Dietary Issues at WDW

I have written about Traveling to Disney with Food allergies, but now it is time to talk about other dietary restrictions. I understand the stress that occurs while planning a vacation when there are medical issues with foods. Where do we eat? Can we bring our own “safe” food? One thing to know is that you can bring in your own cooler with your comfort foods (with some rules attached) or just stuff your backpack and stroller with necessary items.

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Fastpass +: Your questions answered!

Goodbye my old friend Fastpass…Hello FastPass + and My Disney Experience!

FastPass + at PoohI have to say that I am nostalgic about the old system because most of us frequent WDW visitors had that down to a science. But as of this month, the old fastpass machines at the entrance to the most popular rides are no more! Instead, all guests are now expected to take part in the new My Disney Experience, My Magic+, Magic Bands and FastPass + (FP+) online system.

Things work differently depending if you are staying on property or off site.

This is the same for all guests:

  • You select (and can change) your return time for the ride/experience.
  • You can only choose 3 FP+ per day
  • You can only get your 3 FP+ in one park each day
  • FP+ includes character experiences and seating for fireworks & parades
  • You can change your FP+ selections at any point, even during your return time(if you get to your ride return and see no line, you can adjust your FP+ at the entrance for a different ride) Continue reading

Oh No! I can only go when it is crowded!!

What do you do if you can only travel during the more crowded times of the year? Don’t fret, help is on the way.

First of all, you need to know the most crowded times of the year. Basically, if kids are on a break then WDW is crowded.

The busiest times are:

  • February over President’s Day Weekend
  • Spring Break season: Mid March through Easter
  • Easter: Date changes but week before and after are second most crowded of the year
  • Summer: Mid June-Early August
  • Columbus Day Weekend: Modest increase in crowds
  • Thanksgiving: Third busiest time of the year for the week
  • Christmas – New Years: Busiest time of the year from Christmas Day-New Year

Here are my tips for traveling during the busiest times of the year:

Lower your expectations: You can not expect to go to Magic Kingdom and ride everything on your list. Pick your top 3 priorities and know there will be time to do other things. By doing this you won’t be walking away disappointed and you will be pleasantly surprised when you get more accomplished.

Stay on Property: The convenience of staying on property outweighs the additional cost in this situation. The resort transportation will be more crowded than normal, but will not be as bad as driving your own car into the crazy parking lots, then taking a tram to the entrance or WDW transportation. This is especially important for Magic Kingdom because you park at the Ticketing and Transportation Center then take a monorail or ferry to the entrance of the park. By staying on resort property you also have the benefit of Extra Magic Hours (EMH).

Extra Magic Hours:  When staying on property you are given access to certain parks for 1 hour in the morning before it opens to the public and 2 hours in the evening after close. Taking advantage of this can greatly increase the amount of attractions you are able to see and do! I personally like to enjoy EMH mornings at one park and then leave when it gets crowded to go to a different park by park hopping. Alternatively, if you are a night owl the evening EMH might be up your alley. The evening EMH are much more crowded than the morning, but if you can stay until the end you will reap the benefits of extra ride time with little wait. If you are not staying on property, avoid the parks with EMH during your vacation.

Park Hop: The additional cost of the park hopper is the most beneficial during these times. You can go to one park until the crowds overwhelm you, then hop over to a less crowded park. Or you can head back to your hotel (especially when staying on property) and then hop to a different park in the evening.

Go to the parks EARLY: I know you are on vacation, but so is everyone else going to Disney. That being said, WAKE UP EARLY and be at the parks for rope drop (official opening) or soon after! Most people will not get themselves together and moving by 8am, but by 10am the parks will be crowded. No one goes to Disney for a relaxing, sleep in vacation. For example: Christmas Day at Magic Kingdom has been at capacity the last few years around 10:30am. You can walk right in at 7am, but you can’t even get past the gates at 10:30. What does this teach us (other than avoid MK on Christmas!)? Get to the parks early, you will thank yourself when you are walking out to take a swim at 11 and the entrance turnstiles are 20 deep!

Take a Mid Day Break: The parks are most crowded from 11am-4pm. Take a break back at the hotel for swimming and a nap. Or have lunch in a hotel near the park and do some hotel hopping to check out the different WDW resort hotels.

Make ALL your dining reservations: When going during a crowded time of year, you will not have a snowball’s chance of getting into the more popular restaurants without reservations far in advance. That being said, you can still get into table service restaurants. Choose less popular restaurants in the park or ones located in the resort hotels.  

Utilize the Fastpass system: This is the time when Fastpasses are your best friend. Decide your most important priority and get a fastpass at park opening for that ride. You can get your next fastpass 2 hours later, so at 9am if your fastpass return for Space Mountain is not until 2-3pm, you can get another fastpass at 11am for a different ride as well. With the new Fastpass+ system, you can prearrage your fastpasses (up to 3) which will be a huge benefit to staying on property during a crowded time.

I hope this advice helps and doesn’t scare you! I have traveled over Christmas with a group of 14 and I am going back at the same time this year. Take this advice and you will still enjoy your trip!

What you need to know about park tickets…

One of the most common questions is about the different types of park tickets. This can be very confusing for anyone who is not a WDW nut like myself. So here are the answers to those questions!

Theme Park Tickets:

  • These are tickets for admission into the 4 Walt Disney World Parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, & Animal Kingdom)
  • Adult tickets are for ages 10 +, Child’s tickets are ages 3-9, Children under 3 are free of charge for tickets (and dining plan)
  • Base Ticket: Allows entry into ONE park per day. You can leave and reenter later in the day, but you must return to the same park.
  • The ticket cost varies based on how many days you purchase. The per day ticket cost is less per day for each additional day you add. The longer you play, the less you pay! is the tagline used by WDW.
  • Park Hopper option is an add on to your base ticket that allows you to enter more than one park per day.
  • Water Parks and More option is another add on to your base ticket that gives you access to the following: Blizzard Beach & Typhoon Lagoon Water Parks, ESPN Wide World of Sports, DisneyQuest Indoor theme park, Oak Trail Golf Course, Fantasia Gardens & Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Courses.
  • WP&M option does have some limitations. You cannot hop between these activities, you can return to the same one. Mini Golf must be played prior to 4pm as well.
  • Each of the add on options are a flat rate per ticket of $62.84/ticket including tax, but if you add both it is $89.46/ticket including tax. This is the cost for both adult and child tickets.
  • Tickets expire 14 days after the first use.
  • Tickets cannot be used by more than 1 person. Disney uses a biometric finger scan upon entry to guarantee this.
  • This is a great site to look at the prices from www.allears.net

There are reputable discount ticket agents out there, but I prefer to purchase mine through WDW. If you purchase through a second party vendor and there is a problem, Disney is less flexible about assisting you. I have priced AAA as well and when you include the tax, AAA can be more expensive than buying from WDW directly. Now, if you are someone who needs a travel agent to handle the details, then go for it. In this day and age of Internet, it seems much easier to make your own arrangements and do  your own research. I have found that travel agents are happy to make the commission but might not have the knowledge of all the aspects of Disney outside of a training session.

mymagic+What are the MYMagic + bands you ask…Soon there will be wrist bands instead of cards that will contain all of your information for ticketing, dining, room key and charging back to your room. In May, they had the RFID readers at Hollywood Studios and Epcot and you just placed your card in front of the Mickey and waited to the biometric scanner for your finger. It will also include your fastpasses if you so choose, but you will need torfid at pooh schedule your fastpasses prior to leaving for your trip similar to dining. But that is a topic for another article. This is an example of one at the Winnie the Pooh ride.

Words of warning:

  • Do not purchase used tickets! Disney uses biometric scanners to link the ticket to the individual. You can’t use anyone’s ticket but your own. So avoid eBay and Craigslist for discount tickets.
  • If you have old tickets with no expiration, you must trade them in at a ticket window or WDW hotel concierge desk. Disney now uses RFID technology and you need a ticket with a chip to get past the scanners.
  • Your tickets do expire 14 days after the first use, so make sure you use all your days or get the no expiration option. I find the no expiration a waste of money, but I plan my days to utilize them.

Resorts for Grown Ups

Everyone thinks of Disney as a travel destination for parents with small children but this is not the case. There are tons of adults that love Walt Disney World and may want to enjoy the parks without the kids (or grandkids). Here are my recommendations for resort hotels that are more suitable for adults. These are based on location, amenities, restaurants/bars on site and the general grown up feeling of the resort. Yes, you will find families there but it’s Disney World and you can’t avoid that! Most of the resorts I recommend for adults are in the Deluxe category because you will find more and more families when you go to moderate and value resorts. Continue reading

How to Have a Happy Holiday at Walt Disney World. Part 2: Your own traditions

One of the most important parts of the Holiday season is keeping your own family traditions, even if you are not a home to enjoy them. This was my biggest worry when we decided to spend Christmas at Walt Disney World. So, I brought Christmas to Disney with us.

I shipped boxes down full of supplies to make our hotel room feel like Christmas, actually I shipped 4 or 5 boxes full of stuff. I sent down a small Christmas tree that I had picked up at Target for $7 along with lights and unbreakable princess ornaments. I threw in some garlands that I had laying around from my former life as a teacher. Dollar store window clings were in the box to decorate the windows. I also found some stockings with the kids initials and shipped those with command strips to hang on the hotel wall.

At Boardwalk, we had a balcony, so I did garland along my railing for everyone to see. I wish I had thought to bring more or outdoor lights because there were many people who did that. The Christmas tree was in the window and each of the girls bought an ornament to hang on it as a keepsake. I left the tree behind when we checked out, but brought home the ornaments and lights. The kids were able to decorate our room and grandma’s room with the window clings.

In addition to decorations, I shipped down gift bags, wrapping paper, scissors and tape. We did a gift exchange among the kids on Christmas morning and they were able to shop at WDW for each other and wrap the gift. I also bought a few things on Christmas eve from Santa (in addition to what I shipped and hid) while the kiddies were in Grandma’s room watching a movie in their PJs.

For my mom’s room (a 1 bedroom villa so we could all fit in there together), we ordered a beautiful tree from Disney Floral and Gifts. They came and set it up the 2nd day of our trip and it was a wonderful surprise to come home from the parks and see it there, as if by magic. The best part was after she checked out, they came and boxed everything up (including the tree, lights, ornaments, etc.) and sent it to her house. We set it up last week and it brings back such wonderful memories.

IMG_2581Another tradition for my family is wearing matching Christmas pajamas. Prior to our trip, we purchased matching Mickey PJs for all the kids and ladies (the guys won’t wear them). Christmas morning, 13 of us come traipsing through the lobby in our jammies. You should have seen the looks we got (mostly smiles but a lot of “are you crazy”)!

IMG_0703We started a new tradition as well. On Christmas Day, the only place I could get Teppan Edoreservations for 14 people was for lunch at Teppan Edo in Japan. No one was happy with this choice (except me) but there were no other sit down options. Everyone loved it and had a wonderful time. Now, we go to the hibachi grill at home to celebrate birthdays all together. Not a traditional holiday meal, but very interactive and fun!

Even if you are not at home, make sure your own traditions come shining through while you are on vacation. I was surprised how much everyone enjoyed our Christmas at Disney and not a single kid was homesick or worried about Santa!

How to have Happy Holidays at Walt Disney World. Part 1: Decorations

This is the first in a series of posts about spending your holiday season at Walt Disney World. I have been during November/December Holiday season 5 times in the last 7 years and it is obviously my favorite time of the year to visit. Last year was the first time I had ever been there during Christmas and I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.

Today’s focus is on holiday decor both in the parks and at the hotels.You can spend days just wandering around Walt Disney World looking at all the wonderful decorations. It is amazing to see the scale of the decorations and how much effort is put into each detail. I previously posted a video of the Magic Kingdom decor change from Halloween to Christmas. It is amazing what they do overnight while the guests are snug in their beds. If you decide to travel any time from November 1-January 1, you will be in full Disney Christmas World. It is a wonderful time to visit and it makes a completely different experience compared to traveling in the summer months.

The Resorts:

Disney does an amazing job decorating the resorts. My favorite decorating feat I have ever witnessed was at The Boardwalk a few years ago. We were taking family pictures out and around The Boardwalk and they started to put in the poinsettia plants. One guy used this power drill auger to dig the perfect hole while another was right behind him plopping in the plants. A third man followed behind and backfilled the dirt. They did this with hundreds of poinsettia in just an hour or two. It was amazing, my dad was particularly enthralled with the process.

Every resort is decorated for the season with the theme of the hotel. Boardwalk is old school Atlantic City and the entire structure is trimmed with lights. Yacht and Beach Clubs are nautical with ornament of little sail boats and anchors. Polynesian is a pacific theme with hibiscus flowers adorning the garlands, while Grand Floridian is over the to with gold and rich textures. All the Deluxe resorts have a gingerbread structure in the lobby. Usually, they sell cookies, hot chocolate or small gingerbread houses for your hotel room. These gingerbread structures are worth a trip to see even if you are not staying in them. They are usually built sometime right before Thanksgiving.

The Parks:

  • Magic Kingdom is by far my favorite when it comes to Holiday decorations. I love the garlands and wreaths hanging over Main St. USA. It makes the perfect backdrop for pictures with the castle glimmering in the background. The Cinderella Castle itself is a wonder with millions of lights to make it look like it is covered in icicles. Every night around 6 they have a castle lighting with Fairy Godmother and Cinderella. There are details everywhere you look, including The Emporium windows with scenes from Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
  • Epcot has Holidays around the world with decor to match the spirit of every nation in The World Showcase. Along with storytelling about the country’s holiday traditions, you also can learn how people in each of the represented countries.There are large, lit decorated trees and other muted decor throughout Future World.
  • Hollywood Studios has a massive Christmas tree at the entrance of Hollywood and my favorite is when it is decorated with giant popcorn and retro plastic Santa faces. The best part about Hollywood is the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights (not Ozzy but a family from Arkansas) on The Streets of New York.
  • Animal Kingdom: Animal Kingdom is also themed with the area (Africa, Asia, etc.). Compared to Epcot, the holiday theme isn’t as in your face. The Jingle Jungle parade has the characters in holiday gear, but it is not as Christmasy as the Magic Kingdom parade.

So, are you ready to go to WDW during the Holidays? It is not for the faint of heart and it is not for First Timers. But…it was more wonderful and magical than I could have ever dreamed it to be!

 

How does Disney Decorate for the Holidays?

This is a time lapse video of how Walt Disney World decorates the Magic Kingdom from Halloween to Christmas overnight. It really is amazing! When we were there over Labor Day this past year, we went to Magic Kingdom one evening and nothing was decorated. The next morning at opening, there were Mickey pumpkins and Halloween garlands everywhere. It really threw me off for a while, I felt like I was crazy. I was asking myself, was this here last night?

November a few years ago at Boardwalk, we watched as the team used a giant drill to dig a hole and drop poinsettia all over the property. It took just a few hours to turn the entire resort into Holiday mode. They also were working on the gingerbread carousel as well while we were there. Every time we came into the lobby over 48 hours, there were more and more details to the structure and the smell was to die for!

If you haven’t been to Disney during the Holiday season, you should make a point of going. It is the most magical time at Disney and there are so many things to see and do. Any time in late November through December, the hotels are all decked out and the more expensive the hotel, the more elaborate the decorations. There are so many different things to see and do both inside the parks and out. You can spend an entire evening just riding the monorail to Polynesian, Contemporary, & Grand Floridian and stopping at each to see the decorations and special characters and events they have at each.

More to come on specifics of Christmas at Walt Disney World…

Play, Stay, Dine & Save Offer

The newest discount that Walt Disney World is offering is the Play, Stay, Dine and Save. There are actually 2 different offers with this deal. In reality it is a room only discount. If you add the Magic Your Way package with Dining, it is still a room discount with full price on the tickets & dining plan.

The room discount is as follows: Continue reading

Look what I got in the mail today!

Today in the mail I get a very large colorful envelope that stands out among all the white bills. What could it be? Mickey’s on the front, but I am not expecting anything from WDW. Inside is a very vivid and fun thank you note. Here is what it says:

From all of your Disney pals, we hope you created magical memories during your visit to Walt Disney World Resort in 2012.

It is also signed by Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto & Tinker Bell. My kids both think that these characters sent us a card to say hi. 

This is one of the reasons I think The Walt Disney Company is genius! Exactly a month after we have come home from our trip, I am reminded of the wonderful times we had. They have now put into my head these thoughts: “I wonder when we can go back?” “What time of year will we go next time?” “Will we go with friends or just us again?”. See, geniuses! I wasn’t thinking about a trip at all and now I am starting to plan again. What is wrong with me?!