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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Monday, September 29, 2014

What's The Best Part of a Disney Cruise? The Ease!

What’s the best part of a Disney Cruise?  That seemingly simple, yet potentially overwhelming question is one we get asked many times.  Why is it so hard to answer?  Because while there are many specific things to point to—food, entertainment, service, ports, the real answer is more elusive as it is about a feeling.

From the moment you make your reservation for a Disney Cruise there is a feeling of excitement and anticipation.  Luxury and adventure wait you and your family.  And, while millions venture to Walt Disney World either to stay at the resorts or for a day trip to the parks, fewer walk onto Disney ships to have their family name announced followed by applause from the crew.

You can do as much advance planning as you like, but there are limits.  Prospective guests can check-in online and reserve port adventures, spa treatments, and special adult dining opportunities as well as gain access to paperwork.  Guests can even make sure the kiddos are registered for the kids club prior to boarding and select their dinner seating—main or second.  But, that’s where it stops.  Some, dare I say extreme planners, want to preplan their dining rotations, know which movies will be showing while on board, and preregister for onboard activities such as seminars or family activities.  But, that’s not going to happen.  Disney Cruise Line wants you to make some of those “what I am going to do today?” decisions when you get on board.  And as far as the dining rotation goes, guests will know the moment they receive their Key to the World card (if they understand the letters on the card) and not a moment before.  And, for guests not sure of the code on the card, the dining rotation is clearly printed on the dining room tickets guests will find in their stateroom.

We’ve heard cruising nay sayers that they are worried they would be bored on the ship.  After spending more than a month, collectively, on a Disney ships, I can say our family has never been bored.  Even on days when the ship is in port and there are fewer activities to select from, we have found plenty to do.  Of course, it isn’t the same adrenalin rush as Tower of Terror, but there are fewer lines, less crowd, and moderate temperatures.  And, there’s more to do than just lounging by a pool, but that is available if you want.  The daily Navigator that is delivered to staterooms each evening has the entire list of activities for the next day including character meet and greets.  We love reading and deciding our plan for the next day and we’ve been known to change our plans at the last minute.

Then there’s the whole idea of unpacking once and seeing all the ports of call on a ship’s itinerary.  One can see most of the world from a Disney ship.

Speaking of packing and unpacking, Disney Cruise Line even makes handling luggage a breeze with luggage tags that allow the luggage to be delivered right to your stateroom.  And, plenty of porters to make toting luggage to or from the port easier.

There’s the word I’ve been searching for. . . easier!  The best part of a Disney Cruise Line vacation is the ease.  For us, there is no easier vacation than a Disney Cruise Line vacation.  Planning and preparing are easy.  And, being on vacation is easy!  Our family can do things together or separately and we are just moments apart.  No busses to catch, schedules to keep track of, dining reservations to worry about—it is all easy.  I’m not saying that a Walt Disney World vacation can’t be magical, it definitely can.  But if you are looking for ease and magic, then Disney Cruise Line might be your ticket.  The only vacation that I can think of that is easier is an Adventures by Disney vacation.  And interestingly enough, when we adventured previously, every guest had already sailed with Disney Cruise Line.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so!  Make my next Disney Cruise 7 nights and easy!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Making Leaving The Magic A Little Easier

We’ve all been there.  The last day of a magical vacation.  Knowing that the next steps include packing bags and heading back to reality.  And, after twelve magical trips to Walt Disney World, we’ve discovered that there are some things that make leaving the magic a little easier. . .
  • Take Disney’s Magical Express back to the airport.  You get to stay immersed in the magic for just a while longer with videos, a friendly bus driver, and a curb-side drop at the appropriate location at the airport for your respective airline.
  • Use Resort Airline Check-in at your Disney Resort.  This service begins at 5:00am at most resorts and allows you to check your luggage at your resort rather than toting them to the airport and the airline counter.  Luggage tags for checked luggage and boarding passes are printed right there, on the spot, for participating airlines.  We try to plan our return flight based on this service—knowing it begins at 5:00am means we want our flight for 8:00 am or after.  (Oh, and the fee for our checked bags was a big less when using Resort Airline Check-in!)
  • For a tip, Bell Services will come to your resort room and assist you with your luggage.  Either taking your luggage to Resort Airline Check-in, or to the Magical Express coach, to your car, or to Bell Service’s storage location so that you can enjoy the rest of your day—if checking out now, but leaving later.
  • Keep your MagicBand on until you get home.  It was a great reminder of our magical journey to us and others during our return trip.  And, while it had no “use” it was fun to imagine that it could be used to open doors, pay for items, or gain entry into various areas.  And, since it is plastic, there was no need to take if off while going through airport security.
  • Use any left over snack credits to grab some snacks to go.  Can you not smile while eating Mickey shaped goldfish or pretzels?
  • Reminisce during the trip home.  Best parts?  Favorite memory?  Highlights?  What to do again next time?  What not to do?
  • And, we wear matching shirts for the trip home!
  • But the number one cure for making it easier to leave the magic is to have your next trip booked, planned, and/or reserved.  If you know you want to return, take advantage of a “bounce back” offer.  You’ll be smiling the whole way home!

There you have it.  Our top tips for making leaving the magic a bit easier.  Re-entry into the real world isn’t as hard as say an astronaut’s re-entry into the atmosphere, but it sure can feel that way.

And, who has their next trip planned?  Raise your hand!  Go head, admit it—we know you do!  And, good for you!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Our Experience With Quicksilver Tours and Transportation

When planning for our grand summer 2014 vacation that included Universal Studios, a 7-night Disney Cruise, and a week at Walt Disney World, we had to make decisions about transportation.  We knew we were staying at the Hyatt at Orlando International Airport upon arrival to Orlando and that we want to get to the Universal Orlando Resort the next day, but how would we get there?

There are various options—taxi, car rental, even public transportation.  Our choice was a town car service—Quicksilver.

Making arrangements was fast and easy with their web-site—click here for a no obligation quote.  Since we had used them before, we even got a discount.

Instead of picking us up at the typical locations at the airport which are very busy, we were picked up at the Hyatt’s “motor lobby” located below the hotel at street level. 

There is a lovely waiting area featuring comfy chairs, air conditioning, a glass wall that keeps the noise and weather outside while you wait inside.  And, the entire motor lobby is covered, too.  Members of the Hyatt staff are also on hand to assist guests along with luggage racks and a digital kiosk for information.

Our stylish ride arrived and we were whisked away to a smooth ride through Orlando to Universal Studios.  We were dropped off at the transportation drop-off near the escalators to City Walk.  The driver also pointed out where our pick-up would be.

Riding the escalator to City Walk!
Speaking of pick-up. . . we were worn out and ready to go before our designated pick-up time and thankfully, Quicksilver was able to adjust their schedule and we were able to return to the Hyatt sooner than expected.  It was easy to contact them as I was given a card with a number and I also had them programmed on my phone.

We highly recommend Quicksilver for transportation needs in the Orlando area.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Our Best MagicBand Tips

Even though we only have one trip under our belts using Magic Bands and Fastpass+, I feel like we learned a thing or two.  Here are our best tips for using Magic Bands at the Walt Disney World Resort:
  • You don’t have to wear them on the opposite hand as your “scanned” finger—you know when you are gaining entry into a theme park or water park.  The system allows you to scan your band and then scan your finger.  For the boy, he wore his band on the same hand as his scanned finger—which helped him to know which finger to use.
  • Have everyone try to open your resort room door with their band.  This allows for a test of all the bands before using them for something more important, like paying for a meal or gaining entry into a park.  We didn’t have any problems but we know people who have.
  • The bands are secure with two notches, but nevertheless, they do fall off.  The husband had his come off as we were sitting in Rock-n-Roller Coaster waiting for the launch.  (I quickly put it in the seat pocket and held it secure with my knee.)  We found ourselves doing “band checks” every so often.  Not compulsively, just preventatively.
  • They are water proof.  I was especially looking forward to using the MagicBand at the water parks to pay for meals, etc.  No more going back to our stuff to get a Key to The World Card to pay for our meal and then returning to put the card away.  We floated, or walked, to the dining establishment of our choice, ordered, paid, ate, and floated off again.  Love it!
  • It’s okay to take them off, too.  We took our bands off each night upon returning to our room and then put them back on in the morning.  Each of us has a designated spot to put our things like that—jewelry, watches, lanyards, etc.  And, since they are personalized on the inside—if you customize prior to your trip—it is easy to know which band belongs to who even if they are the same color.

On a personal note, I liked not having to wear a lanyard, or feeling like I had to wear a lanyard to keep track of my Key to The World Card.  The convenience of the MagicBand holding all of our ticket information, Fastpass+ selections, dining plan credits, and it opened our resort room hotel was terrific.  It would have also been cool to use it for the Disney’s Magical Express ride to our resort, but we only used Magical Express for the ride back to the airport and they are still using the paper ticket hanging on your resort room door system.

If you have found other helpful hints and tips for using your MagicBand, please let us know!  Oh, and the boy enjoyed the extra Disney Infinity surprise his MagicBand opened up on the game.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mixology on the Disney Fantasy

On a previous Disney Cruise, the husband participated in the Whiskey Tasting seminar—click here to read more—and he was hopeful to do something similar on our 7 night sailing on the Disney Fantasy.  We were excited to see a listing of the various beverage seminars listed in the Navigator we received when we checked in at the port.

Either time got away from us or some of the sessions were full or the times overlapped other activities, but for whatever reason, the husband decided to take the Mixology class offered on the “at sea” day.  One of the times was 2:00 pm and I think he decided late in the morning to attend.  We called Guest Services and there was availability but he had to come to Guest Services in person for the ticket—to assure that he was “of age” to take the class.  This was different than when he registered for the Whiskey Tasting.  We also asked if I could go along, but not participate and was told that yes, I could.

So, shortly before 2:00 pm we headed to Skyline Lounge on Deck 4 AFT in the “adult district” and joined about 20 other people for Mixology.  The bar was set up, drink lists with recipes were handed out, tickets for the session collected, and Jerry, the host began the class. 

The husband volunteered to make the first round of drinks as it included using the shaker.  After the volunteers finished, everyone got to sample the drink and another round of volunteers stepped up behind the bar to make the next featured beverage.

Jerry not only was the teacher of the class, but he was also part stand-up comedian.  Maybe that comes with the territory—being a bar tender on a Disney Cruise ship.  And, the two assistants had the empty glasses swiftly taken away.

The class lasts for a little over an hour, costs $15 per person, and each participant gets to sample five drinks.  We found Mixology on the Navigator on “at sea” days and offered twice on those days—2:00 pm and 4:00 pm.  All participants must 21 years old or older.

The husband had such a great time that I gave Mixology a try on our last “at sea” day.

Mixology is definitely on our “to do” list for our next cruise and we will do it at the same time.  And, it is such a bargain, it is highly likely the husband will give it a go more than once if possible.

If you find yourself in the class, be sure to answer the question about what is the most important thing behind the bar with “ice”!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Unique Photopass Photos From Our July 2014 Walt Disney World Vacation

While unusual, the fireworks photo has become a tradition.  We even helped another family get this photo taken, too!
A local professional photographer was standing in my office at work glancing at the photos on display from our summer vacation and it made me remember that all of the photos in frames were taken by someone else—either ships’ photographers, Universal Connect photographers, or Disney Photopass photographers.  I then realized that we had some unusual and new to us photographs taken by Disney photographers.  Let’s take a look:
In all of our trips to the Magic Kingdom, we had never seen a photographer outside of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  We did not mind posing for this shot--and there were a few others.
We also found a Photopass photographer near Prince Eric's Castle at the Magic Kingdom.  Happy to smile!
This trip, we spent more time riding Tower of Terror and Rock-n-Roller Coaster, so it was great to have a photo in front of a different park icon.
We found several roaming photographers at Disney's Animal Kingdom.  They were happy to photograph us.  Wouldn't it be fun to have one of those photographers follow you?!?
We walked the path around Typhoon Lagoon and bumped into a Photopass photographer capturing the great scenery and background.

At Disney's Hollywood Studios there were several "insert graphics later" photo opportunities.  We definitely took advantage!
A Photopass photographer snapped this photo of the boy as he was playing The Beast in Enchanted Tales with Belle.  I wonder what he was thinking. . .
The background of Mickey's and Minnie's at the Emporium in the Magic Kingdom was the idea of a Photopass Photographer.  When he said, "Come with me," we did not hesitate.
Only a Photopass photographer could have captured this silliness and made it work for a character meet and greet.  One of my favorites!
There was also a photographer outside the Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom.  And, again, we didn't mind stopping for a few photos.
This photo shows the sign of the times.  We have similar photos from previous trips of the boy smiling at being kissed by his parents.  Such torture to endure!
And, my all time favorite photo from our trip--the wave photo at Typhoon Lagoon.  There is a story and the photo is so unusual and captures us in a natural state.  No posing here!

There you have it.  Some highlights from our 484 Photopass photos and not a one is a standard character meet and greet photo, though we do have some of those. 

If you have ever hesitated about utilizing Disney's Photopass service, I understand as it took us until trip #3 to really appreciate the photographers.  Now, we wouldn't think about a trip without them.  Smile and say "cheese!"

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Rainforest Room--Our Afternoon of Relaxation!

Spa.  Just the word conjures feelings of relaxation, tranquility, and being pampered.  And, the Senses Spa and Salon on the Disney Fantasy offers all of that to guests and more.  The Senses Spa and Salon is located on Deck 11 Forward on the Disney Fantasy and takes up nearly a third of an entire deck.

Our mission was to give the Rainforest Room, which is a part of the spa, a try.  I already knew what the Rainforest Room had to offer due to a spa tour on a previous cruise—click here to read about the spa tour.

While passes for the Rainforest Room for the length of the cruise are available for purchase on the ship, we pre-paid for one-day passes.  I found the ordering information under “Planning Center” on the Disney Cruise Line web-site and the link to “In-Room Gifts & Shopping”—here’s the link.  I could either print and fax the order form or I could call and make the purchase over the phone.  I called.

What was interesting about the call was that I had to have my confirmation number.  I asked the courteous voice on the other end of the phone that if this was a way for people to order gifts for other guests then it might be likely that they would not have access to a confirmation number—such as for a wedding, honeymoon, or anniversary.  She indicated that I was right and that she would have then looked up the confirmation number.  Good to know.

The phone transaction to order 2 one-day passes for $17 each went smoothly.  We were told that there would be a voucher waiting for us in our stateroom, which was accurate.  I did print off the confirmation email and brought it with us just in case.

We then determined which day we would use our Rainforest Room passes.  We knew that days at sea were pretty busy for the spa, so a day in port might be better.  Since we did not go ashore on the Grand Cayman day, that became our designated day. 

We arrived in the spa after lunch, wearing swimsuits, with our voucher in hand.  We were given green bracelets in exchange for our Key to the World Cards and told that we could return to the Rainforest Room as much as we liked that day, we just needed to return the bracelets for our Key to the World Card and then come back again anytime that same day.

The Cast Member at the spa check-in desk gave us a brief tour pointing out the bathroom/changing rooms, which are across the hall from the Rainforest Room, and directing us to the Rainforest Room as well.

Since we already had on swimsuits, which are required in the Rainforest Room, we headed in and started making use of the facilities. 

First stop, the various showers that feature scents, sounds, and varying water temperatures and water sprays.  The husband had a great time trying all of them! 

Three different types of sauna/steam rooms are also available.

My favorite, and what I was longing for, were the heated benches that also featured a view.  I grabbed a towel and settled in for my “nap” of sorts.  The husband also took advantage of the heated bench.

I don’t know how much later as I had lost track of time, I headed out to the therapeutic hot tubs on the open deck.  There are two, so we picked one to relax in.  These are not your typical hot tub as the bottom is a metal seat that is contoured to your body.

The Rainforest Room also offers flavored water, towels, and robes for guest use.

Will we do this again?  Definitely!  Next time, we might decide to change into swimsuits in the bathrooms/changing rooms and take advantage of the showers and products before returning to our stateroom to get cleaned up.  And, now that we know a one-day pass does not mean a one-time pass, but access for an entire day, we could plan accordingly and visit longer or more often during that day.

The price was right, too!  Having spent almost the same amount of money for 2 one-day passes to the Rainforest Room as we did for the boy’s Pirates League experience—click here to read more, we certainly got more bang for our buck with the Rainforest Room;  an entire afternoon (and it could have been more) compared to 15 minutes!

I am also glad we visited on a day when we were the only ones using the facility as there is a limit to the number of guests who can be there at one time.  And, we got to take pictures!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Disney Moms Panel Applicaton Successfuly Submitted!

Once again I have dipped my toe into the Disney Moms Panel pool.  Applications for the coveted Disney Moms Panel went live on Sept. 2, and my application has been successfully submitted.  The end goal:  Being selected and being able to serve as a Disney Mom and help others plan their magical Disney vacations!

Before I even opened the on-line application, I knew the “specialty” I was going to select—Disney Cruise Line.  There are other choices and Walt Disney World was a close second.

The application consisted of a series of questions—mostly essay.  Some of the questions were fun and involved knowing a bit of Disney and Disney Cruise Line trivia.  I couldn’t help but smile while I typed.

Other questions were more straightforward—which Disney ships have you sailed on?  Which itineraries?  Which ports?  The facts and just the facts—all ships, various itineraries, and most sailings out of Port Canaveral—though we did sail from the Port of Los Angeles once.

Another questions asked about dining preference given all dining options on Disney Cruise Line.  The word limit was 23.5 words.  My answer took 23 words!  I’m not going to reveal my answer, as that might constitute cheating.  But, I will say that it involved ease, selection, and view.

The best question. . . and the hardest, was to pretend that I was already on the Disney Moms Panel and respond to a fictitious, although realistic, question from a future Disney cruise guest.  Again, there was a word limit.  If memory serves, I was 2 words under the limit.

What surprised me was the photo submission.  It was tricky as the photo had to be in a specific format (gif, jpg, etc.) and most of my photos were jpeg—which was the wrong format.  I did finally find and submit a photo but my choices were limited due to the format requirement. 

New this year was the “verification page.”  After submission, the message was that I would receive an email verifying submission/receipt of the application.  But also there was a link to confirm or verify submission.  I clicked on the link and sure enough, it had my name and state and said that my application had been submitted.  Good thing, as I have yet to receive the email—even in my “junk/spam” folder. 

Now the tough part—waiting.  In a conversation with the husband, I have an estimate as to when I might hear, based in previous years’ application processes. 

In the meantime, my fingers are crossed for all who applied, including a frequent Williams Family Blog reader!