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Observations From Visiting 3 Different Disney Resorts in 16 Days

by on November 4, 2016

Sleeping Beauty Castle ParisMy wife and I recently decided to visit Paris for a week, and as you may be aware, there is a Disney resort there — so being the complete Disney dorks that we are, paying a visit to Disneyland Paris was a must-do. Of course, our daughter was staying in the Orlando area with her grandparents and we had to come back through there to get her, so we decided to pay the Mouse a quick visit at Walt Disney World while we got over our jetlag. Shortly after arriving back home, I had to head out to Southern California for work, and it presented me with an opportunity — even if only briefly — to visit my third Disney resort in just over 2 weeks. I had to take it.

So, apart from the whirlwind of travel, what is it like to experience every Disney resort in the Western Hemisphere back-to-back-to-back? The three resorts share similar layouts and several attractions, but my biggest takeaway is how much it highlighted the differences between these outwardly similar parks. So, without further ado, let me share some of the biggest stuff I noticed, and pass out a few superlatives…

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Flying Southwest Airlines Like a Boss

by on October 31, 2016

Southwest logo

© Southwest Airlines Co.

Many of you are close enough to Orlando to drive down when you visit Walt Disney World or Universal Studios Orlando, but for the rest of us, flying is the only viable option. Southwest Airlines is Orlando International Airport’s largest carrier, and between that and the traffic I often see on Disney trip planning forums and Facebook groups, I know that many of you will be using Southwest to get to Orlando. As you may be aware,  however, Southwest operates a little differently than other airlines, and that can make flying with them a bit confusing to the uninitiated. I happen to fly on Southwest a ton — I am at their highest loyalty tier, in fact — and wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences about Southwest and how to get the most out of your travel experience with them.

Booking

First, the basics: Southwest fares fall into three categories:

  • Wanna Get Away? Fares are the cheapest fares, and they are more likely to be available the earlier you book. You can sometimes find them close to your travel date, but if your goal is to pay as little as possible, booking at the earliest possible opportunity is going to get you the best prices as even the price of these fares tends to rise as you get closer to your departure date. They are nonrefundable, but you can cancel them and get a credit for a future flight or switch to another flight just by paying the difference in fare. These fares tend to be at most approximately 50% less than the refundable fares, but they can be even cheaper, particularly during fare sales.
  • Anytime fares are fares that can be refunded for cash if your plans change and you need to cancel your flights. They are significantly more expensive than Wanna Get Away fares, and are the cheapest fares you are most likely to see if you’re booking within a week or so of departure.
  • Business Select fares are the most expensive fares, and they tend to be $20 or so more expensive than an Anytime fare. They are also fully refundable, and they additionally entitle you to one free drink and allow you to be one of the first 15 people on the plane. This early boarding perk is far more important on a Southwest flight because of their open seating policy, which I’ll explain in a bit more detail below.

The easiest way to book is on Southwest’s web site. The booking screen looks like this:

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Brick or Treat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort

by on October 26, 2016

2016-10-23-16-05-49A recent comment from another parent said it all: “When they call it Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, they’re not talking about the price. That truly IS scary!” Even going to one of the most affordable nights (back near the beginning of September), it is a pretty hefty price tag to attend the evening event. This year, we expanded our Halloween celebrations by taking a trip down to LEGOLAND for their “Brick or Treat” event.

Brick or Treat is included with your regular admission, and is a daytime event held on weekends in October and on Halloween day. The park is open from 10 AM to 8 PM. There are events throughout the day, but many of the events occur in the afternoon. Here’s some of the highlights.

Oversized LEGO Sculptures

It wouldn’t be a LEGO park without impressive displays of those signature bricks. From a gigantic Jack-o-Lantern to a 13-foot model of the Monster Fighters set No. 9464 (the Vampyre Hearse), there are some great photo ops that are only available this time of year.

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Costume Parade

Beginning at 4 PM, there are costume parades (4 PM for ages 4 and under, 5 PM for ages 5-7, and 6 PM for ages 8-12). It may not be the Boo to You parade, but every child who participates receives a small gift.

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“Frameable” Disney: Photography Tips for Your Next Disney Vacation

by on October 25, 2016

Let’s be honest: how many of us have come home from Walt Disney World and realized that you experienced 85% of your vacation through a camera lens? (You can’t see me, but I’m definitely raising my hand.) I usually get so caught up in capturing every detail while I’m on a Disney vacation that I don’t think much about exactly why I’m taking pictures in the first place.

As great as it is to look back on photos from every parade, show and character meet and greet, I’m willing to bet that you don’t want to print out a 12”x16” of Pluto prancing down Main Street, U.S.A. and frame it above your mantle (or maybe you do, and in that case carry on). But instead of going shutter happy during Wishes on your next Disney vacation, focus on snapping a few well-thought out photos that you would consider “frameable”. This can help you feel less stressed about capturing every moment and give you a few great souvenirs that cost much less than that Disney home decor you’ve been eyeing.

Lost as to where to begin in your hunt for “frameables”? Here are a few ideas to get you going!

Doors of Disney | Great for: framed posters, canvas collages

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The idea that started it all! I spent an entire Disney vacation taking a picture of every door I could find and the collage turned out to be such a great momento of our vacation. If you print this one out as a collage and hang it in your house, it’s a great conversation starter and a way to subtly display a little Disney.
Photography Tip: When taking door photos, center the doors in every photograph and make sure they don’t fill the whole frame. Leave yourself some room to crop so your doors don’t turn out different sizes when collaging.

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Julia’s Best Week Ever, October 20, 2016: Even the Worst is the Best!

by on October 20, 2016

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Or in this case, which blogger came up with the idea of trying to find really bad ideas at Disney, Derek and his Value Resorts Bar Crawl or the concept for this week’s Best Week Ever? The world may never know. (That is, if the world is lucky, we’ll never know.) Somewhere along weekly discussions with my family and flipping through the 2017 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, I discovered what I assumed was a glaring error. The Mad Tea Party, one of my favorite rides of all time, is one of the lowest-rated attractions in the Magic Kingdom. In between Kermit-like arm flailing as I tried to explain to my husband just how much of an injustice this is, the idea came up: Could a day doing the worst that Walt Disney World has to offer still be not only good, but the Best Week Ever? Challenge accepted.

Looking at the rankings for attractions, we knew we could get our fill with a day split between Magic Kingdom and Epcot. After parking our car at Epcot, we hopped on the monorail and made our way towards the Transportation and Ticket Center and then on to Magic Kingdom.

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On the way over, I booked FastPass+ times for the attractions we planned to hit. The benefit of going for “the worst” means that it’s pretty easy to get FastPass+ times. It was still fairly early as we took our walk down Main Street USA, but the blue skies and pops of fall color easily brings a smile to your face.

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Disney Maladies (and How To Treat Them)

by on October 18, 2016

TouringPlans logoWalt Disney World has a deserved reputation as one of the most fun places you can visit, but what is lesser known is the litany of ailments such a trip can cause. Did you know, for example, that more children come down with a case of Gigantusmusophobia at Walt Disney World than any other location? Disney maladies are an under-recognized threat to your vacation experience.  

You need not, however, waste your entire vacation in the infirmary. Read on to learn how to quickly identify and treat common Disney ailments!  

Overplanning Paralysis

 

This level of detail might be overkill...

This level of detail might be overkill…

I often tell people that there are few places on planet Earth that reward a little bit of advance planning like Walt Disney World. It can, however, most definitely be overdone. What’s worse, you can find yourself so wracked with indecision that you can’t do anything and you’ve sucked all of the fun out of the trip before it’s even begun.

The prescription for this ailment, simply stated, is to relax. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: the overwhelming majority of people that go to Walt Disney World do so with little or no planning and they still have a great time, so the fact that you’re aware of the benefit of planning ahead puts you in a better position that all of those people. Embrace this truism now: there is no single planning decision that you make that will make having fun impossible, nor can a single decision guarantee you The Best Trip Ever. Armed with that knowledge, there is no need to needlessly fret over whether you’ve reserved the right restaurant for lunch, or whether you’ve picked the right attraction for your FastPass+ reservations. You’ve probably done just fine.  

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Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! Nighttime Spectacular to Debut at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

by on October 14, 2016

We all knew that there would be some major changes with the holiday experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, thanks to the retirement of The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights last year. This year, an all-new nighttime spectacular will debut to bring in merriment to the park.

Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! will premiere at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on November 14. This nighttime spectacular will feature a projection show, special effects, fireworks, and snow.

©Disney

©Disney

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Julia’s Best Week Ever, September 29, 2016: Magic Kingdom is Comfort Food

by on September 29, 2016

If I may wax philosophically for a second….

The idea of a Best Week Ever is a concept that exists somewhat in isolation. Each week is taken for what it is, not in comparison with those that come before nor held up as a benchmark for those that come afterwards. It isn’t something that you compare with other people–and yet as September rolled to a close, I heard from so many people that September was quite the problematic month. On my end, from layoffs at my day job to my ‘transient” diabetic cat suddenly becoming non-insulin dependent at 3 AM by entering near-fatal hypoglycemic shock (he’s fine now), my ideas of a “Best Week Ever” involved fluffy bunny slippers, a cup of tea, and non-stop Judge Judy reruns for a weekend. In other words, I needed a shot of my personal “comfort food”. Much as I love other parks, when it comes to that fluffy bunny slipper feeling, nothing beats the old favorites at Magic Kingdom. So, Saturday night, we headed over for an evening of R&R, comfort food style.

On our way over, my husband noted that there was a DeLorean behind us. There’s a decent group of DeLorean owners in the area, but when he said “Pull out the camera–you’re not going to believe this…” I knew it had to be a bit unusual. I was able to get one quick snap as it zipped by us. I didn’t see if it was Doc or Marty behind the wheel, though.

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When we arrived and parked at the Transportation and Ticket Center, we had the choice of Ferry Boat or….well, Ferry Boat it was. Even though the day had been warm, there was a nice breeze with just the hint of fall cool weather hidden in it.

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Disney History: The Carthay Circle Theater

by on September 28, 2016

carthay

Carthay Circle Theater

Do you remember the first Disney movie you saw in theaters? I sure do! Even though that first time was years ago, I still love going to see Disney’s film at the theater, and I bet you fellow Disney fans do too! But have you ever thought of the first theater to ever show a Disney movie?

That honor belongs to the Carthay Circle Theater which was the site of the premiere for the first full length animated film in history, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. While the actual Carthay Circle Theater is no longer standing, it lives on in the Disney Parks! In this article, I’m taking a closer look at the presence of this historical theater at both the Disney California Adventure Park at the Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios in Disney History: The Carthay Circle Theater.

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Inside the Carthay Circle Restaurant

History of the Carthay Circle Theater

The Carthay Circle Theater first opened its doors in 1926 in Los Angeles, California. The design of theater was a tribute to California’s history with its Mission Revival style of architecture and interior paintings and artwork. It’s glittering sign, iconic octagonal bell tower, and sweeping floodlights could be seen from afar and served as the backdrop for a number of Hollywood premieres that rivaled that of Grauman’s Chinese Theater at the time. In addition to hosting the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiere in 1937, the Carthay Circle Theater also hosted the premieres for Gone with the Wind in 1939 and Fantasia in 1940.

These premieres were elaborate affairs. For the opening of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a replica of the dwarfs’ cottage and diamond mine was constructed. Costumed characters from the film also entertained guests in attendance, and welcomed celebrities such as Shirley Temple, Charlie Chaplin, and Ginger Rodgers!

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Top 6 Overlooked Restaurants

by on September 23, 2016

One of the toughest choices to make regarding a Walt Disney World vacation is deciding where to eat. With all the options available at this amazing resort, it’s overwhelming for anyone planning their trip, whether they’re first-time visitors, or seasoned annual passholders. If you’ve done your research, you’ll see the pattern of some of the same names coming up over and over again in reviews and recommendations (Be Our Guest, Chef Mickey’s, Le Cellier, etc).

Disney Dining DonaldBut hopefully, after reading this article, I can introduce to some of Walt Disney World’s unsung restaurant heroes. I have selected my own top six overlooked restaurants at Walt Disney World. Each of these offers great food, value, and even atmosphere but somehow seem to get left out of the top popular recommendations. The plus side, is that because these are often overlooked, that means they are often less crowded and have open reservation availability. These aren’t ranked in any particular order, and range between table service and quick service, but you’ll find one selection from each park, a resort, and Disney Springs.

 

 

Animal Kingdom

First up, the overlooked restaurant in Animal Kingdom, Yak and Yeti. With all of the publicity of the newly opened Tiffin’s and the standing popularity of Rainforest Café, Yak and Yeti often gets forgotten as a wonderful table service option. As far as atmosphere, there are two levels to the restaurant with multiple rooms on each level, and each room is adorned with unique, ornate decorations. Every detail leaving the guest of an experience of actually eating in a quaint restaurant in Asia.

As for the menu, it definitely offers some unique Asian fusion options that you find everywhere. Some guests may pass by Yak and Yeti because the menu seems too ethnic or daunting for their taste buds. Any guest who does venture in will be richly rewarded.  I can honestly account that the Kobe Beef Burger I had here was the best burger I’ve had anywhere. So, if you’re in Animal Kingdom, or looking for a fun and rewarding dining experience, be sure to not to overlook Yak and Yeti.

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