Trip Planning

Disney Life Hacks: Five Things I Will Never Forget To Pack Again

by on September 25, 2014

t_logo_fbPacking for your Disney vacation doesn’t have to be a stressful part of your planning, and there are plenty of checklists to help you do it. You’ll usually remember to pack sunscreen, bathing suits, and toothbrushes, but what about the things that you might not have thought to put in your suitcase? Money-savers like ponchos and glow sticks from the discount store or gum (which isn’t sold anywhere on Disney property) are among the things most often suggested by Disney Parks veterans, but I’ve got five more things to pack for Disney World.

Trust me on this – it only takes one experience to learn the hard way! Here are a few of the things you shouldn’t leave your home without:

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A Guide to Walt Disney World Attraction Vehicles and Seating: Magic Kingdom

by on September 23, 2014

t_logo_fbThe seating situation on Disney World rides and attractions is a cause for concern with many guests. Physical constraints, size, and family configuration are all reasons why you might have issues with the attraction seating. For example:

  • I’m a single parent with two small children, will I be separated from them on rides?
  • I’m a plus-sized person, can I fit into the ride vehicles without embarrassment?
  • My knees are bad, will I have to step up or down to get into the ride vehicles?
  • I’m in a wheelchair, do I have to transfer out of it to go on the rides?
  • I have a large party, how will we be split up when visiting the attractions?
  • I have balance issues, will the attraction vehicle be moving while I’m trying to board?

To answer these questions and more, here’s a photo guide to all the vehicle and attraction seating at Walt Disney World. Pull down on that lap bar, we’re going for a ride…

MAIN STREET USA

Walt Disney World Railroad

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Menu Monday: Animal Kingdom Beer Oases

by on September 22, 2014

Tusker Beer at the Dawa BarThe beer situation in the Animal Kingdom is rough. They seem to be cognizant of this, since they recently added several “beer carts” along the paths in Asia (near Everest and on the way to DinoLand U.S.A.). Indeed, the rising demand for good beer seems to be causing a bit of a branding crisis for the park. Ubiquitous is the Safari Amber ($6.95), which Cast Members will tell you is specially brewed for the Animal Kingdom. That’s a little bit of a stretch: it’s actually specially *branded* for the park. You know the “Red” or “Amber” beer that seems to appear in restaurants that only sell Bud and Bud Lite, but has some cute name that directly references the tacky ambiance of wherever you are? This is the selfsame brew, and will taste exactly like Kingdom Red Ale in the Kansas City Chief’s stadium, or Ray’s Red at Tropicana Field in Tampa, or Thirsty Frog Red Ale “brewed exclusively for Carnival Cruise Lines.” If you’ve had one of these mystery “Red Ales” before, you’ve had the mediocre Safari Amber.

I’d like to go though each land of Animal Kingdom like I did for Epcot, reviewing spots and providing rankings for each experience, but it’s just not possible here. You will be looking for an Oasis, not wandering through a verdant field of hops. With that in mind …

Dawa Bar

Located in Africa, right outside Tusker House. The bar represents a microcosm of the Animal Kingdom experience. The selection is sparse and lacks air conditioning but is none-the-less pleasant and entertaining.

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Speed Planning A First Trip To Universal Orlando

by on September 21, 2014

Outside Universal

Outside Universal

By nature, we’re crazy planners. We like to look over the scenery, plan our day, and then return to the plan to tweak it. Last year, we planned a Walt Disney World trip in a month – and thought we’d never do anything crazier.

This year, we planned a first trip to Universal Orlando in ten days. Let’s take a ride.

Live blogging our trip to Universal

July 21, 2014

We’ve got this weird set of credits on Southwest that have to be used by May of next year, and, being teachers, we can’t really see an opportunity to use them. So my wife, Christy, keeps looking at flights and attempting to see what will work. We’ve looked at other locations, quick trips in the near future, and essentially come to the conclusion to just hold on to them. We actually look at Universal, but reservations aren’t available for our dates, August 2 to August 6. So, we put it on hold.

July 22, 2014

We resolved to wait, but I checked the website. And inputted the dates. And something strange happened. I asked my wife again which hotel it was. Frankly, I still have no idea which hotels are which. Except Cabana Bay. That sticks out in my brain. “Loews Royal Pacific,” she retorts. Which shows up on the list. For our departure in ten days. After a quick look back and forth, we go to work.

iPad in her hands and computer in mine, we are assembling. I’ve inputted the dates into the Universal site, and quickly updated that to show the Harry Potter package and reservations for breakfasts on two days. Christy has the Southwest site. And it’s giving major headaches. It turns out that each reservation can only use four methods of payment per reservation, and we have five people in our party. After contacting Southwest, I decide to plan our trip in three chunks – including one adult and one young child in each reservation. I’m starting to stress that once I book one reservation, and the other spots will become unavailable or more expensive. It means sacrificing the smallest credits, but we should all be able to book. I’ve got two browsers open on the computer, and the iPad working, and I’m able to reserve all of the spots! I turn to the computer and prepare to pay. For the reservation that no longer exists. I’ve been logged out.

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Disney World Planning Challenges: Tough-to-Get Reservations—From FastPass+ to Dining

by on September 17, 2014

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Sign. Photo by Katie McNair

Photo by Katie McNair

Even with lots of research, some aspects of a Walt Disney World vacation are—let’s just say—resistant to planning. In fact, they can seem like downright mysteries to first-time vacationers and expert Disney World planners alike. A major challenge when planning a Disney World vacation is successfully reserving tough-to-get experiences that become available for booking at unpredictable times initially, book up extremely quickly, or both. Although there is no surefire way to snag these reservations, there are some ways to improve your chances.

First, though, it can be helpful for you to have a bit of background on the experiences that have given or are currently giving planners the most difficulty.

Hard-to-Get Reservations

Photo by Sarah Graffam

Photo by Sarah Graffam

Currently topping the list of difficult-to-get reservations are FastPass+ reservations for Meet Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. In addition, obtaining reservations at Magic Kingdom’s Be Our Guest Restaurant can be a real challenge.

Experiences that have proven difficult for guests to book in the past and that can still present a challenge in some cases include FastPass+ for popular rides like Epcot’s Soarin’ and Test Track as well as Toy Story Mania at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, FastPass+ for parades and nighttime shows, FastPass+ for shows at special events such as Star Wars Weekends, reservations for the Frozen Summer Fun Premium Package, reservations at Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party, and, the original most-difficult-to-get reservation, dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table restaurant.

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Disney Princess Dress (and other Costume) FAQ

by on September 17, 2014

t_logo_fbWith Halloween just around the corner, it’s time to take another look at the Disney Princess Dress situation. This is an update of my 2012 article on the state of the princess dress, with new photos, pricing, resources, and details on the all important FROZEN dress situation. So put on your tiara and polish your crystal plastic shoes, ’cause here we gooooo.

Do most girls wear princess dresses at Walt Disney World?

When you’re just walking around the park, you’ll see just a small percentage of girls ages about 3 to 8 wearing princess costumes, maybe 5%. However, there are some places at the parks where the percentage of girls in princess attire will be much higher. My non-scientific, personal observation is that something along the lines of 50-60% of the preschool and elementary age girls at the princess-themed character meals will be wearing princess dresses. Note that this also means that 40-50% of the girls there will NOT be wearing gowns. Very few girls older than age 8 or 9 will be wearing princess dresses at meals, or anywhere else.

Something on the order of 80% of the girls getting makeovers at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (BBB) will be sporting some form of princess attire. Similarly, something on the order of 80-90% of the children attending Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party will be wearing costumes. These might be princess gowns, but could just as easily be something else entirely.

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Offsite Options: Rope Drop Rules

by on September 16, 2014

As avid Disney fans know, the Unofficial Guide recommends arriving at the gate of Walt Disney World’s theme parks 30–40 minutes before park opening during mid-summer months, and 45–60 minutes before park opening during the holiday season. The introduction of FastPass+ into touring strategies, however, may lead some to question whether arriving this early, i.e., for rope drop, is as important as it used to be. After all, if you can make your attraction selections in advance, why go through the “hassle” of arriving at the crack of dawn?

Though I would argue getting to the parks early is important for all guests, this article will examine why it is especially important for offsite guests. I’ll identify some of the benefits to “rope-dropping” as an offsite guest, and encourage you to at least give rope drop a try during your next Walt Disney World experience.

First!

First! – © John Kivus, 2013

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Putt Putting Around the World (Walt Disney World, That Is!)

by on September 10, 2014

2014-05-22 15.47.28

On our last trip to Disney World we decided to utilize one of our Magic Your Way perks: the free round of miniature golf. There are two mini golf courses on Disney property: Fantasia Gardens near the Swan Resort and Winter Summerland near Blizzard Beach water park. We opted for Winter Summerland since last year we gave Fantasia Gardens a whirl.

Mini Golf at a Glance

Price: The costs for one round are $14.00 per adult and $12.00 per child (aged 3 to 9). Vouchers for play are included in some Magic Your Way vacation packages, and Annual Passholders and DVC members are eligible for discounts. There is often a discount for replaying. The price is slightly less than at Hollywood Drive-In Mini Golf at Universal Orlando’s CityWalk, but, to be fair, that course is much newer (and nicer).

Hours: 10:00 AM to 11:00 PM daily

Transportation: Free parking is available if you choose to drive yourself. For Disney transportation, take a bus to Blizzard Beach for Winter Summerland. For Fantasia Gardens, take a bus to the Walt Disney World Swan; Fantasia Gardens is located across Epcot Resorts Boulevard from the Swan, near the tennis courts shared by the Swan and Dolphin hotels. Note that Blizzard Beach closes for maintenance for most of January, February, and March, so bus service will not be available then. Ask at your hotel if there are options for arriving by Disney Transportation.

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Touringplans #Everywhere – Cruising for Larger Families and Families With Special Needs

by on September 9, 2014

We’ll take seats for five please

I’m excited to announce that our assignment is the 7-night Western Caribbean Cruise aboard Disney’s ship, Fantasy. The mission: to plan the trip and write about it to help others plan their own Disney Cruise Line adventures and learn from our mistakes. You’ve seen my colleagues write about their trips to Disney destinations in California, Tokyo, and everywhere in between, so I will write about the aspects of our trip that make it unique.

The world was built for a family of four – especially when you travel

My brother-in-law used to say this, having experienced life with a wife and three kids. Cars, hotels, and restaurants are designed for parties of 4. He was right. The Hazelton/Brazeau group is a party of five, so one of our first struggles in the planning process was to pick a stateroom that would accommodate us. The group includes me (Fred), my two sons Bram (age 13) and Alec (age 11), my wife Chantale (age censored), and her son, Matice (age 9). The most economical of Disney’s stateroom options for a family of five are the Deluxe Family Oceanview Staterooms that sleep 5 (category 8) or two adjoining Standard Inside Staterooms that sleep 4 (category 11). Although a Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah was a hundred dollars less than two adjoining inside staterooms, we chose to get the two rooms. Our feeling was that with the age of the kids, the negligible cost difference and having the second bathroom made it the smarter choice for us. Plus, if the kids need an escape from us or we need an escape from them, having the second stateroom provides a nice separator.

Alec (left) and Matice

Alec (left) and Matice

Alec was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus and, although ambulatory, does have some mobility issues. We are interested to see how easy or difficult it will be for him to manoeuvre around the ship, especially if the seas are rough. Our choices of Port Adventures may be limited, as well, to those that don’t involve a lot of walking. Beach days, Jeep tours, and boat excursions will be a lot better for us than climbing ruins or walking tours. He’s an easygoing kid, though, so he will likely be just as happy to spend the week alternating between the buffet and the Edge Club.

 

Stay tuned for more about our trip and the other Touringplans #Everywhere trips, the planning, the during and the aftermath.

[Our cruise departs on October 11, 2014, from Port Canaveral. If you happen to be sailing on that cruise with us, please let us know.]

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Packing It All In: How to Fit a Week of Disney Fun into Two Suitcases (With a Family of Four!)

by on September 5, 2014

Do you remember the carefree days of air travel, when each member of your party would board the aircraft with large pieces of luggage, plus carry-on and personal item? Travelers had so much room in their baggage, they had the luxury of packing for every contingency, as well as all of the comforts of home. Ah, the good ol’ days.

Fast forward to today, where airlines have started charging a la carte for everything from snacks and seat upgrades to baggage. Most airlines are currently charging $25 and up for a checked bag (and some are even charging for carry-on baggage, too). Unless you don’t plan to bring any of your items home with you, those fees are doubled for round-trip. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend that money on Mickey Ice Cream Bars and Vinylmation figurines on my Disney vacation.

So how can you limit the amount of baggage (and fees) for a family of four heading to a 7-night trip to Disney World? I will show step by step how my family managed to pack it all in to two checked bags and four carry-ons.

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