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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Sunday, May 29, 2011

50 Ways to Leave for Disney

Today marks 50 days until we leave for our great Summer of 2011 DCL and WDW adventure.

To parody the song “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon, we created 50 Ways to Leave for Disney.

(Note:  there weren’t really 50 ways in the song, just a few ways repeated, but we wanted to make a list of 50!)

  1. Back-up the minivan, Stan—okay, the husband’s name just didn’t rhyme here.
  2. Pack up your toys, boy.
  3. Slip on your Dr. Scholls, Cole.
  4. Get the park-n-fly, Sly.
  5. No overweight bags, Mags.
  6. Arrive early, Shirley.
  7. Cancel your mail, Dale.
  8. Be ready to fly by golly, Holli.
  9. Take your sunscreen, Dean.
  10. On this cruise, no Spam, Sam. (Do you get the cruising reference?)
  11. There might be some rain, Blain.
  12. Get ready to cover your hair, Claire.
  13. Riding Expedition Everest, Ernest.
  14. And, Kali River Rapids, Gladys.
  15. The Sail Away Party is the bomb, Tom.
  16. Autographs from characters, Jennifer.
  17. Be at rope drop, Pop.
  18. No Mountain Dew, Stew.
  19. No gum, Drum.
  20. Great “mousekeeping,” Bing.
  21. Disney transportation—no automobile, Camille.
  22. Enjoy the Disney Service, Doris.
  23. The Monorail, Gail.
  24. Riding the Aqua Duck, Chuck.
  25. Working on our tans, Ann.
  26. Being in Indiana Jones, Malone.
  27. Take the ponchos and umbrellas, Stella.
  28. Reading a book on deck 4, Thor.
  29. Rebooking on board, Lord.
  30. Fastpass—for lines to avoid, Lloyd.
  31. Haunted Mansion isn’t that scary, Larry.
  32. Dinner and Fantasmic, Nick.
  33. Smile for Photopass Photographers, Christopher.
  34. Stay dry on Splash Mountain, Dylan.
  35. Ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Jod.
  36. Disney fireworks are a delight, Dwight.
  37. Paradise on Castaway Cay, Shay.
  38. What secrets will the Beast tell, Belle?
  39. Dining around World Showcase, Maize.
  40. Get your reservation at ‘Ohana’s, Lana.
  41. Enjoy Disney after dark, Clark.
  42. Did you bring the money, Honey?
  43. Look out for Stitch, Mitch.
  44. Fireworks at the Pirate Party, Marty.
  45. Our feet will hurt, Kurt.
  46. Meet your favorite Disney Fairy, Harry.
  47. Rides and characters from Toy Story, Maury.
  48. Swimming with sea lions, Harrison.
  49. Parasailing in the sky, Di.
  50. Our greatest Disney adventure yet, Georgette.

This list was compiled in collaboration with the husband, with some input from the boy.  Writing this helped us to consider all that we are looking forward to on our upcoming trip.  We hope you enjoyed our endeavor!

To Surprise or Not to Surprise?

To surprise or not surprise, that is the question.  Some folks traveling to Disney try to, and sometimes succeed, surprise friends or family members with a Disney trip or vacation.

I am aware of such surprises, have been involved in planning such surprises, and have even written about Disney surprises—click here to read more.  I’m just not sure if I agree with them or not.

Of course, what could be a better surprise than a Disney trip?  It ranks right up there with being proposed to or finding out a baby is on the way, both of which a person might have some sort of clue that either of which might be coming . . .

My problem is that the person being surprised doesn’t get to enjoy that feeling of anticipation.  Only the person/people planning the trip get that feeling.  For me, half the fun of a Disney trip is the anticipation and the planning.

At our house, there are many conversations about upcoming trips.  The other night, the boy was ready to pack his sand toys after we were talking about Castaway Cay and getting to go there twice.  While part of me was thrilled that he was ready and wanted to pack, I wasn’t quite ready for the sand toys to come out of the box and go into the suitcase yet.  If we were planning a surprise, we would have missed out on that conversation and the boy certainly would not have been excited about packing sand toys.

Yesterday, we went to a graduation party, and the boy needed me to wait a moment for him to get something out of the house before we left.  He returned to the car with a stuffed Donald Duck as he wanted to give it to the grad.  I explained that we already had a gift to give and that his plan was very generous and then began talking about meeting Admiral Donald on the Dream, what an Admiral is, and what he might be dressed like.  Again, a conversation that might never have happened if we were planning a surprise.

At our house there is also a feeling of teamwork as we strive towards our Disney vacation goals.  We were also at Wal-Mart yesterday with the clear understanding that we would look at toys and that there would be no purchasing.  Understood.  The boy understood that we are saving money for our Disney vacation.  He enjoyed his “window shopping” experience, and so did I.  No fits, lots of dreaming, and his favorite aisle in the store was the clearance aisle.  Good boy!  He may not have had the same constraint or understanding if we were keeping the trip a secret.

I get the idea of Disney surprises and understand why someone might want to surprise others with a Disney trip.  They may even video tape the event and send it to Disney in hopes of being part of a commercial or the current Disney theme.  Even though I understand, I feel that for us, something would be missing. . . and someone might miss the planning and anticipation that comes before a Disney trip.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Williams Family Top 10 For Upcoming Trip--Part 3

This is the third post in a 3 part series about Top 10 things our family is looking forward to on our next Disney vacation.  Click here to read Part 1—the boy’s Top 10.  Click here to read Part 2—the husband’s top 10.

Now that you have read the other family members Top 10 lists, it is time for mine:

  1. Immersion in Disney Magic and Service        We have traveled with Disney and without Disney and by far, traveling with Disney provides service above none other and a distinct attention to detail that both novice and seasoned traveler can discern.  I know that when I am traveling with Disney, whether by land or by sea, my family is going to be well taken care of.  As the planner and organizer in our family, that knowledge gives me great comfort and I get to enjoy my vacation rather than worry about the details!
  2. Not having to drag luggage around    I know, this didn’t make the husband’s top 10 list, but it did make mine hmmm. . . .   By using Disney transfers and Magical Express, we have little to no worry about our luggage.  I like that very much!
  3. Castaway Cay—TWICE!       Our 5 night cruise on the Disney Dream is a double dip itinerary, which means the ship will stop at Castaway Cay twice.  Only on one of our Disney Cruises did we not make it to Castaway Cay and that was because we were sailing the Mexican Riviera.  Call me an idealist, but there something missing from a Disney Cruise without a stop at Castaway Cay.  My own little slice of paradise.  Did I tell you that I get to go there twice?
  4. Photos             Photos to me equal memories.  Yes, we have many memories of events without photos, but having photos helps us remember even more.  I am already planning on pre-purchasing the Photopass CD, the photo CD on the ship, and upgrading my camera’s SD card to be able to take more pictures.  I also have 3 one-time use waterproof cameras already packed.  I can’t wait to use one while parasailing!
  5. Trying Port Orleans French Quarter for the first time            While we have been to Port Orleans French Quarter numerous times to swim in the pool, this will be the first trip when we have stayed there.  It was the refurbishment and installation of queen size beds that drew us to try the resort.  Our count will be 2 stays at Caribbean Beach + 5 stays at Port Orleans Riverside + 1 stay at Port Orleans French Quarter = 8 Walt Disney World stays.
  6. The New Ship and Our Stateroom     The ship made the husband’s list, too.  As we have already sailed on the Wonder and the Magic, this will be our first time sailing on the Dream.  Did I tell you I am upgrading my camera’s SD card to be able to take more photos?
  7. Bringing home Disney toiletries         This one is a bit odd, but as soon as I told the husband he nodded in approval.  We, okay, me with the help of the husband, are stashers of Disney toiletries—shampoo, lotion, soaps, etc.  On the ship, we hoard the shampoo, conditioner, and body cream storing the supply as soon as our stateroom host/hostess has replenished.  Knowing that the stateroom host/hostess comes twice a day to our stateroom, we get restocked twice daily.  The husband has even been known to ask the host/hostess for more or extra products!  There is nothing like using those products when we get home to make us feel like we are back on the ship again.  (We do use the products while we are on-board, too!)  At the resort, we stash the shampoo/conditioner in its cute Mickey bottle and the soaps with the cute Mickey face.  All of those come home with us in our checked baggage and we get a daily dose of being back at Disney.
  8. Booking another Disney Cruise at a discounted rate             This speaks to both the planner and bargain hunter in me.  We plan to book another Disney Cruise while on board offering us both a discounted rate as well as an on-board credit for our next cruise.  So, I have saved money AND have an easier time coming home from this vacation knowing that I have another Disney vacation in my future.  I am much happier when I have a Disney vacation to look forward to.
  9. Disney Transportation             Disney transportation is as controversial as whether to stay on property or off when traveling to the Walt Disney World Resort.  For us, Disney Transportation is a part of the experience when traveling to Walt Disney World.  Waiting for a bus is part of the fun.  It also helps us stay immersed in the Disney experience—see #1.  While some people feel more control when driving their own or a rental car, I feel pampered when someone else does the driving.  And, I know that I am going to be picked up and dropped off closer to the entrance of any theme park using Disney transportation than if I drove a car.  Disney Transportation works for us!
  10. Making it all happen               Yep, I’m the planner, organizer, packer, doer, and yet I savor those magical moments that my family experiences together.  Knowing that meeting Phineas and Ferb are tops on both the boy and the husband’s lists, means I am going to do my darndest to make that happen.  And, while it may take some researching or forgoing something else, it will be worth it when it happens.  This is not a one sided endeavor, believe me.  The husband knows that I will want a fireworks photo at the Magic Kingdom and he won’t complain when I check the Times Guide for show times for Dream Along With Mickey and make our way back to the hub just in time to get the photo.  The husband knows that I want the ship’s photographers to take lots of photos and he will oblige without complaint.  I know he will want to sit in a lounge chair on deck 4 and read a book and I will make sure he gets a chance to do just that.  But since traveling with Disney both by land and sea is like coming home for us, we know many things that will happen yet are magically surprised by those unexpected moments.  That’s what keeps us coming back!

My goal after our incredible Disney Cruise Line and Walt Disney World Summer 2011 Vacation is to capture the family’s Top 10 memorable moments.  Let’s see how those compare with the Top 10 things that our family is most looking forward to.  I have a feeling that many will be the same, but who knows?

In the meantime, create your own list of Disney favs!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy Birthday, Goofy!

(Note:  In honor of Goofy's Birthday, the husband is a guest contributor for this post.  Enjoy!)

May 25 is Goofy’s Birthday and the clumsy clod will be 79 years old!  Now I can write about the history of this beloved cartoon character, but the folks at Wikipedia have done a standout job doing just that.  If you want to know Goofy’s accomplishments, different names, animated mishaps, and his unique holler Wikipedia can give you clear detailed answers.

I would like to share my own Goofy experiences to honor him on his birthday.  During our first Disney Cruise, the family and I were having a great time at Castaway Cay.  The boy and I were walking around taking in the sights when we saw a Goofy in a swimming suit holding a surf board.  Guests were getting pictures taken with him.  There was a ship’s photographer there.  My son posed with Goofy by himself and so did I. 

My picture with Goofy was outstanding.  I was wearing my Mr. Incredible t-shirt and my sunglasses.  Goofy and I looked like lifelong friends.  The problem was I didn’t have our camera.  The ship’s picture ended up in the photo room on the ship.  I never bought the picture.  I regret that decision to this day.  Well, I can’t share that picture of Goofy with anybody, but it will always be etched in my memory.

Another great Goofy moment was when the family and I were eating at Chef Mickey’s.  Goofy came around and chummed with the boy.  We told Goofy how much we enjoyed his ride, the Barnstormer at the Magic Kingdom and that in fact we were headed back to the Magic Kingdom to ride the Barnstormer.  Goofy took a page from our autograph book and our pen and made his own Fastpass to give to the boy.  We didn’t use the impromptu Fastpass, as there was no one to give it to, the wait for the ride was short, and it makes for a great Disney keepsake.

Goofy is always good for a laugh and a loyal friend who makes the Disney experience a little more fun!

To read more about meeting Goofy click here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Williams Family Top 10 For Upcoming Trip--Part 2

This is Part 2 in a series of Top 10’s for our upcoming Disney Cruise Line and Walt Disney World summer vacation.  To read Part 1 with the boy’s Top 10 click here.

As I was saying, our conversation at breakfast the other day ended up being about what our family members were most looking forward for our next Disney vacation.

Here is the husband’s Top 10 list of what he is looking forward to:

  1. Star Tours        Especially now that it is re-open after refurbishment that now includes a randomization of the story and 3D effect.
  2. Parasailing at Castaway Cay   Also on the boy’s list!  We have reserved this excursion on our first day at Castaway Cay, as our cruise is a double dip!
  3. Sea Lions at Blue Lagoon       Another excursion that we have reserved.  This one is when we are in Nassau.
  4. The New Ship             While we have been on the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder, this will be our first time on the Disney Dream.  We get to sail during the Inaugural Year!
  5. Food on the Ship        We have the site with the menus for the restaurants on the ship bookmarked, so that he can go through them and salivate before he actually gets to order his meals and give them a try.  Click here for the web-site for the menus.
  6. Meeting Phineas and Ferb      Also on the boy’s list!  Hopefully, Phineas and Ferb will be available to meet guests in July.
  7. Pomegranate Lemonade         This one sounds a bit obscure, but if you have tried the pomegranate lemonade served at Chef Mickey’s and ‘Ohana’s, then you already know how delicious and refreshing it is!
  8. Pin Trading     Yep, I’m not surprised that this is on his list.  Click here to read how the husband got started with pin trading.
  9. People we will meet                The husband, is by nature, more of an introvert, but when we are Disney or sailing with Disney, he enjoys visiting with different people.  He looks forward to meeting new tablemates and discussing touring plans while waiting in queues.
  10. Using On-Board Credits         We are fortunate enough to be walking on board our next Disney Cruise with $245 on-board credit to use for excursions, photos, drinks, spa treatments, on-board shopping, etc.  Part of the on-board credit comes from booking this cruise on-board our last cruise and another part comes from giving our travel agent (AAA) the credit for the booking and therefore we get the AAA on-board credit, too. The husband obviously likes the idea of spending money that was given to us.

We are very much looking forward to our next Disney adventure!  Look for Part 3 with my Top 10 list coming soon!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Williams Family Top 10 For Upcoming Trip--Part 1

We are now 50 something days away from our great Summer 2011 Disney Cruse Line and Walt Disney World Adventure.  It seems that we can’t sit down for a meal together without the conversation somehow turning to our upcoming trip.  The same thing happened Sunday morning over Mickey waffles, and I decided to capture the Williams family’s thoughts about what everyone was most looking forward to during our upcoming trip.

The Boy’s Top 10 (11) of what he is looking forward to:

  1. Toy Story Mania         This attraction is a family favorite—click here to read more.
  2. Star Tours        Star Tours was recently refurbished to include a 3D experience as well as randomization of various stories that are now available.
  3. Test Track       Once an attraction that he entered hesitantly—so much so that the other guests around us thought we were torturing our son—he came off that first run cheering that it was awesome as we knew he would—is one he now looks forward to and still cheers about.
  4. Germany Pavilion at EPCOT—specifically the train garden—click here to read more.
  5. Aqua Duck      Disney Cruise Line’s newest feature—a water roller coaster.  Click here to read more.
  6. Meeting Phineas and Ferb      These characters were slated to meet guests at Disney’s Hollywood Studios beginning May 16, 2011, but haven’t been spotted yet.  Disney officials say there has been a conflict with the boys’ school schedule and they will begin greeting guests at the end of May.  Let’s hope they are available in July!
  7. The Kids’ Clubs on board the ship.  Yep, he enjoys going to the club and now the Dream offers even more incredible features.  He is especially looking forward to the automatic hand washers that are at the entrance to the kids’ clubs.
  8. Sea Lions        One of our excursions that we have reserved on our cruise is a visit to Blue Lagoon with a Sea Lion encounter.  He’s already done dolphins and stingrays, so bring on the sea lions!
  9. Parasailing       Another one of our excursions that we have reserved, but this one is on Castaway Cay.  Participants have to be at least 8 and he meets that criteria.  Look for him to parasail tandem with one or both of his parents. 
  10. Dumplings       This one sounds a bit vague, but we knew exactly what he was talking about.  Dumplings are served as a part of dinner at ‘Ohana’s.  The dumplings are meant to be an appetizer of sorts during the family style dinner, but the boy and I seem to make a meal of them, typically asking for more.  Yummy!  Click here to read about ‘Ohana’s.
  11. The Lego Store           Recently the Lego Store at Downtown Disney was renovated and is bigger and better than ever (we saw a video on LaughingPlace.com).  Adding the Lego Store to his top 10 (11) also is a huge hint to his parents that he wants to make a stop here.  We have typically made our way to Downtown Disney sometime during a trip and we will do our best to do it again.  Click here to read about Downtown Disney’s Marketplace.

I have Top 10 lists for me and the husband and will include them in posts in the coming days.  My goal is to find out the 10 favorites at the end of our trip and compare.  I have a feeling that the boy’s list now and later will be similar.

What are your “tops” for your upcoming trip?

Disney Fantasy--The Newest Disney Ship

Last week Disney Cruise Line announced details about their newest ship that is still in construction, the Disney Fantasy.  The Fantasy is set to sail in March of 2012 and will offer 7 night sailings in the Eastern and Western Caribbean.

The Fantasy will be the sister ship to the Dream, just as the Magic and Wonder are sister ships—similar in size, design, amenities, etc.

While the Fantasy will have similar offerings as the Dream, including the Aqua Duck—click here to read more—the Fantasy will have elements that will make her unique.

What do Mickey Mouse, Ariel, and Donald Duck all have in common?  The three have had their likeness bronzed in a statue and take center stage in a Disney ship atrium lobby.  Mademoiselle Minnie Mouse will now joint his exclusive group as her likeness will be featured in the atrium lobby of the Disney Fantasy.

Mademoiselle Minnie Mouse will be reminiscent to the 1920’s and 1930’s and luxury ocean liner crossings, similar to what Walt Disney and his family experienced on the sea.

Another new feature offered on the Disney Fantasy will be a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.  The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is where youngsters can be transformed into a princess or prince.  Currently, Disney guests can find Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at the Magic Kingdom, Downtown Disney, and Disneyland.  Never before has there been a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique on the sea.

And to make this Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique even more special, on days/nights when the entire ship celebrates Pirates IN the Caribbean deck parties—click here to read more, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique will transform into a Pirates League where anyone can be transformed into a Pirate, complete with make-up, costume, and accessories.  The Pirate League can currently be found near the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at the Magic Kingdom.  Again, this is the first time a Pirate League has been offered at sea.

While we have never experienced Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or Pirate League on land, this sounds so inviting that we may be tempted to try it, when we have the opportunity to sail on the Fantasy.

A new restaurant, the Royal Court, will be on board, most likely taking the place of the Royal Palace on the Dream.  The Fantasy will also have an Animator’s Palette restaurant, which is on all the Disney ships, but with a twist as guests will be able to get in the act on the animation with specially designed placemats.  Technology at work here!

I know there are other cruise lines out there with new ships, big ships--even ships with similar names to the Disney ships.  And, while we personally have not sailed on those other cruise lines, we have heard the stories. . . stories of hidden charges, stories of lack of service, or lack of amenities.

One story came from my mother-in-law, who was sailing one of those other cruise lines with her daughter.  They were in Grand Cayman and were set to take the tender back to their ship.  Not only was their tender line incredibly long, but she noticed that the Disney Cruise Line guests had a towel drop, food, and water at their tender line.  So, without even sailing on Disney, she could tell there was a difference in service just based on what she saw in port.

Another story comes from a friend and her husband who are also Disney fans—both land and sea.  Their son used to work for Disney and he and his wife decided to cruise on another cruise line.  They encountered a tropical storm while sailing which closed the activities on deck.  The mom commented that there must have still been plenty to do—thinking of Disney cruises and all the activities on board.  The son commented that no, there weren’t plenty of other activities—just the bars and casino—then reminded his mother that this was not a Disney ship.

So, with the addition of the Fantasy to the Disney Cruise Line fleet, Disney has done it again and will plan to pamper and amaze their guests!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Planning for Four Legged Family Members--and Other Stuff Before a Disney Vacation

Okay, so we are a family of 3 humans, but we have other family members which include, right now, a cat and a dog (at one time it also included a turtle, but his has since passed on).  Getting the 3 humans ready for a vacation takes a bit of planning and budgeting, but then there is also the planning and budgeting to take care of the family members left behind.  Then there’s consideration about yards needing to be mowed in the summer, or driveways cleared if we are traveling in the winter, etc.

So, a bunch of planning goes into how everything gets handled.  Sometimes that can be overwhelming and it is a miracle that we are able to take a vacation at all.

Let’s first start with the four legged family members, our lovely pets.  When we just had the dog, we would board her with a local vet.  We would send along a t-shirt that had been worn by the husband so that she had something “smelly” from home and she would get a bath before she came home.  It go so that the husband would have me drop her off, as he couldn’t take pushing her little behind in the door of the vet’s, even though once she was there, she was fine.  This also worked well, as “grandma” was across the street from the vet’s in her independent living facility, so we would leave our dog’s leash with the vet and “grandma” would go over and walk her during the day—if the weather was favorable.  Sounds terrific, doesn’t it?

Well, mostly it was, except that the pick up and drop off times had to coincide with the vet’s hours.  That became especially tricky around the holidays.  If we weren’t traveling until say, December 26, we may have had to drop the dog off at the vet on December 23 or 24. . . extra days our dog wasn’t home with us and extra days to pay to have her boarded.  Or, if we came home from a trip on a Sunday, we would have to wait until Monday to pick up our dog, and that was usually after work.

When we added our cat to the family, boarding both animals just didn’t seem like the thing to do anymore.  Enter our pet sitter!  We discovered her through a friend who also frequents Disney and has more than one pet.  This lovely lady comes to our home 4 times a day to take care of our pets, play with them, etc.  She will put out mail if we leave her a note or put the garbage can on the curb if we let her know what day.  She will bring in the mail and the newspaper daily.  And, her daily fee is less than the daily fee for boarding both pets.  Bonus—her hours are flexible, so if we come home on a Sunday from a trip, our pets are home waiting for us.  We still pay for the entire day, but it is worth it!

Our pet sitter has important information, like the vet we use, etc.  She also has our cell phone numbers so she can reach us and the numbers of neighbors just in case she has a question or needs help. 

Not only are our pets well taken care of, but there is also peace of mind knowing that someone is coming into your house 4 times a day while you are on vacation!

Now for the other things like yards and driveways. . . Lucky for us, we have a neighbor who is willing to plow our driveway if it snows while we are traveling.  His family also loves Disney and we paid him back with a PassPorter Guide Book! 

Since we have quite a long trip planned for this summer, we had to take a serious look at someone to take care of the yard while we were traveling.  I phoned a lawn service and asked for an estimate.  It was very reasonable and we locked in the offer!  Check that off the list!

Now there are just a few more things to take care of. . . an order from Gardengrocer.com, printing out and signing the on-line registration information for Disney Cruise Line, checking in on-line to our resort 10 days prior to our trip, pre-purchasing our PhotoPass CD at the discounted rate, calling 24 hours in advance of our flight for an upgrade to business class (no baggage fees!), and e-mailing our itinerary to family and friends. 

I had better get busy!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Making Waiting for Parades More Comfortable

If you have every been to Walt Disney World, then you have most likely staked out a spot on the pavement for a parade or fireworks show, or blocked out a section of bleachers for Fantasmic.  And, when blocked the bleachers or staked out the pavement, you most likely had at minimum, numb buns. 

Yep, we’ve been there, done that, and don’t want to do it again.  So, I just ordered Pocket Seats for all of us—yellow, red, and black—Mickey Mouse colors! 

Pocket Seats are inflatable stadium cushions with the dimensions of 9 X 13 inches and inflate quickly.  You can purchase them online at www.pocketseat.com for only 1 cent per Pocket Seat, plus shipping/handling.  3 pockets seats came to under $21.00.

We can’t wait to use them on our next trip to Walt Disney World, and we may even find other places to use them. . . soccer games, baseball games, swim meets, 4th of July. . . the possibilities are endless.

If you have already tried Pocket Seats, please leave a comment with your thoughts on this product.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

There Are No Wrong Decisions When It Comes To Disney Planning (except deciding not to decide)

After being at the most magical place on Earth 7 times and about to make our 8th visit, we have seen the gamut when it comes to planning for a Disney vacation.  We have seen some folks who come with no plans and wing the entire vacation—they usually don’t return as they found it less than a pleasant experience.  We have also seen people enter the parks with 3-ring notebooks full of maps, reservations, and touring plans—we hope those folks find some magic while they are at the most magical place on Earth!  We have also witnessed people unable to make decisions about a Disney vacation and torture themselves with ADR—Advanced Dining Reservations—what if’s and questions.

It is easy to second guess yourself when planning a family vacation and planning a Disney family vacation is no exception.  Just know that there are no “wrong” choices.  Walt Disney World Resort is just that, a resort.  It is huge and offers so many choices that it is easy to get overwhelmed.  Yet, all of those choices offer fun and opportunities for your family to have a great time on your Disney vacation.  You can’t go wrong with any decision you make other than to decide not to decide. 

That’s why I don’t understand the hesitation or second guessing the decisions.  It is as if folks are searching for that perfect Disney vacation and have to make all the right decisions to achieve it.  Well, I agree that a Disney vacation can be a perfect vacation—it is for our family which is why we keep going back.  But it is not specific things—attractions, accommodations, restaurants, or touring plans that make it perfect.  It is the fact that we have a great time and make memories together as a family that makes it perfect.  We have just as much fun dining at the food court at our resort as we do at a restaurant in World Showcase at EPCOT.  And, those are the planning decisions.

Then there are the decisions that have to be made while you at Walt Disney World Resort.  Which park do we go to?  What time?  What attractions will we experience?  While many Disney touring experts agree that early morning touring is best (and we agree), that may not work out for your family.  Maybe your family is more of a night owl family.  That works, too.  Sleep in, get to the parks later in the day and enjoy the late night hours when the parks are less crowded—and cool if it is summer. 

We’ve heard repeatedly to take an afternoon break while touring.  We don’t.  But, on longer trips, we build in an entire day when we take a break.  This works for our family, but it may not for yours.

That’s my point.  The only perfect Disney vacation is one that works for your family;  one that allows your family to have fun and make great memories together. 

Thank goodness Disney has so many choices!

Almost 1 year ago, I wrote two posts about planning for a Disney vacation—click here to read the planning post, and click here to readabout how to decide where to eat 6 months in advance.

We Have Business Cards For Our Upcoming Trip

Vacationing, specifically, Disney vacationing can be very social.  Our family tends to strike up conversations with strangers while waiting in line for shows and attractions, in restaurants, while waiting for the bus, or while on the bus.  We have had great conversations with other families while waiting for parks to open, too.  Sometimes we have seen these same folks later and have greeted each other with big waves and a feeling that somehow we have made a connection. 

Cruising with Disney is the same, especially if you have tablemates at dinner.  We so enjoyed our tablemates from our last cruise and think of them often—click here to read more.  And, while we have a few pictures, the only other things we have are the memories.

Our Adventures By Disney tour group felt the same connectedness that was difficult to remove yourself from at the end of our week together.  It is sort of that feeling you get when leaving summer camp or another great experience you had with a group of people.  One of the tour group members created a web-site that we were all apart of, but it eventually faded away—the site, not the feeling.

 This is both the Front and Back view of our
new Business Cards for our upcoming trip.

Social networking sites have helped folks stay together, through Facebook, etc.  But not everyone is on Facebook and sometimes you don’t get their full names—just that family from Illinois.  So, we are going into our next trip prepared.  We have made business cards with our names, picture, and web address for the Williams Family Blog.  We already had business cards for the Blog itself—letting people know to check it out as they or their organization had been or was about to be blogged about.  We handed out the business cards when we reviewed local pools last summer.  But the new cards are different.  They are larger and are more personal.

How did we make them?  Well, the new cards we made on Zazzle.com, the same web-site we use to make our custom matching t-shirts.  100 business cards was well under $20.  We chose a larger size dubbed “chubby”, which made the cost go up a bit.  Then I applied a 10% discount coupon and of course, went through ebates.com and received 10% cash back on my ebates.com account.  Zazzle lets you upload your own images.  The cards came in a clear plastic box for easy carrying, too.

Another option is Vista Print at vistaprint.com.  They offer “free” business cards—250 of them for just a shipping charge (under $5).  We used Vista Print to make our first set of cards for the Williams Family Blog.  Vista Print will also allow you to upload images, but there is an increased fee—no more “free.”  Vista Print is also a store on ebates.com, so you can get cash back for your purchase.

The husband is the most excited about having the cards.  He is looking forward to passing them out.  I’m looking forward to being able to exchange contact information with folks we have made connections with throughout our travels.  Those Disney people are one dedicated and passionate group of folks.  They “get it!”  It’s great to share that feeling with others!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Disney Dream Staterooms

I want to talk about staterooms, specifically staterooms on the Disney Dream.  Let me begin by explaining that a stateroom is similar to a hotel room in terms of amenities, but on a ship, that space that you can call your own for the length of your cruise is referred to a stateroom, or sometimes a cabin. 

Speaking of space, staterooms have a history of being. . . well, intimate or cozy—just other words for small or tight, but Disney Cruise Line has changed the industry by making their staterooms 20-25% larger than the industry norm.  Just another reason to cruise with Disney! 

And, the staterooms on the Dream are a bit smaller than the staterooms on the Magic and Wonder, yet Disney made changes to the design of the staterooms to make sure that guests are comfortable and don’t “feel” that there is less space.  Take the bedside tables for example.  On the Magic and Wonder, there are actually small tables next to the bed—on both sides.  On the Dream, those tables have been replaced by shelves that are attached to the wall, saving several inches of space.

Staterooms are classified by category; the lower the category number, the more expensive the stateroom.  Staterooms with letters rather than numbers are typically concierge level staterooms and/or suites.  Basic categories include Inside staterooms that are the smallest stateroom.  Then there are Deluxe Inside staterooms, that add the Disney Cruise Line split bath. 

Oceanview staterooms come next and vary by deck—staterooms of this category on lower decks have 2 small portholes while upper decks have 1 large porthole.  This category also offers a Deluxe Family version offering more space to accommodate up to 5 guests in a stateroom. 

Then there are the Verandah staterooms and again those vary by deck—ironically, the verandah staterooms on some lower decks have larger verandahs.  This category also offers a Deluxe Family version offering more space to accommodate up to 5 guests in a stateroom.  The next categories are one bedroom suites and then the Walt and Roy Disney Deluxe Suites.

Other than the Concierge Level suites or staterooms, all guests receive the same level of service.  So, if you are staying in a category 11 inside stateroom or a category 6 verandah stateroom, your cabin host/hostess will visit your room twice daily to tidy up, replace towels and products, and either make your beds or turn them down for the night.  Also, no matter your stateroom category, you have access to all the shows, restaurants, and activities on the ship!  The only difference we have found is that guests staying in staterooms with verandahs get the “solar gel” as a part of their stateroom bath products.

Avid Disney Cruisers know that there are special staterooms on the Magic and Wonder referred to “secret porthole” staterooms or staterooms that are classified as a different category due to obstructed views, etc.  We have taken advantage of the obstructed view Cat. 6 stateroom on the Magic that is charged as a Cat. 7 stateroom.

So turn back time to when we booked our upcoming cruise.  It was December 2009 and we were booking for July 2011 and the Dream was just being built.  We told the on-board booking agent that we wanted a Cat. 9 room with a large porthole with a built in window seat.  She suggested a room that corresponded to the obstructed view Cat. 8 rooms that are charged as Cat. 9 staterooms on the Magic and Wonder.  You know. . . the deck 5 forward staterooms.  We agreed.

As guests frequent the Dream, there are numerous reports of various staterooms.  And, because of that, we have learned that the stateroom we booked is classified as a Cat. 8A stateroom on the Dream.  There are only 12 staterooms of the category on the ship and boy, are they good ones!  They are billed as “Deluxe Family Oceanview Staterooms” with 241 square feet and a split bath.  But our stateroom—5022—I have now learned has 320 square feet, 2 large portholes, 2 TV’s and is arranged more like a suite.  The only downfalls--no split bath and it only sleeps 3.  Once the secret is out on these rooms, they will go fast.  And, I know, I’m not helping keep that secret with this post!

Are we excited?  You bet!  We can’t wait to see what this stateroom is like and enjoy the amenities.  Something to be even more excited about for our upcoming Disney Cruise!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

We're Cruising with Disney--Again!

It’s official!  We are booked for our 5th Disney Cruise during Spring Break—March 2012.  Originally, we had booked the cruise for the week of Easter—trying to predict the school calendar that wasn’t out yet—as prices for the cruise were climbing before my eyes.  Then, based on clues and a bit of intuition, we moved the cruise to March.  No need to cancel and rebook—just moved the deposit from one sailing to another.  And, this cruise was a bit less expensive, too.  While we vacillated and were tempted to move the reservation, we didn’t.  The school calendar matches our dates so we are booked!

We have a category 8D—deluxe family oceanview stateroom—booked for the 4 night cruise on the Dream.  It will be our 2nd time on the Dream.  The itinerary includes a day at sea, a stop in Nassau, and, of course, Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. 

We have been to Nassau before and are a bit torn as to what to do while we are there, but Atlantis may be on our list of Port Adventures for this cruise.  The boy has been talking about visiting Atlantis for some time now.  Knowing that our 4th cruise, coming up in a few weeks, was stopping in Nassau, he had the idea that we would get off the ship and stay at Atlantis then hop back on the ship when it came back into port.  Yep, great idea, but it isn’t going to happen.  Though booking an excursion to Atlantis may be doable.  Expensive—but doable.

Since this is a 4 night cruise we have some time to visit Walt Disney World before returning back to reality.  Yeah, the best of both—Disney at Sea and Disney on land!

We will also be able to celebrate the husband’s 45th birthday while sailing.  Interestingly, we celebrated his 40th birthday on our first Disney Cruise on the Wonder—also a 4 night sailing.  Hmmm. . . 5 Disney cruises between the time he turned 40 until he turned 45?  We are on track to get the gold lanyard yet!  (click here to read more aboutDisney Cruise Line Castaway Club Levels.)

Oh!  I have to get another Disney countdown ticker. . .

Monday, May 9, 2011

Packing For Our Next Trip--Already!

I’ve started packing.  That’s right, our next trip is 70ish days away and the suitcases are out and starting to get full. 

The process started when  the weather started to warm up and I began to exchange warm weather clothes for cold weather clothes in the drawers.  Well, if I’m going to do that, I might as well make the packing list and pack the needed items when making the clothing exchange.  Makes sense, doesn’t it?

The packing list was a bit trickier this time, as we are taking a Disney Cruise followed by a week at Walt Disney World.  Yes, we have done both before, just not together—back to back.  Some items that we would pack only for Walt Disney World—such as ponchos and umbrellas—have to go with us.  And, some items that we would take only on a cruise—such as sand toys—have to go with us, too. 

The list was made—which includes a list of clothing for the 3 of us, then a list of “extra items” that includes things such as paper work, passports, electrical chargers, etc.  Then there is a list of toiletry items that includes items such as sunscreen and tooth brushes.  As I pack each item, it gets crossed off the list. 

There is also the planning of what goes in a carry on bag as opposed to a suit case.  I was explaining this to the husband and watched his eyes glaze over as he gave me an automatic nod of understanding.  But it goes something like this. . . when we arrive the day before our cruise, I want the clothing items that we are wearing the next day—our embarkation day—to be in the carry on bag for easy access.  That way I don’t have to dig through big suitcases to get our clothes.  Also in the carry on bag, I need jammies for that night for all of us, along with dinner dress clothes for when we get on board—in case our luggage doesn’t make it to our stateroom by dinner time (this has never happened to us, but I have heard/seen cases in which this has happened), and bathing suits for afternoon fun when we board the ship. 

This means, that I make the decisions about what everyone is wearing when as I’m packing.  That’s one reason why I start packing early!

Next comes, the sets of matching Disney shirt.  Which ones will we be wearing this trip?  Once that is decided, those get packed along with shorts.  Yep, the boy and the husband have enough shorts to have some packed and enough left over to get them through May, June, and July.  And, when I did the clothes/drawer switching—as mentioned above—the shorts that the boy is about to outgrow, are now packed, as they won’t be returning home with us.  Did the same when packing his swimsuits and undies! 

Another packing consideration, especially for shorts, is no denim shorts this trip.  Since we are traveling in July and are likely to get wet from water or sweat, denim is difficult to get dry and may cause more chaffing than shorts made of other fabrics.  See—these are the things I think about while packing!  Then I tell the husband.  Glazed eyes again!

Packing for the cruise offers a different kind of challenge.  We need day clothes that mostly consist of swimsuits and cover-ups.  For the guys, this means swim trunks and a shirt.  Easy!  It’s a little more complicated for me, but doable.  Then there are the day clothes for when we aren’t swimming or on a beach.  Since this time is limited, these clothes can be worn more than once.  Then there are the dinner clothes—nothing formal for this trip, but there is an expectation of nice clothes in the dining rooms.  Think nice pants and polo shirt for the guys—skirt, dress, or nice pants for me. 

For the husband, I pack 3 pairs of nice pants—black, brown, and tan—along with some nice shirts that can be worn with any of the pants.  Since dinner and the show take up just the evening portion of our day, as long as there are no significant spills, the pants can be hung up and worn again.  As for the boy, same idea.  As for me, I prefer the slinky/stretchy separates that I can mix and match—in brown and black.  And, they are a breeze to pack—no ironing!

I’m not worried about having enough space—we’ll be fine.  Just want to make sure everything is organized. 

Packing early also helps me figure out if we need anything in particular.  For example, went to find a specific shirt for the husband and discovered that something had happened to it along the way—who knows what?  So, a replacement is on its way.

Packing early also helps me build excitement and anticipation for our trip.  You see, I’m already picturing what we will be doing on certain days as I pack.  It’s almost like I get to experience our trip before we get there.   I know there is something about re-living an experience, but can you pre-live an experience?

Anyway, I’m crossing items off the packing list as I go and continue to explain my thinking to the husband as he listens ever so politely at my ramblings. 

Where are the pirate gear and the boy’s new pirate costume?  I need to get those in the suitcase. . .