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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Thursday, June 30, 2011

I Am Going To Be Published!

Do you remember the i-Pad contest sponsored by PassPorter.com that I wrote about a few months ago?  (click here to read about the contest thatended May 1, 2011)  One way to get entries into the drawing was to submit travel tips to PassPorter.com and I did just that several times.

Well, I received an e-mail from Jennifer Marx, author of the PassPorter field guides that one of my tips is going to be published in the 9th Edition of PassPorter’s Guide to Disney Cruise Line! 

My name will be listed as a contributor and will appear beside the travel tip in the guide book.  I will also receive a free copy of the book!

I was stunned, excited, and honored that a travel tip that I submitted would be published by PassPorter.

The husband was very supportive when I shared the news.  He told me that he knew all that writing about Disney would pay off someday and that he was proud of my hard work.  He was also excited about getting a free guide!

I have written about PassPorter’s Field Guide to Walt Disney World previously—click here to read why PassPorter is my favorite planning guide.  PassPorter guides have helped us plan many Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line trips.  PassPorter.com has an on-line community that I frequent to learn even more about the most magical place on earth and traveling in general.

Just yesterday I provided helpful information about lodging to someone planning a trip to the Grand Canyon next summer on PassPorter.com’s on-line forums.  Happy to help and happy to be a part of “tribe” of people from around the globe that talk, dream, plan, read, visit, and experience various types of travel including Disney travel.

What was the tip, you ask?  Well, I’m not going to divulge that just yet, but I will say I have provided that same tip previously in the Williams Family blog.  Click here to read more.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Our Vacation Paperwork Arrived or Disney Mail!

The paperwork for our upcoming trip arrived!  Actually, it was hand delivered to our home by our travel agent.  Disney mail is the best kind of mail, in my opinion.

The documents were a little more extensive for our upcoming trip, as it includes both sea and land portions.

Here’s what was included in our documents:

  • Voucher for our overnight stay at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport.  We are staying her the night before we sail as our flight does not arrive in Orlando until after 8:00 pm.  It will be convenient to grab our luggage at baggage claim and head upstairs to a comfy bed.  We have a voucher as we have pre-paid for the room at a great discounted rate!

  • Luggage tags for the ship.  The adhesive luggage tags have our name and stateroom number included.  We will tag our bags in the room at the Hyatt the day we sail and leave them in the room.  Hyatt and DCL have a system where our bags will be picked up in our room at the Hyatt (without us even having to be there!) and the next time we will see our luggage will be at our stateroom on the ship.  (I just love this convenience!)  And, there are 6 luggage tags!  While we will be traveling with 3 checked bags and 3 carry-ons, this means we can tag most of our bags and just make our way to the ship with 1 rolling bag (I’ll have to write more later about what is in that 1 bag).  Again, very easy. . . and light!

  • Cruise Line Booklet.  Okay, I will admit that I was very impressed with this booklet, as not only does it contain important information, but it is personalized!  It has our names, the publishers indicated that we had already completed our pre-cruise documents on-line, even our port adventures, a.k.a. shore excursions were printed inside.  Wow!  The information in the booklet includes a check-list of things to do prior to your Disney Cruise vacation.  Also, it mentions how important it is to bring the booklet with you as you will need to have it, along with the cruise paperwork you completed on-line, at a few stops along the way. (The scans for our Disney transfers are in the inside front cover!)  There are also 3 perforated cards to tear out and give to friends/family with information about contacting you on the ship in case of emergency included in the booklet.

  • Walt Disney World luggage tags for personalized information.  The 3 that were included have a different design than we have seen in the past.  We have these tags on almost every bag imaginable, but we will add this to our luggage, too.  Now, here’s a personal preference:  when filling out the Name, etc. on the cards that go inside these bag tags, I just include our last name and a cell phone number.  If I include our home number, obviously no one would be home to answer the call if the bag was lost/found, as we would be traveling.

  • AAA Walt Disney World Vacation Booklet which includes our itinerary, our resort stay, and park ticket types.  This booklet also has a personalized PhotoPass card that I can register on-line to our PhotoPass account.  There are also vouchers for our free Magical Express transportation from our resort to the airport, Disney’s Story Time Experience—which we have yet to do and is now in EPCOT, discounts on fishing excursions, spa treatments, marina rentals, miniature golf, etc.  There’s also an arcade voucher worth 100 arcade points—this we use!—a Diamond Parking for free and preferred parking at the theme parks—we don’t use this as we don’t have a car, but it is included, and the AAA Diamond Card good for discounts on Dining, Recreation, Spa, Merchandise, Disney Tours, and AAA services including automotive repairs and tires at the AAA Car Care Center.  We do use the AAA Diamond Card, as it offers a 10% discount at World of Disney at Downtown Disney on purchases of $75 or more.  Using the vouchers and discounts in the booklet, a family could go play miniature golf at any of the miniature golf courses at Disney with 1 person free and up to 6 others playing with 15% off the fee.  (This we have done!  And, it is similar to the DVC and AP discounts at the miniature golf courses.)

Well, now that the paperwork has arrived, we finish packing, check-in to our resort on-line at the 10 day window, pre-order our PhotoPass CD, and countdown the days until our trip.

It won’t be long now!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pro Hot Air Balloon Races

 Each year, our community hosts pro hot air balloon races.  And, for the last two years, we have volunteered to help crew a balloon.  Click here to read about crewing last year.

 We arrived at the event location just before 5:30 pm.  Got a great parking space--backed in to make getting out easier, brought a cooler of drinks and snacks, bug spray, chairs, a blanket, jackets, camera, flip camera, "glow" things for when it got dark, and cell phones.  We set up out location as to see the fun flight.  I also texted the person in charge to let them know we were here and available to help.

 Here come the balloon pilots back from the informational
meeting.  See the pole with the yellow flag?  That's the target,
along with the large yellow "X" on the ground for the fun flight.
Closest one. . . "wins"!

The phone rang a few minutes later. "Where are you?" After some direction giving and waving across the large field, we were told we were going to crew a balloon and to make our way across the field. OK, here we come.

We were introduced to our balloon pilot, Chris, from the NW portion of our state. He was traveling with his two small sons and the babysitter--who was too young to drive. He needed a balloon crew and a chase vehicle driver. Got it!

While we waited for our pilot and some of his friends to determine where we were headed to launch, we got the first balloons coming in for the fun flight.
 Ah, here's the first balloon over the horizon for the fun flight.  Corey, 17 year old pilot from Indianola, launched not too far from the field. 

 So close, but not close enough.  Interestingly, Corey and his crew will pack up the balloon and go launch again before the fun flight is over.  The only deadline is before sunset.

 Here come the next two balloons in for the fun flight.  The one on the right is Corey's cousin.  He will also launch his balloon again before the fun flight is concluded.

 Here's the boy videotaping the action.
Our location in the field, typically reserved for
pilots and crews, gave us great views.

  After waiting a while, we were off with Chris to find a launching spot for his balloon--Sweetness.  The boy and the husband were riding in the backseat while our pilot and his friends determined the best spot to launch.  Got a keep an eye on those winds!

 Watching other balloons launch helps too, as you can see if the winds are changing directions once the balloons get higher in the air.

Literally, our sky was covered with hot air balloons!

 We tried another location.  Our pilot, Chris, is the one on the far left.  The pilots are keeping a close eye on the other balloons.  But, the sun is starting to sink further into the horizon, so time is running out.

 We find a spot to launch the balloon.  All of us get to work--well sort of!

 The boy's first grade teacher and her husband just happen by the spot where we were launching the balloon.  By this time, the boy knows he is going up in the balloon.  She was taking pictures and videos for her daughter-in-law, who is from Korea and has no idea about hot air balloons. 

The husband's got the guide rope and the gloves.  Hold on tight!

Sweetness is about to be upright as Chris blows more hot air into the balloon.

The boy is ready for his second hot air balloon ride.  Click here to read about his first flight.

 Holding on tight!

And, there they go!  Up, up, and away in a beautiful balloon!  (I couldn't resist using those words!)

 The next part of the story involves me driving the chase vehicle, keeping track of the balloon and its location via radio, and getting to the balloon once it lands.  The following video may be helpful:

After packing up the balloon, we headed back to the field for Night Glow.  Our pilot chose not to set up his balloon for night glow, as the field already had LOTS of balloons going up.

 It's amazing to be in a field of balloons.  The sights and sounds are incredible!  While we have pictures, we also have video, thanks to the husband.  Check it out:

The evening ended with a fireworks display.  I discovered that my camera is smarter than I am when I tried out the "fireworks" setting.  It is amazing what you learn.

All in all, it was a great evening.  Beautiful weather, unexpected adventures, new friends and old friends. 

We're set to go again next year!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Our Touring Schedule for Trip # 8

We are days from our upcoming and 8th trip to the Walt Disney World Resort.  Anticipation is mounting!

I revealed the completed touring plan/schedule to the family a few days ago.  All were in agreement.  Good!

Day 1:  This is the day we disembark from the Dream.  Boo-hoo, Boo-hoo.  We are headed to our resort, Port Orleans French Quarter.  Plan for the day:  swimming, laundry, and lunch.  This will be the first time we’ve ever done laundry at the World.  I’m prepped for the adventure.  Then it’s off to Hollywood Studios for a Fantasmic Dining Package at Mama Melrose and a reserved seat at the 9:00 showing of Fantasmic.  (There’s a 10:30 showing and the park is open late—we’ll see what happens!)

Day 2:  Animal Kingdom with Extra Magic Hours in the morning.  This means that the park opens one hour early for Walt Disney World Resort guests.  Most touring plans tell guests to avoid parks during Extra Magic Hours UNLESS you are certain you can be at the park when it opens.  Yep, we can!  Kali, Everest, Kilimanjaro, Festival of Lion King, Dinosaur, Boneyard, and maybe Nemo the Musical are on our list for the day.  Where or where to have lunch?  Our fav is Flame Tree BBQ, but we may try Yak and Yeti counter service.  We’ve eaten at Pizzafari before.

Not sure how long we will stay at Animal Kingdom.  We sometimes make it to the 3:45 Jungle Jammin’ Parade and sometimes we don’t.  We’ll play it by ear.  Anyway, dinner at ‘Ohana’s!  Followed by parades and fireworks at the Magic Kingdom?  We’ll see!

Day 3:  Magic Kingdom with Extra Magic Hours in the morning.  The park is our oyster and the husband will be ready to run for Fastpasses.  We have a lunch ADR at Crystal Palace and dinner at Chef Mickey’s.

Day 4:  Hollywood Studios!  Toy Story Mania!  No ADR’s, either!  It’s nice to have a day like that in your schedule so your note worried about making it somewhere on time.  We may return to our resort for dinner or head to Downtown Disney.  It’s great to have some flexibility in the plan.

Day 5:  EPCOT!  Believe it or not, this is one of our favorite parks.  Test Track, Soarin’, Nemo, and characters!  We have a lunch ressie for Coral Reef and a dinner ressie for Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco.  While we’ve eaten at Coral Reef several times, Restaurant Marrakesh is new for us.  Illuminations is also a possibility!

Day 6:  The plan is to start the day at Studios—Toy Story Mania and characters!  Then park hop to EPCOT using the boat that takes guest from Studios to the International Gateway at EPCOT.  Leaving after the 3:00 “parade of sorts” at Studios makes for a good break.  Characters abound in World Showcase in the afternoon and we have a dinner ADR for Teppan Edo in Japan.  We can hang out in EPCOT or hop to Magic Kingdom which will be open until 3:00 am for resort guests.

Day 7:  Flying home.  Our flight is not until the middle of the afternoon, which is a welcome change from our “get on the Magical Express at 4:00 am” flights.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

With All The Construction At The Magic Kingdom, Is Now The Time To Visit?

With ticket prices increased, Toontown closed, and other portion of Magic Kingdom under construction, is now the time to visit Walt Disney World?  Answers vary. 

Magic Kingdom with the Fantasyland Expansion, slated to open late fall of 2012, is experiencing growing pains. Guests develop photos only to see construction walls and scrims in many.  The Walt Disney World Railroad only has 2 stops—Main Street and Frontierland.  The Enchanted Tiki Room-Under New Management has been closed since late winter with the re-opening continually pushed back.  Character meet and greets relocated to various portions of the parks—I say parks here, as the Fairies are still in EPCOT and have not yet returned to the Magic Kingdom.  So, with fewer attraction, ticket prices would be less, right?  Wrong!  The Disney Company announced earlier than ever ticket price increases that went into affect immediately. 

So, is now the time to plan a visit to Walt Disney World given Magic Kingdom’s transformative state?

Yes.  If this may not be your first or ever visit to the World.  If you plan on returning, got a great discount on your trip or have passes, then yes, head to the most magical place on Earth.  Most likely, there will always be some rehab or refurbishment of attractions; it is just that this is a big one right now.  Plan to spend time in the other parks.  Yes, there are OTHER parks—3 others.  I know some folks think that Walt Disney World and Magic Kingdom are one in the same, but Magic Kingdom is a slice of the Walt Disney World Resort. 

No.  If you and your family plan to take a once in a lifetime trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, then wait until the Fantasyland Expansion and Storytime Circus construction are complete and the areas open.  This may mean pushing back a trip until late 2012 or even 2013.  Take your children’s ages into account, as once they hit 10, it will cost you more for tickets and food.

You’re going, aren’t you?  Well, then be ready to grab some great discounts on rooms only rates and free dining plans.  We are headed to the most magical place on Earth for the 8th time and scored free dining for our trip.  That makes 5 out of 8 trips with free dining!

With Magic Kingdom having the highest attendance of any theme park in the world—over 16 million visits annually, based on theme park data for 2010, it is unlikely that all the construction will deter guests.  It might, but it isn’t deterring us, at least for our next trip!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Could We Go To Walt Disney World and Not Do The Theme Parks?

Spring Break 2012 is 9 months away and while we haven’t taken our summer vacation yet, we are in planning mode for Spring Break.

We already have our 5th Disney Cruise reserved—a 4 night on the Dream sailing Sunday through Thursday.  So the question of what to do when we disembark remains.

One idea we are seriously entertaining is to make our way to a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel and finish off our week, but not do the theme parks.  We are wondering whether or not we would be able to do it.

Here’s some of our thinking: 

  • Park ticket prices:  Once you swallow the cost for 2-3 days, the rest is cake, so to speak.  Truly, the more you stay and play, the less expensive the park ticket prices are per day.  But, alas, the most time we would have would be 3 days, IF we fly back Sunday.  Not a bargain!
  • There is plenty to do outside of the parks—Downtown Disney which is a destination unto itself, miniature golf (the pictures in this post are of our last time playing miniature golf at Fantasia Gardens), Fort Wilderness, and many restaurants located at resorts outside the parks.
  • Pool(s).  Each Walt Disney World Resort Hotel has great swimming opportunities.  We are even thinking about staying at a new to us resort as we will only be there a couple of night and try out a new swimming pool.
  • Water Parks—while this would be an additional fee, it would cost less than theme park tickets for that day.
  • Ease of transition from ship to resort to airport.  Once again, Disney service comes into play as Disney transportation is available from the airport to the ship, from the ship to the resort, and from the resort to the airport.  No rental cars, no shuttles, no town car service needed!  If we stayed somewhere other than Disney, this would not be the case.
  • No dining plan.  This is definitely a “con” to our plan.  Since we would not be purchasing park tickets, there would be no way to add the dining plan to our stay.  There is a way around this—purchase a 1 day park ticket and then add dining for the nights of our stay at a 20% discount.  Would that be more or less than paying for food out of pocket?  Hmmm. . . I tell you, I’ve already given this a lot of thought!

In the meantime, I have 3 things I need to do before we make our final decisions---

    1. Ask a DCL rebooking specialist on board if there is anything they can “do for us” for our Spring Break Cruise.  We didn’t rebook this one on board as the prices kept going up and up so we didn’t wait.  We also “upped” our stateroom category last week.  Yet, I still want to ask to see if any other discounts might apply.  It never hurts to ask!
    2. Check for a “Bounceback” offer while we are at Walt Disney World.  Often, these offers are advertised in your resort room and we have taken advantage of them before.  All you have to do is make the reservation and put down a deposit before you check out.  The contact information is on the advertisement, but we just worked with the concierge in the hotel lobby to help us.  We even gave the credit for the booking to our travel agent! 
    3. Check for flights.  Typically, the flights we are looking for open Sept. 1 or so.  Depending on cost, availability of nonstop flights, and which airport we want to use will determine our return date.  That will make a big impact on our decision on whether or not we “do” the theme parks.  It will also be about time to make our ADR’s at that point!

9 months.  Yeah, it can seem like a long time, but it really isn’t.  And, we will have to have the cruise paid in full in 6 months—90 days from the sailing date.  So, indeed, the time is quickly approaching!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Fantasmic Performing (almost) Nightly for July, August, and September: Good News or Bad News?

Walt Disney World Resort announced last week some changes to the Fantasmic—click here to read more—performance schedule at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Fantasmic historically has been performed 3-4 times per week in the evening.  This 25 minute show boasts 90 minute or longer waits.  We used the Fantasmic Dining Package that reduced our wait and gave us “back door” entry.  We are doing the same for our upcoming trip.

With the announcement, Fantasmic will now be performed every night in the months of July, August, and September (minus 1 night each of the months when the park closes at 7:00 pm for private events.)

While the expansion of Fantasmic performances is great news for folks who may not have planned to tour Hollywood Studios on an evening of a performance—or are even surprised when Fantasmic is not a daily occurrence—trust me, we’ve seen and heard that, it’s not such great news for the Williams Family.  Why?  Well, for our upcoming trip, we had 3 visits to the Studios in our touring plan—thank goodness for Park Hopper!  Our first visit to Studios is scheduled for our first day at the World—dinner at Mama Melrose with the Fantasmic Dining Package.  The second visit is scheduled for Wednesday—a pre-announcement NON Fantasmic performance day—with the plan that we would be at the Magic of Disney Animation at 5:00 pm for what our family refers to as the Character Explosion—click here and here to readmore.  At the Character Explosion, rare and unusual characters appear at the Magic of Disney Animation with air conditioning and short wait times.  It is a veritable character feast!  Alas, due to the change in the Fantasmic performance schedule, there will be no Character Explosion, as it is only held on non-Fantasmic nights.  Trust me, though, I’m going to ask!  Oh, and our 3rd stop will be on Friday and then we will park hop to EPCOT—taking the boat from Studios to the International Gateway at EPCOT which will put us in World Showcase for more characters and dinner at Teppan Edo.

When I told the husband about the announcement and the effect it will have on our visit, he wad disappointed.  The Character Explosion—as we call it, as it has no official name, has become a bit of a tradition for us—and an easy and exciting way to interact with lots of characters.  I told him I had good news and bad news.  After I told him, he said it was mostly bad news—for us at least.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Boy Went to OCCP Summer Camp!

Ever since Santa brought him a sleeping bag for Christmas, the boy has been anxious to use it at the annual OCCP Summer Camp, which he was finally old enough to attend this summer!

The camp takes place over the course of 3 days and 2 nights at a camp a few miles outside of our city.  The camp has a lake/beach, cabins, gym, lodge, etc.

At about this time, you might be wondering how we got the photos of the boy at camp.  Well, the husband was a volunteer at the camp and was there overnight both nights.  While he didn't share a cabin with the boy, he was right next door and available for photo ops.

OCCP is our local children's theater group that produces three productions each year.  The boy has been in many OCCP productions.  Click here to read more. . .

This was the third year for the camp which consisted of several counselors, adult volunteers, and about 60 campers.
The weather was great the first afternoon so everyone got to swim in the lake and go canoeing.  You can see the boy climbing up onto the floating dock in the photo above.  There was a lifeguard on duty and the kids had to pass a swimming test before they could go out to the raft.  The boy was the only one of his age group that passed!

Here's Marc ready to take some campers out in the canoe.  Life jackets!  Yeah!

Here's the boy donning a life jacket so he could head out in a canoe.  From the photo below, you can tell he was enjoying his leisurely ride!

Some of the girls decided to bury a fellow camper.  And, in the photo below, is that the boy hanging out with the lifeguard?

There were two boys' cabins.  Each cabin had to create and perform a short skit by Friday.  It was, after all, theater camp!  Each cabin was given a bag of props to help them get started with creating and writing the skit.  They used the props during the performance.

A camp fire was on order for the first night and included songs, making smores, and photographs.  Each camper received a t-shirt to commemorate their camp experience.  They are all wearing the shirts for the camp fire and photos.

Ah, someone must have taken the camera from the husband to snap the photo above. 

Smores!  Yummy!

Chillin' in the cabin.  The boy had a bottom bunk for his 2 nights at camp.

The boy's bunk is bottom left in the photo above as that is his sleeping bag.  That means that all the stuff spread out on the floor in front of the bunk was his, too!

There is a large gym as a part of the facility that came in handy during rainy afternoons.  There was also a dance held in the gym on the second night.

The boys' created a skit about a leprechaun and the boy played a Sheriff who had had his money stolen by the leprechaun. 

Friday evening marked the end of camp.  The parents were invited to attend the performances and then take their camper home.  Here's Marc and Becky welcoming the parents and introducing the skits.  There were 6 skits in all.

Now it was their turn.  The leprechaun is wearing the green hat.  The cast introduced themselves before the skit started.

The sleeping Sheriff at the beginning of the skit.

Acting, acting, acting.  They skillfully executed their skit.

And, here's the boy at the end of camp, rolling his bag from his cabin to the car.  He had a great time and was very tired on Friday night.  The stories started coming Saturday morning during breakfast.

He's looking forward to going again next year!