Saturday, April 24, 2010
Our favorite time to go is the first week of December. For starters, that's when my birthday is, but really, we enjoy the low-crowds and the fact that the parks are decorated for Christmas. I called the WDW Travel Company yesterday to get a quote on our trip. We are going to be four adults and one child for that trip and we got a price of $2650 and that included two rooms at POP Century for five days and four nights plus five days worth of park hopper passes for five people. I was thrilled with that because it works out to $530 per person or $106 per day per person. Not a bad deal for all that we will get out of our visit.
As of right now, however, the free dining dates have not been released. If we book during the free dining offer, our price will not change - we'd still pay the $2650 BUT then we'd get one table service meal, one counter service meal and one snack per person, per day. Not THAT is a deal. If we included food, we'd end up paying close to $600 more.
I know that we can book this trip now and hold our rooms and then when the free dining offer comes out we can modify our reservation. That's not a problem. I just wish I knew the dates that it was being offered because I've heard rumors that it will not include December. Bummer.
So I'll wait, thank you very much.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
There are many books available to help your inquiry minds learn almost all of the secrets of the world. For example, there are "The Imagineering Field Guides to..." and these pocket-sized books deal with the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and the Animal Kingdom. Per Amazon's website: "These user-friendly, beautifully illustrated guides are innovative and entertaining books that will enrich the guests’ time at the happiest places on earth. And now the series is being updated to include all the new attractions, shows, and lands in the Disney parks. Who better to tour you around the Disney parks than the Imagineers who created them? And what better than to have the most recent insider information? It’s all in the Imagineering Field Guides."
Another great resource for finding some secrets of "the World" is "The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World: Over 600 Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom." I have to admit, I just bought this one and it has some great secrets! For example: The ride "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" is located in the same building that was once "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride". In there, you can see a picture of Mr. Toad handing over the deed to Owl! I know I'm going to be looking for that on my next trip to Disney!
One of the greatest ways to always find something new at Disney is to find all of the hidden Mickey's around the resort. Hiding Mickey Mouse around the rides and parks has become a job in itself! For example, in the "Haunted Mansion" in the dining room scene, one of the place settings at the table is set in the shape of Mickey's head! On one of my trips that I went on with my sister, we stayed at the Grand Floridian and there were hidden Mickey designs in the wallpaper in the hallways! That was pretty cool. See this picture on the left? That was our room number right outside of our door. Can you see the Mickey hidden in the wallpaper pattern? In such a fancy hotel, who knew that there would be something so silly hidden right there in the decor!
But if you want your family to have a scavenger hunt to find these tricky little heads, check out the book "Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World's Best Kept Secret!" This is also a pocket-sized book that helps you see things that most of us miss! If you are someone who visits Disney a lot, this little guide could be just the thing to make your next trip different. We've come to find that it's not only in the parks where Mickey is hidden, but in some of Disney's classic movies, you can find some mouse ears hidden in the scenes.
If you have a child who is interested in what it takes to become a Disney Imagineer, there are now tons of books available to help them learn what it's really all about. You can click HERE for an Amazon.com listing of some of the more popular titles. On TV, look for "Modern Marvels: Walt Disney World" for even more behind-the-scenes looks at how things are made.
And finally, though this isn't something a "poor mom" would get to do, there are several behind-the-scenes tours that you can take at Walt Disney World. There are over a dozen to choose from and each one takes you through a different experience. They can be costly and some are only open to a select group of guest. Click HERE for a complete listing of tours that have been offered at WDW and what you can do to book one for your family.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I started to recently plan our next trip and that's when we decided to add our extra person. Being that we still have to have a tight budget, I was fearful of moving up to a moderate resort. Then I remembered that the family suites at the All-Star Music sleeps 6 people. I contacted my favorite Disney travel guy - Ric from Magic for Less Travel - and what he had to say surprised me.
For starters, it is cheaper to book two rooms at a value resort than to book the family suite. PLUS he said that while the suite does sleep 6, with four adults in our party, it would be really tight in there. When I saw actual photographs of the suite I had to agree. While the sofas and chairs all open up in to sleepers, they were really close together and didn't allow much room for fully grown people to move around. It's great when you are two adults with more kids, but four adults was pushing the level of comfort.
Then there was the moderate resorts. While most moderate resorts can sleep 5 people, that could be awkward for us, as well. I am unsure how comfortable his girlfriend would be with sharing a room and bathroom with the rest of us and it really lacks privacy. Price-wise, it was still up for discussion. There wasn't a great big price difference between having the two rooms and it was pretty much equal to having the suite, but again, we have to think of comfort, too.
Our friends who are going on their first trip, first thought of going to the campgrounds at Fort Wilderness because in theory, it seemed like the less expensive option. Turns out, it really wasn't. There was only a $10-$20 a night difference between getting a "tent" campsite or staying at a moderate resort! I mean, you would really have to LOVE camping to be willing to sleep on the ground, in a tent, with outdoor living and having to walk to a bathroom and using a community shower as opposed to having a private room with a bathroom and heating and air conditioning!
Bottom line, don't be afraid to explore all of your options. Had I not talked to Ric, I would have just assumed that the family suite was the way to go. Go on line, investigate, talk to a travel agent. In the end, you'll be glad you did.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
For me, I had always heard to not go to your favorite park first; particularly if your favorite park is the Magic Kingdom and you have kids traveling with you. The reason? Because Magic Kingdom is the ULTIMATE in the Disney experience for kids, that they will be disappointed in the other parks after that. Now, several of the gals disagreed because their kids (and them!) are so excited to see the castle, that it is the first thing that they want to do.
So as our discussion progressed, we realized that if you are the type of person that does not really mind what order to do things in and you are staying on Disney property, you should ultimately look at the schedule for Extra Magic Hours which is only is available to Disney resort guests. Knowing which parks open early or which ones open late can help you determine your order of park visits. This information does not necessarily mean that you should GO to the parks that are opened for Extra Magic Hours, but can actually help you AVOID those parks so that you won't be with the crowd.
Is there a guaranteed formula to order of the parks? No. It is a personal preference. As I said earlier, we never do Magic Kingdom on the first day. For us we tend to to Hollywood Studios first, Magic Kingdom next, then Epcot, then Animal Kingdom and on our last day, we park hop and hit all of our favorite rides one last time.
If you get park hopper passes, you can use them to hit two parks in a day but you won't see an entire second park that way. Animal Kingdom closes at 5:00 and can be done in half a day if you get there at park opening time. So hitting a second park could be a good thing. But that is a topic for another post!
Thursday, April 15, 2010
If you booked your trip in advance, you most likely got your hotel and park passes in your package. You may have even invested in the dining plan. So while you have already paid for these things before you even arrived, it would be nice to NOT have to spend money while you are there. Here are some suggestions of freebies at Disney:
- Go for a ride! You can ride the monorail around from the Magic Kingdom to the Transportation and Ticket Center and then on to Epcot and see a lot of the un-developed Disney property in the process. You can also ride the monorail to three of Disney's top deluxe resorts and explore them. You can ride a boat around the Seven Seas Lagoon from Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian and then over to the Polynesian - again, to explore. From Epcot you can take a boat ride over to the Boardwalk and then on to the Hollywood Studios park.
- You may not be able to take a boat to all of the resorts, but you can get to them from the bus from any of the theme parks. Disney's resorts are SO amazingly themed that no matter where you stay, you can go and explore other Disney resorts and check out what they have to offer. The Animal Kingdom Lodge has some wonderful viewing areas of their Savannah for you to see the animals. You are not allowed to swim in any resort pool except for the one you are staying at, but exploring is okay.
- Go to Downtown Disney. There is no admission to this area and it is loaded with shops and restaurants and you still feel like you are in the magic. There is a wonderful Lego Imagination Center there that the kids will love - and they can build at Lego stations for free.
- In Epcot, there is a a drink station called "Club Cool". You can get free samples of Coke products from around the world. Not everyone has Coca Cola Classic and this is a great place to grab a free drink (maybe some ginger ale for after your wild ride on Mission Space!).
- Also in Epcot in Innoventions, there are usually stations set up where the kids can build a toy and take it with them. There have been free robot building, free frog building...it changes but usually you can always find something to make and take. And along those lines, in Epcot there are Kidcot stations where your kids can get their Epcot Passport stamped and make a craft throughout each of the countries of World Showcase.
- Watch the fireworks. You can see Magic Kingdom's fireworks without BEING in the Magic Kingdom. You can view the fireworks from anywhere along the Seven Seas Lagoon (Floridian, Polynesian and Contemporary Resort areas). You can view Epcot's fireworks from the bridge at the back entrance to Epcot near the Boardwalk Resort and Yacht and Beach Club Resorts.
- Watch the Electric Water Pageant. This is a water parade on the Seven Seas Lagoon that can be seen from all of the resorts surrounding it including (I think) the Wilderness Lodge. The lighted Floats put on a beautiful display.
- You can go to the campfire at Fort Wilderness and watch a Disney movie for free nightly.
- Back in Epcot, you can send a 10-second free video e-mail to friends and family back at home!
- You can visit the petting zoo at Fort Wilderness.
- You can take a free garden tour of the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts or a free tour of the Grand Floridian or Wilderness Lodge.
- Walk the Boardwalk at night and take in all of the entertainers performing along the way.
So you see, there is still plenty to see and do that doesn't involve spending any extra money or having to stay inside the theme parks. Enjoy!
I have to admit, I LOVE a good guide book to get me psyched about a trip to Disney World. I had heard of the PassPorter guide book from several Disney-related sites but never purchased one...and then I won one back in 2006. Funny enough, I just won a new one - the 2009 10th Anniversary Edition - this week! So what's it all about? Why is this a worthwhile book to use when planning your trip?
For starters, the PassPorter's Walt Disney World is very well organized. There are maps and diagrams throughout the book to help familiarize you with each resort, park and the entire Walt Disney World Resort Property. Some of the other books will give you basic descriptions but not include maps. I found that to be very helpful.
Next, it is spiral bound but has an actual hard cover over the binding so that it is easier to read and hold your pages open to what you want to see. Plus, each individual resort, has it's own page. Other books will describe one or more resort per page. The PassPorter really does a great job of making each resort it's own personal space so that you get even more information on where you are staying.
There are pocket folders in the back of the book so that you can take your book on your trip with you an place items, receipts, etc. or take notes about expenses and whatnot about your trip. There is a folder for "Our Journey" which you fill in all about the basics of your trip: Departure time/Arrival time, flight numbers, reservation numbers, rental car info, etc. plus a pocket to put receipts and notes in. Then there is a "Memories of Our Journey" page where you right some specifics like "best thing about our trip" and "worst thing about our trip". Plus there is a small budget workspace for expenses and meals and notes for next time.
Next is a page about "Our Room(s)" followed by several pages listed "Our first day" all the way through a "Our Tenth Day". If you are a scrapbooker, this book would be SO helpful in keeping track of notes that you want to journal and holding on to little mementos of each day. Personally, I enjoy getting napkins or wrappers or un-used FassPass stubs to put in to my scrapbook.
The last two pages is just a general "Memories of Our Trip" section. Each section, as I said, has a pocket for you to slip stuff in to so that it is easy to remember "Oh, we shopped at MouseWorks on Tuesday and spent $47" - if you are so inclined to do so. There are even stickers included to help personalize you pockets as well as the rest of the book.
New to the later editions is a beautiful full-color picture section with pictures submitted not only from the editors but also from readers of the PassPorter guide. There are more than ten chapters and 300 pages of information for you to use to plan your trip.
I would highly recommend the PassPorter's Walt Disney World by Dave, Jennifer and Allison Marx. It is definitely an asset to every aspect of your trip planning. You can also visit their website by clicking HERE. Per the book cover information: "Plan the perfect trip with 300+ pages of advice, maps, and photos of the resorts, restaurants, and theme parks, plus our famous organizer pockets". This book has it all!
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Did you know that you can stay on Disney property without staying in a Disney hotel? If you are a fan of camping, you can enjoy the campgrounds at Fort Wilderness to save you money on hotel lodging!
"Get back to nature at the Campsites at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort, where you'll find family fun as big as the great outdoors. Nestled on 750 wooded acres of lush pine and cypress trees, the fully-equipped campsites let you camp out in comfort. Time seems to slow down while you wander the quiet trails, and roaming ducks, deer and rabbits add to the sense that you are far away from the bustle of modern civilization."Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort offers 4 different types of campsites, including new Premium Campsites, and can accommodate everything from tents to 45-foot and longer vehicles, with a maximum 10 Guests per site. Amenities vary, but each campsite is equipped with privacy-enhancing landscaping, water, cable television and electrical hook-ups, premium picnic table and charcoal grill; most locations also include sewer hook-up. High-speed internet access is available for an additional charge. Groups of 20 or more may reserve the tents-only Creekside Meadow campsite.
Some more specifics of campsites at FW, non-preferred, preferred and premium. Preferred sites include a cable TV hookup and are located near the Settlement Trading Post, Pioneer Hall and marina areas. Loops 100 through 500 and loops 700 and 1400 contain the preferred campsites. Non-preferred sites have no cable hookup and are located farther from the Pioneer Hall/marina area. Preferred sites are $9/day more during value season, $8/day more during pre-holiday season, $6/day more during regular and peak season and $5/day more during the holiday season. There is room to park one vehicle per site (in addition to the camping vehicle) and each site is limited to 10 people. Additional parking is available at the main parking lot. Check-in time for the campsites is 1:00pm; however, early arrivals will be allowed to check in if their campsite is ready. Check-out is at 11:00am. Multiple tents or combination's of campers and tents can occupy a site; however, there is a $2 charge per adult when there are more than two adults per campsite. Weekly and monthly discounts are sometimes available in the off season.
So how much will it cost you to camp at Fort Wilderness? During the value seasons rates start out as low as $43 a day and go up to $72 (prices vary and can change at any time), but during the regular or peak season you are looking at rates of $71-$110 a day. Also available for those who want to "camp" without really being outdoors, there are cabins available that sleep up to 6 people. The rates range anywhere from $265-$395 a night depending on the time of year that you book.
There's a great Fort Wilderness fact sheet that you can read HERE.
For a map of the campgrounds, click HERE.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
1. Order the free vacation planning DVD & watch with the entire family before you go.
2. Read through as many guide books as you can and take notes!
3. Shop around for the best deals before you book.
4. Make a touring plan based on what YOUR family wants to see.
5. Research restaurants & make your advanced dining reservations on time.
6. BE FLEXIBLE!!!
7. Stay up to date on what is going on at WDW via the internet so that there are no unpleasant surprises (like ride closings) when you arrive.
8. Set up a souvenir spending budget before you leave home.
9. Rev up/get in shape by walking with your family before you leave for your trip.
10. Remember that this is supposed to be FUN!!!
If your five-day forecast called for sunny skies before you left and then you arrive and see that now there are 40% chances of rain, don't let it get you down! Just because it rains does NOT mean that you have lost a day! If anything, look at it as an adventure! Most of the rides and attractions in Disney World are indoors so really, it is just a matter of getting from one place to another. The other benefit is that the crowds will be minimal and so you will most likely have few to no waits! Always, always, ALWAYS pack emergency ponchos in your luggage. You can get these at the Dollar Store or Walmart. They are very small and compace and can fit in a back pocket or in your fanny pack. They also come in handy on the water rides (Splash Mountain & Kali River Rapids). The parks are open on rainy days so don't fear having to stay in your room.
News Flash - it's hot in Florida! Even in December, it can still be 90 degrees. If you are not a fan of the heat, fear not! There are ways to survive the heat and still have fun! For example: Most of the rides are indoors with A/C so you know that once you get inside, there will be relief. Also, most of the queue areas are at least partially shaded and have overhead fans running to circulate the air a little bit. As you walk around the park, you will notice that there are concession stands all around where you can grab a cold drink, ice or some ice cream. One year, we bought a battery-operated "water fan" in the park that spritzes you with water while fanning you. It was a worth-while investment! Also, there are tons of tree shaded areas in most of the parks where you can sit and cool down for a little while. And lastly, there are first aid stations located around the parks, as well, in case the heat gets really overwhelming for you.
Keep yourself hydrated and don't be afraid to take a break to cool down. No one wants to get heat stroke or sick on their vacation. Magic Kingdom has some lovely shady areas to sit on the Liberty Square side of the castle. Plus you can take a 25-minute ride on the Walt Disney World railroad to cool down and relax. You get a nice breeze while riding along. In Animal Kingdom, there are tons of shady areas to sit. You don't have to go far to find them - but particularly, near the entrance to the park is the Oasis - very shady, very cool and beautiful to look at. Hollywood Studios and Epcot are a bit harder to find shady spot, but they have TONS of shops and pavilions that you can go and sit in to cool down.
When packing for younger children, place complete outfits in to a Ziplock one gallon sized bag. I would place one pair of shorts, a t-shirt, socks and underwear in each bag and put their name on it so that SHOULD he get up and get dressed before I was up, I knew he would at least be dressed and matching! Plus, it saves time - there's no need to be going through drawers or suitcases trying to find anything because it's all right there in their bag.
The other good thing was that we could put yesterday's clothes in to the now empty Ziplock bag and it keeps dirty laundry contained.
Disney created a system to help alleviate SOME of the congestion. FASTPASS is a service that is free to all Disney theme park guests. It is available on most of the most popular rides throughout the entire resort and makes it possible to almost "reserve" a time for you to come back and ride the ride without having to wait.
Wouldn't it be great if you could cut your wait time for some of your favorite attractions? Now you can! Our complimentary Disney's FASTPASS Service saves your place in line for an attraction while you enjoy the rest of the theme park.
To Use Disney's FASTPASS Service:
- Look for the "Disney's FASTPASS® Distribution" sign near the entrance of an attraction.
- Check the "Return Time" displayed on the sign.
- The sign will indicate the time you would return to enjoy the attraction using a FASTPASS ticket.
- For attractions, the return time is a one-hour window (e.g., 1:10 p.m. to 2:10 p.m.), so you don't have to be there exactly at a given time. For shows, your return time will be for a specific performance.
- If the return time is one that works for you, just insert your admission ticket into the Disney's FASTPASS Service machine. (You may use your Walt Disney World Resort admission ticket, readmission ticket, Disney Resort Hotel keycard or Annual Passport.)
- A FASTPASS ticket will emerge with your return time printed on it. Now you're free to go and enjoy the rest of the theme park!
- Go back to the FASTPASS ticketholder entrance when your return time rolls around, show your ticket to the Cast Member and enjoy the attraction with a minimal wait.
- FASTPASS tickets are only valid on the day of issue.
- Everyone in your party using the FASTPASS ticketholder entrance must have a FASTPASS ticket.
- There's a limit to the number of FASTPASS tickets you may have at one time. On your ticket will be printed the time at which you can get your next one. Disney's FASTPASS Service machines won't issue another ticket until the time stated on your current one.
Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park: Primeval Whirl, Kilimanjaro Safari, Dinosaur, Kali River Rapids, and Expedition Everest
Disney's Hollywood Studios Theme Park:Toy Story Mania, Rock N Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith, Star Tours, and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Magic Kingdom: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, Peter Pan's Flight, Jungle Cruise and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Epcot: Test Track, Maelstrom, Mission Space, Soarin, and Honey I Shrunk the Audience
The thing to keep in mind with the FASTPASS system is that it may cause you to loose your pattern of park touring that you had going on, but it is well worth the back-tracking to go back and practically walk right on to the best rides.
When you go to book your reservation, you will see a "Magic Your Way" ticket option. The best way to explain this to you is to quote from a favorite website that I visit often when planning a Disney vacation, and that is the direct source, themagicforless.com:
The Magic Your Way Package includes a Resort stay at a Walt Disney World Resort® and a Magic Your Way Base Ticket that gives each member of your travel party entry to one Theme Park every ticket day.
And there's more. You can customize Tickets for your travel party with options that let you visit multiple Theme Parks each day, include entry to other Parks and attractions, and allow you to save any unused days on your ticket for future visits - so you can enjoy the Disney experience that best suits your preferences and budget.
Staying at a Disney Resort is the best and most comfortable way to enjoy a Walt Disney World ® vacation. With a Magic Your Way package, you can tailor your vacation so that you enjoy your visit, your way. And remember: The longer you play, the less you pay per day with an affordable Magic Your Way package.
Select from Value, Moderate, Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts - there's a category for every budget:
- Value Resorts - Enjoy colorful, whimsical places that are big on fun but small on cost.
- Moderate Resorts - Escape to enchanting, wonderfully affordalbe locales.
- Deluxe Resorts - Experience the ultimate in Disney luxury, style and service.
- Deluxe Villa Resorts - Relax in comfortable accommodations with all the conveniences of home.
- Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground - Stay in secluded campsites for tents and all types of RVs.
A Magic Your Way Base Ticket with choice of ticket length from 1 to 10 days (one Theme Park admission per day). Add-on options for this ticket include:
- Park Hopper® Option - visit more than 1 Theme Park on the same day.
- Water Park Fun & More Option - includes a certain number of "Fun Visits" based on the length of the Ticket. Each "Fun Visit" allows entry into one of the following: Disney's Typhoon Lagoon, Disney's Blizzard Beach, DisneyQuest®, Disney's Oak Trail Golf Course or Disney's Wide World of Sports® . (Subject to seasonal or weather closures. Age restrictions may apply for access to certain facilities.)
- No Expiration Option - unused Theme Park Days and unused "Fun Visits" never expire so they may be used on a return visit.
- Planet Hollywood® - Receive a $15 voucher valid for food and non-alcoholic beverages and a souvenir merchandise keepsake at Planet Hollywood, Downtown Disney West Side. VIP Preferred Seating is available from 11 am through 6 pm. Not valid with any other offers or discounts. (One per room).
- Miniature Golf - Receive a voucher valid for one round of miniature golf at either Disney’s Fantasia Gardens or Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf courses. (One per room).
- NEW! Niki Bryan Spa Discount – 15% off the regular price of any Body Treatment or Water Therapy at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa or Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. (Massage, facial, and hand and foot treatments excluded. Age restrictions apply).
- ENHANCED! Walt Disney World Marina Discounts – Receive a voucher valid for 30 additional minutes of watercraft fun when you buy a 60-minute rental of any of the following: Sea Raycers® by Sea Ray, Boston Whaler® Montauk, or Sun-Tracker® pontoon boat at participating marina locations. (One per room; not valid all dates; restrictions apply).
- NEW! Bass Fishing Discount – 10% off the regular price of Guided Bass Fishing Excursions and Bass Nitro Fishing Excursions at select Walt Disney World marinas.
- NEW! Sammy Duvall's Watersports Discount – 10% off the regular price of all activities including parasailing, water skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing trips at Sammy Duvall’s Watersports Centre located at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. (Subject to availability; restrictions apply).
- Arcade Game Card - 100 points game play in arcades located in Disney Resorts. (One card per room; available only with Magic Your Way Packages).
- Luggage Tag - Walt Disney Travel Company commemorative luggage tags (one per person)
Everyone in the room must be on the same package and ticket options. All tickets and options must used within 14 days of first use, unless the No Expiration Option (unused days never expire) is purchased. All tickets and options are nontransferable and exclude activities/events separately priced.Now this is just the BASE package. You can add dining plans, park hoppers, water parks, and more on to this plan but really, this is a great way to start your vacation planning.
Friday, April 9, 2010
At a first glance, I did not want to stay at this resort because it is far away from all of the...well, everything. It seems like it is off in a corner of the property and that it would take forever to get anywhere. Well, we decided to take a chance and booked our trip and I have to say, while it wasn't my favorite "theme" wise, it was certainly a great place to stay.
Guest rooms are located in 10 brightly colored and whimsically decorated 4-story buildings—trimmed with huge letters representing iconic sayings from the decade they represent. Different sections of the hotel represent the 1950s, '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s.
The Resort's central building is named Classic Hall, and the facility includes the Main Lobby check-in desk, the Fast Forward Arcade and the Everything Pop shop and food court.
Unwind and enjoy 3 swimming pools—the main flower-shaped Hippy Dippy Pool, the smaller bowling pin-shaped Bowling Pool and the monitor-shaped Computer Pool. Younger Guests can cool off at the Goofy Kiddie Spray Area, an interactive play fountain located between the '60s and '70s section.
Disney's Pop Century Resort has been designated by the Florida Green Lodging Program, recognizing the Resort's environmentally responsible practices.My husband is a child of the 70's so we asked for a room in the 70's complex. The building was adorned with all-things-70's like Mood Rings, platform shoes, leisure suits and 8-Track tapes. It was wild! We got a corner room on the third floor right on the lake. It was quiet and the scenery was lovely. We even saw fireworks from Epcot each night. The walk to and from the main building was not long and the bus service to and from the parks was amazing. I had stayed at deluxe resorts with my sister that didn't have such wonderful bus service!
The rooms were clean - housekeeping was great - and in general, it was a lovely place to stay. The only negative that I'd have to say is that there is a whole second phase of POP Century that construction has halted on and we could see it all from our room. I mean, I understand progress and all that and it wasn't like there was a any noise coming from the construction site, it was just a bit of an eyesore. Picky, right?
Our check in was speedy and the main building housed the lobby (obviously), the food court, gift shop and arcade. Once you walk out the back doors of the main building it's like stepping in to a colorful new world. With giant icons and Disney characters all around you, you almost can't wait to see what is waiting for you around the next corner. We found a larger than life Foosball court, a giant Big Wheel, giant yo-yo's, Goofy getting ready to go surfing in his shiny new sports car, a giant Twister game spot...I mean, we could have spent a sold half a day just exploring the resort property!
I have to admit, when we go on our next visit, I am torn between staying at POP again and perhaps giving the family suites at the All-Star Music a try. I guess it depends on how many are in our party. Bottom line is that this is a great value resort that is a lot of fun to stay at. The average cost is $89 per night. It is sort of like a upscale motel with the doors leading directly to the outside - there are no interior hallways or rooms, really. But again, most of us that are going to Disney are going for the parks and that's where we'll spend the bulk of our time, not in our rooms. So if you are looking for a good value resort, I would highly recommend the POP Century. It has it's own buses as opposed to the All-Star's which share their buses so that is a plus in travel time - less waiting.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
A really helpful tool when planning your first trip to Walt Disney World and going with kids is to check out some of the rides first so that you can see whether or not your child will be scared. I think that poor planning and not knowing what the rides are like are a sure-fire guaranteed way to ruin your trip. Even though some of the rides look innocent or are themed after beloved Disney animated movies, they can be dark and scary for younger ones. A great source for checking out rides before you go is my favorite video Disney blog site, Travel with Rick. This particular episode is from the Alice in Wonderland ride in Disneyland but I thought that it was a pretty cool ride and a good intro for you to look at to see what is available when investigating the Disney rides before you go.
But even with free dining, you get one snack, one counter service meal and one table service meal per person, per night. So if you used your counter service for lunch, your table service for dinner and your snack somewhere along the way, what about breakfast?
Our family is not big on breakfast. I know, I know, it's a bad thing but that's the truth. We usually don't eat breakfast or eat something light. So when we go to Disney, we usually drive, so we pack a cooler. In that cooler or sometimes in a separate bag, I pack up breakfast-type foods like Nutrigrains, granola bars, fruit, etc. along with some juice boxes and then we eat them in the room before heading out to the bus stop.
Even if you went to the food court of your Disney hotel, chances are you are going to spend $6-$8 per person on a light breakfast. Why do that when you can bring it in yourself? The portions that you get with the meals on your food plan are huge, anyway, so really, a light breakfast is the way to go.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
All of the hotels offer bus service. These buses will take you to and from the parks or to the Transportation and Ticket Area. The buses are usually pretty prompt and arrive around every 20 minutes. The hardest time to get that kind of service is at the end of the day when the parks are closing and there is the mass exodus from the parks. At those times, your wait can be considerably longer because only so many people can fit on a bus. The buses will NOT take you from one resort to another, however. For example, say you are staying at the All-Star Movies resort but you are having dinner at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. You would have to take a bus from All-Star Movies to the Animal Kingdom PARK and from there take a bus to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It can take a while so at times like that you MAY want to drive your own car, but for the most part, what's the hurry?
Some hotels offer boat service to and from each other or to some of the parks. Hotels like the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian have a boat that goes between the two and then takes you to the Magic Kingdom. The Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness also has a boat that takes you to the Magic Kingdom. The Boardwalk Inn along with the Swan, Dolphin and I believe the Yacht and Beach Clubs all have boat service between them that will also take you to Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios.
My favorite form of Disney transportation is the Monorail. Only three hotels are on the Monorail loop and they are all deluxe resorts. I had the opportunity to stay at one of them and the experience was well worth it for the convenience of the monorail alone. The Grand Floridian, the Contemporary and the Polynesian each have a monorail station. For the Contemporary resort, the monorail actually goes THROUGH the middle of the hotel and the station is inside! It's pretty cool.
The final form of Disney transportation that is there to truly help you is the one that gets you to and from Orlando International Airport and that is Disney's Magical Express. If you fly in to Orlando on certain airlines, you are eligible for the Magical Express. When you book your trip and tell your travel agent that you are flying in and give them your flight info, 2-3 weeks before your trip you will receive a packet that includes special luggage tags and vouchers. The bright yellow tags go on your bags and when you arrive in Orlando, you skip the baggage claim because Disney is going to get your bags for you! How cool is that? Then you will board a deluxe motor coach that will take you directly to your resort. While on the bus you will watch a video of what is going on in the parks and give you a basic overview of the entire resort complex. Your luggage will be delivered directly TO YOUR ROOM at no extra charge! On your final day of your trip, the Magical Express will take you back to the airport. And again, there is no charge for this service.
So whether you need to get to and from the airport or to and from the parks, Disney has all of your transportation needs covered. No need to take your keys or fill up the tank, while you are a guest of the Walt Disney World Resort, there is no need for you to get behind the wheel!
We all decided on the All-Star Movies Resort. We were going to be a total of 13 people for five days with 2 extra people one of the days. We booked four rooms and everyone was responsible for getting in their own deposits/payments/monies. I sent out newsletters each month updating everyone on what aspect of our trip needed to be planned next. I did this so that everyone was aware of our dining options, park options, park hours, ride info, etc.
Everyone was responsible for their own transportation to and from Florida. My in-laws and one sister-in-law (along with her husband and 2 kids) were flying in from New York. They had the same flight down but different flights home. My other sister-in-law was coming from Washington state and she decided to fly to us in North Carolina and then we rented a minivan and all drove down together (there were 7 of us in the van).
I was a little bummed at first that we were all going to be at the same hotel but it kind of worked out nicely. At night, we'd all sit outside our rooms and just hang out and talk. All of our room doors were open and the kids just sort of ran about in and out. My in-laws spent one day each with the individual families and one day on their own. I made dining reservations for our sit-down meals and whoever wanted to come, came, otherwise they were on their own.
The important thing to remember if you do this is to NOT make yourselves be joined at the hip the entire time. Take time out away from each other and do things on your own. Less chance of getting on each other's nerves that way! The trip worked out nicely because we got to spend time together but each family really had their own vacation.
It was after that trip that Disney introduced it's Magical Gatherings where they help you coordinate your group's activities and what not. Personally, I didn't find it that hard to do. We didn't do matching outfits or anything, we were just a large group on vacation together. With everyone staying at a value resort, we had free dining, park hopper plus passes...it was all very reasonable and the pictures that we have from that trip are priceless!
Have you ever considered planning a family reunion to Disney? Don't be afraid! It can be done!
Okay, if you only had a single day in Disney, how would you do it? For starters, you have to have a plan. Decide on the ONE park that you are going to go to. I've seen it done where people actually hit all four parks in one day but your are basically SPRINTING around and only hitting the main rides and then running to the next. That is not fun or relaxing. My friend is going as part of a family of 4 - herself, her husband and two teenage sons. They are each getting their tickets for free thanks to the Disney promotion but if you were going to buy your tickets, you are saving money by only purchasing the one park/one day tickets. Park hopper passes are considerably more money.
They decided that they wanted to go to the Magic Kingdom. Excellent choice. They are staying with friends outside of Disney so they will be driving in that morning. First thing to do is check the park hours and get there 30-45 minutes before opening time so that you have time to park. Magic Kingdom's parking lot is the furthest away so you will have to park, then, depending on how far away you are, grab a tram to get you to the platform where you will choose either the ferry or the Monorail to get across to the park entrance. You want to try and beat at least some of the crowds.
They are packing a cooler and keeping it in their car to save money on food and they are each bringing either a fanny pack or back pack in to the park that will have some snacks in it to hold them over. You can dine well in the park without going to a sit down restaurant, however. With places like the Main Street Bakery or Cosmic Ray's you can dine counter-service style without breaking the bank. A great way to figure out your dining options and cost in advance is to go to Allearsnet.com and click on dining. You will find all of the menus there and you will be able to find places to eat within your budget.
When you decide what park you are going to go to, it will be handy to have a Disney guide book available so that you and your family can go over what that particular park has to offer. The reason? Know in advance what everyone WANTS to ride and what you can skip. For example: On our first trip back in 1998, none of us were in to thrill rides of any kind. So when we planned our days, we knew that we could skip the biggest attractions like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Tower of Terror, etc. because none of us wanted to ride them. We discussed it as a family so that at the end of the trip, no one was disappointed because the did not get to ride something that they wanted to. This makes for less confusion once you hit the parks so that you're not standing around going "What do you want to ride next?" "I don't know, what do you want to ride next?" This could take way too much time and then before you know it, you are out of time!
When I sat down with my friend, not only did I have a guide book to show her, but I also had a park map of the Magic Kingdom. You can order these for free from the Walt Disney World website or by clicking HERE. Since she had never been to Disney before, being able to look at a map and seeing the lay of the land, really helped.
Have a budget and be prepared to stick to it. With a cooler in the car, snacks in their bags, and bringing in water to drink, a family of four could get by with only spending maybe $50 on food for the day. You can limit the kids spending money for souvenirs, as well, and remember, you have to be firm and stick with it if you are on a budget. Of course you are going to see things and want things because Walt Disney World merchandise is amazing. But you can be strong and reel yourself back in before breaking the bank.
So can it be done in a day? YES! The key is to plan, plan, plan!! Know your budget, know your times and know exactly what you want to do and you won't be disappointed.
Friday, April 2, 2010
It took me YEARS to get this picture! I could never find the Beast except when he was in a parade. So on our 2007 trip, I asked a Disney Cast Member (CM) and they pointed me in the direction of France in World Showcase at Epcot. So we walked over and spotted him and just as I got on line, he and Beauty left!! I grabbed another CM and told her my tale of woe - the Beast IS my favorite character - and she told me he'd be back in 30 minutes. So we got back on line and there was one family ahead of us and they were like "Gee, the things we do for our kids" and I'm like "Kids? This picture is all for me!!"
It's hanging on my wall in my living room - cropped and enhanced thanks to the Photopass!
A friend of mine does a family trip to the beach with her extended family. They rent a house and chose to do a minimal amount of recreational activities. They do some cooking in the house and go out to eat. She refers to this as the cost-benefit analysis. They did a 7 night trip to the beach and compared it to an 8 night stay at Disney. This is actual data from two trips that her family has done. Thank, A.D.!
Housing Cost: Beach (7 nights) - $861
Disney (8 nights) - $800
Food: Beach - $314 (combines both self-prepared and eating out)
Disney - FREE (included 2 meals & a snack per person/per day)
Entertainment: Beach - $298 (included golf, mini-golf, mini-cruise, trip to aquarium and a short trip to a local amusement park where the kids rode 4 rides each)
Disney: $881 (included 8 days of park ticket to 4 parks for four people)
Total: Beach total - $1473
Disney total - $1681
The difference in price is minimal and really, they had an extra full day on the Disney trip that they did not have at the beach. They were conservative with their time and money while at the beach whereas at Disney, there was non-stop entertainment.
So don't sell your Disney vacation dreams short. With the constant promos and specials that they offer, your cost to take your family there may not be any more expensive than if you took them someplace else.
You don't have to buy books or take out ones from the library to get your information from. You can order a free vacation planning DVD directly from Disney.
By going to the main Walt Disney World website or by clicking HERE, you can order your free vacation planning DVD. It gives you a pretty brief overview of each park with an even briefer description of each of the rides. Why this is a good thing to have, however, is that it is great to show the kids - especially if they've never been before and may have character anxiety. You can order a DVD for Disney World, Disneyland or the Disney Cruiseline.
Personally, I enjoy watching the DVD a couple of times before each trip because it just gets me excited about going. I usually watch it while we are counting our change jar to see how much money we've saved. That's just good family fun!
From what I can tell, Disney has the policy of "Don't ask, don't tell" - meaning that if there is a special going on and you don't know about it when you are booking, they do not have to tell you about it. Having said that, I have found several great Disney travel sites that not only tell you what deals are going on but will even keep checking for you between the time you book and the time that you leave for your trip so that you are getting the best prices and the best deals on your trip.
I mainly deal with The Magic for Less Travel. I LOVE them. I first found out about them through a yahoo group called "Disney Dollarless" which then became "The Mouse for Less". I have gotten amazing information from them but the one that has stuck with me time and time again is The Magic for Less Travel. My travel guy is named Ric and he is amazing. Whenever I am thinking about booking a trip, I go directly to him, he lets me know what promos are going on, what's coming up, etc. He'll keep checking prices for me, he helps me make all of my dining reservations, makes my Magical Express reservations and most vacation packages include some gifts from the agency. I've gotten luggage tags, pass holders, insulated cup holders...I always love getting free stuff!
I have a friend who solely deals with AAA. What I learned from her was that AAA is sort of in a partnership with Disney and therefore if you are a AAA card holder, you get certain perks. You get special parking, admittance to private lounges, invites to certain story times with the characters...it kind of pays to book with them if any of that interests you. For me, we don't drive once we get to the park so the parking pass doesn't really mean much to me. My kids are too old for storytime and the lounge? Well, that could work!
Another great travel agency that I enjoy working with is Kingdom Magic Travel. There's another Rick there who is the owner and he is most definitely a Disney fanatic! He does the video travel blog that I mentioned in an earlier post and he sends out weekly newsletters that let you know all of the promos going on with all things Disney - be it Disney World, Disneyland or the Disney Cruiseline. Back in 2004, I actually won a trivia contest with them where I won a 4-day/3-night stay at the Radisson Orlando that was 5 minutes outside of Disney. It was pretty sweet. I have gone to Kingdom Magic for vacation quotes but I have to admit, I'm sort of loyal to The Magic for Less and Ric over there. Their vacation quotes are identical and so it's not like you get a different price if you chose one over the other.
Some specials and promos that Disney has offered in the past include: Free dining, 30-40% off of your room rate, buy 4 nights get 3 nights free, get in free on your birthday...I'm sure that there are others but these stand out the most to me. Sometimes there are discount codes released for certain travel dates where you get a discount...if you search your travel section of your Sunday newspaper you are almost guaranteed to find one.
Bottom line is that it is better for you to book with a travel agency because they find you the best prices, they keep looking for specials and discounts and then handle all of the changes for you. Check these great sites out and ask for Ric...or Rick!
Nothing can bring your Walt Disney World vacation to a screaming halt like a child who becomes frightened on a ride and then won't go on anything else. While you can read about all of the attractions at Walt Disney World on their website or in any guide book, sometimes it helps to SEE what exactly is going to happen and how "dark" is dark.
With the invention of the internet, you can see just about anything on line. I've seen videos of Disney rides on YouTube, but my personal favorite is "Travel With Rick" at travelwithrick.com. Each week Rick posts a new video of someplace in Walt Disney World and sometimes from Disneyland. He posts videos of rides, attractions, hotels...he tries to hit everything.
If you are traveling with a young child, I highly recommend going to his site and looking up what he has to offer because not only does he post the video but he also tells you a little about the ride, as well. Kind of makes it a little more interesting. This particular episode takes you through the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride in the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland at the Walt Disney World Resort. Enjoy!
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Disney offers a great service called Photopass. With this service you can walk in to any Disney park and at the first Disney photographer that you see, ask to get your picture taken. They will pose you and your family in some of the greatest locations in the park and take several shots. When they are done, they hand you a card that is about the size of a credit card. Throughout your stay, whenever you want your picture taken, you give that card to any Disney photographer and all of your pictures are actually loaded on to it! Then, when you get home, you go to the Photopass website, click in the number that is on your card, and you can view, edit and purchase your pictures!This can be a LOT of fun because sometimes the photographers do something special to your pictures like add a Disney character! Check out me and Tinkerbell! I had no idea what he was going to do when I was asked to pose like this but I was thrilled when I saw it! When you are viewing and editing, you can add borders and icons, you can crop your pictures...there are tons of options and in the end you have the exact picture that you want!
Now you can get your pictures the same day in the parks, but they tend to be on the pricey side - $12.95 for a 5x7. But with the Photopass option, you can order an entire disc of pictures and then do what you want with them. For example: My last trip to Disney I went with my mom, my sister, my aunt and my cousin. We all chipped in to purchase the Photopass CD. It was $125. I know that is a LOT of money BUT we took a lot of pictures while in the park and then when we got home and played and edited them, we had almost exactly 125 pictures so then I'm only paying $1 per picture and they are top quality, customized pictures! Not a bad deal, right?
There is no cost to have your picture taken by a Disney Photographer. In fact, most of them will even take a picture with your camera if you want them to. But I know that I have stood next to the photographer with my own camera while the kids were with the characters and my pictures never come out as good as theirs. Plus, I don't have all of the neat photo editing software that comes with the Photopass website to make my pictures even more magical. Give it a try on your next trip. It is money well spent!
I have multiple packs and really the one that holds the most, I use the most, except for when I want to be styling and wear my black one that has "Disney" embroidered on the front. But when I go with my husband and kids, I need the one that has the most compartments.
Okay, my standard fanny-pack contains: Emergency Ponchos ($1 at Walmart), sunscreen, gum, Tums, Advil, my camera & case (for extra protection), our passes, money, cell-phone, credit card, pens, sunglasses, restaurant reservation numbers, park maps, Photopass card and lip stick. I mean, I need to look somewhat presentable in all those pictures! Essentially, it is my goal to not have to stop and purchase anything while we're in the park no matter what is thrown our way. I think on our last trip I even had a Benedryl pen so if anyone got any bites we could just whip out the Benedryl and roll it on. It was great!
I learned the importance of the well-stocked fanny pack on our first trip in 1998. My husband gets cluster headaches and you never knew when they were going to hit. Well, his hit the week before our trip. I did most of the drive down to Florida because he just could not do it. So we found that Excedrin Migraine was the only thing that worked for him IF he took it at the first twinge of a headache. My fear was that he would wait too long to take them and never make it back to the room without collapsing. So I kept them with me at all times and there were a couple of times that we had to stop and let him rest for 10 minutes but that was it - he was up and ready to go and we were back on the rides in no time. I used to get chronic heartburn and so having the Tums with me really helped and then there are those unpredictable Florida rain storms - that's where the emergency ponchos came in. We never had to run in to a store for any kind of emergency because we were prepared.
A fanny pack works better than a purse/pocketbook because it keeps your hands free. Of course, if you have little ones, you are most likely going to have a diaper bag with you at all times so you won't need the fanny pack, per se, but you should keep all of the essentials with you to save you time and money in the parks.
The first thing to take in to consideration is that you are hardly EVER in your room when vacationing at the Walt Disney World Resort. Our family gets a wake-up call every morning between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. and we are all showered, dressed and at the bus stop by 8:00 a.m. We want a FULL day in the parks. On an average day, the parks open at 9:00 and close at either 8:00 or 9:00 pm - on average. We will stay in the park the entire day. Then, by the time the park closes and you fight the crowds, get a bus and get back to the hotel, it's pretty late. Essentially we are just sleeping in our rooms so why would I spend $250 a night when I could spend $89?
I've stayed at three of the four value resorts with my husband and kids and I've taken a few trips with just me and my sister where we've stayed at the deluxe resorts and to be honest, yes, the deluxe resorts are beautiful and the rooms are bigger, essentially, I'm still just sleeping in the room.
Disney value resorts are not like off-site "value" resorts. These are not cheezy motels. There are three All-Star Resort: All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, and All-Star Movies. The fourth value resort is the POP Century Resort. All of these resorts have great themes and have these larger-than-life icons all around the buildings and complex. Their colors are all bright, primary colors that just grab your attention! POP Century has icons based on some of the biggest pop-culture icons of the last 50 or so years and each section is based on a different decade: 50's - 90's.
The All-Star Sports is completely sports themed, All-Star Music features all different kinds of music genre's, and All-Star Movies is based on some of Disney's best movies. We've stayed in the Rock n Roll building of All-Star Movies and in the Toy Story section of All-Star Movies - actually, we were right outside of Andy's room where there were three-story tall Buzz Lightyear and Woody! That was back in 2001 and the kids LOVED it! There was even a life-sized RC Racer that the kids could sit in and pretend to drive. I have GOT to scan those pictures in!
The rooms, in general, are pretty small. You can only fit four people in them and even then it's a little tight. You get two full-size beds, a dresser, a table and chairs, TV, night stand and your standard bathroom and vanity area. Like I said, if you are just going to be using the room to sleep in and crash for the night, then you would have no problem here. But if you need a little space to sprawl out...well, the All-Star Music Resort does now offer family suites! These suites sleep up to 6 adults and have a queen size bed, a full-size pull-out sofa, and convertible ottoman and chair sleepers. There are two bathrooms, a kitchenette, mini-refrigerator and microwave. There is a private master suite. This is a nice option because you can fit more people and it is still less expensive than moving up to a deluxe room which is the only option if you have more than 5 people in your party.
There is plenty to do on all of the Value Resort complexes, as well. Each resort/complex has at least two pools. Each resort is also equipped with a food court, gift shop, arcade, playgrounds and plenty of places to explore! Each resort has bus service to and from all of the theme parks, as well.
One down side to these resorts is that they not as close to the parks as some of the others. You can see Blizzard Beach from some, or Epcot's fireworks from others but for the most part, they are a bit remote. Another down side is that these resorts are usually the most crowded because they are such a great deal. Because of that the buses are more crowded and actually, the three All-Stars do tend to share bus service which slows things down even more at the busier times of year.
But if you are looking for bang for your buck, you cannot go wrong with a Disney Value Resort. The cost, the themes, the service...you never leave the magic of the parks because you are surrounded by it even back in your room.