Trip Planning

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

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.]

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

SeaWorld Tours: Beluga Interaction and Wild Arctic

by on September 4, 2014

Today we’ll explore a couple of SeaWorld Orlando’s remarkable behind-the-scenes tours: the Beluga Interaction Program and the Wild Arctic Tour. These are two of the many tours SeaWorld offers which include animal interactions.

SeaWorld beluga whale Aurek and guest during the Beluga Interaction Tour. Photo by Thomas Cook

SeaWorld beluga whale Aurek and guest during the Beluga Interaction Tour. Photo by Thomas Cook

It’s pretty obvious that meeting beluga whales, seals, and walruses up-close in the wild is nearly impossible, especially since they mostly live the north of the Arctic Circle. Even getting to their habitat is a remarkable journey.

SeaWorld Orlando’s Wild Arctic attraction will be celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2015, but it remains an interesting and popular venue. It offers an exciting flight-simulator helicopter ride to the Arctic that drops guests off at Station Wild Arctic, designed to appear like a 19th century wooden sailing ship that was stranded and crushed by sea ice. Inside the ruins of the ship are places to view belugas and walruses both above and below the water line.

The two tours take place in Wild Arctic, and both are excellent for children, adults and families. Both are very different in nature, however.

The Beluga Interaction Program is about as immersive as you can get when it comes to a theme park tour. Often mistakenly called dolphins, belugas are from a different family in the sub order of toothed whales. They share their family with narwhals, another remarkable Arctic species.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

Universal Orlando Early Park Admission Changes Starting September 2 [UPDATED 8/30/14]

by on August 30, 2014

Early Park Admission Sign

Big changes are coming in September to Universal Orlando’s Early Park Admission perk (Photo by Seth Kubersky)

As the summer season comes to a close, we’ve gotten word of some upcoming changes to Universal Orlando Early Park Admission policies that are scheduled to go into effect early next month.

While no details have been officially announced, we’ve confirmed this information with guest service leads at both parks, and we believe the following modifications will be made to Universal Orlando’s early park admission perk (otherwise known as “early entry” or “early admission”) offered to guests at the resort’s four on-site hotels.

We will be on hand to report on the new procedures, and we will update the information on our Early Park Admission page as policy changes develop.

[Note: Universal Orlando has recently confirmed an update to the off-season early entry, see below for bolded changes]

Early Park Admission General Information

Universal Orlando offers admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas at Islands of Adventure (Hogsmeade) and/or Universal Studios Florida (Diagon Alley) one hour before regular park opening. This perk is given for free to all guests staying at a Universal Resort Hotel. Guests with certain types of “vacation packages” (most commonly sold by Universal Parks & Resorts Vacations and involving both accommodations at a Universal partner hotel and theme park admission) are also allowed in early.

The turnstiles to the park(s) participating in early entry should open approximately 90 minutes before the official opening time. Both hotel and day guests will be admitted to the park, and each eligible guest will need to show his or her own room key to pass beyond the park’s entry plaza during the early admission hour. Guests not eligible for early admission will be held in an alternative area to await the official opening time.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

Animal Kingdom Touring: How a Touring Plan Can Help

by on August 27, 2014

I have grown to love all of the parks at Disney World, but the one that took me the longest to befriend was Animal Kingdom. It’s not that I don’t love the theme (what’s not to love about animals?). It’s not that I don’t love the attractions (Kilimanjaro Safaris and Finding Nemo the Musical are two of the best things at any park, in my opinion.) It’s that I’m always feeling the pressure of the time schedule.

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

I just love the gorillas along the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, one of my favorite YOPAs.

Animal Kingdom is made up of three types of attractions. The first (and most prevalent) is Your Own Pace Attractions (let’s call these YOPA, just for fun). These are experiences that take varied amounts of time, depending on your pace and interest level. The YOPA list is long:

 

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

Disney World Ticket Scams

by on August 26, 2014

Disclaimer: While I am a Cast Member, I do not speak for the Walt Disney Company. The following information is based on my own experience and does not necessarily reflect the Walt Disney Company’s policies. Please see the Walt Disney World website for official rules and regulations regarding ticket use.

I’m always on the hunt for a bargain, and I’m willing to take some risks to get one–my recent purchase of clearance yogurt comes to mind. However, Walt Disney World tickets are not the purchase to mess with. I work as a vacation planner (read: ticket seller) at the Transportation and Ticket Center, and I’ve witnessed the many ways guests have tried to game the system to avoid paying full price for tickets. Here’s a quick list of the most frequent Disney World ticket scams and why you should avoid them:

Disney World ticket scams

Beware “Cheap Tickets.” They’re especially scary at night. Photo by Maddi Higgins

Used Tickets

Somebody bought a 7-day ticket, only used 5 of the days. Why not hand those two days off to somebody else and get a little extra cash? Then you can pick up those extra days at Cheep Ticketz on 192 for a major discount.

Why you shouldn’t try it:

The only way to know if a ticket has any entitlements left is through Disney. So when you stop at Tickets ‘R Us on 192, you’ll have to take their word that there are any days left on the ticket. You also have no idea if the person who originally purchased the ticket also got the No Expiration option; if not, the days on the ticket expired 14 days after first use. The biometric scanning information is connected to the ticket, so if you have a different finger than the original user, you will not get through the touch point. So unless your used ticket comes with the chopped-off index finger of the original owner, you won’t have much luck getting into the parks.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

Planning for Disney World – without fail

by on August 22, 2014

I may have a problem.

On our first trip as a family to Disney World in 2009, I bought a stack of books. I won’t even mention the amount I spent, but it was exorbitant. And crazy. And when I flipped through all of them, I just hungered for more information. So I flipped through websites, joined Disney posting boards, and generally dug through nearly every possible nugget I could find. I joined the touringplans.com site, and planned multitudes of options based on our plan. I may have also planned a back-up plan. Or five. And still, I felt ill-prepared.

A small assortment from my Disney World library

A small assortment from my Disney World library. Don’t worry. I have the 2013 version as an e-book.

I probably have a problem.

When I got to the end of it, I realized a few things. Frankly, planning can’t plan for every single unforeseen circumstance. But it did really help to negotiate my trip, and get real information from every place I could. Planning for Disney World can be overwhelming, but calming down, and making quick choices can make for a better vacation for everyone. While sorting through all of it caused me headaches – certainly you can learn from my advice.

First – visit the library. Yes, the library. It’s free! Grab as many of the outdated books you can, and flip through them. Certainly don’t dig through all of them with any vigor – but at least to get an idea of the parks, and a generalized set of information. Background helps.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

Five Simple Ways to Save over $500 on Your Next Disney World Vacation

by on August 21, 2014

Save Money On A Disney World Vacation

Follow these simple tips to save some of these!

There are several ways to save money on a Disney World vacation. The most obvious are getting a great deal on your airfare, traveling during the off season, choosing to stay at a less expensive hotel, using the Disney Ticket Calculator to purchase your admissions and eating at economical restaurants. But what do you do if you’ve done all of this and you still need to cut your budget? Well, I’ve got you covered, my friends! Here are five simple and painless ways to save over $500 on your next Disney World vacation.

Before We Begin

For each of these five tips, let’s assume we are a family of four traveling to Disney World for a one week (seven night, six day) vacation. Our sample family includes Mr. Smith, Mrs. Smith, little Susie (age 6) and little Tommy (age 3). We’ll first do the math for full price at Disney World and then compare it to the math with our tip in place. Prepare to be amazed!

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print

Disney World: Getting the Most of Cast Members

by on August 17, 2014

What do the following three questions have in common?

Tinkerbell in a thoughtful moment. Photo by Thomas Cook

Tinkerbell in a thoughtful moment. Photo by Thomas Cook

  • Is the rain real?
  • Is Mickey Mouse a cat or a dog?
  • What time is the Three O’clock Parade?

Answer: They are all questions I was asked as a Walt Disney World cast member.

I hope it’s clear that these questions are not exactly the best questions to ask a cast member. I don’t mean to imply anything about the guests who asked these questions, especially since the parade question is one I got asked once a week or so over a number of years.

This article is not about questionable questions. It’s about how you should ask cast members about park information. It seems like a simple issue, but any longtime cast member will tell you their many stories of frustrating guests and their questions.

Read the rest of this entry »

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Pinterest
  • Print