food items at these venues which generally are included.
  • Adult Dining. This is the equivalent of the fancy signature dining restaurants at Walt Disney World. On the Disney Cruise Line ships, these restaurants are restricted to guests ages 18 and up. The adult dining venues are Palo on all four ships, plus Remy on the Dream and Fantasy.

Additionally, you’ll find that room service (in-room dining) is available for all staterooms on the Disney ships.

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