Category: Travel tips

Attraction Spotlight: Gran Fiesta Tour with the Three Caballeros

 Located inside the Mexican Pavillion, the Gran Fiesta Tour is a gentle boat ride through the sights of Mexico along with the three feathered friends, including Donald.

Donald could pop up anywhere, climbing Mayan pyramid steps in Chichen Itza, diving off a cliff in Acapulco or even disguised as a piñata! José Carioca and Panchito are in hot pursuit on their magical flying serape, treating you to vistas of ancient and modern Mexico on their merry chase.

I love this attractions for several reasons.  One, my kids love it, always a big indicator as to whether we’ll repeat any attraction.  Donald’s antics make them laugh and the animatronics are reminiscent of It’s a Small World.  Two, it’s indoors.  In a park as hot and with as little shade as Epcot, a nice, cool ride is a great break during a tour around the World Showcase.  Three, it’s neat to see the inside of La Hacienda de San Angel, the Table Service located inside the pavilion.  My daughter loved calmly floating by all the diners. Next time you need a quick break, take a stop inside of the Mexico Pavilion and enjoy Donald and his friends!  You may even get a little surprise at the end of your journey.

When to Visit Walt Disney World 2017 – Updated

New festivals in Epcot and the announcement of other events required an updated crowd calendar for 2017.  I hope you find this helpful.  Check below for important dates.

 

 Important dates to remember:

January:

Marathon Weekend 4-8

Epcot International Festival of the Arts, weekends from Jan 13-Feb 20

February:

Epcot International Festival of the Arts, weekends from Jan 13-Feb 20

Princess Half Marathon Weekend 23-26

March:

Epcot Flower and Garden Festival, March 2 – May 30

April:

Flower and Garden Festival continues

Many Spring Breaks center around Easter on April 16th

May: 

Flower and Garden Festival continues

Star Wars Marathon Weekend, 20-23

Memorial Day Weekend, 27-28

June/July:

Summer crowds

August:

Summer crowds continue

Epcot Food and Wine Festival begins August 31

September:

Epcot Food and Wine continues

Labor Day Weekend 1-4

October:

Epcot Food and Wine continues

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween parties begin, with crowds peaking around Halloween

November:

Epcot Food and Wine continues until the 13th

Food and Wine marathon weekend 2-5

Crowds peak around Thanksgiving

December:

Largest crowds of the year beginning just before Christmas and continue through New Year’s

 

Everything you need to know about Renting Disney Vacation Club Points

I mentioned in previous posts about the cost benefits of renting Disney Vacation Club points.  Before you go in and rent for yourself, I want to explain all that goes along with it, because it is a VERY different experience from making resort reservations through Disney.  I have only rented through a company that brokers the deal between you (the renter) and the DVC member, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on in this post.  It is possible to rent individual to individual, but I will admit I don’t have any experience with that type of transaction.


 First, for those unaware of the Disney Vacation Club, it’s Disney’s version of a timeshare.  You buy a certain number of points, and then are able to use them at any DVC resort in Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort, Aulani, Hilton Head in South Carolina and Vero Beach.  The current DVC resorts are:

In Walt Disney World-

  • Bay Lake Tower At Disney’s Contemporary Resort
  • Disney’s Beach Club Villas
  • Disney’s Boardwalk Villas
  • The Villas At Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
  • The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel
  • Disney’s Polynesian Villas and Bungalows

In Disneyland Resort –

  • The Villas at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel

In Hawaii –

  • Disney’s Aulani Resort and Spa

In South Carolina –

  • Hilton Head Island

In Florida, off property –

  • Vero Beach

The amount of points need will vary by resort, room type and time of year.  Using a cost & points calculator like the one found at www.dvcrequest.com can be a very helpful tool when planning for your vacation.

Once you know when you are going on your trip, you can submit an on-line reservation form.  At time of reservation, you will be asked for a down payment of around $100.  This is not a reservation fee, but will be applied toward your rental once it’s all sorted.  If the reservation falls through, the money will be refunded to you.

Now, here’s the first con.  You don’t really get to choose your resort.  You choose your top three options (or less if you’re determined to stay in a certain resort) and the company will reach out to DVC owners in their system and broker a deal for you in one of the resorts you selected.  In my last transaction, I didn’t get my top choice (non-Savannah view room at AKL) but was given my second choice (Savannah view room).

Once the reservation is secured, you must then pay the balance in full.  To me, this is truly the only downside to renting points.  You aren’t able to be on a payment plan, the balance is due in full within 48 hours of booking or you lose your room.

Once everything is booked, you will have the option of adding the Disney Dining Plan.  These, too, must be paid in full at the time of reservation.  Note, that renting DVC points does not allow you to participate in Free Dining promotions, as Disney requires you to book a complete vacation package through them to be eligible.

You are also given the option of adding Magical Express services to your DVC rental so long as you do so within 30 days of your check-in date.

As with all other Disney packages, you are eligible to begin choosing your Fastpass+ reservations at the 60 day mark (as opposed to 30 days) since you are vacationing on Disney property.  And, of course, you are able to book Advanced Dining Reservations up to 180 days in advance.

Because this is not a package, you are adding all parts of your Disney vacation a la cart, meaning you will be adding tickets, dining plan, and resort stay separately to the same vacation.  It can be a little tricky, but a message to me, or a call to Disney can fix it right up.  I have not had difficulty adding tickets to my reservation in My Disney Experience, but that app can be touchy at times.

A couple of other things to note about staying in DVC property.  You are not eligible for daily room cleaning, but you can request extra towels, linens, etc as needed.  On the plus side, the rooms are slightly larger AND you get a minifridge, microwave and toaster in room!

I thoroughly enjoyed this process myself.  Because of the amount of trips we have taken lately, and how my husband constantly reminds me that “Dave [Ramsey] would not approve”, I am always looking for great deals for Disney.  I know that I would never have been able to afford a Deluxe resort at regular Disney prices, so renting DVC just made sense for me.  Does it sound like it would for you?

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Visiting Disney World… when you’re pregnant

I made the insane, or awesome depending on how you look at it, decision to visit Disney World while pregnant with both of my children.  With my first, my husband and I visited as our “babymoon” and with my second, we decided it might as well be tradition, and we visited again.  Both times, I was around 7-8 months pregnant, and of course with the second trip, I had a toddler to chase around!  But, I found that Disney World is definitely not out of the question while pregnant, you just have to be smart about it.

Continue reading Visiting Disney World… when you’re pregnant

How to: Thanksgiving Week 2016

I don’t know if you’ve noticed lately, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get the most bang for your buck when taking a trip to Disney World during traditionally busy periods.  I’m sure it’s because now that I have a child entering public school, I’m bound by a school calendar, which is new for me.  I always said “Of course I’ll take my kids out of school for Disney!”, but now that the reality is here, I’m just too much of a rule-follower for that to be true.

So here I am, contemplating my new reality (#firstworldproblems, right?) and I’ve started thinking about holidays, and today we’re going to talk about Thanksgiving week at Walt Disney World.

Thanksgiving week begins the holiday period at Disney World.  Resort prices will increase, you can expect more crowds, holiday parties and special events will be happening, it can all be very confusing.  For 2016, Thanksgiving week begins on Sunday, November 20th and for the purpose of this article, will end on Sunday, November 27th as most of the kiddos will have to be back at school on Monday.  The Epcot Food & Wine Festival will have just ended on November 14th, and there are no planned Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party events planned for that week.  Besides Extra Magic Hours, there will be little for you to plan around.

Here are the current posted hours for the four parks for this week (I suspect Animal Kingdom will change, as there are now multiple “after dark” offerings these days).

Let’s say that you want to enjoy a Turkey dinner with all the fixins while you’re in your Home Away From Home.  There are several (28 to be exact) restaurants that offer just that on Thanksgiving Day.  It is highly recommended that you make Advanced Dining Reservations for these restaurants to secure your meal.

 According to my crowd calendar for 2016, you should expect fairly high crowds during this week.  They should peek around mid-week and stay fairly high through Saturday and Sunday.  Many school districts plan fall breaks around this time, several lasting the entire week, so it is important to plan wisely.  Use my How to Navigate Busy Periods blog post to help you out.

Personally, I always flip back and forth between vacations during family-oriented holidays.  On one hand, it’s a no-brainer when you’re trying to minimize school absences, but on the other hand, you could miss out on valuable family time.  Solution?   Take the entire family!  Siblings, parents, grand-parents, aunts, uncles, 3rd cousins-twice removed even!

Where do you fall on the visiting Walt Disney World on holidays subject?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips!

 

 

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How to Keep the Excitement Up for your Disney World trip

You made your resort reservations, then you counted down to day 180 to make your dining reservations, then impatiently waited to day 60 to make your fastpass+ reservations.  Your magic band colors have been chosen.  Now what?

This is the stage I’m in at my house.  My current countdown is…52 days as I write this.  I made Fastpass+ reservations last week, dining reservations have been made for months now and we’re stuck in this limbo of “Yay – we’re going to Disney!” and “I have to wait how much longer???”.

So, today, I present How To Keep the Excitement Up For Your Disney World Trip.

1 – Have a countdown calendar like this one from Palmettos and Pigtails.  I love a good countdown chain.  I currently use a countdown app on my phone, but when I’m in the mood to get the kids involved, there’s nothing better than this.

2 – Movie Nights.  Ask anyone, and they will tell you that I love a good theme.  Tell me you want a Cinderella party, and you’ll have coaches and glass slippers and pumpkins everywhere.  Disney movie nights are just another reason to theme-up my house.  I love this example from The Craft Monster.  Themed food?  I’m so there.

3 – Make Disney themed family shirts.  I LOVE these from Jamonkey, but I’ve done lots of different kinds.  I’ve used my Silhouette to make Mickey ear silhouette tank tops, I’ve bought the iron on transfer paper and made personalized park shirts…if there’s a Pinterest tutorial, I’ve probably tried it.  Here’s a picture of my cutie sporting her mom-made Daisy shirt.

4 – Minnie on the Shelf.  I’m sure you’ve heard of Elf on the Shelf, and this Disney version is just adorable.  This is sure to get your kids super excited about their upcoming trip!  Credit this one to Disney Dreamin‘.

5 – Tinkerbell/Countdown Gifts.  One of my favorite things to do is buy small, simple gifts from Dollar Tree or Walmart and give them periodically to my children.  It’s a cheap, easy way to keep the kids excited during the last few weeks before the Disney trip.  I like to pick up coloring books and crafts and other little trinkets that the kids can play with on the road trip down to Florida.   Crafting Misfits has a lot of great ideas for gifts.

How do you like to keep your kids excited during the lull before trips?

 

How to keep your kids safe at Disney World

My youngest child is about to be three.  He’s at that age where keeping him pinned in a stroller during Disney trips is about to become more hassle than it’s worth.  So that got me thinking, he’s a VERY active kid, wants to be into everything, testing his (and my) limits constantly.  How do I keep him safe at Disney?

Judge me if you want, but I really hate the idea of using those kid leashes.  I own one, and may give in eventually given how active my son is, but I want to avoid it if possible.  My daughter is five, and while I’m not really worried about her running away to take a peek at something in the parks, it’s always in the back of my mind that she could get separated somehow.

Then, the other day, I received a promo code from David’s DVC Rentals.  We’ve rented points for our stay in July, and they thanked us by sending us a promo code good for two magic band skins.  Then it hit me.  I could create custom skins for my children’s Magic Bands with my information printed on them.

How cute is this???  I ordered this princess version for my daughter and a pirate one for my son.  They come in two different versions, a two piece magic band skin that keep the Mickey head icon visible like this:  and a one piece that covers the entire band.

 

You can choose from dozens of cute designs, then simply add “If lost, call:  (your number)”.  Be sure to include your area code, even if you are local.

If your kids are anything like mine, they LOVE to wear their magic bands.  They never take them off.  That’s what made this such a great idea for my family.  Think it’ll work for you too?  Check out the custom Magic Band skins here.

Be sure to check out Magic Your Band.  I own several of them, customized and several of their pre-made band skins and LOVE them!


What are you tips?  I’d love to hear them!

Magic Kingdom Touring Plans

I think the Magic Kingdom is the most difficult park to decide how to get around.  There are several different areas that are separated and jut out from the central hub.  There are so many options for attractions, character meet and greets, dining, shows, parades, and of course, Wishes fireworks.  Before I had children, I had the luxury of wandering through the park without really thinking about making anyone happy other than myself (and my husband, but back then he was really just along for the ride).  These days, a successful trip means hitting the right attractions, characters and parades so that no one is disappointed or sad they missed something.

In planning my upcoming trip with my children, I got to thinking about the best way to get around the parks efficiently.  A mistake I so often see made is jumping from one area of the park and back again, wasting so much time walking back and forth.  I’ve already written about the importance of choosing the right Fastpass+ reservations to optimize your time, but how do you put that into the larger scale idea of where to be when?  So I started working on touring plans that I thought would be the best way to get the most done, while also leaving time for unexpected, “magical” moments.

Since what you choose to do may vary depending on the age of your children, I’ve separated my touring plans into younger children and older children.  These are meant to be a general guideline, not a hard and fast plan.  This is just how I would organize my day if I only had one day to visit Magic Kingdom, which is usually all my family does anyway.  These graphics are downloadable onto your smartphone, so feel free to save as a reference while in the parks!

Now, young children will most likely enjoy Fantasyland the most, so I’ve dedicated a large chunk of my day to this area of the park.  If your little one needs a nap, by all means adjust for that!  My youngest is just starting to drop his naps, so this next trip with him will be my first without heading back to the hotel for a couple of hours.  But, sometimes, everyone needs a little break in the middle of the day to recharge!

With little ones, I suggest the following Fastpass+ reservations:  Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight and Princess Fairytale Hall.  With those in place, start the day to the left of the hub, beginning in Adventureland.  for Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean.  From there, travel clockwise to Frontierland and Liberty Square to ride Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Haunted Mansion.  Then, take a break for lunch!

After lunch, head to Fantasyland to use your Fastpasses, and spend plenty of time checking out the rides, attractions, shows and character meet and greets available that are sure to please any little one.  At 3, be sure to head over to the hub for the Festival of Fantasy Parade.  Find pictures, details and great viewing spots in this post.

After the parade, head over to Tomorrowland for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor (a family favorite!), Tomorrowland Speedway and Tomorrowland Transit Authority.

Be sure to save this graphic to your phone for quick reference!

Older children will likely want to spend less time in Fantasyland, but may be more interested in thrill rides.  I suggest the following Fastpass+ reservations for this age group:  Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

After arriving at the park (preferably at Rope Drop), head straight to Fantasyland and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  It may not be the most exciting ride, but it’s new, and very popular so get there first since we don’t have a FP+ for it.  Make sure to get on Mad Tea Party as well, it’s a classic.  If you need a quick breakfast, my favorite options are the gigantic cinnamon bun at Gaston’s Tavern and the Nutella waffle at the Sleepy Hollow.  Go here to look at all my favorite quick service breakfasts in the parks.

From there, head clockwise to Tomorrowland and use your first Fastpass+ for Space Mountain.  Then be sure to challenge each other on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and laugh yourselves silly at Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor.  After this, time for lunch!  Casey’s on Main St is a favorite!

After lunch, head over to Adventureland where you should be able to ride Jungle Cruise, Magic Carpets of Aladdin and Pirates of the Caribbean. Then, in Frontierland, use your remaining FP+ for Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and switch to Liberty Square for the classic Haunted Mansion.

Even older kids will enjoy the Festival of Fantasy Parade, so make a stop along the parade route to enjoy it for a little break. Once done, the rest of the day is open to enjoy other rides, shows, attractions, and dinner in the park until the grand finale, Wishes fireworks.

Now, just for fun, a touring plan for the princess-lover in your life.  I’ve designed this touring plan with the thought of maximizing the number of princess meet-and-greets while minimizing the line waiting.  For the Magic Kingdom, this means a pre-park opening breakfast reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table (2 dining credits) as well as lunch reservations at Be Our Guest.  There are no characters at the lunch option at Be Our Guest, but dining in the Grand Ballroom is pretty amazing.  Belle doesn’t meet here, but the Beast does for dinner.  If that sounds like something you’re interested in, make that switch.  Fastpass+ recommendations for this plan include Enchanted Tales with Belle and the left and right sides of Princess Fairytale Hall.

Beginning the day at Cinderella’s Royal Table will guarantee you at least 5 princesses before the park even opens.  Cinderella is a given, and often in rotation are Snow White, Aurora, Belle (in her plain, blue dress), Ariel and Jasmine.  After breakfast, hop onto the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train to beat the crowds, ride the Mad Tea Party (just to make sure you get the delicious breakfast all shook up in your belly) and then head around the front of the castle for a meet and greet with Merida.

Next, use your first Fastpass+ for Enchanted Tales with Belle (no official meet and greet here, but being a part of the show allows for great photo opportunities!).  Then Journey of the Little Mermaid and the meet and greet in Ariel’s grotto to visit with Ariel in her mermaid form.

Next up is Be Our Guest for lunch (or another option if you’d decided on dinner instead).  After lunch, head into Adventureland for the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Jungle Cruise, Jasmine and Aladdin and Tiana in Liberty Square.

For the rest of your princess lovin’ day, use your princess fastpasses to catch any princesses that weren’t at your breakfast.  The current configuration is up in the air, but it seems as though the four princesses will be Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora and Rapunzel.  Then, enjoy the rest of your day.  Maybe look out for Gaston or the Tremaine family – always a great time!

By the end of the day, the only official princesses you will not have met will be Pocahontas (found in Animal Kingdom), Mulan (the China pavillion in Epcot) and Anna & Elsa (Norway pavillion in Epcot).  Not bad for one day!

 I hope this helps you to plan out you day in the Magic Kingdom!

Get your smartphone park ready for Disney World

 If you’re anything like me, your cell phone is your lifeline.  I use it for everything.  Need a pizza?  Call it in.  Can’t remember the name of the actor in the movie you’re watching?  Google it!  Want to take picture?  Use the camera on your phone!  It’s no different on vacation, if not more so.  When at Disney World I’m more likely to take pictures, video, upload to social media, check for times, use the My Disney Experience app, and a host of other things.  With something so important, how do you make sure the battery doesn’t die?  Or that you have all the apps that make your trip that much better?

APPS

Let’s talk apps.  I recommend several apps to make the most of your vacation.

 

 1.  My Disney Experience – The most important app for any Walt Disney World trip, My Disney Experience is your link to everything in your trip.  Look at, create and modify Dining Reservations and Fastpass+ reservations.  Be sure to check out this post to see all the changes now available in the My Disney Experience app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 2. Magic Guide for Disney World – Hands down my favorite app.  My favorite ride’s wait times at my fingertips?  Maps?  Dining options with menus?  It’s all there!  I highly recommend this one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 3. WDW Ride Counter – A fun way to keep track of your vacation doings, Ride Counter does just that, it allows you to keep a total of what rides you’ve ridden, attractions you’ve seen and exactly how many times you’ve participated in them.  I sometimes go into a “Disney haze” so this is a must for me!

 

 

 

 

 

 4.  Theme Park Trivia:  Walt Disney World Edition – Need a way to pass the time while in line?  This app will test your knowledge of all things Disney!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 5.  Hidden Mickeys:  Walt Disney World Edition – Warning, this is the only paid app on this list, but it is definitely worth it.  You’ve heard of Hidden Mickeys, right?  Imagineers cleverly hide the classic Mickey head shape all around the parks in any sort of interesting ways, and it’s your job (and pleasure!) to find them all.  This app will let you know if one is close by, gives you hints as to where to find it, lets you take a picture and logs your progress.  So fun!

 

 

 

 

 6.  Capturing Magic – Plan on taking pictures in the parks?  Of course you are.  Use this app to take pictures of iconic locations, rides, attractions, selfies and then edit with a little pixie dust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 7.  Dropbox – Want a safe place to store all of your special vacation photos?  Upload them from your phone directly into the Dropbox app and they’ll magically appear in your dropbox account that you can access anywhere.  It’s a cloud storage system that comes in very handy!

 

 

 

 

 

 8.  InstaVid – Another photo-editing app, I really like this one because it will conveniently collage your favorite photos (and videos!) together to make them Instagram friendly.  This is my current favorite collage photo app, as it incorporates a video element that autoplays in most social media platforms.

 

 

 

 

 

 9. Uber – In case you’re looking for a faster, more personal ride around the parks, the Uber program is a quick, safe, and often cheaper alternative to traditional taxis.  The app makes finding a ride quick, easy and makes payment (almost) painless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 10.  Honorable mentions – This is a screenshot of my “Travel” folder on my phone.  We nearly always drive to Disney, so I keep the rest area finder and zomato apps ready for potty breaks and snack breaks.  I also include the Universal version of the Magic Guide, as our trips often include a day at the “other park” in Orlando as well.  I love having them all in one easy to access folder on my phone for quick reference.

 

 

 

 

Battery Life

Now let’s talk battery usage.  With all the app checking, social media perusing, Fastpass+ making, trivia asking activities to do with your phone, your battery life is bound to be less than optimal.  Here are some quick ways to preserve as much as possible.

1. Turn off Wifi/4G.  Basically go into airplane mode when you aren’t using your phone.

2.  Turn on autobrightness.  Quick battery saver.

3.  Turn off bluetooth.

4.  Utilize “low battery mode”.

Even with all these, a full sun-up to sun-down day in the parks is still going to drain your battery.  My recommendation is to bring an external battery like this one: Portable Charger RAVPower 3200mAh External Battery Pack  and a charging cord for on-the-go charging.

Disney also offers charging stations.  Most notably, near the Tangled-themed restrooms in New Fantasyland.  They are disguised as tree trunks, and take both traditional outlet plugs and USB.  Other options are:

Magic Kingdom:

  • Outlets are available at the exit of Space Mountain in the arcade area
  • Liberty Square – Columbia Harbor House has a large number of outlets situated next to table

Epcot:

  • The Living Seas have outlets near the women’s restrooms
  • The Land has outlets upstairs near the Electric Umbrella

Animal Kingdom:

  • Finding Nemo has a bench near the theater with a hidden outlet in the plants

Hollywood Studios:

  • The Magic of Disney Animation has outlets on the walls in the Animation Courtyard
  • ABC Commissary has an outdoor table that has outlet access

Please be kind when using these “unofficial” charging stations.  Don’t unplug anything that’s already plugged in and don’t remove outlet covers.  They are there for a reason!

 

Finally, one last tech tip.  Each morning before you head out to the parks, take a screen shot of your daily plan in the My Disney Experience app and set it as your lock screen wallpaper.  This way, all of your dining and fastpass+ reservations are quickly available to you without having to open the app several times a day.  Also, if My Disney Experience is down for whatever reason, you can still access your information.

I hope this helps you prepare your phone for your next Disney vacation!

2017 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar

This post has been updated with the newest information from Disney World.  Please visit HERE for the most up to date Crowd Calendar.

Whew…finally finished.  I’ve been researching crowds in the past years, current years, cross referencing with events, school calendars, marathons…but now it’s DONE!

The dates for marathon weekends in the latter part of the year (namely, the Wine and Dine marathon) haven’t been announced as of yet, so this is slightly subject to change, but I can’t imagine that it would alter all that much.

I hope this helps you with your future planning!

 

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