Welcome to the Williams Family Blog!

Now that you have found us, we invite you to return often for more adventures!


Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Resort Airline Check-in, Just Another Magical Disney Service



Don’t want to schlep your luggage to the airport after a magical Walt Disney World vacation?  Want to have that same magical handling of your luggage at the end of your trip as you do at the beginning?  Well, Disney can make that happen with Resort Airline Check-in.

It took us several trips before stumbling upon Resort Airline Check-in.  I think it was more about the timing of our return flights—very early morning—rather than not knowing about the service.  But when we did experience it for the first time, we have used it ever since.

Resort Airline Check-in allows guests leaving the Walt Disney World Resort the opportunity to check in for the flights and check in any luggage right at the resort.  Resort Airline Check-in is handled in various locations in different resort.  For example, at Port Orleans French Quarter, there is a space in the lobby that includes the kiosks for airline check-in and scales to weight checked bags, etc.  But at Coronado Springs, Resort Airline is handled near luggage services.  So, check with your resort for the actual location.

On our return day, we make arrangements for Bell Services to pick us up at our room, along with our bags.  The service is free, but do expect to tip.  We know Disney’s Magical Express return times are 3 hours prior to flight departure, so we plan accordingly considering time to check our bags for our flight, eat breakfast, etc.

At the Resort Airline Check-in counter, be prepared to show identification, just as you would at the airport.  You will be checked in for your flights, be able to check in any luggage and pay luggage fees if applicable (sometimes those fees are a few dollars less than you would pay at the airport), get boarding passes printed and off you go.  No taking luggage with you to the airport, other than personal items and carry-on bags.  The next time you see your luggage will be at your final destination.  Cool, huh?

Know that there are certain airlines that are able to utilize Resort Airline Check-in, so be sure to check if your airline qualifies for this service.

Before making flight reservations for our next trip, I called the resort and asked about the times for Resort Airline Check-in.  I was told that it started at 5:00 am.  Knowing Disney’s Magical Express 3 hour pick-up window meant that flights departing prior to 8:00 am would not allow for the use of Resort Airline Check-in.  Since our flight is scheduled to depart after 11:00 am, I know that we can still use Resort Airline Check-in prior to our flight even with an 8:00 am Magical Express pick-up.

I overheard a first time visitor back from their trip telling someone how Disney magically handles luggage both on the way to the Walt Disney World Resort and the return trip. . . all for free!  It is services like this that keep us going back.



Sunday, October 27, 2013

Arguments FOR Sailing With Disney



“No, we won’t be spending Christmas on a cruise ship,” were my words to the boy the other evening.  I think we were both disappointed and the husband who was nearby made an audible sound expressing his disappointment.  And, while the upcoming holiday season will be without a Disney vacation, there is one in our future.

Yet, with all the hullabaloo about the re-imagined Disney Magic making its debut this week and seeing pictures and videos of the ship’s new features, the longing for a sailing was felt a bit deeper.  Click here for links to videos and pictures of the Disney Magic’s newest updates.

We are less than 9 months from our next Disney cruise.  I tend to get a bit winey at this stage, lamenting the length of time until we sail again.  Maybe 18-19 months between cruises is just too much?

At the same time, I am very grateful that we have had multiple opportunities to sail with Disney.  Folks know about our many trips to Walt Disney World, but have fewer questions for us as experienced Disney cruisers.  And, just like being a Walt Disney World guest is an acquired taste, it seems cruising is much more of an acquired taste.

We hear concerns about the boat’s safety, sea sickness, being bored with nothing to do, how expensive it can be, dressing for dinner and the packing that entails, visiting foreign ports, and the need for passports.  The husband lumps all of the concerns together with a similar response when people don’t use Fastpass;  fine, don’t go, makes more room for us.  I, on the other hand, try to reassure.

Safety:  Disney Cruise Line has an excellent safety record.  In fact, they are known for helping others at sea.

Sea sickness:  This is real, though while we aren’t bothered, we have seen others.  Medications and natural remedies can help.  I do great on the water and then have to adjust and get my “land legs” back.  I told the husband it means I was meant to live on the sea!

Bored, nothing to do:  Not on a Disney ship.  There are many activities from morning until night.  In fact, there is no way to do them all and for folks who want some relaxation, there are plenty of opportunities for that as well.

Expense:  Yes, a Disney cruise may seem expensive, especially when everything, including tips/gratuities are on the initial tab.  Yet, consider how much a land based vacation that includes dining and entertainment can cost.  Add in child care, room service, tips/gratuities, access to parties, Disney characters and determine the total.  Are we close yet to the cost of a cruise?  Most likely! 

Dressing for dinner:  Much to our disappointment, Disney Cruise Line recently loosened the dress code expectations for dining in the main dining rooms on the ship to include shorts.  There are still dress codes for the adult only restaurants.  Will we still be “dressing for dinner”?  Yes!

Packing:  Since the dress code changes—see above, that isn’t as much of a concern.  We have not had issues with packing as that same pair of nice black slacks can be worn more than once during a sailing.

Visiting foreign ports:  That is exactly what makes cruising so exciting.  A new destination almost daily!  Never had we felt concerned for our safety, even when in Mazatlan walking by the armed guards. 

Passports:  While the cruises in the Caribbean Basin do not require Passports, my stance is that they are a great idea.  The convenience outweighs the cost.  And, imagine the peace of mind knowing that you do have them just in case there is a need to fly home from a foreign country.  A birth certificate would not get you through customs and immigration.

Those are my arguments in response to the comments we get from people who don’t think they want to embark on any cruise.  And, I am happy to chat more regarding any other concerns they might have.

In the meantime, counting down until our next Disney Cruise Line vacation.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Is Planning For The Holidays Like Planning A Disney Vacation?

This photo is on our holiday cards this year!







We are slowly heading into that time of year when the “to do” lists get long and the days get short. Part of it is planning for the upcoming holidays.  A question on the message boards about whether or not holiday shopping had begun along with my own observations got me wondering if planning for the holidays is like planning for a Disney trip.

As a planner, I can appreciate how much preparation is involved with a Disney trip.  It seems as if the same preparation can be helpful in navigating the holidays. . .

Food:   For us, dining is central to planning a trip to the most magical place on earth.  We decide which park on which day based on dining.  Menu planning is most definitely on the list when planning for the holidays as well.

Shopping:  Purchasing necessities prior to a Disney trip is a must do.  But shopping, I am afraid, may take on a larger role when planning for the holidays.  And, just as I spread out any necessary Disney shopping as not to demolish the household budget, I too spread out holiday shopping over several months taking advantage of great deals.

Logistics:  For a Disney trip, this means transportation and people and their belongings will get from one location to another.  We rely solely on Disney’s fleet of buses, boats, trains, and monorails.  Efficient park touring requires logistical planning for use of Fastpass, show times, etc.  During the holidays, logistics may mean who is traveling, when, and how are the schedules coordinated.

Expectations:  If you have seen the shows on the travel channel about Walt Disney World, you have heard them say that people’s expectations are never so great as when they go to Disney.  And, Disney delivers with theming, service, show, and an immersive experience.  Yet, keeping expectations realistic about time, how much energy your family has, etc. is important when on a Disney vacation.  We have yet to see and do it all, even after numerous trips.  Same goes for the holidays.  The quest for the Norman Rockwell painting or a Martha Stewart table, may lead to disappointment.  Set realistic expectations for both the holidays and a Disney vacation.

Enjoy the moment. . . the magic:  We have seen it; the person on their laptop in the middle of the Magic Kingdom so engrossed in something else that they are unable to enjoy the experience that is Disney.  Enjoying the moments and making memories is what Disney is all about.  Same is true for the holidays.  If stuck with a “to do” list longer than Santa’s nice list or behind a mountain of dishes, it can be difficult to enjoy the moments the holidays bring. 

Family Time:  This, is by far the most important aspect of a Disney vacation, well, any family vacation for that matter.  And, isn’t family time the priority of all the holiday planning?

There are other similarities such as budgets, photography, even traditions that overlap both Disney vacation planning and holiday planning.  And, one way we bring Disney and the holidays together is by collecting a Christmas tree ornament from each trip.

A difference is that I don’t have to plan for pet sitting or snow removal during the holidays. . . unless we are traveling!  And, I don’t have to cook or do dishes while at Disney!

So, planning for the holidays can be tackled just like planning a trip to Disney.  I plan a Disney trip with a list.  Holidays are the same; simple.  One holiday tree simply decorated gives us the same feeling as a house full of holly.  A basic menu served buffet style gives everyone plenty to eat and allows me to enjoy our friends and family.  There is no stressing over a holiday list just as there is no stressing over a Disney list as I am only biting off as much as I can chew and even a bit less.  My family appreciates a less stressed me and I appreciate the holiday season much more.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

"No" to Disney Mom Panel Application This Year





It’s a “NO.”  After applying for the fourth year for the coveted position of Disney Mom Panelist, I received the following email yesterday:


On behalf of Disney Parks, I would like to thank you for taking the time and effort to apply for the 2014 Disney Parks Moms Panel.
With the thousands of applications we received, it's a great undertaking to choose such a small number of Disney Parks fans to be a part of the new Panel.
Unfortunately, your application was not selected this year to move forward to Round 2 of the selection process.
Please know that we were not only touched by your passion for Disney Parks, but the wonderful stories you conveyed to us in your answers.
While this is not the easiest news to deliver, we hope this does not diminish your spirit for Disney Parks. And, we hope this does not discourage you from applying again next year.
As Walt Disney once said, "All of our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them." In fact, many of our Disney Parks Moms Panelists applied multiple times before becoming members of the Panel so we hope you will consider applying in future years.
Thank you again for taking the time to share your love of Disney Parks with us and applying for the Disney Parks Moms Panel.
Sincerely,
Gary
Gary Buchanan
Social Media Managing Editor
Disney Parks

Just like last year, I applied as a “specialist” for Disney Cruise Line.  Unlike last year, I did not advance to Round 2. 

The email says that it hopes that the news does not diminish my spirit for Disney Parks.  No worries.  My love of all things Disney has not been dampened one bit.  In fact, I am feeling a little lighter, as the waiting and wondering sure does take its toll. 

Will I apply again next year?  Interestingly, a year ago, I wasn’t sure, even after advancing to Round 2.  This year, I know for sure I will apply again.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

One of the criteria for application is having visited a Disney park within 12 months of the application process.  While I definitely met that criteria this year, I will also meet it one year from now AND have another Disney cruise under out belt. . . making that grand total 6.  Most likely will also have our next Disney cruise reservation!

To all who applied and are moving on to Round 2 and beyond, congratulations and best wishes!  Pixie Dust to you all!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Measuring Time In Disney Trips!



We’ve all seen the lists of how to measure time and find the meaning of certain lengths of time.  Well, how do I measure time?  Disney trips!

When people ask us how often we go to Disney, I just sort of shrug and say as often as we can.  Typically, someone else nearby shouts out an estimate of at least once a year, which is. . . somewhat accurate.

Let’s take 2012, last year, for example.  We hit Walt Disney World in March and then sailed on a Disney ship and went to Walt Disney World again in December.  After all, we were already “in town” so to speak, so why not! 

But when we get to 2013, the answer would be one time; in July of 2013.  Yes, it was a lengthy trip, some twelve days inside the Disney bubble.  But worth every moment!

And, since 2013 is quickly dwindling away, that brings us to 2014.  The plan as of right now is one trip in 2014 that includes a Disney cruise and a stay at Walt Disney World.  Actually, we fly nine months from now.

When I told the husband that our trip was nine months away, he cracked a joke about birthing our Disney vacation baby and to take good care of it while in uterus, so to speak.  But isn’t that we do with our Disney plans anyway?  Take good care of them?

I have been teaching coupon classes for almost a year with a friend, and we have taken two Disney trips during that time and the next one is planned.  From my friend’s perspective, we go quite often.

So, there you have it. . . 3 years, and 4 trips.  That’s not quite once a year.  The countdown, though, for the next trip, has definitely begun!

Monday, October 14, 2013

What If. . .?

What if the rest of the world had customer service that rivaled Disney’s? 

This is a question I have been asking myself lately as I have bumped into less than stellar customer service in more than one location and, I am missing my happy place. 

But really, what if?  If Disney can provide customer service that meets guests’ needs and sometimes WOWS them, then why can’t other organizations, businesses, etc.?  I know and recognize great customer service when I see it and experience it.  Are others able to do the same? 

The husband tells me that comparing other experiences to Disney may not be fair; that my expectations may be too high.  Hmmm. . .

In a day and age when service and experience are a commodity, I would think investing time and money into customer service would be profitable for a business.

Let’s take a recent example with our internet provider.  Upon waking Saturday morning, the internet was out.  A text message from a neighbor indicated that it wasn’t just us.  A phone call to the company, which announced that I was a “prestige customer” upon receiving my information indicated a cable had been cut about 90 miles away and a significant portion of our state was without internet.  I asked for a credit on my account, which was completed in the amount of time to click a button, and an estimated time of repair.  No information was available.   I phoned 11 hours later, again to inquire about repair time, and still none was available.  What would make this experience even better would be not having to say “customer service” seven times to the voice prompts on the automated answering system or having to verify the same personal information if the call gets transferred to another person.  Oh, how I wish I could help the designers of those systems. . .

Another example is a recent visit to a pumpkin farm; a trip our family takes annually.  The farm changed hands last year, so the jury is still out about whether or not we will continue to make the trip.  A highlight is the pumpkin catapult, which was in pieces when we went by this fall.  I asked and was told that it broke during the summer and they just now ordered the piece to repair it.  They were expecting the part to arrive the day prior, but alas, no luck.  The tractor that pulled the wagon to take us to the field broke down—belt came off—but another tractor and wagon came to get us.  Items had been added to the farm but they either required additional fees or were for younger children—our boy of 10 was too old.  Upon arrival I asked questions about times for their “show” and the lady in the ticket booth couldn’t tell us and we were told to go ask someone else who also couldn’t tell us.  We were told to listen for an announcement.  Really?  This same farm used to publish a “newspaper” of sorts that would be distributed to guests which had lots of information.  Not anymore.  So, the admission price increased, but the service and experience have declined. 

Then there was a visit to a local medical clinic.  While I won’t go into details, my visit prompted a letter detailing how customer service was botched all around in the 30 minutes I was there, including entering our insurance co-pay incorrectly into the computer.  I received an apology and appreciation for giving them the feedback so that they could fix all of the things mentioned in the letter.  I am still shaking my head about that one.

I could go on. . . the cell phone company botching our bill two months in a row that required three phone calls and two visits to the cell phone store, one of which took two hours.

People complain when Disney’s dining reservation system is down or about glitches in the My Disney Experience app or web-site.  I get it; guests at Walt Disney World expect stellar customer service and they get it almost all of the time.  So instead of being complacent when something at Disney isn’t working and comparing it to the rest of the world—which makes Disney look darn good, let’s start comparing the rest of the world with Disney.

My message to the rest of the world:  You better step up your game!  Some 32 million of us appreciate Disney’s customer service so much that we visit annually.  We are now comparing all the rest of our customer service experiences with our Disney experiences.  And, where our heart goes, so goes our money. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Witnessing the Magic For Others Is Just As. . . Magical!

As guests at the Walt Disney World Resort, even as guests on Disney ships, we have had our fair share of magical moments.  And, while no big-extra special-magical moments happened during our Summer 2013 trip, there was more than one occasion when we were right next to the magic happening for other guests. 

We had made reservations at Rose & Crown in the United Kingdom Pavilion at EPCOT one evening.  The plan was to ask for an outside table so that we could watch Illuminations.  It had been raining earlier in the day and the patio had been closed.  Well, imagine our surprise when we were the second family to be seated on the patio when we were shown our table.  How wonderful!

The other table was occupied by a Make-A-Wish family.  As the evening progressed, Cast Members came to the table with the story that Mickey was stuck on the monorail and would not make it to EPCOT in time to start Illuminations.  The child is the family was being asked to start Illuminations in Mickey’s place.  A while later, the Cast Members appeared again; this time with magic wands.  As the start of Illuminations approached, the Cast Members reappeared and counted down to the initial blast for Illuminations which appeared to be created by the magic wands.  After Illuminations, a special dessert arrived along with a certificate commemorating the magic moment. 

Sitting at the next table gave us a great vantage point in which to see and hear all of the happenings.  And, they were just as magical for us. . . being able to witness their family’s magical moment.

Another came during our wet, last morning at Magic Kingdom.  We were wondering how the park opens in the rain—opening ceremony that is.  It was just a few minutes prior to opening and a Cast Member appeared from the tunnel asking for a family with a real camera.  The family covered in orange ponchos right in front of us spoke up and they were whisked away and appeared as the family of the day opening the park.  We were excited for them!

Had we had our noses in a menu or park map, we might have missed all that magic happening right around us.  That is how Disney does it; magic all around and you just never know when and how it will appear.  And when you are nearby and get to witness magical moments for others, the Pixie Dust can land on you too.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Guest Post From The Husband





Editor's Note:  The following is a tongue-in-cheek poem written by the husband about the use of Fastpass at Walt Disney World.



THANK YOU FOR NOT USING FASTPASS

You decided to vacation at Disney World.
Characters, rides, fireworks- so many colors swirled.
Kids and some adults jumping up and down with anticipation.
Then suddenly those plans go up in conflagration.

Wait time for this ride up to 55 minutes can make a mood sour.
At least it is not an hour.
Let’s not stand so long in this line.
It will be shorter after we dine.

Now we go back to wait, our tummies full.
Now it’s 2 and a half hours that’s BULL!
We have things to do, places to be!
You sigh and look around and what do you see?

Another line for the same ride.
These people go quick like on a slide.
Hey what’s the deal?
C’mon please squeal.

These Disney Guests don’t have time to fully explain.
They rapidly disappear and wane.
A resounding statement came from a small lass.
Thank you for not using FASTPASS!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Disney Day!

I sometimes forget how “visible” our love for all things Disney is to other people.  Yesterday’s agenda included parade watching followed by an afternoon of soccer and I was wearing a Winnie the Pooh and friends sweatshirt that I have had for nearly 20 years, Mickey earrings and watch that I wear almost daily.  For both the parade and soccer we were sitting in our “Disney Fan” chairs—click here to read more. 

When I sat down on the parade route, a mom next to me started to ask about Walt Disney World.  Their family was a family of 6 so accommodations were of concern.  I suggested Family Suites at the Value Resorts and a Cabin at Fort Wilderness—both of which sleep six.  She then shared how her and her husband had honeymooned at Walt Disney World.

During the parade, the boy noticed that the parade banner used by our local hospital included the use of Disney font.  I think it was the N's and D's that gave it away.  Yeah, that's my boy!  Another adult noticed too and I told them that the font was available via free download to a computer so it was most likely not breaking any Copyright laws.  And, the use of the font, made people think Disney, not about their hospital, so it might have backfired on them.
 
After the parade, we were off to soccer and it was my shift to volunteer in the soccer concession stand.  The other soccer moms joined me I got the “okay, we need to talk about Disney as we are going during spring break.”

“How exciting!” I replied.  “What do you want to know?”  The conversation went on to ask questions about character dining, specifically dinner.  I suggested Chef Mickey’s.  They then asked if I had dined in the Castle.  Which Castle?  Cinderella’s or The Beast’s?  The answer would be yes to both.

I then said that I was only giving them ideas for dinner—as that is what they had asked for, but that there was character dining available for every meal—breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Okay, the wheels were really turning at this point.  They said that were trying to have one meal that was more for boys and another for girls.  Chef Mickey’s would definitely fit the bill and then I suggested 1900 Park Fair, as Cinderella and Prince Charming join dinner guests.  I followed up with an email to both of them this morning with a link to all of the character dining available at Walt Disney World. 

Somewhere in the mix of dialogue, I was asked the question about how many times has our family gone to Walt Disney World.  Well, personally, I have been there 13 times, though 11 of them have been with my family—the husband and the boy.  This number is in the average range based on my experiences with other Disney fans—more than most, less than some.  Then came the cruise question.  Yes, we are about to sail for our 6th time on a Disney ship.  They both committed that someday they would take a Disney cruise, even if it was without their husbands. 

I had to ask—why wouldn’t your husbands want to go on a Disney cruise?  I was told that motion sickness was a concern.  I can understand.  At the same time, while the ship’s movement is minimized with stabilizers, I long for the feeling of being rocked to sleep on the sea.

These gals are well on their way to planning a magical Disney vacation.  And, I am happy to help.

What the day also illustrated is that Disney is great “bonder” for lack of a better word.  I got to hear about previous vacations and upcoming vacations, all shared with smiles and fond memories.  That is exactly what Disney does—brings people together.  The mom at the parade said it is such a great place to escape from the world.  You bet it is!  We only need the weather information as far as news goes.  We very much “unplug” while we are at the most magical place on earth.

So, while I forget that I have “my Disney on”, others obviously notice and conversations ensue from there.  And, of course, I am happy to talk about anything Disney!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Day The Husband Was The Leader





While touring Walt Disney World parks, someone has to lead the group—family, traveling party, etc.  Someone has to make decisions about what time to get up, what time to go to the park, which park to go to, and what will happen upon arrival to the park.  That someone usually has some idea of park hours, how long it takes to get to the park, what means of transportation to use, what rides, shows, and attractions are available in the park, as well as information on what members of the family want to do, like to do, and would enjoy.  Then, they put it all together and make magic. 

The reason for having a leader in the group is so that things go smoothly.  Groups stay together, people in the group or family get to do what is important to them and they make shared memories.  It is also efficient in terms of time.  Having a leader who is making decisions along the way alleviates the “what shall we do next?” meetings that can happen mid-path or mid-ride exit at the parks taking valuable time away from park touring.

Some leaders make it look easy; strolling ever so casually from the exit of one attraction to the next or procuring Fastpasses to be used later while enjoying a ride or show or slipping into a restaurant just in time to beat the crowd and ordering for the group or family while they effortlessly find an empty table.  Sounds easy too, doesn’t it?

Well, during our Summer 2013 trip, the usual leader of the group, me, took what was supposed to be a day off from leading.  The husband had made some sort of comment that I don’t even remember now which came with it the responsibility for leading our family the following day, the last day of our trip, at Magic Kingdom.

All decisions were his. . . wake-up time, departure time, lunch, touring plan, etc.  The only thing preset was our dinner reservation at Be Our Guest.

After arriving at the park plenty early, he secured a park map and Times Guide.  He had asked me the evening before about what I would like to do and my reply was Enchanted Tales with Belle which was in the New Fantasyland.  The boy wanted to try Gaston’s Tavern.  He studied the map and the Time Guide.  Finally, the park opened.

Maxed out the score--999,999!
I held back and fell behind in the line—the husband, the boy, then me as it is usually the reverse when I lead.  We eventually made it to Maurice’s cottage.

While it was supposed to be for the whole day, I found myself giving cues and prompts soon after we arrived at the park and by mid-morning, was back leading the group.

The husband learned that leading the group isn’t as easy as it looks.  He had a new appreciation for the amount of decision making and skill that it took to lead our family so efficiently—even traversing the park from one attraction to another was difficult as was deciding what to do next.  I happily accepted and returned to the leader role with this new found appreciation.

What was funny was watching the boy.  He was a bit confused when he would ask me a question and it was deferred to his dad.  This dynamic was not what he was used to and he was trying to figure it out. 

We all learned that even though I will gladly carry the weight of leading our family while park touring, that sometimes I need a break; sometimes I am not sure about what to do next.  When that feeling hits, we take a break.  The Hall of Presidents was a welcome relief in the alternating heat and rain—and feet—that afternoon.  We also took time for Country Bear Jamboree and Enchanted Tiki Room.  I can remember us sitting upstairs at the Columbia Harbor House enjoying our shrimp watching the wait time for the Haunted Mansion climb.

What will happen next trip?  I already know the husband is in charge of at least one day.  He is already doing his “homework.”