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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Bring a Cooler into WDW

Did you know you can bring in a soft sided cooler into the WDW Theme and Water Parks? Yippee! Another way to save money!! It is also a way for those with dietary issues can enjoy without worry.

Here are the official cooler rules:

Theme Parks:

  • Coolers must be smaller than 24″L x 15″W x 18″H
  • Coolers can be stored in lockers (the above size would fit in the large locker)
  • Wheeled coolers are not permitted
  • Must be a soft sided cooler
  • No glass allowed
  • No alcoholic beverages permitted
  • No coolers are allowed at Animal Kingdom for the safety of the animals

Water Parks:

  • Coolers are permitted, including wheeled coolers
  • No glass allowed
  • No alcoholic beverages permitted
  • No cooler storage is available
  • Wagons are not permitted

Some Tips from The Mouse Ear Momma:

  • Make sure you inform the security upon entering the park that you have a guest with food allergies/intolerance, diabetes, or metabolic disorder.
  • Freeze water bottles and use as ice packs in your cooler
  • Remember that Central Florida is steamy (and can be at any point of the year)
  • Pack food that will not spoil; avoid lunch meat, dairy products, and anything that will smash or bruise easily (like bananas). Think PB&J, apple juice, squeeze apple sauce, fruit strips.
  • Pack small portions; you will want to a quick grab and go pick me ups between rides.
  • Don’t forget your Ziploc bags; helpful if you have any leftovers from your stash or a restaurant.

Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party

disney 122013 (444)There is a wonderful experience to be had at Magic Kingdom. It is not widely known, it is small and intimate (which is a shocker anywhere at WDW), and it is relatively inexpensive (another WDW shock)!

The Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party!!

Now that I have experienced this twice, I feel like I can write about it for my fellow Disney lovers. This is a great experience to add some magic to your trip. Reservations are difficult to get because it only holds a limited number of guests and they now accept reservations 180 in advance like the other restaurants. It is not on the Disney Dining Plan, so you will be paying out of pocket for the experience. The price is around $22-26 for adults (ages 10 and over) and $12-14 for children 3-9. This does not include tax and can vary depending on the time of year, more expensive during the holiday peak seasons. You will prepay for this when you book and they accept cancellations up to 48 hours in advance.

disney 122013 (463)You are given a time to arrive about an hour before the fireworks – you arrive at 9:05pm for a 10:00 viewing of Wishes. After you check in at the desk and receive your wrist band, you will be shown to your reserved table. This isn’t first come first serve, so it isn’t worth queuing up in a line an hour before your scheduled arrival.

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My nieces and nephew enjoying the desserts and view.

Once you are seated, you are welcome to go to the self service, all you can eat dessert buffet in the back of the restaurant. There are 2 stations full of items and drinks in the middle. The buffet includes: tarts with fruit, key lime, apple pie, banana creme, and chocolate peanut butter; Full sized chocolate chip and sugar cookies, Crisped rice treats, Chocolate dipped strawberries, Itty bitty cannolis, tiny cups of cheesecake, chocolate mouse, creme brulee, & tiramisu, mango shooters, build your own sundae station and fresh cut fruit. The little mango shooters are a favorite of my family. The drink options are lemonade, raspberry lemonade, iced tea, milk, coffee and tea.

The desserts on constantly refilled during that hour between your arrival and the fireworks. The cast members come to clear your place on regular basis. My daughter wouldn’t give up her 6 mango shooter cups and straws as a symbol of her triumph.

You can see the Main St. Electrical Parade from this location, but it is definitely from a disney 122013 (454)distance. They also pipe in the music for the parade for you to enjoy. The castle light show is very enjoyable but you don’t get the same angle you have from Main St. and the hub.

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Glow with the show ears that change with the fireworks!

The most spectacular thing is the flight of Tinkerbell from the Castle to the roof of Tomorrowland Terrace. (Tried and failed to get good pictures of this!).No one in our group believed that this really happened until the live Tinkerbell was directly overhead waving to us.

Overall, this is completely worth the experience. Would I do it every trip? No…but I would as a special surprise or treat for the family. Most of our group of 14 said that this was their favorite experience of the entire trip. I think that $26 per person is worth the experience of the fireworks, all you can eat desserts, NO crowd jostling you around…and Tinkerbell smiling directly at you!

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.

Reservations Tricks…

I have now been able to book the impossible for our May vacation!

Right away I was able to snag a much coveted Cinderella’s Royal Table breakfast reservation and I took this as a good omen. I have been determined this trip to eat at all new restaurants (at least new to us).

I have been checking for Be Our Guest everyday for months and all of a sudden there was an opening for the evening of our arrival!! Yes it is at 9:20 pm, but we don’t arrive until 6:15 and we’re planning on heading over the new Fantasyland anyway to see what is all about. What a beginning on the surprise vacation for the kiddos!

Now, I have been calling for about a month (every day or so) to get into the Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party. This is a dessert buffet with seats/viewing of the Wishes Fireworks in Magic Kingdom. I have heard many good things on the blogosphere and chat rooms about this and I wanted to check it out for myself. Finally, on April 1 it was open for the month of May and I was able to book the night of my choice. This isn’t on the dining plan so we do have to pay out-of-pocket for it but I think it will be worth the experience.

So my advice for these hard to get reservations…Be Our Guest and Royal Table are worth checking the online reservation site every day or even multiple times a day. You want to book these 180 days in advance if you can. My problem is that I very rarely book a trip that far in advance. You do have to put a credit card guarantee down, but you can cancel 24 hours in advance without penalty. Be Our Guest is more difficult because it is only dinner for the sit down, but at least you can be in the restaurant for lunch as often as you like!

Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party seems to have a very flexible booking start date. Some WDW reservation agents have told me they release it to them 4-6 weeks prior to the beginning of the month and others have said it varies even more. I tried to book starting about 8 weeks out and called every other day. When it neared to about  5 weeks before May, I started calling (407)WDW-DINE every day and finally yesterday on April 1 my work paid off. The phone reservations seemed correct that they do release those reservations starting the month prior, so keep that in mind and start bugging them about 6 weeks if TTFDP is something on your bucket list!

Penny Pressing…a fun (cheap) souvenir

Are you trying to think of ways to bring home souvenirs that won’t collect dust and you won’t have the urge to throw away after a year? I discovered the penny press a few years ago as a way to keep the kids busy while my husband was collecting the stroller. After digging into my wallet for 2 pennies and 4 quarters, I let each kid press one penny. They were so enamored with the process and the different options it kept them happy and involved for longer than it probably should have. After pressing one penny each, they continued to ask to look at it the entire trip. I didn’t think anything of it until I started to notice penny pressing machines everywhere around the parks and hotels.photo 1 In a gift shop, I found a book to hold your pennies next to the autograph books.

Now, I purposely pack a roll of pennies and 2 rolls of quarters from our Disney Fund. The kids each has a baggie in the backpack with their coins and are allowed to stop at any machine they want. They hunt high and low for penny presses. Hotels, outside bathrooms in the parks, at rides…penny press machines are everywhere and it is a fun and inexpensive thing to collect and bring home. Each penny costs 50 cents and a penny to press. They also have quarter press machines, but that is too rich for me so I just stick to the pennies.

Here is a site that can give you a list of where to find the penny press machines and what they have for the hard core collectors. I am not so hard core yet, but that may change as the kids get older…

Star Wars Weekends 2013

stm736501SMALLI love Star Wars and I love Star Wars Weekends. The artwork has been released for this year’s Star Wars weekend and I love it. Return of the Jedi is my favorite of the original trilogy and I have a soft spot for the Ewoks. This year is particularly special because it is the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Episode IV: Return of the Jedi. I don’t know about you but I remember seeing this one in the theatre when it was released, so now I feel old… It is also going to be interesting this year because it is the first Star Wars Weekend in which Disney now owns the Star Wars empire.

But know that this is not for the first time Disney traveler. Star Wars Weekends are hot, crowded and confusing if you don’t know your way around Hollywood Studios. If you are a seasoned veteran of WDW and you (or your children/spouse) are a fan, this is the weekend for you to visit!

The full schedule is not released but here is what is available now. Star Wars Weekends will take place May 17-June 9, every Friday, Saturday, & Sunday.

Celebrity Guests: You can get a fastpass to meet and get autographs from the celebrities.

  • James Arnold Taylor: The Official Celebrity Host for all 4 weekends. The voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Clone Wars series. He performs a one man show about voice talent.
  • Ashley Eckstein: Also a Celebrity Host for all the weekends. She is the voice of Ahsoka Tano in The Clone Wars. She hosts a talk show about the cartoon series. We had the privilege to meet Ashley a few years ago at SWW and she made a wonderful impression on my daughters and made them feel like it is ok for girls to like Star Wars. (I keep telling them that the boys will think it is the coolest thing someday!)
  • Ray Park: Darth Maul from Episode I: The Phantom Menace for Weekends 1 & 2. He is also a martial arts expert and in X-Men & GI Joe. He does a martial arts show during the weekend.
  • Warwick Davis: Wicket W. Warrick (my favorite Ewok) for Weekends 2 & 3

The schedule should stay the same for the most part. Character greetings and autographs from the bunches of characters from all the movies and cartoon, specialty merchandise, Jedi Training, Padawan Mind Challenge, Hyperspace Hoopla, Star Wars Stars Motorcade Parade with stormtroopers and various characters.

I will update more as soon as the information comes available, so stay tuned!

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!