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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Monday, March 31, 2014

Advice For First Time Walt Disney World Travelers


'Tis the season of folks heading to the most magical place on earth--Walt Disney World.  Often, these are first timers; excited, starry-eyed, first time guests.  They get a thrill when telling friends and family that they are going to Walt Disney World.  We've been there/done that and see and hear this phenomenon repeatedly.

After the anticipation begins to fade, reality sets in.  (Insert sound of screeching to a stop here.)  This is when the first-timer pack breaks into various categories.

One category is the "this is our vacation, we are going to show up and have a great time."  Yes, they may very well have a great time or at least moments of greatness, even magical.  They may also experience moments of frustration, or feeling overwhelmed by decisions.  Guests in this group may or may not return and tell tales of this not being their favorite vacation.

Another category are the researchers; the planners.  These guests show up armed with information and dining reservations  They may also experience frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed, but typically less so than the previous category.  Guests in this category may also feel disappointed.  What?  Disappointed?  Yes, disappointed.  All of the planning and anticipation may lead to unrealistic expectations and when the magical vacation that has been planned and researched falls short of those expectations, disappointment is likely.

With the above mentioned categories and feelings, how then do guests end up going back?

I recall a story about two families who went to Walt Disney World for the first time and after a not-so-magical day at Animal Kingdom readjusted their expectations and made the rest of their vacation more memorable and magical.  Both of these families have also returned to Walt Disney World.

If I could--and do--give first timers any advice, it would be the following:

  • Do some research and planning.  Grab a guidebook, surf the web, talk to a seasoned traveler, anything to get some info before you go.  A family vacation to Walt Disney World can be a significant financial investment so ask yourself, if you would spend/invest that much money in something else without doing some research?
  • Have realistic and reasonable expectations.  Know your family and/or travel party.  If they are not "night owls" at home, then they most likely won't be on vacation.  If eating breakfast is the main meal at home, then how well will skipping breakfast to get to the parks go over while on vacation?  Disney is a marketing mecca and many of the images seen in advertisements do not represent the actual images.  I'm smiling thinking about the message on the rear view mirror--there should be a similar message on Disney advertisements "your experiences may differ significantly."
  • Know prior to embarking into Walt Disney World that the place is enormous!  Walt Disney World is NOT just Magic Kingdom, but is a combination of 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 22 resort hotels, a shopping and entertainment district, miniature golf course, and numerous other golf courses.  Traversing from one location to another takes time and energy.  Even getting from the parking lot of Magic Kingdom into the park can mean walking a distance, taking a tram, then either a ferry or a monorail, and that is just prior to bag check.
  • And, lastly, if possible, stay on property.  While the cost may be more, the convenience, theming, and benefits often outweigh the costs.
As always, we wish all travelers to the most magical place on earth a wonderful vacation whether it's your first time or 21st time!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A New Bag




If you read yesterday’s post about our saving $88 on our summer 2014 Walt Disney World vacation—click here to read more—then you might be interested in knowing what we are doing with that savings!  We are purchasing new luggage.  Well, not a complete set of luggage nor a suitcase really, but a new piece of luggage—a rolling duffel bag.

After almost 30 trips in and out of Orlando International airport, along with other flights to Houston to visit family and LA to sail with Disney, our luggage has logged lots of miles.  And, has lost some wheels or has broken down sides.  Yes, they are still usable, and trust me, we still use them.  But having luggage that rolls just makes things easier.  We bought a new suitcase two summers ago, so it was time to add to our collection.

Why not a suitcase then?  Well, the boy is getting older and as he goes into middle school he will have opportunities to participate in various travel programs.  My thinking was that he would use and appreciate a large duffel bag more than a suitcase. 

Other reasons for our selection included the color—the red bag will go nicely with the rest of our luggage collection and will be easily visible at baggage claim.  Another reason, the “legs” opposite the wheels.  I had read reviews of other large, rolling duffel bags, that tip over when standing upright due to not having the additional “legs” or kickstand.  The wheel placement—embedded into the bag—was another wanted feature.  Also, this bag is 60 linear inches, just one inch short of the checked baggage allowance for most airlines. 

There were many large duffel bags featuring 65 inches or larger linear measurements.  I felt that the website needed to issue a warning on those bags that they would be over the checked bag limits and require customers to pay an additional fee.  I told the husband this and it reminded us of the time we were browsing, and eventually buying, a suitcase in TJMaxx and had looked at various suitcase features including wheels and linear measurements.  We drew other customers into our conversation and ended up helping them with their purchases.   Click here to read more.

So, our large, rolling duffel met our selection criteria and is on its way to us.  We purchased through eBags.com online as the bag was on sale and featured free shipping, but I clicked on Ebates.com first and earned 10% of our purchase back in cash!  Even more savings!  Can’t wait for our new bag to arrive as we have a new, free, Mickey shaped luggage tag to attach (how we got that is a story for another time.)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A PIN Code For Summer=Savings


               

We are headed to Walt Disney World again this summer for a sea/land combo vacation.  And, while we got a discount for our Disney Cruise by rebooking on board, we are/were still trying to get the best savings for the Walt Disney World portion of our summer vacation.

On March 17, summer discounts were released to the general public that had been previously released to Disney Visa card holders.  The discounts were for up to 30% off of stays of 6 nights or longer and were good through August 28.  Once the discounts were released, I contacted our travel agent.  There was good news and bad news.  The bad news—our resort for our summer 2014 Disney vacation Port Orleans French Quarter—was not included in the special.  This has happened to us before, and we have changed resorts to get the discount.  Only this time, Disney’s Coronado Springs did not have any standard rooms available during our stay, only king rooms or suites;  so we didn’t switch to Coronado.  Port Orleans Riverside offered garden view rooms as a part of the summer discounts and the savings was minimal (around $50) to switch resorts.  We decided not to switch. 

Oh, the good news was that since we had reserved our vacation in January through AAA, we were getting a pretty good price with the AAA discounts and cheaper park tickets, as the prices went up in February.  That is good news!

Then, we got a PIN Code in the mail.  For those of you who may not be familiar with PIN Codes, they are special, multi-digit codes assigned to your family that are good for the specified discount with the offer.  The offer we received with the PIN Code was FREE Park Hopper added to Magic Your Way Tickets of 5 nights or more for stays through August 28.  All righty then!  This offer covered our July stay, we already had a 5 day ticket with Water Parks and More Fun added.  I called our travel agent.

I was willing to bargain.  Park Hopper added to a Magic Your Way Ticket costs the same as Water Parks and More Fun.  We were willing to exchange the Park Hopper for a free Water Parks and More option—if that was possible.

Our travel agent emailed me that we were able to add the Park Hopper for FREE to our tickets AND the price of our package decreased by $88.  Why did the price go down?  Well, last summer Walt Disney World changed its pricing structure and made it more economical for guests to add BOTH Park Hopper and Water Parks and More to their tickets.  Once you have one, it is a minimal fee to add the other.  So, by adding Park Hopper, even if it was free, it made the Water Parks and More Fun option added to our tickets less expensive.  I can live with that!

So, now that we have discounts, Memory Maker, Water Parks and More, and Park Hopper to our theme park tickets, it’s back to the drawing board for our touring plan.  I’m thinking there may be an extra evening visit to Magic Kingdom, especially since there may be some additions to FastPass + for guests with Park Hopper.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Tale of The Inflatable Sword

Pirate Night on our first Disney Cruise--March 2007
I want to tell the story of the inflatable pirate sword.  This inflatable pirate sword came into our lives in the summer of 2006.  It was a prize in a McDonald’s Happy Meal during the launch of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  At the time, we knew were going to be taking our first Disney Cruise in March of 2007 and had begun collecting items that might be useful during the trip.

Pirate Night on our most recent Disney Cruise--December 2012
That inflatable sword went with us on our first Disney Cruise and every Disney Cruise since then.

It has also traveled to Walt Disney World for the Pirates and Princess Party at the Magic Kingdom—this party no longer exists but at one point was a “hard ticket” event similar to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and had its own parade, etc. 

Also, the boy carried this sword when taking a Pirate Adventure Cruise that is just for kids when we stayed at Caribbean Beach Resort at Walt Disney World.

We have since added to the inflatable collection—adding parrots and hooks. 

Ironically, we get asked about this inflatable sword when it appears on Pirate Night on the ship.  “Where did you get that?” folks ask.  When we tell them that we got it from McDonald’s in 2006 they give us the look that is both recognition of good planning and disappointment.

Yes, the boy has admired the “real” fake plastic swords and weapons that are available for purchase both at Walt Disney World and on the ships.  Our retort to his request to purchase one is that he already has a pirate sword.

What he also may not realize is that with his inflatable sword, we don’t have to worry about airport security and that it takes up nearly zero space in the luggage.

Disney Cruise--July 2011
Will this inflatable sword be returning to the Caribbean to fight once again?  Definitely!  It is in the tote with all of the other pirate gear—jewels, parrots, hats and headgear—just waiting to be packed for their next adventure.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wishing For Spring!

Photo from Spring Break 2012
I don’t know about you, but I am ready for Spring.  Where we live, another snowfall covered the ground last night and we have been teased with spring-like temperatures just wetting our appetites.  It’s not just the snow melting or warmer temperatures that lure me into wistful dreaming of Spring, but the idea of green grass, being outside, and longer, sunnier days.

For many, Spring and/or Spring Break also means travel.  And, for some of those traveling, it can also mean Disney travel.  I am aware of at least four families readying themselves for Disney vacations in the next few weeks.  Good for them!

And, while we won’t be traveling during Spring Break this year, we are definitely looking forward to the “break.”  Just the other morning the boy asked me how long before Spring Break.  His goal—stay up later!

Come on, sweet Spring, come on!  A new season also means we are that much closer to our next Disney vacation!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Olaf From Disney's FROZEN Greeting DCL Guests at Castaway Cay!

That settles it!  We are definitely wearing the shirt featured above on our day at Castaway Cay!  Why?  Well, the name on the shirt helps, but since Disney's FROZEN has become such a huge hit and, I might mention, won two OSCAR's, fans just can't seem to get enough.  Us included!

And, Disney Cruise Line is helping guests get their FROZEN fix with the following:

  • Anna is on-board the Disney Fantasy and Disney Dream
  • Olaf greets guests at the post office on Castaway Cay
  • Guests can watch Frozen in the theaters on all four Disney cruise ships
Did you read that?  Olaf greeting guests at the post office on Castaway Cay!  Hip, hip, hooray! Oh, I can't wait to get photos and tell him that I like warm hugs, too.  And, that he has definitely found the right place for "chillin' in the sunshine"; his own bit of paradise.

Did we know about this before designing our shirts?  No, we did not.  I just found out today about Olaf on Castaway Cay and the shirts arrived last Friday.  I'm innocent, I tell you. 

Bonus--we will also get to meet Anna!  Then, when we get to EPCOT, we will hopefully get to meet both Elsa and Anna!  It's going to be hot in Orlando in July, but for us, we will be a bit FROZEN!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Guests Prohibited From Bringing Power Strips on Disney Ships

Disney Cruise Line has officially changed its policy and added surge protectors, extension cords, and power strips to the list of items that prohibited.  This news, which came out last week, threw me for a loop as a power strip is on our top ten items to pack for any trip--click here to read more.  A power strip keeps all of our electronic chargers—cameras, phones, games—all in one place.  Typically, electronic outlets are either limited in quantity or difficult to find in staterooms and hotel rooms for that matter, which makes a power strip even that more convenient.  The power strip with chargers is the last item I throw into the luggage and the first item out. 

I understand, or am trying to understand, DCL’s stance on this—it is about safety.  Safety is one of the four pillars of Disney Customer Service and the most important one. 

Though, while guests are prohibited from bringing power strips, they can “borrow” one from Guest Services for a $50 refundable deposit.  So, the policy isn’t so much about not using power strips, but ensuring that the power strips are safe and in good working condition.  Got it.

So, we can get access to a power strip during the cruise portion of our summer vacation, but what about the land portion?  We are using Disney transports which means we won’t be able to swing into a Wal-Mart on our way back from the port.  And, if I pack a power strip, even without using it, it will be confiscated from my luggage and I may or may not get it returned at the end of the cruise. 

It only took us one vacation when we had chargers strung up all over the room one night trying to charge all of our electronics before we started taking a power strip.  Our last vacation, we had to upgrade to two power strips—one for phones and cameras and the other for the tablet and games.  Do we go back to no power strip for the World portion of our vacation?

I sent an email to GardenGrocer. Com and asked them to consider adding power strips to their list of available items for guests.  We were already planning to have groceries delivered, so adding a power strip to the items would be an easy fix.

Another option is to mail a power strip to ourselves at the resort.  That way, it could be waiting for us upon our arrival.

I’m also checking out various other options such as power mats that will charge various electronics without plugging in or devices that charge multiple electronic items simultaneously.  Though, how are these any different than power strips other than in design?

Right now, the plan is take an old power strip for our two days at the Hyatt and “abandon” it when we leave.  Then us a $50 Disney Gift Card as a deposit for a power strip for our cruise.  Then see about ordering a new power strip to be delivered to our resort for us.  Isn’t Wal-Mart’s shipping  fee $.97?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Helping Others Plan and Prepare For Their Disney Vacations

It is fun to be surrounded by people who are about to enjoy a Disney vacation, are planning a Disney vacation, or have just returned from a Disney vacation. 

A friend and colleague is getting ready to fly to the most magical place on earth in the next two weeks.  The trip will be a surprise for two young children.  It is sure to be a magical experience for their family.  My role:  to listen as the plans get processed and finalized as this is not their first trip and to answer any questions that pop up quickly—via email, in person, phone, or text. 

Another colleague is planning their family’s first Disney vacation and are planning to drive to Orlando this summer and stay off property, just “outside the gates” and have a 4 day adventure planned.  My role:  communication, knowledge, and support.   While they have their dates, lodging, and transportation planned,  it was important to understand the enormity of Walt Disney World, what each of the four theme parks has to offer their family, the time it will take to go from their hotel to the theme park of their choosing, and how to best navigate the crowds over the July 4 holiday.  I am anticipating more questions as they move forward with their planning.

The initial email asking for assistance indicated they had heard I was the queen of Disney.  I disagree;  I’m not the queen, but I am okay to be considered a princess!

Just yesterday, I bumped into friends who had just returned from a Disney Cruise Line vacation.  Prior to their cruise, I got a phone call with questions about staying at the Hyatt at Orlando International Airport prior to sailing—click here to read more.  It was great to hear their report that staying at the Hyatt was smooth sailing, so-to-speak.  I asked if they re-booked on board.  “No,” but they did think about it.  Seems that they are thinking about their next Disney move—which may include a multi-generation family visit in the fall.  But I was also hearing that they are ready for “something else” but couldn’t quite put their finger on it.  I filled in the blank for them. . . “You’re ready for an Adventures by Disney tour.”  The eyes lit up, then a nod, followed by asking if we had done that.  “Yes!”  My role:  answer the phone and the questions about the various Adventures by Disney tours that their family might enjoy. 

It makes me happy to help these folks, even after their vacation.  Even now as I type these stories, I am smiling.  The husband just shakes his head at me and rubs his fingers together, you know the motion indicating money in your hand.  For me, it brings me joy and pleasure to know that other families can have a magical Disney vacation.  I’m just happy to help!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Disney's Magical Express And Disney Cruise Line Transports Are Not The Same

A general confusion that exists for guests who are familiar with traveling to Walt Disney World is that transportation to/from Port Canaveral for a Disney cruise is the same as Disney's Magical Express service.  Yes, they both use buses, sometimes the exact same buses.  Yes, they are both owned and operated by Mears.  Yes, the buses have bathrooms and show cartoons/movies.  And, yes, they both have check-in counters at Orlando International Airport that are actually adjacent to each other.

So, with all of these commonalities, it is understandable how prospective guests think that they are one in the same.  But there are some significant differences.

Disney's Magical Express is FREE to guests staying at a Walt Disney World Resort.  Disney Cruise Line transports or transfers are $35 per person per trip or $70 round-trip.

Disney's Magical Express transports guests to/from Orlando International Airport and the Walt Disney World Resort.  Disney Cruise Line transports transport guests from airport to port, port to airport, port to resort, and resort to port.

Disney's Magical Express operates all day every day.  Disney Cruise Line transports operate only on days Disney ships are in port either embarking or disembarking and only those mornings and early afternoons.  All guests must leave the ship no later than 9:00 am and all guests must be on the ship by late afternoon, limiting the hours the transports are needed.

For us a typical sea/land vacation includes the use of both Disney Cruise Line transports and Disney's Magical Express.  When we stay at the Hyatt at Orlando International Airport prior to sailing, it is convenient for us to make our way downstairs at the airport and board a bus to the port--the bus being Disney Cruise Line transports.  If we are heading to Walt Disney World Resort after disembarking from the ship, we again us Disney Cruise Line transports to take us from port to resort.  And, then, when we check out of our resort to head back to Orlando International Airport, Disney's Magical Express whisks us away in true Disney style.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Williams Family Blog Turns 4!


Today marks the 4th anniversary/birthday of the Williams Family Blog.  Four years ago today, the Williams Family Blog welcomed its very first post--click here to read the first post.  What was unique at the time was that Blogger, our host, would only allow so many photos per post--five if memory serves.  That has since changed, thank goodness!

Interestingly, the fourth post, published just three days later, now has over 1700 hits.  Any guesses as to the subject?  It's our "What's Up With The Matching Shirts?" post--click here to read.

Over the course of the four years, we have been featured in the local newspaper--click here.  Made another local publication--click here.  And been a guest on a podcast--click here.

Let's recap with some numbers. . .
  • This post will be the 1,000th post to the Williams Family Blog.  1,000 posts over 4 years averages 250 posts per year.  A fraction of 250 posts for every 365 days means a new post 2 out of 3 days.  Someone asked me just last week if I posted once a week.  I said, no, it was more like once a day. (Except for this past December when our computer was on the fritz.)
  • To date we have 11 trips to Walt Disney World, 5 Disney Cruises, 1 Universal/Islands of Adventure trip, 1 trip to SeaWorld, and 1 Adventures By Disney tour under our belts.
  • Williams Family Blog is now on Facebook with 46 "Likes."  A small start, but it is a start!
  • As I type this, there have been over 369,000 clicks on our site with a variance of 400-900 hits per day. 
  • 584 comments have been left over the course of four years.
  • And, we have one post that has had over 13,000 hits--click here to read it.

To our family, friends, and followers thanks for reading, clicking, commenting, and sharing our adventures with us.  It is a pleasure to write them for you.  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Considering A Champagne Brunch While At Sea


The countdown to sailing on the Disney Fantasy continues and in about a month, we will be able to reserve shore excursions, spa treatments, and making dining reservations for either or both of the adult only restaurants on board.  Palo and Remy are the two "top of the world" adult only restaurants perched on Deck 12 Aft of both the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.  Palo is also found on the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder.

Both restaurants serve a champagne brunch and a multi-course dinner.  We have eaten brunch in Palo twice and enjoyed it very much.  So, I am thinking that it might be a neat experience to have brunch at Remy.

Dining at Palo and Remy is an additional per person charge which varies depending on the restaurant and the meal--brunch or dinner.  Brunch is the least expensive option.

Brunch is only offered on "at sea" days on any of the ships.

Dinner at Palo is complimentary for Platinum level Castaway Club members.  I am envisioning that we may wait until reaching that level before we commit to dinner.

Have you dined at Palo and Remy?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Is Disney Just For Girls?


I noticed on Pinterest that the Williams Family Blog was noted as a great guide for families with boys.  I had never thought of that before until I read that particular note and I hadn't thought about it again in some time until I updated the photos this week and added one of the boy meeting the a Disney Princess.  All of this got me thinking . . . Is traveling to Walt Disney World different for families depending on whether they have boys or girls in their family?  Is Disney a different experience for boys than for girls?

I do know that Walt Disney World does offer many experiences for girls such as dining with Disney Princesses and getting all glammed to be a Disney Princess at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.  But that doesn't mean that boys can't or won't like dining at Cinderella's Castle.  Our whole family has dined with Cinderella and most recently at Akershus for Storybook Dining.  Either I am really lucky or my family "gets" that Disney Princesses are part of the magical "world" of Disney that isn't necessarily decided by gender.

And, there are experiences that could be deemed for "boys" such as Pirate League where even adults can get their "pirate on" and Harmony Barber Shop in the Magic Kingdom.  But there are many girls who want to be pirates and anyone, young or old, can have the magical experience of getting their haircut at the Harmony Barber Shop on Main Street, U.S.A.

Interviewing the boy at dinner indicated that he thought more girls than boys would appreciate dining with the Disney Princesses and he thought more boys than girls would like Star Tours and Jedi Training Academy.  He would not /did not designate certain experiences at Walt Disney World as "for girls" or "for boys".  I appreciate his diplomacy.

I would assert that Walt Disney World is a different experiences for families based more on their preferences rather than the gender balance in their family.  We don't like to golf or fish, so that is something we don't do at Disney--unless miniature golf counts.  On our last trip, I got to see both Lights, Motors, Action AND Beauty and the Beast stage show while at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  We do like to swim and meet Disney characters so we spent much of our time doing just that.

One of the many things we love at vacationing with the mouse is the vast array of diverse experiences that are offered and as our family changes (the boy grows up) there are new-to-us experiences and opportunities for us as well as favorites.  And, not just for us, but for all guests.  

What do you think?  Is the Disney experience different for girls and boys?  Or is it more about personal preferences and interests?