yearofdisney

Keep Spare Clothes in Your Carry On

“Keep things like a bathing suit and an extra set of clothes in your carry on just in case your luggage gets delayed–or worse, lost!”

This is a great thing to do especially if you’re using Disney’s Magical Express. This service is great because it picks you up at the airport and drops you at your hotel, with any checked luggage magically arriving in your room later–but the stress there should be later. If you get to the resort with nothing other than the clothes on your back and its four hours before your luggage with your bathing suit gets there and you have nothing to do but watch tv…well you see where this is going. Good rule of thumb is to pack a spare set of clothes and anything else you think you’ll need (like a bathing suit) just in case something happens to your luggage or if it is delayed in arriving. We usually carry on a garment bag full of nice clothes that we wear out to a nice dinner the first night we’re there and also a bathing suit in case we want to hit the pool while we wait!

Write Your Name on the Back of Your Ticket

“Write your name on the back of your ticket so it can’t get confused with someone else’s and cause hold ups at the entrances.”

Again this seems like another common sense thing, but if you’ve got a large group where one person is holding all of your tickets or you hand your tickets off for someone to go run and get Fastpasses for something it can cause a hassle later since Disney uses biometrics to keep several people from using the same card. Basically at each entrance you have to plug your ticket in, then put your fingers down on a scanner thing, and then it allows you in. If you mix your ticket up with someone else’s and try to use it, it will then give an error and not let you in. The easy fix for that is writing your name on the back of yours (if its not already printed on the front) so that you always know which is which!

And don’t write your name on the wall like the Muppets.

Make Reservations at the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique and The Pirates League

“If you want to do the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique or The Pirates League you absolutely must make reservations in advance or face disappointment”

This is one of those things in Disney that just took off in popularity–and while I’m not surprised, it IS surprising that this has become as hard to get into as top name restaurants like Le Cellier. You simply cannot count on walking in to get a reservation these days at the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique or The Pirates League. If you have kids that will be utterly heartbroken that they didn’t get to go after seeing all the little princes, princesses, and pirates running around the park all sparkled up, YOU MUST MAKE RESERVATIONS IN ADVANCE!  

That goes for adults too, who can also make an appointment to be all prettified/pirate-ified. Yeah, we know you want to.

You can always check your luggage at the front desk if your room isn't ready.

“Room not ready? Check your luggage at the front desk! Then you can head on out and get your vacation started!”

So after the long flight and the Disney Magical Express trip (you did take DME, right?!) that wasn’t nearly as long but felt like it took forever you finally get to your awesome resort and, aw heck, your room’s not ready! No problem. Go check in at the front desk and leave your luggage. They’ll keep everything safe for you while you head out for a burger at Beaches & Cream or a round of minigolf at Mickey’s Winter Summerland. You’ll get a card with a number to call and check to see if your room is ready and by the time you get back to the resort your luggage will be waiting for you. Disney perfect!

Use the International Gateway Entrance to Epcot

“Did you know Epcot has two entrances? The entryway near the International Gateway is almost always less busy than the main entrance.”

Not only is the international gateway entrance less crowded, but while you do have to zip your way to Future World post haste (no loitering!) it is a great way to see a little snippet of the World Showcase before it starts getting busy later on in the day and makes for a great justification for staying at Epcot area resorts like the Yacht and Beach Club or the Boardwalk for real Epcot lovers.

Depending on where you’re going, your best bet might also be the international gateway for a quick exit. There are no buses or monorails out that way, but for an ADR at an Epcot area resort or for the bold adventurer who’d rather chance a park-bound bus at the Boardwalk or Beach Club than at the front of the park, the gateway serves as well.

Use a Journal to Keep Track of Your Memories

“Sometimes a Disney vacation can be a whirlwind of activity so keep a journal to remember special moments or just what you did that day!”

It never fails that after a Disney vacation I am sometimes left wondering “What did we do on our fifth day there?” Luckily I am a pretty avid writer and I usually have a journal by my bedside on trips so that I can jot down the days activities before I forget them! It doesn’t have to be a big long novella of every single thing you did that day, but a couple of quick details right before bed will help you remember the entire day later when you go to look at them. If you’re into scrapbooking you can you use them to help reconstruct the days at home once you have all your photos in hand and it’s also really helpful if you have small children who may not remember things years later but will laugh at the stories you can tell later on because you took such good notes in your journal! You can pick up a nice one at any bookstore or just hit your local convenience store and get a notepad. Doesn’t have to be fancy! Heck, if you’re really pressed for something to write on, a napkin will even do!

Create Your Own Customized Maps!

“Create your own customized maps at disneyworld.com. They’re a great keepsake and a unique way to tell your family you’re going to Disney!”

When we first did this we weren’t expecting much and we were entirely blown away by the magical quality of the maps we received! If you have a profile on disneyworld.com, you can go through and create your own customized maps for your vacation–mark out your favorite spots and rides and Disney will send you a map of each park, personalized for your family! They take about three weeks to print and send out to you but they are entirely worth the wait.  The detail that goes into them is ridiculous and we end up doing them every year even though we don’t actually use them in the parks (since we know our way around!) because they just make us that much more excited for the trip!

Bring Hand Sanitizer

“You’re going to be touching a lot of railings and other things other people have touched so make sure you bring hand sanitizer with you!”

No one wants to be thinking about the flu or colds on a vacation, which is exactly why you should follow this tip! Get little travel sized bottles of hand sanitizer and carry them with you at all times. You’re going to be touching the safety bars of rides, the railings of lines, and everything else that the people before you have touched–and some kids will try to chew on EVERYTHING–so make sure you can quickly give your hands a spritz right before you eat. Ideally you want to be washing those hands before you pick up a cheeseburger, but while a bathroom with a long line might not be convenient, your little bottle of hand sanitizer always will be.

Use the "Last Chance" Exits

“Next in line for a thrill ride and suddenly you or someone in your party changes their mind?  Ask a CM to point you to a Last Chance Exit.”

These exits are fantastic for people with children who thought they were brave enough to go on the ride when you got into line but now that they’re next are having some serious second thoughts. On rides like Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, and even the Haunted Mansion there are exits right up front so that you don’t have to fight your way back through the line.  Most of them are marked, but if you don’t see a sign feel free to ask the nearest CM and they will discreetly direct you towards it. 

Drink Your Way Around the World at Epcot

“Spend an evening drinking your way around the world at Epcot! Get one drink (alcoholic or non) at each of the World Pavillions. It’s fun!”

This one is especially fun to do when at the Food and Wine Festival because there are TONS more little booths offering drinks from parts of the world you don’t normally see at Epcot.  But even if you aren’t there during the festival, this is still something fun to do when you want a relaxing, down night. Just start working your way around Epcot’s World Showcase and stop at each Pavilion to sample a drink from that country.  Obviously if you’re under 21 that’s going to mean seeing if they have something non-alcoholic, but for those 21 and over Epcot is hands down the best park to go to in order to get alcoholic drinks, so have at it!  You should of course drink responsibly and make sure you’re getting some water in between pavilions and stop whenever you feel you have reached your limit. This is a great way to try some unique tastes in beverages that you may not otherwise have had the chance to sample before, so enjoy!

Wear Water Shoes at the Water Parks

“The sidewalks at the water parks get extremely hot during the day so make sure you wear water shoes so you aren’t hopping around everywhere!”

I like to think I have really tough feet, honed from years of running around the rocky shores of Massachusetts barefoot. That I can walk on rocks on matter how sharp, on pavement no matter how hot. All that said: even I cannot take the hot sidewalks at Typhoon Lagoon!  Blizzard Beach isn’t much better.  Both water parks try to take cares to keep the concrete wet with a bunch of sprinklers to keep the temperatures down, but there are long stretches where the sprinklers just can’t reach. And the worst thing ever is to be walking along then suddenly realize your feet feel like they’re on fire and you’re nowhere near some shade/some water to jump into. The solution is to bring water shoes! You can wear those around, save your feet from getting scraped up and getting burned on the concrete walkways.  They’re the perfect solution! Even for you people that think you have tough feet: if they haven’t faced the Florida sun already, don’t take any chances!

Disney Vacation Club: How Does That Work?

Jokes from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia aside, Disney Vacation Club likes to pitch itself less as a timeshare and more as a “future vacation plan.” Make no mistake, you’re buying into a timeshare scheme, it’s just up to you to decide if it’s worthwhile or not. For us, since we’d never be able to stay at the Grand Floridian otherwise, that makes up for the cost. But a lot of people aren’t clear on how this sort of thing works, so let me break it down for you:

To buy into the Disney Vacation Club you need three things: 

1. Money. 

2. The number of points you wish to buy. 

3. The “home resort” you want to buy into. 

1 and 2 are linked because the price entirely depends on the number of points you want. How many do you need? We’ll get into that later. 

Your “home resort” is going to be the resort where you can book a vacation 11 months out. This is important because there are only so many rooms and so many dates that you’ll want to go and this allows you to get in before anyone else. If you love your home resort, this will be great for you. If you don’t and you just bought points there because it was cheap, you might have a harder time because you can only book 7 months prior to your arrival at resorts that are NOT your home resort.

So as an example, let’s say your home resort is Bay Lake Tower (nice!) and in June 2015 you start to plan a trip for next year:

If you want to stay at Bay Lake Tower you can book a trip that takes place starting in May of 2016 because that is your home resort and it is 11 months out. If you want to stay elsewhere, say at the Polynesian because they have brand new rooms, you are limited to book a trip that starts in January of 2016. Make sense?

Now let’s talk about points. When you buy into the Disney Vacation Club you purchase a certain number of points. It is entirely up to you how many you buy, but there are a minimum number the resorts require (I think 25 usually) and you should definitely look up the Points Charts:

This is an example of the 2016 prices for the rooms at the Animal Kingdom Villa. Points are broken down by:

-Day: Sun-Thur costs less than Fri-Sat. 

-Season: Adventure is the lowest point cost and it goes up from there to Choice, Dream, Magic, and Premier season

-Room type: Deluxe Studio, One-bedroom villa, two-bedroom villa, three bedroom grand villa

-Room view: these vary but are usually thinks like Standard, Lake/Water, Theme Park or Savannah. 

Depending on the resort the number of people each of these room types sleeps varies, though not by much. To figure out how many points you need, take a look at either your home resort or a resort you want to stay at and the time of year you usually want to go and factor in how many people you have in your family (i.e. a family of 6 can’t stay in a Studio). What we did was look at “Adventure Season,” which is the cheapest points wise, we figured the view didn’t really matter much, but factored on “Lake/Water view” anyway just in case, and decided on the number of days we as a family liked to stay in Disney, which is usually around 10. We decided we could definitely do a Studio room and then…

And then we did some tricky math.

See, whatever number of points you buy is the number of points you have for the year. HOWEVER you do not have to spend your points every year, you can bank them and “carry over” to the next year. So since we planned on having kids (and we have one now!) we did the math to figure out how many points we would need to get a one or two bedroom if we only went to Disney once every two years–meaning we would have two years worth of points to spend on one visit! We ended up purchasing 170 points.

And it gets better for those of you who can wait THREE years to go to Disney: Not only can you bank points from a year you aren’t going, you can BORROW the points from a future year! So you will have three years worth of points to spend on ONE vacation! We don’t plan on doing this often, but we are doing that this year so that we can travel with another family and other family members for our daughter’s first visit this year. 

Being able to play with the points this way is how people also use Disney Vacation Club points for Adventures with Disney, Disney Cruises, and regular hotel stays both at Disney and all over the world. Keep in mind what we’re talking about above is ONLY for the DVC villas on Disney property. If you want to stay in a regular room at one of the resorts, that’s going to cost you points but it’s going to be MORE points than staying at the villas. Personally I can’t see the benefit in using points for things like Adventures with Disney or the Cruises because they cost a LOT of points. Maybe because we don’t have that many compared to other DVC members (I mean I think it’s a lot, but apparently people get 300+!), but when it comes down to weighing what is more expensive to pay out of pocket: a Disney Cruise or a 12 day Disney vacation for a family of 4 NOT staying in a value resort, I think I’d rather use points on the Disney vacation and pay for the cruise! But that’s just my opinion. 

If You Are Active or Retired Military Make Sure Disney Knows!

“If you are active or retired military make sure that Disney knows when you make your reservation as there are special rates that can apply!”

Disney always offers certain incentives at different times of year, but one is always available for people who serve in the military. Just call (407) 939-7830 and they can tell you about the discount rates they have at Shades of Green, a resort that’s reserved for military personnel and their families!

The Jedi Training Academy is a must for those with kids and a ridiculously adorable show for those without

“Even if you don’t have kids watching the Jedi Training Academy is an almost unbearably adorable way to spend twenty minutes.”

We’ve all been there. Your ADR at Mama Melrose isn’t for another half an hour but the idea of doing the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror just before a big heavy meal doesn’t seem like a great idea. Or the lines are all long and your fastpass for the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster won’t be due for another hour. Can you withstand the cuteness of a thousand puppies without going into shock? Well then, you’re in luck.

Jedi Training Academy was a staple of Star Wars weekends until a couple of years ago when it became its own daily event near Star Tours at the Studios. Now every day kids can go up to learn the Force as padawans from trained Jedi Knights. They get robes, li'l lightsabers and guidance in the way of the Light Side. Watch out, though. Darth Vader has heard that some powerful up-and-coming Jedi are being trained in the area and he might be sending some Stormtroopers to investigate.

It seems silly and for people without kids it might even seem like a waste of time, but seriously, it’s possibly the cutest thing in the parks. Seeing a bunch of kids with plastic swords standing up to the Dark Lord of the Sith is just fantastic and even if you don’t give a rip about kids, it’s hard not to grin when Lord Vader stands down.

Don't get locked into your main transportation method!

“Always keep in mind all of your options for transportation while visiting the parks! Do what makes the most sense for your plans.”

This one seems obvious, but it really isn’t. Most people who go to the parks know how they’ll be getting around and will stick to it come hell or high water. Being flexible can make certain you have a much better time at the parks, though. Consider the family who have rented a car. Going to extra magic hours during the long summer nights? When you’re shutting down the Magic Kingdom at 1 AM, maybe you just want to let the Disney bus drivers do the driving rather than having to hop into your car yourself. Even better, if you’re mostly planning on doing bus transportation but are hurrying yourself and your family out of the park right after the fireworks, rather than hanging out in a crowded line for what seems like a thousand eternities waiting for that bus to show up, consider grabbing a cab. Most places on Disney property can be reached for less than ten bucks, plus tip.

We’re not advising one thing over anything else, when Erin and I go to the parks we usually use the Disney transportation (as a huge WDW area music fan, I love the music they’ve added to the buses that reflects your destination) but by being flexible we always make certain we keep the magic alive in what can quickly become the least magical part of the trip.

(Oh, but I do love those Disney billboards. I wish they’d add some new ones since they’ve been the same since my first trip out to the ‘World in '05.)

Every Savannah at the Animal Kingdom Lodge has its Own Selection of Animals

“Staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge? Every savannah has its own selection of animals so make time to visit each during your stay.”

What better way to start your day at Disney than to wake up and go out on your balcony and see a bunch of giraffes just hanging out only a few feet away! The Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of the two Deluxe resorts that Adam and I have stayed at and we immediately fell in love with the place.  We liked it so much that we even spent two whole days doing nothing but lounging at the resort watching the animals! I had booked the Animal Kingdom Lodge as a surprise for his birthday–he thought we were just going to stay at Port Orleans Riverside–and at the time we had the best savannah: Arusha, the center savannah that had the best choice of animals and (in my opinion) the nicest views. The first day we were there, Adam noticed that a Bongo had jumped over the little wires that enclosed the savannah and was eating some grass right beneath our balcony!  He called the animal people immediately and they told him not to worry, the bongos were pretty smart and always were jumping over the fence and they told him he was an Animal Hero.  Which made him embarrassed but we still laugh about it to this day.  That bongo hung out outside of our balcony the entire time we were there, so we named him Billy Bongo. What? It works!

Sadly the bongos no longer roam any of the three savannahs, but there are plenty more animals to be found!  From the Disney website you can see:

Ankole Cattle, Bontebok, Eland, Zebra, Greater Kudu, Impala, Okapi, Red River Hog, Nyala, Reticulated Giraffe, Roan Antelope, Sable Antelope, Thompson’s Gazelle, Waterbuck, White-Bearded Wildebeest, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Blue Crane, East African Crowned Crane, Greater Flamingo, Marabou Stork, Ostrich, Pink-Backed Pelican, Spur Winged Geese, Guinea Fowl and Ruppel’s Griffon Vulture

Though not all animals are on every savannah (giraffes are the only one you can find on all three) so you’re going to have to walk around to see them all–an activity I highly recommend. Not only are all three savannahs different, what with the different animals, but lining the halls of the Animal Kingdom Lodge are amazing displays of artwork from all around Africa. It gives you the chance to really take in all the details and the viewing areas are meticulously designed. Make sure you’re not just going to see the animals during the day, there are also night vision goggles available to view them at night, which is super cool and makes you feel like a super spy!

Really these days, I don’t think there’s such a thing as the “best” savannah like there used to be.  Disney has done a good job of mixing  up the “cool” animals with the “eh” animals so that every savannah is just as enticing. And you don’t need a savannah-view room to experience the animals either, so don’t feel like you’re missing out!  You can just hit one of the many viewing locations they’ve set up, or go out on Arusha Rock and get up close and personal with them.  From behind a fence of course!

Get a Pair of Mickey Ears with Your Name on Them

“First trip to Disney? You need to get a pair of Mickey Ears with your name on them on Main Street. Don’t argue with me, just go get them!”

It’s a Disney rite of passage that you come away from a visit to the Magic Kingdom with a pair of Mickey Ears that say your name on them.  I’m pretty traditional, so on Adam’s first trip we stopped into Le Chapeau on Main Street to get him his very own pair:  the original black Mickey Mouse set with the yellow lettering on the back.  While he protested a bit that he was too old for them, he spent the rest of the trip making sure they were “okay” and not getting crushed when we packed them to take back home.  I’m pretty sure he ended up hand carrying them!  A year later my aunt went with her family and won those blue Year of a Million Dreams ears which she gave to us on her return.  We were pretty jealous since we’d also gone during this time (for 14 days!) and while we saw bunches of people winning things, INCLUDING the family that got to stay in Cinderella’s Castle for the night, we won a big nothing the entire time!

These days you can get a set of ears in pretty much any Disney Park including Downtown Disney and the new twist is that you can MAKE a pair for yourself!  You can choose different sorts of ears, a different headpiece, they have them in various colors or according to various movie themes, it’s pretty amazing the sorts of things you can come up with and it’s an activity kids seem to love.  It’s a pretty cool thing to be able to have a unique set of ears to walk around the park with.  They even  have different fonts that you can choose for your name–and of course in any color thread you want!

We have made it a habit to get a set of baby ears (which come in soft pink or blue) every trip for my cousin’s kids with their name on the back.  They were the cutest things with a little round patch on the front that said “my first ears” or something like that with a baby Mickey or Minnie.  Absolutely adorable!  This past trip when we went we were pretty disappointed that they seem to have changed the style of these ears to now have just big eyes on the front.  They’re just not as cute and actually kind of ugly!  Still, we ended up buying one pair of blue and one pair of pink and getting names embroidered on them.  Since we had just gotten engaged we knew we wouldn’t be back to Disney for awhile (weddings are expensive!) but we wanted to make sure that if we go ahead and start a family, we have those ears ready whether we have a boy or a girl.  Thank goodness we had already had a talk years ago on what we’d name them!

So now those ears sit carefully wrapped up in a drawer and hopefully sometime next year we’ll be able to present them to a little girl or boy!


Tired of Walking? Take the Boats!

“Tired of walking? Take boats from the resorts to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney Hollywood Studios or Downtown Disney.”

But yearofdisney, you say, you’ve already warned us away from the boats because they take so long! Well yes, for those of you who, like me, want to be at the parks NOW, I would not recommend the boats.  But for people who are tired of waiting for the buses and maybe want a nice change of scenery, the boats are for you!  You can take a number of boats all over the place at Disney–from resort to resort or from several resorts to parks. The Swan, Dolphin, Boardwalk, Yacht and Beachclubs all have boats that go to Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios.  Port Orleans: French Quarter and Port Orleans: Riverside have boats that go back and forth from each other and to Downtown Disney. And of course the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, and the Contemporary all have boats going to and from the Magic Kingdom. So if you do have the down time and want a switch from waiting for buses or walking, the boats are a valid and fun option. You get to see the area from a different perspective and relax while the wind blows through your hair!

And hey, this is our 200th tip!  Who would have thought we’d make it this far? Now to come up with 165 more…

Got some time to kill? Want a free souvenir? Need proof that anyone can draw? Try the Animation Academy at DHS!

“Animation Academy in the Magic of Disney Animation at DHS is a fun way to spend a half an hour (or more!) AND nets you a free souvenir!”

So there we were with an hour until our Sci Fi Diner ADR and the line at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is a little longer than I feel like waiting. So what do we do? Well, I’d heard about a little room tucked away in a part of Disney Hollywood Studios we’d never actually bothered to visit before where a Disney animator will walk you step by step through drawing a Disney character. Hey, why not, right?

I never knew I could draw! I wish I had the pictures of Winnie the Pooh that we drew available to post here. They’re unbelievably good. The teachers at the Academy know how to make it easy as anything to feel like a great Disney artist for a few minutes. We ended up going back two more times to draw Stitch and the Mouse himself! My only regret was that I never charged to the front and shouted that we had to do Scrooge next or I’d cry.

Well, maybe that’s not a regret. I wanted some Scrooge, though!

Anyway, it’s a fun time and in the end you walk away with a really neat and unique souvenir. If you’re there with your kids you get plenty of new art to stick on the fridge. And if you aren’t there with your kids, well, why should parents have all the fun when it comes to sticking things on fridges? Stick away, my friends! Also, the little waiting area has a pretty fun little game where you watch a character as they’re being drawn and try to guess who it’s going to be. It’s not deep and repeats pretty quickly and apparently it’s inappropriate to get in a 5 year old’s face and shout “YEAH! IT WAS FLOUNDER! IN YOUR FACE!” but it’s cute. 

Go to Water Parks Early on Hot Days

“The water parks usually close around 5 pm and can fill to capacity quickly on hot days, so go early!”

There can be some real scorchingly hot days in Florida, especially in the summer. The kinds of days where you think it might be perfect to just go to Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach to cool down after spending the morning at the parks. Well, more likely than not most people are having the same thought as you and the water parks DO fill to capacity on hot days and can shut their gates to newcomers as early as noon! Especially on the weekends when the locals also take their kids for a refreshing dip in a wave pool–you’re not just competing with other vacationers! So if you know it’s going to be a really hot day, head to the water parks right away. Usually we actually plan to spend a whole day at Typhoon Lagoon–we go there in the morning then stay until we’ve had enough sun and water fun, then head off to wherever we feel like for the rest of the day. That way we’re sure to get in before it gets super crowded and we’re leaving as people are trying to get in in the late afternoon.