Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How to Maximize a Short Trip

A Disney Parks vacation is amazing. We simply adore it and try to get there as often as we can. But many times, for various reasons- time, money, etc... to get there, we have to keep it short. We've done 2 short trips in the past and one is coming up. My idea of short is 4 nights or less. Many may disagree with that and consider it a perfect amount of time. Others may gasp in horror at even thinking of only going for 4 nights. For us, 4 nights with 3 full days and 2 half days, is relatively short because most of our trips are 7 or 8 nights with 8 or 9 park days. And when you're not used to cutting the trip basically in half, it can leave you feeling as if the trip flew by and you didn't get to do nearly as much as you wanted. It can leave you disappointed.

But there are ways to avoid disappointment!

- First of all, remember you are in Disney! And any time there is better than none!! Savor every moment!!

- Limit yourself. You may have to limit the number of parks you visit, or limit the days you spend at each park. It's a personal preference. In my opinion, you cannot do everything there is to do at Magic Kingdom or Epcot in one day (each). So on a short trip, you will need to decide between visiting all parks for only one day each, or skipping one and spending two at your favorite park. I might get yelled at, but I'm gonna say it- Animal Kingdom is our least favorite park. There just isn't much there that appeals to us. There is nothing there that is a must do for us. We do love it and there are many awesome things, but we can survive without it. So on short trips we will skip it in favor of two days at Magic Kingdom. We prefer two at Epcot as well, but MK wins for us.

- Don't waste time. When you only have one day at each park, you need to skip things that just take up too much time. Like midday breaks, parades, browsing every gift shop, Kidcot stations, street entertainment, play areas such as Honey I Shrunk the Kids, character meet n greets, basic rides that seem to have really long lines (Tomorrowland Speedway, Astro Orbiter, Peter Pan, unless you have a fastpass). But if those things are very important to you, do them. You just need to realize you may not accomplish as much in the parks as you may be used to.

- Use Fastpass + to the maximum your day! Schedule your 3 ahead of time for as early in the day as you can. Then when you're there, you'll be able to get more sooner. Once you use your 3 you can book more, one at a time, using the My Disney Experience app on your mobile device.

- Keep meals simple. One thing that sucks up a lot of park time is sit down meals. Especially if you need to leave the park to get to them. An average sit down meal eats up at least an hour and a half to two hours, not including travel time. Depending on time of day, you can do a counter meal in half that time, or less, freeing you up to do more with your day.

- Skip Disney Springs (Downtown Disney). It's a great place and it can be really fun, but in the end. it's mostly just shopping. And as much as we all want the perfect souvenir, I'm not willing to pass on park time to shop for hours to find it. If you have time in the evening, sure! Especially on a day where a park closes early, like Animal Kingdom.

I think that's it! If you have questions, or more tips for maximizing your time, please post them! Enjoy every moment of your short trip! Suck up every second of Disney magic that you can!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Packing doesn't have to be stressful.

I think most people stress out about packing for vacation. Making sure you have enough clothes. You never know what will happen. Or sometimes what the weather will be like. (There are certain times of year that Florida is VERY unpredictable). Medications. Necessary equipment. (My husband has a C-Pap and my son had a nebulizer). Making sure you don't go over that 50 pound maximum for flying. Especially if you bring your own bottled water and/or snacks.

I am a list maker. I start making my packing list far in advance. Every time I think of something, I add it to the list. Or I throw it right in the suitcase, if its something I won't need to use at home. I pull out the suitcases like a month before any trip. I gradually toss in things. When I get to about a week before, I pull it all out and start to organize. I do my laundry and start packing what we need. I count out underwear and socks- one for each day plus at least 2 extra. (You just never know!)

Many people like to bring their own snacks and drinks. When our kids were little, we loaded up. Breakfast stuff, Capri Sun pouches, Horizon milk boxes. Especially when my son was 2 and still free, but ate a lot of food! LOL My growing boy! I brought tons of fruits cups and granola bars, etc.. I would bring an entire suitcase just with food and drinks and diapers and wipes. I didn't care, because we always fly Southwest and we can each check 2 suitcases. But not everyone can check that many bags, or wants to. A great packing tip is to leave all that stuff at home and buy from a local service like Garden Grocer, who will deliver anything you need to your resort. Or you can ship the stuff from home to your resort.

But the very best tip I can offer in regards to packing is to not worry about forgetting something. Disney sells just about everything you could possibly need. (Except rechargeable camera battery chargers. It cost me $50 plus the cost for the charger to take a cab to a nearby Target to get one on day 2 of our trip one year.) And medications. But everything else, they have.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Top 5 Lessons Learned: The Hard Way :(

A Disney Parks vacation is the most magical family vacation, in my opinion. Nothing whisks you away from reality quite like Disney does. Most of our trips have been filled top to bottom with amazing memories and so much fun. BUT...... we have experienced unpleasantness, too. You can't always escape it or even prevent it, but you can be prepared.

Here are my top 5 lessons learned the hard way :( Hopefully you can learn from them.

#1- Rain

It rains in Florida. Sometimes just a little. Sometimes a lot. It depends on the time of year. But if you're traveling in rainy/hurricane season, which can be anywhere from June to November, you need to be prepared for inclement weather. I always knew it could happen, so we always brought dollar store ponchos. Those teenie tiny clear plastic things that are almost as thin as Saran wrap. I'm sure you know where this is going. Some years they were fine, but not when there is a torrential downpour. If you will be traveling during rainy season, please invest in some good ponchos or rain coats. Something with some weight to it. Even better if the sleeves are gathered at the wrist so they can't blow all around. And bring some kind of footwear that does not need to be worn with socks. Water shoes, good flip flops, Crocs, Keens, etc.. Even if you just throw them in your bag or stroller and change into them only if necessary. It is NOT fun to walk through unavoidable deep puddles in sneakers and socks.

#2- Sick Kids

Many trips are great and no one gets sick. But it's happened-minor things to almost as bad as you can imagine. Last trip I woke in the middle of the night to my daughter scrambling to get to the bathroom to vomit. A few years ago my son's breathing issues became so bad due to the high Florida humidity that he had to be taken to Celebration hospital, and then transferred to Orlando hospital. We spent the first 3 days of our trip there. My only advice is to take preventative measures ahead of time and load up on Vitamin D, Airborne, etc. --but I'm still not convinced that really works--and have a plan just in case. When my daughter was sick, my mother in law volunteered to stay with her so we could visit Magic Kingdom with my parents that day, who were only at Disney with us for 2 days. My husband had planned on doing it until she offered. When my son was hospitalized, we rented a car and took turns staying with him while the other took our daughter to the parks. Pack every med you might need, even though they do sell most common medications at the resort gift shop.

It makes me so sad to look at this awesome pic and my daughter and mother in law are not in it :(

He looks pretty happy in his hospital bed :) He had some good moments, but much of the experience he was miserable :(

Here he is the day he was released from the hospital. We headed to Magic Kingdom and he had a great time!

#3- Heat

It's unavoidable. It's hot in Florida, especially if you travel between April and October. All you can do is be prepared. Dress in light fabrics and colors. I prefer skirts and sundresses in the summer months. Bring sunglasses and hats. Purchase personal misting fans at home or buy the ones they sell in the parks. Take breaks. Especially midday. If you don't want to leave the park to go back to the resort and swim, do some indoor attractions. It's a great chance to do those things you might have skipped otherwise. Get a Fastpass for water attractions midday- like Splash Mountain and Kali River Rapids. Stay hydrated. The kids WILL whine about the heat, so prepare yourself for that too! Listen to your body and don't overdo it.

#4- Sore Feet

Another inevitable thing. They say the average person walks an average of 10 miles per day! That's a lot of time on your feet! Not counting the standing in place, which is worse in my opinion. My solution is to wear a different pair of shoes every day. I don't mean you need a different pair for each day of the trip, but at least 2...3 is better. Never wear the same pair two days in a row. And decent shoes. Not cheap flip flops. I actually have fabulous flips flops from Teva and Clarks, and those are great. I love my Crocs sandals and ballet flats. Hubby swears by his Keen sandals. Bring a stroller for the kids, even if they are way too old for it. Kids don't have the stamina we do, and severely lack the ability to keep their complaints to themselves. It's better for everyone to have it. I have no shame in admitting I brought a double stroller to accommodate both kids until my daughter was 9-1/2. (She has always been very petite) And our last trip with the stroller for my son was when he was 5-1/2. (He was 6-1/2 our last trip and we didn't take it, but he did pretty good. My daughter is definitely more of a complainer! LOL!)

#5- Cold

Believe it or not, Florida can get downright cold, especially if you're traveling between December and February. One trip, there was unusually cold weather the entire winter and it got downright chilly. Lows in the 30's! Even as life-long north-easterners, we weren't quite prepared, and had not brought anything heavier than sweatshirts. I remember the coldest day that week...we all had on two long sleeve tees, two sweatshirts- one with a hood- and the kids were in the double side by side stroller with a fleece blanket tucked around them. I think the Photopass photographer thought we were completely nuts because we shed our sweatshirts for one photo. We all had homemade matching shirts on and I wanted at least one picture of them! We bought hats and gloves. We had to. So my advice for that time of year- bring coats and hats and gloves. Bring long johns! Bring an extra suitcase if you need to. You might regret not doing it.

The one pic we all took our sweatshirts off to take. It looks so deceiving. Sunny, but very very cold!

So there ya have it. My top five lessons. Hope they help you!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

7 Awesome Reasons to visit Epcot!

Over the years, I have heard many people say.... "Epcot's not really for kids." Or they'll ask, "Won't my kids be bored there?" My answer is NO! They will NOT be bored! Epcot is a fabulous park for kids! Here are my reasons why!

1- The Living Seas Pavilion. This is a really fun pavilion. Your journey under the sea starts with a really cool attraction- The Seas with Nemo and Friends. I don't want to spoil it for anyone, but it's a really neat ride that combines real aquatic life with technology. And when you're done, you can explore the pavilion, which is home to all sorts of awesome fish and sea animals. My favorite part is the sea horses :) So cute! You can also check out Bruce's Sub hub and learn all about sharks with interactive games and play areas. And where else can you get your picture taken inside a giant shark's mouth??? And don't forget about Turtle Talk with Crush! He's so cool!

2- The Imagination Pavilion. Another fun pavilion! This one starts with a cute little attraction called Journey into the Imagination with Figment. It's a tram ride that gets your imagination flowing with surprises and fun and a cute song that will be stuck in your head all day! When the ride's over, check out Image Works with all kinds of fun interactive things to keep the imagination going. The Captain EO 3D show is there too, which is pretty darn cool, regardless of how old it is. (I saw this show way back in 1989 at Disneyland!)

3- Spaceship Earth. Yep. The giant silver ball in the middle of Epcot! Most people don't even realize there is an attraction inside! And it is such a cool one. One of my favs at Epcot! Take a trip through time to discover how the way we communicate has changed scene the dawn of time. And then you can create your own video of the future--with your face in it-- and email it to yourself! At the end of the attraction, there are all sorts of interactive games to play. Very cool and even a little futuristic!

4- Soarin'! Now this IS my favorite attraction in all of Epcot! Take a seat in a gigantic hang glider and prepare yourself for awesomeness. Soarin' takes guests up into the air, feet dangling, into a huge domed screen that completely surrounds you. You'll soar through California, experiencing sites and smells. This attraction was original created for Disneyland, but will soon be updated to showcase sights from all around the world, not just California.

5- Test Track. This is one fast ride! Design your race car before you go in, then test it's features while you ride. Up hills, around turns, then out on the open road to see how fast you can go! This is really fun. It has been re-themed recently and the updated version is pretty darn cool.

6- World Showcase. I just love visiting all the countries. I know it's not the same as a real world tour, but it might be the closest I ever get. I think it's really fun to get a glimpse of each country's culture and history and meet some of the people who were born and raised there. Each country is a little different in it's offerings. Mexico has a great little boat ride that's like a Mexican it's a small world. China and Canada have really cool films. The USA has a great animatronic show. There are always fun street shows going on and lots of cool nooks and crannies to explore. Every single one has amazing shops with really cool merchandise and awesome food and beverages. Plus, this is the place to meet some of your favorite characters in the country where they're from! And if the kids need something else fun to do, check out the Agent P Adventure-- an interactive game that takes them to several countries in World Showcase looking for clues.

7- Kidcot stations. My kids really love these! Each country in World Showcase has a special station for kids. They can start wherever they'd like and receive a cardboard character in a stick. (Right now it's Perry the Platypus!) They can color him in and then at each stop, they collect a stamp on the back or on the wooden handle from each country. For a small fee, kids can also purchase a Passport. When they stop at each country, the Kidcot Cast Members will stamp their book and write a little message in their native language. Very cool keepsake.

So, what is your favorite thing to do at Epcot? Do you think it's as awesome as I do?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Top 5 reasons to stay at the Value Resorts!

Our most recent stay was at Allstar Music!

I'm a HUGE fan of the Disney value resorts! Here's why:

1- THEMING! All Disney resorts have impeccable theming, but the Value resorts are pretty special. If you want to be completely immersed in Disney-ness, the Values are where it's at. Larger than life icons, bright colors, characters galore! Everywhere you turn there is some kind of cool Disney thing that appeals to adults as well as kids. The Allstars have classic Disney characters as well as newer ones, that tie into Sports, Music, or Movies. Pop Century has all the fun things adults loved as kids, that the newer generation is just being introduced to. Where else is there a life-sized fooseball table? And the newest, Art of Animation, celebrates the amazing artists who create our favorite Disney characters.

2- PRICE! We adore Disney World, and go as often as we can, but we aren't as rich as we wished we were! LOL! Sometimes, we have to keep our vacation budget as trim as possible. And that means cutting corners where we can. The best place to cut corners is by staying at a Value Resort. Pricing per night ranges from $85 to $189, depending on which Value you choose, what season you're visiting Disney World, and if you'd like a preferred room location or not. That's a great price, in my opinion! And they still include all the perks of being a Disney World resort guest, like free transportation, extra magic hours, package delivery, and the ability to book the Disney Dining Plan. And let's not forget all the fabulous promotions Disney offers every season! So those prices are often even cheaper!

3- FOOD! We are huge fans of food at Disney World, and it's no secret that the best counter service meals of all the resorts are served at the Values. Each has a huge cafeteria-style food court with all sorts of offerings, from early morning til late at night. Art of Animation's Landscape of Flavors has some really unique offerings, while the Allstars and Pop Century stick to American fare. The Pop Century food court is the only place to get tie-dyed cheese cake!!

4- NO FRILLS! I'm not sure how many people will agree this is a perk, but I think it is. We are park people. Even when we've planned extended trips and swore we were going to have more down time, we just didn't. We like being in the parks. Yes, we like to swim and take advantage of the pool area fun, but usually only on arrival day, or in the evening. So for us, the Values are perfect. We don't care about a water slide or hot tub. We spend very little time in our room, so we don't care if it's smaller than the rooms at the Moderate and Deluxe resorts. We couldn't care less that there isn't a table service restaurant to dine at.

5- CUSTOMER SERVICE! Regardless of where you stay on Disney property, you still receive the same level of customer service. Which is pretty darn high, if you ask me! Every Cast Member I have encountered at my many Value resort stays has always gone above and beyond to make us feel special and accommodate us as best they can.

So what do you think of the Value resorts? Have I missed a reason? Share your fabulous experiences!!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Top 5 reasons to book the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan!

I love to eat. I find zero shame in admitting that. And I especially love to eat in Disney World! The Disney Dining Plan has made eating very easy! Here are my top 5 reasons why I love the Quick Service Dining Plan!

1- SAVES TIME! For shorter Disney trips, we like to soak up every minute we can and use them to our fullest ability. Counter meals are just faster. Especially if you dine during off times. We usually eat early lunches. Most counter places open at 11, some are 11:30. We get there right after opening. The lines are short and we have no trouble getting a table. Same with dinner. We'll shoot for 4:30-5 ish, after the lunch crowd has dined and the dinner crowd isn't ready. We can be in and out in maybe 45 minutes, as opposed to the hour and a half it takes at most sit down restaurants.

2- YOU GET MORE! I've done the math. Even if we all ordered the cheapest meal, shared drinks, skipped dessert (or at least only treated ourselves occasionally) we don't come out ahead of what the Quick Service plan costs. I don't know about you, but I would much rather spend the same amount of money and get MORE!

3- DESSERT! Every meal on the Quick Service Dining Plan comes with dessert. Yep. EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL! That's a perk for sure! I dream about the Triple Chocolate Cake.......

4- RESORT MUG! Yep! Even the Quick Service plan comes with a refillable resort mug for every guest on the plan! It is only fillable at your resort, but it is definitely a great perk!

5- SNACKS! For me, a Disney trip is special because of all the fun treats I don't get to experience at home. Dole Whips, Mickey Bars, Smoothies, Floats, every awesome treat in World Showcase! There are a thousand different things to try and you get to try one every day of your trip!

So...what do you think? Have you done the Quick Service Dining Plan before? Would you do it again? What's your favorite use of a snack credit???

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A few words about Cast Members

Every trip we have ever taken to Walt Disney World, a big part of what has made it all so wonderful is the employees....the Cast Members. They often go out of their way to help or make you smile. I openly admit I feel special when someone calls me Princess...and I'm 38! They really know how to make guests feel special and add that extra touch to make you feel as if you have been transported out of reality. They act the part and live it. Some of the best experiences with Cast Members have been at The Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror. So so awesome. And the Jungle Cruise operators? Amazing! I heard that's the most sought after job on property :) Even their uniforms coordinate with their job and it all adds to the overall magic.

And they really seem to love their job! I have been all over social media for many years and have had the opportunity to chat with current and former WDW cast members. They adore every minute of it. (Well, I'm sure not every minute...I know there is aggravating stuff associated with working at the largest amusement park on the planet!) But they genuinely want to be there. They wear their name tags like a badge of honor.

So next time you're at a Disney park, play along! Take pictures! The people at Disney are part of what makes it so awesome!