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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Disney Cruise Line "Plusses" Offerings for Guests

Just when you thought a Disney Cruise couldn’t get any better, Disney Cruise Line announces experiences that will be “plusses” for its guests.

The Fantasy, Disney Cruise Line’s newest ship, is now offering a champagne brunch in the adults only restaurant Remy.  The brunch offers gourmet offerings paired with champagne.  Available to only 40 guests at a time and on sea days, the brunch costs $50 per person.  Guests can reserve a spot when they board the ship.

No word yet if the Disney Dream will follow suit and offer a champagne brunch at Remy as well.  Since the Magic and Wonder offer a brunch at Palo on sea days, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the brunch offered on the Dream for longer itineraries that include “at sea” days.

We’ve done the champagne brunch at Palo on the Wonder and the Magic, so can only imagine the decadence of a champagne brunch on the Fantasy in Remy.

Disney Cruise Line also announced Pixar themed sailings on the Wonder Sept. 16, 23, 30, and Oct. 7.  These cruises will sail out of the Port of Los Angles and will offer Pixar artists onboard, a special Pixar art exhibit, showings of the entire Pixar film library, the at-sea premiere of Finding Nemo 3D, a preview of the upcoming Pixar feature Monster Academy, and appearances by Pixar film characters.  Each stateroom of guests will also receive a special Pixar lithograph.

When Disney and Pixar became good bed fellows a few years ago, we saw changes right away at the parks with Pixar inspired shows and attractions.  Guests sailing on the Dream and Fantasy noticed the Pixar influence right way with Crush in Animator’s Palette and the references to Cars characters for the quick service food counters on Deck 11.

During our sailing on the Dream, we met several Pixar/Disney characters—Remy, Buzz, Woody, Jesse, and The Incredibles.  Meeting Pixar characters will be just some of the great treats for guests sailing these themed cruises this fall.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Counting Down Until Your Next Disney Vacation

You have booked your next Disney vacation and are now counting down the number of days until your trip.  Torture, right?  It doesn’t have to be.  Here are some ways to make the countdown to the magic, well, magical:

  • Keep track of the number of days until your trip via a calendar, paper chain, or electronic device that will keep track for you.  We do a little bit of all of them!
  • As your countdown hits milestones, celebrate with a special meal, Disney movie, or shopping trip for needed items for your vacation.  Hitting the 100 day mark is just as exciting as the 10 day mark.
  • Know what dates in your countdown mark important planning dates, such as 180 days to make ADR’s and 10 days to check in on-line at your resort.  The dates are a bit different if your next vacation is a Disney cruise, but the idea is the same.  Enjoy the details of your planning.
  • Include everyone in the planning by using guide books, internet resources, or friends who may have Disney expertise.  Just talking about your upcoming trip will build excitement and anticipation.

Scientists have now discovered that the feeling of anticipation is more pleasurable that surprise.  Duh!  Anticipation is part of the fun of a Disney vacation or any vacation for that matter.

Most of our family mealtimes involve some talk about an upcoming trip.  Last night for example, the boy ate a whole pork chop at dinner.  The husband then said, “Yep, he’s ready for the adult menu.”  This prompted a whole conversation about ordering from both the children’s and adult menu on the ship.  The boy was concerned as he wanted to eat duck and needed to know if it was included in the menu.  And, on the ship it’s fine, even for adults, to order from either menu. 

But since he will be 10 by the time we return to Walt Disney World, in the eyes of the mouse, he will be considered an adult.  This means no more kids menu at the counter service locations, as we will have the Disney Dining Plan.  He’s had enough bites of his Dad’s buffalo chicken sandwich, that he is ready for one of his own.  And, adults can have a side of apple slices, but not kids.  Bonus!

The point is that no matter how long the countdown is until your next trip, it can be enjoyable to click away the time anticipating for, planning, and talking about the upcoming trip. 

The boy caught me checking out a ride video of the newly refurbished Big Thunder Mountain Railroad the other day on-line.  Busted!  But, it was part of the countdown!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line: How Do They Compare?

I bumped into some fellow Disney fans at the local pool and of course our conversation turned to Disney.  While they had been to Walt Disney World many times, they had yet to try a Disney Cruise.  Their questions got met comparing Walt Disney World and Disney Cruise Line in terms of experiences, lingo, etc.  Here are some of my thoughts:

Overnight accommodations: 

Walt Disney World Resorts come in value, moderate, and deluxe levels.  There are standard rooms with two double/queen beds, king size beds, and then 1, 2, or 3 bedroom suites/villas.  A standard room can accommodate a family or two couples.

Disney Cruise Line has several categories of staterooms sleeping 3-6 guests.  Two couples sharing a stateroom and wanting to sleep with their partner/spouse would have to look at a suite stateroom, as most categories below that offer one queen size bed and pull down/convertible beds.  Most staterooms are designed to accommodate a family and an adult must be booked into each stateroom if the reservation has more than one stateroom.


Walt Disney World has a variety of dining pampering palettes through a broad range of offerings.  Prices vary and depending on the location, a reservation may be required.  Advanced Dining Reservations can be made at most locations 180 days in advance.  Shows, character dining, and special event dining can be found throughout the Walt Disney World Resort.

Dining on any Disney Cruise Line ship takes guests through three main dining rooms for dinner and as many different menus as there are nights on the cruise.  Quick service locations offering buffet style selections, pizza, and burgers can be found almost round the clock and 24 hour room service is included with the cruise.  The only advance reservation for dining would be for Palo/Remy, the adults only dining locations on the ships.  There is an extra fee for dining at Palo/Remy and reservations can be made at various times before the cruise depending on Castaway Club Level and final payment.  The earliest would be 120 days before a cruise.


Walt Disney World Resort has four theme parks, two water parks, Downtown Disney offering shopping, dining, and entertainment.  Guests decide their level of participation in all of the offerings.

Disney Cruise Line offers activities for guest from sun-up until well past sun-down.  Character greetings, Broadway caliber shows, music, games, seminars, family activities, pools, and shopping are a part of the daily line-up of activities.  Guests participating in shore excursions at various ports have many more activity possibilities.  Guests decide their level of participation in all of the offerings.

Timing and Pricing:

Costs for staying at a Walt Disney World Resort vary depending on the season—value, regular, holiday, peak, etc, and the type of room and type or resort.  Guests can book a Walt Disney World Resort stay a year or more ahead or last minute and still pay approximately the same amount for the same accommodations.

Guests deciding to cruise with Disney Cruise Line at the last minute will end up paying more than the guests in the stateroom next door.  Cruise prices are determined by supply and demand.  The closer the cruise sailing, the higher the prices—generally.  Also, cruises that sail when children are out of school such as holidays and summer will be higher priced than a cruise in October or February.  Prices for staterooms on certain cruises can fluctuate almost daily.  Booking early is the key to getting the best price.

Key To The World Cards:

Guests staying at a Walt Disney World Resort receive Key To The World Cards that operate as their resort room key and park ticket.  If the dining plan has been added to the ticket package, the credits are loaded onto the Key To The World Card.  Guests may also make purchases using their Key To The World Card charging them to their room account that is either secured with a credit card or cash.  Though, other forms of payment can be used to make purchases throughout the Walt Disney World Resort.

Guest of Disney Cruise Line also receive a Key To The World Card that operates as a key to their stateroom.  It also is an ID of sorts as it is scanned anytime a guest leaves the ship or returns to the ship. A photo is attached electronically to the account and appears on the computer screen when the card is swiped when embarking or disembarking the ship.  Key To The World Cards can also be used for shopping and charging other on-board experiences such as spa treatments, arcade credits, or photo purchases.  The ship has a cashless system where purchases are charged to on-board accounts that are secured with a credit card or cash.  This allows guests to spend any on-board credits in their account as well.

In addition to the similarities above, the famous Disney service is noted throughout both the Walt Disney World Resort and Disney Cruise Line.  Yes, they are very different experiences and are difficult to compare as other factors come into play such as relaxation and aesthetics.  Another factor is crowd.  The number of guests on a Disney Cruise Line ship is controlled by the size of the ship and limited to a certain number of guests.  Crowds at Walt Disney World are determined by the time of year and park.  Trust me, there are fewer people on the ship—even the newer, bigger ships. 

Flexibility of travel must also be taken into consideration.  When cruising, travel dates are somewhat determined by the dates of the cruise and offer little in terms of flexibility unless days are added at the beginning or end of a cruise.  Also, return flights home must be for noon or after on the day of disembarkation.  There is much more flexibility in travel times/dates when staying at the Walt Disney World Resort.  If we have a 7:30 am flight home, it’s okay.  Disney’s Magical Express will get me to the airport for the flight—and for free.  Using Disney transfers for a Disney Cruise are an additional per person fee.

Which do we prefer?  Both!  As much for their differences as for their similarities.  If someone is a fan of the Disney parks, their opinion of a Disney Cruise may vary, and to each his own.  I will say, though, that it may be beneficial to give it a try before you decide if you do or don’t like something.  You may be surprised!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Opening Day at Adventure Bay

We went to Adventure Bay which is the water park attached to Adventureland Park on Saturday.  It was opening day for the Adventure Bay with its newest feature Breaker BeachClick here to read the full review of Adventure Bay.

The day started out cloudy with a few sprinkles, but the forecast was for high temps in the 90’s.  The sun came out later in the morning and the temperatures started to climb.  The water park felt good!

Since we opened the park at 10:00 am, we were ready to leave by 3:30 and were out of the park and on our way home by 4:00 pm.

On the way into the park when the gates opened, we bumped into Bernie, the Adventureland mascot.  Interestingly, we couldn’t remember the mascot’s name, so the boy asked at the entrance gates and the employees didn’t know either.  Luckily, Bernie was wearing a nametag!

A stilt walker was nearby, too, and stopped for a photo.

Since we were headed to Adventure Bay, we walked through the park.  It felt a bit odd to be watched by all the workers manning the rides—mostly empty—and booths.  Since this was the first day that the water park or Adventure Bay was open, this was the first time the park employees were seeing people walk past to get to the back of the park, at lease for this summer.

We found chairs near Breaker Beach and spent most of our morning in the wave pool.  We did take in a round on the lazy river.  The boy enjoyed the water slides by himself.  By 12:30, the boy had eaten a bacon cheeseburger and was ready for rides, so he and the husband went off to the rides and I stayed at the water park.  The people watching was incredible!  We met up at the front of the park later in the afternoon.

I was very disappointed that the Adventureland park maps did not include milk and gas coupons this year.  While we didn’t use the gas coupons, we did use the milk coupons. 

All in all, it was a good day and we enjoyed our time at the park.  Of course, taking these kind of day trips makes us think of our Disney vacations and we end up making comparisons.  For example, while waiting for the park to open, I noticed that the “A” on the hillside in front of the train station was bare.  No flowers were in the planter.  We did get our picture taken by a park photographer and I looked at it before leaving the park, but decided not to purchase.  The ladies in front of me were agonizing over which picture to buy and how much, etc.  One customer left saying, “You guys make a killing here.” 

Will we go back?  Not this summer.  Maybe next.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Replacement For Disney Vacation Widget?

There’s not a month that goes by that we don’t receive something in the mail from Disney.  We’ve received free art, personalized thank you cards, resort offers, and post cards. 

This past week, we received a personalized thank you for downloading the Disney Vacation Widget—which we did a couple of years ago—and which has recently been discontinued.  The Disney Vacation Widget was great.  Displayed on our computer desktop, it showed a countdown to the next trip, included some Disney animation magic, offered daily polls or quizzes, and included a trip checklist which varied depending on your Disney destination—World, Land, or Cruise.  The checklist could be customized by adding or deleting items.  I would add things like “call pet sitter and arrange care.”  The Disney Vacation Widget also included links to various sites, such as the Photopass Pre-order site.  But, alas, the Disney Vacation Widget is gone.

Yet, the thank you included a hint that something else might be coming soon with the line “we know you will enjoy the new tools and applications coming soon!” 

How soon, I wonder.

In the meantime, we received some appreciation mail from Disney and a cute print suitable for framing. 

Keep the Disney mail coming!  And, I’ll be on the lookout for new tools and application from the Disney Vacation Connection Team.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Boy's First Crush

The boy came home the other day and announced to anyone within earshot that he had a crush on a girl at school.  Seems the girl had given him the picture above depicting a King and Queen in a castle.

Wow, a crush!  What a wonderful feeling to like someone and feel that they like you back!  It also means he is growing up and fast!

We haven’t heard much more after the first announcement.  And, like most crushes, the feeling can go away almost as quickly as it came.  In fact, when the husband asked the boy about the girl, he was told that “he didn’t want to talk about it.” 

In the meantime, I’ll keep planting seeds of ideas.  You know, phrases like “When you go to college . . “ or “When you have your own house. . .”  My other one is “When you get married you can get married at Walt Disney World.”  The boy has scoffed at that since I started talking about it, until our last visit.  He asked where one might get married at Walt Disney World.  I started pointing out locations like the gazebo at the Boardwalk that can be seen from the Friendship boat launches between Studios and EPCOT, or the Rose Garden at the Magic Kingdom.  We had already seen a portion of the beach at Castaway Cay set up for a wedding.  Ah, maybe the seed is beginning to germinate!  The husband points out that there will be someone else, much more significant that me, helping to make the decision about locations of any nuptials.  He’s right.  At the same time, a mom can dream.

Friday, May 25, 2012

How Do You Keep Disney Magic Alive Between Trips?

How do you keep the Disney magic alive between trips or when your next trip is too far away to imagine?  More than one Disney enthusiast has found themselves wishing to recapture the magic, the Disney magic.

Here are some ways to keep the Disney magic alive between trips:

  • Check out Disney themed web-sites or on-line communities.  There are many sites dedicated to all things Disney and several offer trip reports so you can read about other’s Disney adventures and live vicariously through them.  And, who knows, you might pick up a tip or two.
  • Get out the Disney gear.  Don’t save that Mickey cup, use it for your orange juice or milk.  Find and use those Disney themed items for everyday use.  It will bring a smile to your face!
  • Watch a Disney show or movie.  We like to watch the Disney “Sing-a-long” videos just so we can figure out where on Disney property they were filmed.  And, it gives us a Disney song and character fix, too.
  • Thanks to the internet, there are web-sites that offer Disney music 24/7 and Disney themed podcasts can be downloaded to your iPod for listening when exercising.  We like the “Four Parks, One World” CD set and have it playing often.  We like to guess the attraction that goes with the music.
  • Get out the photo albums, videos, or scrapbooks from previous trips.  It will bring back fond memories and a bit of Disney magic.
  • Grab a Disney guide book and refresh your memory or challenge yourself with some Disney trivia. 
  • Play a Disney themed game.  Many traditional games come in a Disney version.  Even Scene It has a Disney version.

The number one way to keep the Disney magic alive is to plan the next trip! 

I’m sure there are more ways to keep the Disney magic alive between trips.  What are yours?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Airlines Impose Seat Assignment Fees

The Associated Press released an article yesterday about airlines adding or increasing fees for seat assignments on flights possibly forcing family vacationers to be separated during flights.  Click here to read the article.

The premise is that airlines want to cater to their “bread and butter” or frequent fliers so to speak.  The airlines will hold back blocks of seats and offer them at an increased charge or to the frequent fliers.  Passengers who refuse to pay the fee for an assigned seat or don’t know they need to pay a fee may separated from their traveling party throughout the plane.

We have a frequent flier account with multiple airlines and the boy has racked up enough miles to keep us in magazine subscriptions.  We have yet to be burdened by the extra fees for seat assignments.  And, as a family of 3 we most likely have an advantage over larger families.  Yet, I’m having difficulty swallowing this concept.

As the article states, the airlines can only take this so far.  The tipping point may be when frequent fliers are having to supervise children who are separated from their parents during flights.  Maybe the article needs to be re-titled “Airlines Offer Free Babysitting or Child Care During Flights.”  I’m envisioning an episode of Modern Family where the children are scattered in seats throughout the plane and annoying the passengers who paid extra for their assigned seats or the frequent fliers in the aisle or window seats.  At what point will those folks want their money back when they offer to give up a pre-paid premium seat to a parent who has been separated from their child? 

I also envision a David Kelley written episode of Harry’s Law in which something happens to a child who is seated away from their parents and the parents decide to sue the airline.

Though I write this tongue in cheek, I know that some parents will be just fine with their child sitting somewhere else on an airplane and it will be up to the flight attendants and passengers to work it out.  Those who have pre-paid for a specific seat most likely will not want to move without some form of compensation.  Either that or be seated next to an unaccompanied minor. 

When we were at the airport waiting for our flight home from our last trip, there was a television show being broadcast that was about saving money.  I remember it was a man who was hosting, but I don’t remember the name of the show.  He pointed out to the airlines, that instead of spending money to refit planes with larger overhead bin compartments, that it would be more cost effective to stop charging for checked bags.  Hmm. . . What a concept!  And, while the airlines haven’t bought into the logic yet, maybe they will eventually see the error of their ways with customer complaints with the new fees for seats policy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Disney Limbo!

What is that time period after your most recent Disney vacation and before you can make your Advanced Dining Reservations for your next Disney vacation?  Disney limbo!  And, we’ve hit some serious Disney limbo time!

Our next trip is December 2012.  The parks’ calendar for December have been released, so we can plan where we want to be on what day and get an idea of where we want to eat because of that.  We have another 6 weeks before we can make our Advanced Dining Reservations—Disney limbo!

To keep the planning magic alive, we’ve narrowed down at least two of our table service dining opportunities:  ‘Ohana’s, as a Disney trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit and Whispering Canyon at Wilderness Lodge—this would be a new one for us.  We have another ADR to make, but haven’t quite decided. 

And, since we are staying at Coronado Springs again, we want to have breakfast at least once in the Pepper Market—made to order omelets—yum, yum! 

But this is just for the park portion of our Disney vacation.  Let’s talk about the cruise portion!  No need to make dining reservations, as our dining rotation will be made clear to us when we board the ship.  Our only decisions are what port excursion and we are leaning towards a Beach Day at Blue Lagoon or just staying on the ship and what we want to do at Castaway Cay.  Tubes?  Floats?  Bikes?  We can finalize those plans 90 days before our trip, so we have some time.

Then, there’s the inevitable decision about when do we go next?  Oh, Disney limbo strikes again!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

We Lost The Boy At Orlando International Airport

We lost the boy at Orlando International Airport.  Obviously, we found him and the story has a happy ending, but here’s what happened. . .

We have used Orlando International Airport 24 times since November of 2006—trust me, I counted!  And, we have explored the airport extensively spending hours in shops, walking on the moving walkways, riding escalators and elevators, etc. 

During our trip in March, our plane landed, we got off, and went to use the bathroom.  I should have known right then that something was amiss, as the women’s bathroom was closed for cleaning.  The husband and boy went ahead and used the men’s while I waited.  When the reappeared, we ventured further down the concourse to the next women’s bathroom, as it was now my turn.  When I exited, we walked to the main concourse area for the gates—where the shops and restaurants are before riding the tram.

No Burger King, but there was a McDonalds.  The husband got in line to purchase lunch while the boy and I waited.  We typically do this after a flight and then eat/carry the meal with us on the tram to the main terminal area.  This trip was no exception, except one of our drinks spilled before we even started walking—another omen?

The tram ride to the main terminal was smooth and we walked, en mass, with the other passengers past the security area into the main terminal.  Now, guests who exit on “A” side terminals still need to get to the “B” side to use Disney’s Magical Express.  We know this, but for guests traveling for the first time or for the first time in a while, can get confused when they hit the main terminal and are trying to figure out the signs and which way to go.  I’m okay with this, just don’t stop in the middle of the path when you’ve got several hundred people behind you!

We crossed over to the “B” side of the main terminal, still all together.  It’s when we hit the escalators that things got tricky, as you have to adjust from side by side walking to single file.  We went down the first set of escalators.  I was in the lead and kept walking—no stopping at the bottom of escalators!  I was under the impression—I know, foolish thinking—that the husband and the boy were behind me.  I proceeded to the next set of down escalator to get to level 1 and rode down.  Then I turned around to find the husband, but no boy.

We moved our carry-on luggage to the side, so that it wasn’t blocking anyone’s path.  But I could still see up the escalator area to the level above, just in case he walked by looking.  The husband took off to go up a set of escalators and look for the boy.

Soon, the boy appeared at the top of the escalator and proceeded to come down, as he could see me.  He said he was following the green shirts, and since it was St. Patrick’s Day, there were lots of green shirts.  No harm.  He was found!

But now, I had a lost husband.  I grabbed my phone, turned it on, and called.  No answer.  The husband hadn’t turned on his phone yet after leaving the plane.  Tried again, no luck.

In the meantime, I’m still standing in the same place, keeping track of a stack of bags, a boy, and looking up the escalator for a tall man in a green shirt.

Soon he appeared, with a very nervous look, as he hadn’t retrieved the boy.  He was relieved to see him standing with me at the bottom of the escalator. 

It all ended well, as our family was back together and we walked to the area for Disney’s Magical Express and found our way into the line for Coronado Springs.  It was queue number 1, by the way.  Cartoons or a movie was playing on the monitor, so the boy grabbed a patch of floor, ate his lunch, and waited for us to board the bus.

While it wasn’t the smoothest start to a Disney vacation, I told the husband that the rough part was over and the rest of the vacation would be cake.  I was right.  The rest of our Disney vacation was fantastic!

What I learned from the experience—keep the boy between us when going down the escalators in single file, or use an elevator to get from level 3 to level 1.  If I send the husband off to look for anything, have him turn on his phone first.  I was glad that I had already put a label in the back of the boy’s shirt with his name and my cell phone number in case he got lost.  I make up a sheet of computer labels with that info before a trip and then each day a label goes under the tag on the inside back of his shirt so he can show it anyone if need be.  He didn’t need to use it this trip, but we were sure glad it was there!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Boy Is Already Thinking About How To Pack For Our Next Trip

Last night, out of the blue, the boy started telling me his packing plans for our next Disney vacation which is a Disney cruise on the Dream during the holiday season. He wanted to make sure there was enough room in our luggage for toys and gifts.  He’s already asked whether or not Santa would find us on the ship.

Little does he know, I’m way ahead of him!  The holiday (and birthday) shopping has already begun. 

I snagged a Disney Universe Wii game from Best Buy for his birthday for a mere $8.47.  Best Buy had a great sale one week-end with the game priced at $7.99.  Made the purchase on-line through Ebates.com and then had it shipped to the store.  No problem. 

Ridley Pearson, author of the Kingdom Keepers series, just published Shell Game, which takes place on the Disney Dream.  I ordered it from our local bookseller, got 20% discount and then had a portion of a gift certificate to use.  This book will be a holiday gift since we will be on the Disney Dream!

The puzzling part is going to be how to get gifts that we bring with wrapped once we are on the ship.  I asked someone who was on the Dream the last holiday season and there was not a wrapping station.  I know wrapping paper can be folded, so packing that ahead of time, along with some tape may be the trick.  TSA doesn’t like wrapped gifts to go into the checked luggage, and I wouldn’t want to do that anyway.  Santa may have to communicate that some gifts he can deliver on the Dream while others get delivered before or after our trip.

I know, we still have several months, but the planning and strategizing has already begun!  And, not just by me!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lagoon Side Seating For Illuminations!

Illuminations is the night time spectacular of music and fireworks that takes place nightly around World Showcase Lagoon in EPCOT.  Guests start finding those coveted unobstructed viewing locations up to 90 minutes before the nightly celebration.

We had lagoon side seating at Rose & Crown in the United Kingdom Pavilion—click here to read more about dining at Rose & Crown.

Our Advanced Dining Reservation was for 7:45 pm.  We checked in at the podium about 7:20 pm and were given a beeper.  It wasn’t long before we were seated.  Our table wasn’t waterfront, but on the patio.  As soon as we met our server, I asked about the possibility of sitting near the water for Illuminations.  Our server told us that she would see what we could do. 

The meal went off without a hitch and we were definitely hungry.  Bonus, there was a woman playing songs on the piano inside the pub, which you had to walk through to get to the restroom.  Lovely Irish tunes! 

When it was time for dessert, our server told us that indeed a waterfront table was available and she asked us to follow her.  We were directed out the back of the restaurant, down some stairs and to a lovely table on the waterfront.  It was about 8:50 pm, with a 9:00 pm start for Illuminations. 

The torches around World Showcase Lagoon were lit and the announcements were being made every five minutes informing guests of the upcoming Illuminations showing. 

Our dessert was served lagoon side and just as we were finishing the last delicious spoonful, the lights dimmed throughout EPCOT and Illuminations began. 

What an incredible experience!  Some of the pyrotechnics were being shot from the small island just feet from where we were sitting. 

Would I rather stake out a spot 90 minutes before and stand waiting for Illuminations or would I rather enjoy a meal and watch from a lagoon side table?  What do you think?  Give me the meal and the waterfront table!

Our experience sitting near the water and experiencing Illuminations was just one of many highlights from our most recent trip to Walt Disney World.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Disney Cruise Line Flat Lines Castaway Club Level On Board Credits For Future Cruises

We will be sailing again soon, with Disney of course.  It will be our 5th Disney Cruise, making us Silver Level Castaway Club Members. . . for the last time!  For the cruise after that one we would be Gold Level Members and therefore in line to receive a larger on-board credit for our cruise, until today. 

Word on the web is that Disney Cruise Line is flat lining the on-board credit for rebooking your next cruise while sailing to the same for all. . . no matter the Castaway Club Level.

Castaway Club, which Disney Cruise Line guests are a part of after their first sailing, is a 3 tied system with Silver, Gold, and Platinum.  The more cruises, the higher guests climb on the tiered system and the benefits increase with the climb as well.

Previously, the on-board credits for booking your next cruise while sailing on your current one went like this:

Silver Members
Sailing of 6 Nights or Less = $100.00
Sailing of 7 Nights or More = $200.00

Gold Members
Sailing of 6 Nights or Less = $150.00
Sailing of 6 Nights or More = $275.00

Platinum Members
Sailing of 6 Nights or Less = $200.00
Sailing of 7 Nights or More = $350.00

I was planning on booking our 6th cruise for the Disney Fantasy, which would be a 7 night sailing and looking forward to the $275.00 on board credit for the cruise.

But now, all on board credits for future cruise sales while on the ships, will be at the Silver Member Level of $100.00 or $200.00 depending on the length of your cruise regardless of a guest’s Castaway Club Membership level.

I’m disappointed.  I don’t often say that when it comes to anything Disney, but this is, for lack of a better word, a bummer.  I put on board credit amounts into our cruise budget to offset costs for shore excursions, photo packages, adult beverages, purchases in the ship’s shops, etc. 

Now, this info comes from a source other than Disney Cruise Line, so maybe, just maybe, there is an off chance that the info is wrong and we will be pleasantly surprised, but I doubt it.  Typically this type of info doesn’t make it into the world for public consumption without a large bit of truth behind it. 

So, why would Disney Cruise Line making this change?  Well, the on board credit for a future cruise isn’t technically a Castaway Club Member benefit. . . more of an incentive or bonus, if you will.  Most likely, it’s a cost savings measure.

And, maybe Disney Cruise Line no longer feels this incentive is needed to increase the amount of future cruise sales on the ship.  I mean, we’re usually “sold” by the time we reach Gold or Platinum level anyway.

Even more bad news, guests who have previously booked a cruise on board with the previous tiered on board credit levels, will lose the credits if they move the date of their cruise--and will get the flat lined on board credits instead.  Guests sometimes make a "dummy" cruise reservation by selecting a date, paying the deposit, getting the on board credits for the booking, then change the date of their cruise once they hit land.  Some guests change the date multiple time still keeping the incentives from the on board booking. 

Will this change keep me from rebooking our next cruise while I’m sailing?  Most likely, no.  But it may keep me from spending as much money as I might have before.  Time will tell if this change makes a difference for Disney Cruise Line and Disney Cruise Line guests.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Are You Going To All Four Parks?

Yeah!  You’re going to Walt Disney World!  Are you going to all four parks? 

For some travelers, this question brings confusion.  Four parks?  I thought there was only one. . . you know, the one with the Castle.  Must be a first time traveler when getting this type of response.

For others, this question elicits an expression of either biting one’s lip or putting hand to face to indicate thinking and decision making.  Yep, it can be a tough question.

Of course, the Magic Kingdom—the one with the Castle—gets the most visitors.  I was talking to a Cast Member at Hollywood Studios during our most recent trip about how Magic Kingdom was crowded while Studios didn’t feel crowded.  She explained that a slow day in terms of crowd at the Magic Kingdom was a big crowd day for them.  Ah, got it.  Seems that the Magic Kingdom gets guests from a radius around Orlando.  You know, the ones that come and stay at the coast then make a day trip to the Magic Kingdom and then say they went to Walt Disney World.  While we enjoy the Magic Kingdom, it isn’t our favorite park.  On our last trip, we skipped Fantasyland entirely in terms of rides and attractions.  That wasn’t our plan, but we just never made it that direction and there was no disappointment.

Recently, a family with young children asked if they could “skip” Disney’s Animal Kingdom, thinking that there wouldn’t be enough there to keep their children “entertained.”  Think again!  Disney’s Animal Kingdom gets a bad rep with “it’s a half day park” or “it’s just a zoo.”   And, while you can tour the park in less than a day if you wish—by skipping shows and attractions, it is definitely not just a zoo.  Guests figure that out once they visit.

We’ve also heard guests refer to EPCOT as “boring” and have heard others say that they haven’t spent much time there and want to explore more.  EPCOT is one of our favorite parks and on our last trip, we were there two evenings and one full day.  Boring?  No way!  There’s so much to see and do there and yet it doesn’t feel like you are rushing from one ride or attraction to another.  We like that.

Hollywood Studios sometimes gets confused with Universal Studios.  I think it happens when people shorten the title to just Studios.  This confusion leads some to think that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is not a Disney park.  But it definitely is!  We spent two days at this park during our most recent trip.  And, for our next trip, this will be the only park we visit.  Why?  Favorite rides, shows, and characters.  It’s easy to plan a day here with show times.  We usually have a more relaxed pace at this park.  After the initial rush to get Toy Story Mania Fastpasses, the rest of the day is cake.  11:30 Indiana Jones, followed by 1:20 Lights, Motors, Action and what we do before and after is up to us.  Easy!

Our advice, let the length of your stay determine the number of parks you visit.

We’ve taken long trips where we could visit each park and some more than once.  And, we’ve had short trips where there just wasn’t time for all parks.  The decision about which park to skip wasn’t easy, but knowing that we would return made the decision easier.

If planning for a “once in a lifetime” trip, then by all means, hit all 4 parks!  We won’t even ask you about the water parks or golf courses!

Monday, May 14, 2012

We Are Now THAT Family

Growing up, my family took a handful of vacations by car.  I can recall driving from the Midwest to Pennsylvania one summer and Florida—to go to Walt Disney World, another summer.  Some trips were just a few hours away such as Kansas City, St. Louis, or Chicago.  While I only can recall bits of the memory, I’m told I flew with my uncle to New Jersey to visit cousins when I was 4.  It wasn’t until I reached high school that I flew again and haven’t stopped flying since!

On one of those high school flights, I noticed a family—mom, dad, small children. . . boys I think—dressed neatly and comfortably.  They seemed like such a cohesive unit from an onlooker’s perspective.  I remember wanting to be like that when I grew up.  I wanted a family like that; a family that traveled together..  That memory has stuck with me for a long time;  for years.  That mental picture hanging on the memory walls guiding goals and wishes, so clear I could tell you which side of the plane the family was sitting on.

Well, on the flight home from our last trip, it dawned on me.  We are THAT family. 

It first hit me when we boarded our nonstop flight after a delay at the gate that included changing planes due to an electrical problem.  No problem.  The plane got exchanged and we boarded soon thereafter.  Then, once loaded, the plane backed away from the gate, only to return minutes later with an announcement that there were still problems.  The feeling on the plane changed from one of expectancy to one of anxiety.  Cell phones were being powered on and not-so-hushed conversations were taking place throughout the aircraft.  Except our row, well, at least our side of the row. 

We were fine.  The husband had a worried tone and I reminded him that we had everything we needed right there.  I then whipped out one of the two tubs of snacks from our bag, put down the tray table, and proceeded to enjoy the happenings of both passengers and crew.  The boy was immersed in a handheld game.  He was aware of the situation and I like to think that my calm handling of the situation helped him to relax.  Truly, we did have everything we needed;  each other. 

There was no one we needed to contact about picking us up at the airport.  We were flying home on a Saturday and didn’t have to be at work until Mohday, so there wasn’t a time crunch.  Our pets were being taken care of and the weather was spring like both in Orlando and at home.  Our luggage was checked.  We had necessary items with us on the plane.  No worries.

We did eventually take off and we’re an hour late reaching our final destination.  What troubled me the most was thinking of the passengers waiting at the airport for the plane that would take them to Orlando.  Their vacations were going to be delayed!

Yet the whole experience brought back the memories of the flight with that family that I so wanted to be like and I was able to have that realization that my family, the three of us, are now THAT family!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Mom Is My Favorite Princess

There could be multiple titles for this particular post:  “Thank Goodness for Park Hopper” or “The Magic Inside the Magic” or “A Mother’s Day Tribute” as each of them could properly capture part of this story. . .

We headed to ‘Ohana’s for dinner after spending the day touring Animal Kingdom—click here to read about how we got to be the First Family at Animal Kingdom.  We had had a great day and were ready for a great dinner.  ‘Ohana’s, of course, is one of our favorites and a trip wouldn’t quite be complete without a meal here.

When dinner was over, we decided to take the monorail back to the Magic Kingdom and stop in and see the Princesses.  We hadn’t met the Princesses at the Town Square Theater yet, so we decided to give it a try.  Thank goodness for the Park Hopper option on our tickets!

The wait was minimal—20 minutes or so.  Once we traversed the main room with the queue, there was another room with an unfinished ceiling—so not like Disney, and then we filed into the last room where we could see the Princesses from our line.

Soon it was our turn.  Aurora, or Sleeping Beauty was first.  I handed our Photopass card to the first photographer and then proceeded to make sure the pillow case for autographs was ready for each subsequent Princess.  I knew, from watching, that the Photopass photographers and character handlers would pass our card down the line to each Photographer.

I’m so grateful that the boy enjoys meeting all of the Disney characters, including the Princesses.  I think it helps that he has been meeting them since he was a preschooler and that his Dad has a favorite Princess that he doesn’t mind meeting.  I hear about some families with boys who skip the Princesses altogether.  That would make me sad.

Next came Belle.  Belle asked the boy who his favorite Princess was and his response, “My mom is my favorite Princess.”  Well, I didn’t hear him, as I was prepping materials to meet Cinderella, but the Photopass photographer did and she made sure I knew what he had said.  It warmed my heart. . . both what the boy said and that the Photopass photographer made sure I knew it.  I thanked her for telling me.

I thought, what a great response from the boy.  Not only did it give my “mom” ego a boost, but it was very politically correct for the setting.  I mean, he was in the middle of a room full of Disney Princesses and didn’t want to hurt their feelings by picking one over another.  Hence the potential title for the post—A Mother’s Day Tribute.

Cinderella was the final Princess in the house.  The greeting had the right amount of royal regard.  We left the Town Square Theater, exited the park, and made our way back to our resort.

It wasn’t until the next day, that the boy’s answer to Belle made even more magic.  You see, the next day, we returned to the Magic Kingdom and instead of watching the rope drop at the park, we were IN the rope drop show and opened the Magic Kingdomclick here to read more.

To capture all the happenings of the event, a Photopass photographer was on hand, and his name was John.  Somewhere during the photo session before opening the park, there was talk of the Disney Princesses.  I then mentioned that we had met the Princesses the night before at the Town Square Theater and that the boy had told Belle that I was his favorite Princess.

John looked at us and said, “So you were the family.”  Huh?  Turns out that John’s wife was the Photopass photographer who had overheard the boy telling Belle that I was his favorite Princess and had in turn told me.  Then, she told her husband that night when she got home from work and then we end up being picked to open the park and John is photographing us.  What a small world!!!

The whole story gives me goose bumps.  John’s wife must have photographed hundreds of children and families the night before.  For her to tell her husband our story is mindboggling and then for us to be joined with John the next day in such a magical way is beyond coincidental;  it’s magical. 

And, people wonder why we keep going back to Disney.  This story exemplifies one of the many reasons!  It’s not that we expect the same magical things to happen each trip—far from it.  It’s that we know magical things can and do happen.  Are we disappointed if something doesn’t happen?  No way!  We have incredible experiences and make our own magic.

I’m still shaking my head by the serendipity of all of it.  But that’s what Disney magic will do!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

We Opened Magic Kingdom--The Conclusion

Magical, memorable, and incredible are the only words that can describe our experience opening Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. 

 Click on the following to catch up on our story:  Part 1Part 2,  and Part 3.

You would think that after opening the park that we would move on with our day at the Magic Kingdom with an inflated feeling of “what could be better than this?”  But we were wrong. 

Upon exiting the Train Station, we were greeted by Barbara and a double deck bus!

More photos ensued.

Barbara had us sit in the front of the bus on the top level.  We were driven down Main Street, U.S.A. with the horn honking.

Barbara was announcing, “The Williams Family from Iowa” over the speaker.  Guests and Cast Members were waving from below.

We were driven to the Hub in front of Cinderella’s Castle,

More photos were taken by John, our Photopass photographer, to commemorate the event.

By 9:20 am, we had had the time of our lives.  We said good-bye to Barbara and John and thanked them so much for the incredible experience.  Can you imagine having their job?  Bringing such joy to people every day!

When it was time for us to part, the husband turned to me and said,” Well, we might as well go back to the resort, because the day isn’t going to get any better than this.”  We had definitely hit a “high.”  But that didn’t mean that the magic and spirit of Disney couldn’t continue throughout the rest of our day.  And, indeed it did.

We didn’t return to the resort.  We stayed at the Magic Kingdom for the majority of the day and then took the monorail to EPCOT for dinner.  We used our special Fastpasses given to us earlier that morning for an extra spin on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in the middle of the afternoon.  We were recognized throughout the day by people pointing.  The husband was the one who noticed it the most.  He would say, “We just got recognized” as if we had celebrity status of some sort.  I guess we did.

These immersive and special experiences that Disney magically dispenses on guests are truly incredible.  Part of that is their elusive nature.  These experiences cannot be bought or planned for.  They just happen . . . magically.  Our goal is to be open to the magic—no stress, no fretting over park maps and Times Guides, no frustrating decisions about parking or dining, no disagreements about where to go first during park touring, just fun.  Family fun!