by Emily Woesthoff
on October 4, 2012
The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is many things. A drinker’s paradise, an adventurous eater’s heaven, and a vegan’s worst nightmare. I know, it’s blasphemy to not be completely head-over-heels in love with the yearly foodfest that draws so many visitors to The World Showcase Promenade, so hate me if you must. I have to admit that up until this year, the Food & Wine Festival was probably my least favorite time of the year at Walt Disney World. Why, you ask? It boiled down to pure jealousy. Hearing everyone rave about all of the options they were exploring from different countries, spooning edible culture into their mouths as I sat chomping on a plain pretzel just seemed unfair. That is, of course, until this year.
Now, I can’t claim to have singlehandedly strong-armed Epcot into having vegan options at the International Food & Wine Festival. However, I also can’t deny sending numerous e-mails, and making a few (ok, a lot of) “suggestions” regarding the lack of vegan options available around the ‘Showcase. And as Disney magic would have it, the fine folks at F&W dreamed up Terra, a brand new marketplace for 2012 in which all of the food options, yes, I said all of the food options, are vegan!
The marketplace itself is presented by Gardein, a brand of mock meats with which I am quite well acquainted. Gardein is a favorite among vegans for meat alternatives, and offers meatless meatballs, chick’n strips, and barbecue riblets just to name a few. The Terra menu features two items: Trick’n Chick’n Curry and Chili Colorado, each priced at $3.75. Each item is paired with a wine option, but please be forewarned: neither of the wines offered, the Paul Dolan Sauvignon Blanc nor the Paul Dolan Pinot Noir is vegan. The Honest Kids Super Fruit Punch and Silk brand Berry Smoothie, however, are totally vegan so you can get your G-rated drink on!
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by Seth Kubersky
on July 30, 2012
All photos copyright Disney (unless otherwise noted)
The world's attention turned to London this week, but that didn't stop heavy crowds from continuing to head to Disneyland Resort.
Quietest Day: Friday 7/27 was a 9 out of 10 at the resort, with DCA crowds at 8.6 and Disneyland Park at 9.2.
Busiest Day: Tuesday 7/24 and Thursday 7/26 were both a 10 out of 10 at the resort, with DCA crowds at 9.8 and Disneyland Park at 9.7.
Subscribe to the TouringPlans.com Disneyland Crowd Calendar for details on predicted crowds for the next 30 days.
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by Erin Foster
on February 29, 2012
When your neighbor/sister/boss/dog-walker tells you that a particular Disney resort is the “best,” take that information with a grain of salt. What’s best for you might be entirely different from what’s best for them, based on your unique vacation needs. In this Number Crunching series, I’ve been taking a look at ways to quantify the resort decision process, taking some of the guesswork out of which resort is best based on various criteria. In previous weeks, I’ve looked at resort choice based on number of beds and on transportation. Today I’m discussing square footage, the amount of space you get for your dollar at the Disney resorts.
A single, park-touring commando might not care how much space is in his hotel room. He’ll be conquering the mountains from sun-up to sundown. All he needs is a bed and a bathroom, which he’ll barely see in the light of day. However, many other guests will choose maximizing the amount of space they’ll have in their hotel room as their key value or decision factor.
Guests who want to maximize space might include:
- overseas guests making Walt Disney World their “home” for an extended stay
- parents of small children who will be spending long hours in the room while junior is napping
- larger-sized guests who take up physically more space
- guests with substantial amounts of luggage
- guests who will be using a crib in the room
- guests who have equipment such as wheelchairs, high chairs, strollers, car seats, or other bulky items
If you’re a 300 pound linebacker with a basketball star wife and two toddlers with a crib and two strollers, technically you can book yourselves into a room at the Pop Century. But when you’re that linebacker, camped out during a nap time of a 10-day stay, you’re going to feel A LOT more cramped in your value resort room than would a gymnast-sized single mom with a petite eight-year-old at the parks for just a weekend.
What's unique about the studios here? They've got the highest price per square foot of a regular room on Disney property.
Let’s call our fictional linebacker family the Wilsons. They hate feeling cramped, thus their highest priority in choosing a resort is maximizing their room’s square footage. Our mission is to help them get the most amount of space for their money. And yes, in some circumstances it might make financial sense for a family such as the Wilsons to get two connecting rooms instead of one. For the sake of simplification, we’re going not to consider this option (connecting rooms are not guaranteed). If you find yourself in a similar situation, this is an avenue you may want to pursue on your own. Similarly, there are obviously off-site accommodation options that guests such as the Wilsons might consider; having the Disney numbers in hand will give them a starting point and a basis for comparison.
I created a spreadsheet that includes each of the Disney resorts with their most typical room configurations. I added the average square footage available for each room type, as published in the 2012 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. (You can also find a wonderful visual representation of comparative room size in the TouringPlans post “What Your Get for Your Money – Resorts“.) Suites and club-level rooms are not included because a) these rooms tend to be more expensive, and the Wilsons are budget conscious and b) accurate square footage information is not readily available for all of the many hundreds of unique room types on property. Sorry folks, I had to simplify a bit to keep my brain from exploding.
I added data for maximum room occupancy. This does not include the additional child under the age of three allowed in most rooms. Obviously, if you have fewer people in your party than the room maximum, then you’ll each have a bit more living space.
Then I added room price. The price given is the 2012 rack rate published on the Walt Disney World website for weekdays during value season. Yes, it’s more expensive at other times of the year. Yes, smart shoppers can often find discounts. Regardless of these factors, the relative room ranking should remain consistent.
For those wishing to play along at home, here’s a downloadable version of the basic spreadsheet so that you can create your own data sorts. Fun, eh?
Walt Disney World Resort Room Square Footage Spreadsheet
Sort Rooms By Available Square Footage
Our first look is a ranking of rooms available at WDW, strictly by size. With an initial glance, there aren’t many surprises here. Rooms range from a serviceable 260 square feet at the value resorts to a gargantuan 2,491 square feet at a BoardWalk Grand Villa. Here are the rooms shown by size:
Room sort by size, page one. Click to enlarge.
Room sort by size, page two. Click to enlarge.
PDF version of Sort By Square Footage
Generally, the progression of size moves predictably from value to moderate to deluxe. What this sort allows you to do easily is see the size ranking of the deluxe resorts. There’s considerable variation between the Animal Kingdom and Wilderness Lodges, at 344 square feet, and the substantially larger 440 square feet at the Grand Floridian. That nearly 100 sq. ft. difference is the size of typical home office or child’s bedroom. You can park an ECV and a double stroller and a crib in that space and still have more usable living area than you would at the AKL.
Of particular note in the straight size sort, you’ll see that both the Fort Wilderness Cabins and the value resort family suites have more room than the Grand Floridian, by a factor of almost 20%. If maximizing space is your primary value criterion, then it makes sense to look more closely at those options.
Sort Room By Price Per Square Foot
It’s great to know which rooms are the largest, but that won’t matter much if you can’t afford the room. As a next step, we’ll look at rooms ranked by price per square foot.
Rooms sorted by price per square foot, page one. Click to enlarge.
Rooms sorted by price per square foot, page two. Click to enlarge.
PDF version of Resorts Sorted By Price Per Square Foot
When looking at resorts ranked by price per square foot, the utility of the All Star Music Family Suites becomes immediately clear. The price per square foot is in line with the other value resorts. For just pennies per square foot more, you get an additional bathroom and a kitchenette. Score! The price per square foot is also much lower at the family suites than at the somewhat similar Fort Wilderness cabins.
Of additional note is the stellar price per foot ranking of the one and two bedroom villas at Old Key West. These rooms beat out the price per square foot at the new Art of Animation resort, as well as all the other DVC villas. If you’re looking for space and villa amenities, Old Key West gives you plenty of bang for the buck.
Generally, the highest price per square foot will be found in the DVC villa studio rooms, with the Bay Lake Tower studios coming in dead last at $1.22 per square foot. If you just want space and a microwave, try the family suites. If you want deluxe amenities, a standard room at a deluxe resort is a considerably more cost effective use of space. If you’re paying cash rather than using DVC points, think long and hard before booking a villa studio.
Sort Rooms By Available Square Footage Per Person
Another way to look at rooms is by square feet available to each person. Again, if you have fewer people in the room, you’ll have more space. This look considers space available at maximum room occupancy.
PDF version of WDW Resorts Sorted By Square Feet Per Person
Square footage per person sort, page one. Click to enlarge.
Square footage per person, page two. Click to enlarge.
The big finding here is that you’ll get the least square footage per person not at a value resort, but in the five-person trundle bed rooms at Port Orleans Riverside. Packing five people into a moderate will feel slightly more crowded than having four at a value. Similarly, having five people in a deluxe room at the Yacht or Beach Club will feel equivalent to having four in a moderate at Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, or Port Orleans French Quarter.
For six-person rooms, the family suites have a wee bit more space than the Fort Wilderness Cabins, and as noted above, the suites have a better price per square foot.
Something Else to Consider
I have not mentioned outdoor space as a factor in room size. In practice, having some dedicated outdoor space can make your indoor space much more habitable. Nearly all of the deluxe resorts have patios or balconies to which the adults might retire while the children are falling asleep. The Fort Wilderness Cabins and the Saratoga Springs Treehouses, while large on their own, become positively palatial when you consider the associated outdoor picnic and lounge areas. Even rooms at the moderate and value resorts can feel larger if you request a ground floor room and bring a chair outside your door for a little evening reading and people watching.
However, as nice as it is to have the great outdoors at your feet, I caution you against placing too much emphasis on this. Having a balcony might be wonderful. It might also be perpetually wet, or buggy, or below 50 degrees, or well over 100 degrees, depending on when you visit. Check historic weather trends before factoring outdoor space into your personal equation.
Making Your Decision
Given their analysis, our hypothetical Wilson family decided to book a family suite at the All Star Music Resort. As a family of four, they could stay at a regular value resort room, but given their large spacial needs, they decided that they’d be much more comfortable with a suite. The Wilsons decided that the low cost per square foot and the high square footage per person (because they’re do not fill the room to its maximum occupancy) made the family suites a good value for their vacation.
So Disney peeps, if you were in their situation, would you make the same choice? How important is the space factor in your resort decision making? Are you secretly wondering how much it would cost to feed the children of a linebacker and a basketball star? Let us know in the comments below.
by Erin Foster
on January 17, 2012
Free and Disney are not normally words that you think of going together. Yet despite the generally pricey nature of Disney travel, there are plenty of free things to be had at Walt Disney World. Here’s a list of no-cost items both large and small that can enhance your Disney vacation experience.
- Sweets. More than 50% of the time I that I visit the Main Street Confectionery, there is cast member walking around with a tray full of samples for guest to try. I’ve tasted Krispie treats, cookies, bits of cake, and even cotton candy. Plus, there is almost always a tray of fudge samples sitting on top of the main display case. You won’t be able to fill up here like you might at your local Costco, but if you’re looking for just a bit of sweet to satisfy your palate after your meal, the Confectionery is the place for you.
Cotton candy samples at the Main Street Confectionary
- Soda. Stop by Club Cool at Epcot and drink your fill of eight flavors of Coke products from around the world. These range from the sweet Smart Watermelon from China to the bitter and, in my opinion, totally yummy, Beverly from Italy. The Club Cool drink stations are supplied with tasting-size cups, but you’re welcome to stay and taste as much as you want for as long as you want. I’ve even heard rumors about guests filling empty water bottles and taking their soda to go.
- Water. The water bottles sold throughout the parks cost about $2.50 each. If you want to hydrate for free, simply walk up to any counter service restaurant and ask for a cup of ice water. They’ll hand it over at no charge. Add a lid and a straw to your cup, and you’ve got almost the same level of portability as a bottle.
- Ice. When answering questions for the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, I have often seen questions from international guests asking if ice is available at the Disney hotels and how much it costs. They can rest assured that there are free ice machines at all the Walt Disney World resorts.
- Meals for infants and toddlers. Children under the age of three will not be charged for food at Disney’s buffet and family-style table service restaurants when dining with their families.
It’s a “toppings bar,” right?
- Salad. Several of the Disney World counter service restaurants feature a “toppings” bar with lovely fixin’s for your purchased burger: lettuce, tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, shredded cheese, and more. I’m not putting my personal stamp of approval on this one, but it is common knowledge in some circles that you can make yourself a substantial, and free, side dish for your meal from this quasi-salad-bar.
- Dining. Disney often uses free dining plan offers as lure to entice guests to visit during historically low-crowd times. If 2012 follows the pattern, it will be fairly easy to travel to Walt Disney World and receive free dining from mid-August through early October. However, there is a definite caveat emptor with this. Depending on your eating habits and where you stay, free dining might end up costing you. Check out Tom Bricker’s excellent analysis of whether free dining really makes sense.
- A cupcake. You say it’s your birthday? Yes, it’s your birthday (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). Tell your server at any table service restaurant and there’s a decent chance that she’ll gift you with a complimentary cupcake. No guarantees, but worth a shot.
- Celebration buttons. If you’re celebrating, be it a birthday, anniversary, first visit, family reunion, or anything else really, stop by the Guest Relations office at any of the theme parks and they’ll give you a free button with which to publicly proclaim your celebratory status.
If you’re celebrating, then you’re getting a free button.
- Stickers. If you spend a day a Disney World, a cast member will hand you a sticker, or possibly many stickers, white, round, and emblazoned with the smiling mug of Mickey Mouse. It’s just something that happens.
- Maps. You’re saying, “Yeah, so?” Well, park maps are a resource you shouldn’t overlook. Save them for your scrapbook. Frame them for playroom decor. Use them for small-item gift wrap. Turn foreign-language maps into a great teaching tool for your child’s school language lessons.
- Fireworks. You want to see the evening fireworks, but you don’t want to pony up for park admission? No problem, just head over to a nearby resort and watch from there. Great spots for Magic Kingdom fireworks viewing include the beach at the Polynesian and the bridge at the Contemporary between the main building and Bay Lake Tower. For Epcot fireworks, try the beach at the Beach Club or Boardwalk.
- Electrical Water Pageant. If you’re watching the fireworks outdoors at a Magic Kingdom area resort, stay after to watch the charming electric water pageant. This series of barges shows a sweet and simple light display synchronized to music while cruising around Bay Lake. Disney true confession time: This is one of my favorite attractions in all of Walt Disney World.
- Street performers. Weather permitting, you can find magicians, musicians, jugglers and more performing on the Boardwalk. Park yourself on a bench and enjoy the show.
- Campfire and movies. Again weather permitting, many resorts show free movies in the evening, often outdoors on the beach or by the pool. All are welcome, just give a call to your favorite resort and ask what’s playing. The most elaborate of these free movies is the nightly Chip & Dale campfire sing-along at Fort Wilderness. The chipmunks and a guitar-playing friend greet guests before the film.
Free movies at many resorts.
- Holiday decor. From mid-November through early January, Disney is dressed in its holiday finest. Much of the best holiday decor is located in the resorts: a life-sized gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian, a train display at the Yacht Club, a tree decorated with African ornaments at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and more. You’re welcome to stop and admire them with no charge.
- Play time. Do you have a Lego lover in your house? Stop by the Lego store at Downtown Disney. You can stay as long as you like, playing with unique Lego shapes and racing Lego cars.
- Animal viewing. If your kid is interested in animals, stop by the Animal Kingdom Lodge. There are many viewing stations where you can observe giraffes, zebras, and other exotic species for as long as you like. Come in the evening and you may be able to borrow night-vision goggles for viewing creatures in the dark.
- Park admission for preschoolers. The best reason ever to bring your two-year-old on vacation, kids under the age of three are allowed in the theme parks at no charge.
- Transportation to Walt Disney World. If you’re flying into Orlando International and staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel, Disney’s Magical Express service is included with your room. This free shuttle to and from the airport offers a savings of about $75 over taking a cab to the World, each way.
The Lego store is a great free play space.
- Transportation within Walt Disney World. Anyone who is partaking of any part of Walt Disney World is welcome to use any of the free on-property transportation, including, boats, monorails, and buses. You don’t have to be staying at a Disney hotel to qualify, you don’t even have to be visiting a theme park.
- Parking. Guests staying at Disney hotels can park for free at the theme parks. Off-site guests will pay $14 per day. Self-parking is free at all the Disney hotels and Downtown Disney.
- Photography. The PhotoPass photographers in the parks will take pictures with their cameras at no charge, but it will cost you big to actually buy the photos. Bypass this charge by asking the PhotoPass photographers to use your camera to take your picture. They’re happy to do it and most of them are pretty good at composing a shot; they do it all day long.
- Wi-Fi. This is a HUGE, HUGE, HUGE new development. There is now free in-room and public space wireless Internet service at the deluxe and convention center hotels. If your hotel hasn’t been upgraded to free Wi-Fi yet, feel free to camp out with your laptop or iPad in the lobby of any of the deluxe hotels. It’s a comfy place to get some work done.
- Package delivery. If you’ve taken the decidedly not-free step of buying merchandise in the parks, Disney will gladly take it off your hands so you can enjoy the rides, and more shopping, unencumbered. Packages can be sent for free to either a pick-up area at the front of the park, or even to your Disney hotel.
- Luggage storage. Check-out is at 11:00 a.m., but your flight’s not til 7:00 p.m.? No problem. Just drop your bags at the hotel Bell Services desk. They’ll hold your luggage in a secure location until your departure, at no charge.
- Luggage transfer. If you’re switching between two Disney hotels mid-trip, Bell Services will move your luggage between locales for you, for free.
So what am I missing? What have you found that’s consistently or surprisingly free at Walt Disney World? Let us know in the comments below.
UPDATE: We’ve complied an all new list of MORE free things at Walt Disney World. Check it out!
by Erin Foster
on November 17, 2011
Walt Disney World is a perfect vacation spot for families with young children. And, nature being what it is, people with young children often find themselves making more young children. This means that at any given time there are lots and lots of pregnant women at the Disney parks. Here are some tips for coping if one of them is you:
- Check in with your doctor. Yep, I mean it. Your doctor is the best source of information about travel safety for your unique health situation. She will probably giggle when you call to ask whether a trip to Disney is OK, but this is most definitely a better-safe-than-sorry situation.
- Be prepared for medical contingencies. Make sure to always have your doctor’s contact information, your health insurance card, and information about any medications that you’re taking, on your person, even in the parks. While the likelihood of your needing any of this is minimal, in the event of an emergency, you want make sure that your access to care goes as smoothly as possible. While you’re in diligence mode, spend a moment with the map of each park to note the location of the first aid center. If you’re experiencing discomfort or have a question, the wonderful cast members there can provide assistance or recommend sources of more comprehensive care.
The first aid center is your friend
- Keep cool. It’s no secret that Florida can be hot, hot, hot. With an already stressed body, overheating can lead to numerous problems for both mother and child. To keep your core tempertaure down, be sure to stay hydrated. In addition to the pricey water bottles for sale in the parks, you are welcome to bring you own water with you. The counter service restaurants will also give you free cups of ice water; just ask. You may want to consider other methods of cooling as well. Try carrying an umbrella or parasol as your own source of shade. Those misting fans are a great way to cool off. You can also place a commercial cool pack or even a wet washcloth on your neck. Try to make the entertainment focus of your trip indoor shows and attractions where you can sit in air-conditioned comfort. And even if you’re not a swimmer, you may want to consider taking a dip in your resort’s pool. In addition to being a great way to cool off, the weightlessness effect of the water can take a lot of pressure off your joints.
- Note restroom locations. If you’re staying hydrated, then you’re going to need to make some fairly frequent pitstops. Keep a park map handy and note the locations of restrooms. While oppressively long lines are uncommon in Disney bathrooms, you may encounter one or two during your trip. If you’re in a must-go situation, don’t be afraid to ask to cut to the front of the line. In my experience, many of the women in line ahead of you will be moms who completely understand.
- Plan rest times. TouringPlans almost always recommends that guests take a mid-day break from the parks. This goes double for pregnant women. Go back to your hotel. Put your feet up or take a nap. Even plan for a total relaxation day in the middle of your trip. Please.
Look for warning notices on attraction signs
- Heed the warnings. While most attractions at Walt Disney World are perfectly safe for any guest, there are a few that come with health warnings for pregnant women. Most of these are the obvious thrill rides, but some “tamer” rides also have warning notices. For example, the Kilimanjaro Safari at the Animal Kingdom has advisories against pregnant women riding because of the bumpy road surfaces and jarring movements of the jeep. This may seem silly, but why take chances that you don’t need to? Get informed by checking the signage at each ride.
- Pamper yourself. This is your vacation. Consider stopping by the Saratoga Springs Spa for an Expectant Mother Massage. Or hire a sitter for your older child and lounge with your hubby on the beach at the Polynesian while watching the fireworks. Sure it’s a splurge, but you’re worth it.
- Plan your lodging with comfort in mind. While you may be fine on a double bed at the Pop under most circumstances, this may be the trip in which you’ll be most happy if you upgrade to nicer digs. Those king-sized beds at the Contemporary truly are more comfortable. Or consider booking a one or two bedroom DVC villa. These are equipped with large jacuzzi-style tubs – absolute heaven when you’re exhausted. No matter where you stay, consider asking for a centrally located room, near the restaurants and transportation. The less walking you have to do at the hotel, the more energy you’ll have in the parks.
Keep cool in the pool
- Plan your food intake. Many pregnant women experience changes in their taste preferences. Take this into consideration when you’re planning your dining reservations. Perhaps your usual love of spicy Mexican food should be indulged on a future trip. Also, because of your temporarily restricted stomach capacity, you may be more comfortable having smaller meals or snacks throughout the day, rather than attempting to beat-the-buffet. This may influence your decision about whether to purchase the Disney Dining Plan. You should also remember that you are permitted to bring your own food with you into the parks (avoiding glass containers). Even if you don’t normally bring your own snacks with you, it may make sense to keep a supply of healthy, known palatables with you at all times.
- Beware the skunk. Just as many pregnant women have food sensitivities, they also may have scent sensitivities. Walt Disney World happens to be a very “smelly” place. From the perfume counters at Epcot’s France pavilion, to the faux chili dogs burped by Stitch in his Great Escape, and the aroma of skunk in the Journey to Imagination attraction, scents are used to enhance many park experiences. If you are in a phase where odors make you queasy, take extra care to become informed about which attractions have added aromas.
- Be aware of how much you’re walking. During my own pregnant trip to Walt Disney World, I was five months along with twins. I was in good health and well acquainted with the parks. On the first day of the trip, I toured at our usual pace – skipping from one end of the Magic Kingdom to the other to minimize wait times. At the end of the day, I felt like my knees and hips had become unhinged. I had forgotten that ligament-loosening hormones and extra weight completely changed the amount of stress regular activities would have on my body. Start slow and modify both your pace and distance traveled to accommodate your new shape. If you start to feel like walking is too much for you, wheelchairs are available for rental at the front of each park. There’s no shame in rest when you’re touring for two.
There are healthy snacks available in the parks
- Bring a book. You’ll be skipping the thrill rides on this trip, but that doesn’t mean your family members have to. Let them go ahead and conquer the Yeti on Expedition Everest while you take the opportunity to relax on a shady bench with a cool drink. Your family will feel much less guilty about leaving you behind for a bit if they know that Jodi Picoult is keeping you company.
So ladies – What have you done to make your pregnant park excursions more manageable? And gents – Do you have any advice for making the trip with a pregnant partner run smoothly. Let us know in the comments below.
by Evan Levy
on April 25, 2011
So you’re taking a family trip to Disney World. You’ve been planning A) since your daughter was born B) for the last nine years, three months, and eight days C) since your oldest child could utter the phrase “When am I meeting Mickey Mouse?”
In any event, it’s a done deal, and you’re going. After you tell the kids, there will be a lot of shrieks and gasps of joy and amazement.
Oh, yes–your kids will be happy too.
But wait! To make the most of the trip, make the most of the planning (and believe me, there will be planning). Take our advice and involve your kids in the process. The trip is partly/mostly/sort of for them, right? Kids love to be involved and to feel like their opinion matters–which it does. And if you play your cards right, it can even take some of the planning, fun as it is, off you. Remember: The point of involving kids is to get their input and make them feel a part of things; and to keep them busy and thus minimize the number of times they will ask how long it will be until they’re on the Dumbo ride.
First, though, the adults in the party need to make a few decisions—budgeting being chief among them. Are you staying at a value, moderate, or deluxe resort? How long are you going for? Hammer out the non-negotiable details first. Ready? Let’s begin.
Choosing your hotel
If you’re going to have kids help pick the hotel, that’s fine, but make sure ahead of time that you have several options in case your first one–or two—choices are booked. You need to do some of the legwork, looking at variables such as distance from the parks, whether you’re renting a car, and so forth.
Rule Number One: DO NOT GIVE KIDS TOO MANY CHOICES. Keep repeating that phrase to yourself. In the way of too many choices lies madness, and many migraines. This applies both to hotels as well as to everything else at Disney World and, quite frankly, in life. Offer two or three hotel choices, laying out the relevant features of each hotel. (Example: “I know these both look great. This hotel has a pool shaped like a piano and the other one has a pool shaped like a bowling pin.”)
One you’ve chosen and booked your hotel, it’s time to start thinking about meals, so on to…
Unless you are a completely spontaneous type of family for whom food is not a priority, you’re probably going to want to book some meals. Dining reservations fill up quickly, and you can book 180 days ahead of time, so get ready. Figure out if you’re going to be on a dining plan (a good option that lets you take the worry out of paying for meals each time, and offers lots of flexibility), then get some feedback from kids. Have them flip through books and give you some ideas.
Bad idea: For your girl who’s obsessed with princesses: “Do you want to eat at Cinderella’s Castle?” (A hard ticket, if you haven’t heard.)
Better idea: “Would you like to have a character meal and meet some Disney characters? We have lots of choices, so tell me some of them and we’ll see what we can do.”
Have everyone familiarize themselves with some of the options, from fast food to sit-down meals. No, you can’t predict you’ll be standing in front of the Columbia Harbor House seafood restaurant at noon and it will be empty, but if you have a seafood allergic child, you and he might want to know of some other options. Appoint kids to find good hamburger places, ice-cream stops, and so forth.
Give everyone a job
Take into account kids’ interests and strengths. Food-loving pre-teens can start perusing the restaurant descriptions and making recommendations; tech-y teens can find appropriate cell-phone apps. Even younger kids can have jobs. That eight-year old with fabulous handwriting? Have her write out lists of supplies that you’ll be packing as you dictate. Your bizarrely neat 11-year old? He can help fold clothing and pack.
Everyone gets a secret mission
Put everyone in your family in charge of doing something nice for a friend or family member who is not going. For instance, Jimmy might be assigned to finding Donald Duck images for Cousin Frank; he can start doing research before you go. Little Amy might oversee things to put in a scrapbook for Grandma Grace–she can start thinking about good ideas and making a list.
Familiarize everyone with the Disney website and relevant books before you go
This won’t spoil the surprise; there will be endless surprises left. It will actually enhance everyone’s excitement and also quell some of their fears. (And yes, exciting though it is, kids–and adults–do have fears about going). It’s kind of like kids seeing a painting in a museum that they have only seen in books–kids are more excited that they recognize it, not less. Find out if there’s anything kids are worried about (Crowds? Getting lost?) and help find answers. Have them see if they can find out answers to specific questions ahead of time—anything from the Extra Magic Hours at the Magic Kingdom to what new stores are in Downtown Disney. The more information and familiarity they have, the more comfortable they will feel. Look at pictures of your hotel on the Disney website; put everyone in charge of researching something specific, whether it’s the hotel gift shop or a particular landmark in a park.
Have them help plan what you’ll be taking
Kids are often great at remembering things you might overlook; it’s always one of my kids who remembers the band-aids.
Give everyone their own small bag or section for a suitcase to pack, and have them choose a few small items that they want to bring, like a stuffed animal. But check it before you go. I let my daughter “add a few things” to the small rolling suitcase I had packed for Disney World one year. I didn’t have time to check it before we left; when we got to Florida I found she had unpacked everything and repacked it with her doll and the doll’s complete wardrobe. Luckily/unluckily it contained mostly bathing suits and flip flops and activity books, which, happily for her, meant a quick trip to the gift shop to replace everything. Oh, and now I check.
Let kids choose a way to document the trip, and start before you leave
My daughter loves having small sketchbook and colored pencils in Disney World; other kids might want a diary or photo album. And everyone should have his or her own camera, disposable or otherwise.
Take kids’ personalities into account and help them choose activities that mesh with that
When my daughter was young, she didn’t like anything loud, dark or scary. That pretty much let out a lot of the big nighttime activities at Disney. Had I been better prepared, I would have found out a little more about some of the nighttime displays, like Illuminations (which is loud and in the dark), before taking her there. After that (short version: she was a few years away from what anyone would call enjoying that display), we started researching together and in some cases, picking alternatives. (Be prepared sometimes to break up your group, which may not only be necessary, but desirable.) For certain children, doing a quiet crafts activity at the hotel may be more appealing than venturing out into the Parks at night. Start looking at options ahead of time.
Let kids help make a calendar with things that need to get done each day
Everyone has to help out with one thing each day, whether it’s going with Dad to buy juice boxes or researching the hotel’s facilities. Included should be some Disney treats to get in the spirit–make Chip and Dale cupcakes; watch a favorite Disney movie.
As a family, set rules ahead of time
Some rules you might want to agree on ahead of time, rather than in the moment. For instance, you might plan a no-cell-phone-use at mealtime rule for your teens when you get down there; or no-carrying-Blankie-on-the-rides policy for the little ones. (Have kids help formulate a rule for everyone so no one feels picked on.)
Give each child a small hip pack to carry around each day. Help kids plan the items that go in these: little sticker books to do while waiting on lines, a small tube of sunscreen, maybe a pay-as-you-go cell phone, and oh, yes–money. Which brings us to…
Souvenirs. Important enough that one word will suffice
Face it: The one-souvenir rule probably won’t fly. Different families have different solutions, but one idea is to give each child a set amount of money and allow younger ones to carry a certain amount each day. They can “borrow” from the larger amount if they like, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. Discuss all this ahead of time. Also, give each child money to secretly buy a souvenir for someone else in your group to give them when you get back—it’s fun for them and will help make the letdown of leaving less acute.
Ask the kids what they want to do there
Really. Don’t assume you know everything they’re dreaming of doing. Yes, plans will change, but if you know your kids love hanging out by the pool, then make sure to plan some time for that. You might not want to buy a make-your-own light saber, but it could be the culmination of a life’s dream for your nine-year-old.
And finally…enjoy the planning
Anticipation is half the fun—even if it means packing all those pairs of socks, it’ll be more fun if your kids pitch in, too.
on May 28, 2009
Welcome to the first installment of my three-part series: Teens n’ Tots Touring! Nowadays, there are a lot of families with kids over age 10 and kids under age 5. Planning a Disney itinerary is hard enough without negotiating between these vastly-different ages, so I’m here to help. In this first installment, I’ll focus on families that have multiple teenagers.
Five years ago, I became a big sister. My little brother took his first Disney trip (not counting in-utero) when he was 11-weeks-old. Ever since then, my beloved parents have been coordinating the desires of two teens with a Buzz-Lightyear-loving-somewhat-bold-heat-hating tot. But until my big brother went to college, my parents had one thing on their side: there were two teens. How could this possibly be helpful? Simple: safety in numbers. It meant we could leave our parents without being alone. It’s hard to find danger in Disney, but it can happen. And in case of a medical emergency, having a brother or sister there is parentally reassuring. While my big brother and I were gallivanting through Tomorrowland or screaming on our fourth ride of Test Track, our parents could ride It’s a Small World with my little brother sixteen times in a row. In addition, separating the teens and tot meant that the youngster could go take a nap at the resort while the adolescents stayed in the parks. Mealtime is a great excuse to rendezvous. Just don’t forget to give teens their tickets so that they can FastPass attractions, and make sure they have a cell-phone or walkie-talkie.
However, it may be that you have younger teens or you can’t trust them to run off without you in an unfamiliar place. The answer to this dilemma is splitting up the parents. (This post assumes that there are at least two adults in the group; I’ll give advice to single parents next week.) Whichever adult – the mom, godfather, or grandpa – is most daring and, it should be said, has the best health, can accompany the teens through the parks. But let the kids lead itinerary-wise. If at all possible, send a willing non-parent with the teens; they’re far less likely to be accused of acting “embarrassing.”
Read the rest of this entry »
on May 13, 2009
Girls’ Night Out in Disney World is a blast! Downtown Disney, the Boardwalk, and Epcot’s World Showcase, are all great places to have fun with the divas. But what if you have somebody under-21 in your GNO group? Mexican margaritas, German beer, French wine, martinis, G&T, and vodka, just became illegal. (And in case anybody got a non-Disney-esque idea, Mickey does check ID.) But in addition to no buzz, how does a mom, fun aunt, or another lady friend, entertain the teen or preteen while still doing stuff that everybody else likes?
In my experience, the best way to lower social inhibitions among girls (without alcohol) is chocolate. Chocolate ice cream is preferable, but chocolate chip cookies, hot cocoa, or chocolate candies, will do the trick. I recommend Ghiradelli’s Chocolate Fountain at the Downtown Disney Marketplace, Selma’s Cookies at the Boardwalk, or Boulangerie Patisserie at the France Pavilion. If you check out DisneyQuest at Downtown Disney, the Cheesecake Factory Express inside (open seasonly) has the best chocolate cupcake ever to bless the earth with its awesomeness.
Shopping is a must, of course. At Downtown Disney, World of Disney is so darn huge (50,000 sq. feet!) that everybody will probably find something they like. But the new must-do for girly gear Downtown is TrenD. I haven’t been able to personally see the store yet, but from the reports, no teen girl or young woman can skip TrenD. The store sells clothes, accessories, pillows, writing stuff, even furniture! And oh my gosh, Tinker Bell! If you want a nuclear bomb with Tink on it, I bet you could find it at TrenD. As for other stores, avoid Summer Sands. The bikinis are cute there, but they’ll make you feel guilty about all the chocolate you ate.
All of the World Showcase pavilions are great for browsing, but if you actually want to buy something: visit the China Pavilion for adorable parasols and fans, the Norway Pavilion for winterwear (Go fleece!), Italy for headache-inducing perfume, Japan for pricey jewelry and “Hello Kitty” nostalgia, and the France Pavilion for make-up (I like to tell people I bought it in France, which is kind of true).
As for the Boardwalk, there are a couple of stores, but the main attractions at Boardwalk are the activities. A personal favorite are the dueling pianos. And for your older teens: watch the guys watching TV at the ESPN Club.
If your budget is tight, though, you can have a Girls’ Night Out right at your resort! Both the Port Orleans resorts have live, free entertainment (a musical comedy show at Riverside and a jazz club at French Quarter) on select nights. The Polynesian has some very fine-looking lifeguards and God’s gift to earth, Dole Whip soft-serve. All the resorts on Seven Seas Lagoon, the Boardwalk, Yacht & Beach Club, and Caribbean Beach, have beaches – and more fine-looking lifeguards.
What it comes down to for a G-rated (okay, PG) GNO at WDW is that there are no rules. Let your adolescent know that whatever happens in Disney will stay in Disney; they don’t need to worry about being embarrassed. Squeal like crazy on rides, dance in the middle of the street, and flirt with the cashier! Act like you’re buzzed even though you can’t be. Buy too much, stay out too late, and be too loud! To please your teens, just keep moving until they don’t want to anymore. Then get a cold drink – preferably one that’s pink – and wish on the stars at the most magical place on earth.
Thanks for reading, everybody! If you have any questions about teens in Disney, feel free to ask them in the Comments. I’ll try to answer them in my next Thursday post!
on April 23, 2009
Howdy, blog readers! My name’s JillAnn – that’s not a typo – and I’m a few months short of 16. Despite my age, I’ve been lucky enough to go on 19 WDW trips (all cost-conscious trips, of course) and write for The Unofficial Guide for 3 years! In the most recent edition, the 2009 Guide, you can read my “best and worst Disney dessert” reviews.
So I’ll be giving a teen perspective on Disney World – minus only a love of Tower of Terror. If you have no idea how to include your teens in your trip planning, what your adolescents want from a resort, how to set them free in the parks without letting them loose, and more, I’m here for you. I’ll also probably make forays into food commentary – old habits die harder than Bambi’s mom.
I’m psyched to be blogging about my favorite place in the whole universe. Next time (if Len Testa hasn’t fired me by then) I’ll either be helping dads in creating a WDW father/daughter date, or I’ll give tips on getting teens excited about a trip to Disney World. Unless, being a teen, I don’t tell you what I’m doing and then sneak back in at 1a.m.