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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Sunday, July 31, 2011

We're Back!

We have returned from our Summer 2011 Disney odyssey that included a 5 night cruise on the Disney Dream and a week at Walt Disney World Resort.  We’re tired, our feet hurt, and our hearts are full of Disney magic and memories.

Here’s our trip by the numbers:

1973—No, it’s not the year, it’s the number of pictures taken by our camera.  We filled a 4GB SD card and I had an 8GB ready to go and put a couple hundred photos on it to hit our grand total.

367—Number of Photopass photos taken at the parks.  The park with the most photos was Hollywood Studios coming in at 110.

140—Number of photos on the photo CD we purchased on the Disney Dream.

2—number of times the boy parasailed, number of days we were at Castaway Cay, number of times each of us has been kissed by a sea lion, number of red, frothy drinks in my hands on the beach at Castaway Cay, number of times the husband was picked to be in various shows.

2, 4, and 5—number of piece of moleskin need for our feet for each of us—the boy 2, the husband 4, and me, 5 pieces—2 on one foot and 3 on the other.  I told you, our feet hurt!

16—number of hours we toured Magic Kingdom on our longest day of touring during our stay.

1—number of parades we were IN!

3—number of parades we watched, number of hours of video we took.

5—number of new characters we met that we hadn’t met before.

We met wonderful people and had incredible experiences which will keep me writing for some time to come!

Stay tuned!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Local Bookseller and Train Enthusiast

(Guest Contributor:  The husband.)

The boy and I were invited to visit Bill Greenly's train room.  Bill is a toy train enthusiast and retired railroad engineer.  He and his wife, Donna, own and operate O'Town Books.

Bill's collection of model trains is extensive to say the least.  The boy felt he was in toy train heaven!  Although the train display in EPCOT's Germany Pavilion is one of the boy's favorite spots, Bill's layout blows it away with the volume of trains and attention to even the most minute detail.

Enjoy the videos!

Hopefully, we will be invited to see the trains again!

I Finished Reading Mousejunkies!--2nd Edition

I finished reading Mousejunkies! 2nd Edition last night.  It was a satisfying second helping after reading the first edition of Mousejunkiesclickhere to read more.  There was much more information about the parks in this book as compared to the first, but, unfortunately, some of the information was incorrect.

Despite what the author of this book said, Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo the Musical, Flights of Wonder (all at Animal Kingdom), and Playhouse Disney Live on Stage do NOT run continuously and have one audience enter as the other exits.  All of these shows have specific performance times.  Guests can check the Times Guide at each park for show times.  I was envisioning a guest standing in the thankfully shaded queue for Festival of the Lion King and wondering why they were standing for a long time as Bill Burke said that as one show is done another starts.  Disney may have already thought of that, as they have resourcefully placed a cast member at the entrance of the queue area to answer any questions about show times, etc.

The book contains the telephone numbers for the three telephone books at the United Kingdom Pavilion in EPCOT.  You know the ones I am talking about.  The red phone booths near Rose & Crown.  Anyway, I programmed the numbers in my cell phone.  I’m hoping to surprise the boy and the husband by making the phones ring and encouraging them to answer.  It’s also a fun way to pass the time when you have unlimited long distance and need a fun Disney fix.  Here are the numbers from the book, page 319 to be exact:  407-827-9861, 407-827-9862, 407-827-9863.  I’ll let you know how this works out.

The author suggests that at least one monorail car be converted to a dining car.  Ok, as a train enthusiast, I can see the merit.  There would be logistical issues, but let’s face it, it’s Disney and if anyone can overcome logistical issues, it would be Disney.

But, I have another idea.  Let’s have a traveling meal using the monorail.  What are those called?   Progressive dinner?  Anyway, this could be for any meal—breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack.  Here’s my idea:

You hop on the Resort Monorail Line at the Magic Kingdom.  First stop—the Contemporary Resort.  You get off the monorail, head down the escalator and head to the Contempo Café, a quick service or counter service location, for the first course of your meal—appetizer, salad, fruit, whatever.  You consume your course, then head back to the monorail platform. 

Next, your monorail ride takes you to the TTC.  Stay on.  Get off at the next stop, the Polynesian Resort.  Find Captain Cook’s Snack Company, a quick service/counter service location, and order your entrée.  Consume at your own pace, then it’s back to the monorail platform.

For the next leg of your traveling meal, ride to the Grand Floridian, exit the monorail, and make your way to Gasparilla’s Grill and Games, also a quick service/counter service location, and find dessert.  Savor every bite then it’s back to the monorail platform.

Ride the monorail back to the Magic Kingdom.  You have now completed the grand circle tour meal!

You can even accomplish this idea without entering a theme park!  I’ll let you know if we take this on, or if you give it a try, let me know.

Bill Burke, the author of Mousejunkies! 2nd Edition, shared many examples of how Disney magic is addictive.  Yep, got that right!

I also learned some stuff.  Like there are 72 wooden horses on the recently renamed regal carousel in the Magic Kingdom and each one has an exact plastic replica.  It is one artist/cast member’s full time job to continually restore the wooden horses, so at any time, there would be a plastic replica on the carousel.  The challenge is to find the plastic replica.

The next Disney book I will read will be PassPorter’s Guide to the Disney Cruise Line, due out in early August. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Boy Drummed Along with Sheltered Reality

 As the boy walked into the theater at Bridge View Center he stopped to interact with the person at the table representing Sheltered Reality, the group that was about to perform.  He told them that if they needed someone to go on stage they could pick him.  He grabbed a set of earplugs—ironic for attending a musical performance—and took a seat.

I have seen the Blue Man Group twice and have attended many drum and bugle corps performances as I used to live where there were annual drum and bugle corps competitions, but I had never experienced anything like the Sheltered Reality performance.
 Imagine 13 sets of drums on stage, performers of all ages—youth to senior citizen, over an hour of percussion to music with choreography, and a message.  Steven S. Schlosser founded the group 15 years ago while he was working on his PhD in Motivational Psychology.  He had played the drum since he was 11 and wanted to see if drumming could change the world.  Well, he has changed lives with Sheltered Reality with the message that anyone can be successful.

There’s much audience participation during a Sheltered Reality performance from practicing rhythms to dancing to drumming along on stage to shouting out the words to the steps of success.  Here are the steps:
  • Take a chance.
  • Never give up.
  • Do whatever it takes.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Do good for others.

After the first song grabs your attention, the message comes next and you are asked to think about what you enjoy doing the most while listening to the music and watching the intricately choreographed and practiced performance.  So, what do I enjoy doing the most?

Learning the rhythm comes next—right, right, together, right, which becomes a metaphor of how we can act and do good for others.  Do something right, do something right, do something together, do something right.  Get it?
 After the learning and practicing of the rhythm, the performers go into the audience to gather volunteers to demonstrate the rhythm on the drums.  Voila!  The boy is now on stage with drumsticks in his hands displaying lots of confidence.  Steven interacts with him and he interacts back, drums along for 2 songs including some dancing, and makes his way back to the audience, enraptured and thrilled.

The performance and the message continue with even more intricate maneuvers—the drummers’ synchronized movement that allow then to play on almost any drum set on stage, the theater going dark to display the glowing drum sticks, and the performance with tennis balls as a way to show that you can overcome obstacles.  Yep, I was hooked.  Hooked and smiling!  

The question of what do you enjoy doing most kept coming up.  I was still thinking as there were many things that I enjoyed—spending time with my family, traveling, Disney, writing.  Ah, there it was—writing--the activity that gets me up early in the morning driven like a jogger.  Writing, as the words begin to come together in my head just as I am waking up in the pre-dawn hours and haunt me until they hit paper, or in this case, a computer screen. 

Other audience members responded that reading was the activity they enjoyed the most.  Ok, I get that.  Voracious reading is something I am familiar with.  But for me, it was still writing.  Then came the bigger question.  How can you do what you enjoy most and do good for others?  Well, if I had been in stage and responding to Steven asking me that question, I would have told him that I write regularly to inform and communicate with people that I serve in my job.  I would have also told him that I have this blog, you see, where I try to help other people find the magic in travel, especially Disney travel.  That, hopefully, our pool reviews and experiences help other people enjoy a summertime activity.  I’m going to keep that bigger question in front of me more often—how can I do what I enjoy most and do good for others?

The 13 drummers are just the tip of the iceberg, as there are over 2,000 Sheltered Reality members throughout the mid-west and the group keeps growing!  There are practices and performances with over 100 drummers at a time.  Now I get the need for the earplugs!

Sometime during the performance, I went into promoter mode (thinking how do we get this group on Letterman—something like that.)  Then I heard Steven say that the members of Sheltered Reality don’t do this to become famous, they do this to make a difference.  Enter Daniel Pink’s book Drive and what he refers to as Motivation 3.0.  (A brief synopsis—Motivation 1.0 is the drive to live—eat, breath, etc.  Motivation 2.0 is the drive to seek pleasure and avoid pain—often referred to as carrot and stick motivation.  Motivation 3.0 is the internal or intrinsic drive to do something because the task itself is meaningful and purposeful.)

Steven S. Schlosser may not have completed his PhD in motivation psychology but he is living and practicing Motivation 3.0 with Sheltered Reality.  Music with meaning is Sheltered Reality’s purpose.  The rhythms and the message reverberated to my soul and I am forever changed by their performance. 

Click here for Sheltered Reality’s web-site.  Check out their schedule for a performance near you or contact them to schedule a performance in your community.

Here are some clips from the performance the boy and I attended.  Enjoy!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What's In Your Quart Sized Bag?

Ever since TSA has implemented regulations about liquids in carry-on luggage, I have adjusted my strategy for packing.  Since I previously wrote about what’s in our carry-on luggage (click here to read more), I thought I would let you know what is packed in our quart sized bag that will be in my over the shoulder (personal item) bag.

Here’s the list:
  • Emery board—I take an old one that can be thrown away.
  • Lip balm with SPF 45.
  • Tinted lip gloss—this is part of my daily make-up routine.
  • Kids 30 SPF sunscreen in a stick.  3 of these are in the bag.
  • Tube of mascara—again, part of my daily make-up routine.
  • Tide stick—2 of these are in the bag.
  • Eyebrow brush. 
  • Tweezers and nail clippers.
  • Travel sized contact solution.
  • Spare contacts.
  • Glasses.
  • Tube of triple antibiotic ointment.
  • Travel size hand lotion.
  • Tube of Daily Defense Anti-Oxidant Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30 by Patricia Wexler—this is also part of my daily make-up routine which is all I use except for mascara and lip gloss.  I’m very low maintenance when it comes to make-up and I love this all in one product that I use year round.

Some alternatives might include a travel size hand cleanser, but we use wipes and those don’t need to be in the quart size bag.

While our travel party is a party of 3, we technically could have 3 quart size bags, but we can get by on 1.  When the boy needed liquid medication, it was in a bag by itself.

Other items, like hair products, deodorant, toothpaste, etc. are packed in our checked bags.

What’s in your quart size bag?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Disney's Photopass CD--Do I Pre-Order?

Decisions, decisions. . .  Pondering pre-ordering Disney’s Photopass CD for our upcoming trip was a dilemma for me this trip. 

There were some Pros:

  • Pre-ordering saved money.  The pre-order price is $99.95 a savings of $50 over the $149.95 paid either at the parks for the CD or upon arriving home.
  • Just using Disney’s Photopass service is Pro.  I wouldn’t think of not using it!  Click here to read about Disney’s Photopass service.
  • Pre-ordering and pre-paying means that expense does not have to come out of travel money.
  • By pre-ordering there may be other perks—discounts, freebies, etc. that come along when requesting the CD upon arrival to home.
  • The borders, signatures, and editing that can be done to your Photopass photos before they are put on the CD.

And, some Cons:

  • The pre-order savings is really less than $50, as when you order the CD when you return home from your trip, there is a shipping charge.  Less than $10, but still a shipping charge!
  • The borders, signatures, and editing that can be done to your Photopass photos before they are put on the CD.  Yep, this is both a pro and con.  Yeah, the borders, etc. are great, but it can take a lot of time to do that after your trip, hence delaying the arrival of your CD.  Do I ever really use the pictures with borders?  (I put one on this post on purpose!)
  • If I buy the CD at the parks at the end of our trip, I can come home with the CD and pictures! (no border adding opportunities at this point)  There’s also typically some picture special to accompany the Photopass CD purchase such as 2 or 3 free 5 X 7 photos that you can take home, too!

The husband said that my two loves—saving money and Disney—were colliding and causing an internal conflict.  Add in my need for some instant gratification of having the Photopass CD in my hands upon arriving home and thus immediate access to photos was truly a Disney dilemma.

So, what did I do?  I pre-ordered the CD for the savings.  I may forgo the border adding, and I can edit the photos strait from the Photopass CD by changing the “Read Only” status of the photo in the Properites.  Upon our return, I just may hit the order button without taking the time to add borders, etc. so that the CD can be on it’s way quickly!

If you want to pre-order your Disney Photopass CD—click here for the special pre-order offer. (I have this site bookmarked for easy reference for future trip!)

Mousejunkies! 2nd Edition

Our local bookseller phoned with good news-- Mousejunkies! 2nd Edition had arrived and was ready for me to pick up.

I had already read Mousejunkies!click here to read more.  And, couldn’t wait to get a second helping!

I’m about half way through and the book has me laughing out loud!  There’s a hysterical letter that can be used to inform others about your upcoming trip to Walt Disney World and somewhat explain why you are going again.  After hearing snorts and seeing eyes roll when I tell people we are going again, I can appreciate Bill Burke’s humor in the letter.  And, let me get on my soap box for a moment, stepping up, when other people frequent a vacation destination say Las Vegas time after time or go to a cabin on a lake repeatedly or frequent ball fields to watch their favorite game do they have to explain why they keep going or experience eye rolling and snorting as a response to their vacation plans?  NO!  So, why is it that frequent Walt Disney World visitors, especially me, get that kind of reaction?  Hmmm?  Enough said.  Stepping down from the soap box.

Another great part of the book is about this seemingly secret society of closet Mousejunkies who find each other and it is as if they have a coded language full of letters like ADR and TTC, etc.  One contributor to the book talks about some of her clients and when she discovers they are Disney fans their relationship gets even better.

There is also talk of, okay writing of, trip planning and how some Mousejunkies plan entire trips around dining.  Been there, done that!  I was roaring when I read that!

Since I’m only half-way through the book, I’m looking forward to reading more.  I’m also looking forward to asking for the pineapple chunks and caramel sauce at ‘Ohana’s, which I learned is an alternative dessert to the banana bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and warmed banana’s foster sauce.  Yeah—either one would be just fine!

If you are in need of a Disney fix, want some insider tips, enjoy reading about the most magical place on earth, or just want to learn more about Disney, this book may be for you. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Husband's Television Commericial

“Hey, I saw in you a commercial on TV,” was what people had been telling the husband for weeks.  Our neighbor told him.  His colleagues told him.  His mother told him.  But in all that time, the husband had yet to see the commercial that he had filmed several weeks ago—click here to read about the filming of the commercial.

Then, it happened!  The husband found the commercial while watching a program he had recorded a few weeks ago.

We all got to see it!

We are so proud of him!

Guess who wants to be in a commercial now?  Yep, the boy. 

We’ll see what happens next! 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Disney Fairies Flying Back To The Magic Kingdom to Greet Guests

The Disney Fairies are flying back to the Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort beginning Thursday, July 28, 2011.

Since the closing of Toontown at the Magic Kingdom in February of 2011, the Disney Fairies have been greeting guests at EPCOT in a version of Pixie Hollow that was near the Fairy Garden for the Flower and Garden Festival that runs from March through May.  Disney announced a few days ago that the Fairies would be making their home near the verandah in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom.

Will this be a permanent home?  Most likely, no.

Like the Disney Fairies, the Disney Princesses who were also “homeless” after the closing of Toontown, have been moved twice and have a semi-permanent home in the new Town Square Theater at the Magic Kingdom.  The Disney Princesses are slated to have a meet and greet area where the Snow White attraction is currently located when the Fantasyland Expansion is complete.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

What Do You Bring Home From A Disney Vacation?

You’re returning from a Disney vacation and you may be bringing home. . . dirty laundry, souvenirs, broken luggage (we’ve been there, done that!), sore and blistered feet, bunches of pictures and/or video, and memories that will last a lifetime.  It may also be important to return home with a bit of paperwork.  (To read about the paperwork you might needon your way to a Disney vacation click here.)

Here’s a list of paperwork to bring home with you:

  • Airline e-ticket with confirmation number of boarding passes.  You will need those for your return flight.  Also keep any checked luggage tag receipts.  If you are a member of a frequent flier program, make sure you are getting credit for your flight via your ticket receipt.  If you are planning to enroll in a frequent flier program, you can typically add on any flights you have taken in the last 12 months to your account when you enroll IF you have the flight information, confirmation numbers, etc.  Another reason to have those airline receipts handy!
  • If you are leaving Walt Disney World and using Disney’s Magical Express, bring all of the documents you received in your hotel room.  The day before you leave your resort, you will receive a letter and other information attached to your door.  Read that information as it will have your Magical Express departure time—typically 3 hours before your flight.  It will be important to bring all of that information with you as you will need it to board the bus back to the airport.
  • Receipts.  Receipts from purchases, resort stay, etc.  Receipts from Walt Disney World purchases at your resort, theme park, or World of Disney include important information including a telephone number should something happen with your purchase.  We purchased a Splash Mountain picture frame that was broken when we returned home, despite our best efforts.  I still had the receipt, phoned the number on the receipt and gave them the information from the receipt and within a few days, we received a new picture frame in the mail.  I have needed a Disney receipt for a necklace that broke, too.  I have used the receipt to place an order with Disney merchandise for an item we wanted, but couldn’t find in the parks. . . but I had a receipt at home from a previous purchase and ended up having that item shipped to us.  So, say it again—receipts!  If you are using a debit card, etc. you’ll want to have the receipts to balance your account as well.
  • Photopass cards.  Now that you are home, you will want to log on to your photopass account and add all your photopass card numbers onto your account.  Then all the photos that Disney Photopass photographers have taken of you and your family are in one Photopass account on-line.  This happens to us on every trip. . . a member of the family goes off on their own and runs into a Photopass photographer, typically with a character or doing magical shots and we end up with photos, but that person usually doesn’t have the Photopass card that we have been using and pre-registered for our trip.  No problem.  The photographer issues another Photopass card, we add it to our account either at a Photopass location at any theme park or do it on-line when we get home.
  • Any unused vouchers from your vacation package.  I was digging through stuff for our upcoming trip and found an unused Arcade voucher.  There was no date on this voucher (some vouchers include the dates of your vacation and cannot be used outside of those dates), so I tore it out and gave it to the husband to put in his wallet.  Obviously we didn’t use the arcade last trip, but now have an extra arcade voucher for the upcoming trip.
  • If we are returning from a Disney Cruise, we make sure we have our customs forms completed, typically 1 for the whole family as we don’t usually go over the allowed amount for our destination.  We also have our Passports, receipts from our cruise, and any Disney transport information.  And, of course, any photos we have purchased on board!
  • Memorabilia.  This is a catch all category that includes things like park maps, resort stationary, unused Fastpasses, ticket media, menus, resort information, photos from attractions such as Splash Mountain, and photos from meals such as Cinderella’s Royal Table, Hoop Dee Doo, or Chef Mickey’s—just to name a few, etc.  When you check-in at your Disney resort, you will be given a packet of information that includes a resort map, etc.  We typically use that folder to collect the rest of our memorabilia for the rest of trip—I deposit it in the folder each evening when we return to our resort and then bring that folder home with us.  Now, while I am not a scrap booker, I do make a digital photobook after each vacation, so the memorabilia can be used for scrapbooking purposes or scanning and photobook purchases.  Use your creativity. 
  • Receipts for future travel.  Some of our best vacation values have come from booking Disney cruises while on-board and reserving Walt Disney World vacations before checking out of our resort—this is known as a “bounceback offer.”  If we book onboard for our next cruise, the offer is usually 10% off and a generous on-board credit on our next cruise, along with a half-price deposit.  Bounceback offers at Walt Disney World typically include 35% off.  We then give our travel agent the credit for these bookings. 

Coming home from a Disney vacation, one can have a sense of letdown, as your magical vacation is over.  Typically, we are very tired and very happy—a unique combination.  I have found that the best way to combat the post Disney blues to have another trip on the horizon!

What paperwork do you bring home from a Disney vacation?

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Boy Packed His Bag

Each day somehow the topic of how many days until our next trip comes us.  Yesterday the boy asked how many days and it actually took me a moment to figure out how many days.  The number surprised him and he said he had to get his bag packed.

Now by bag, I mean his Spiderman backpack that also has wheels.  He doesn’t use it for school, just as his “personal item” to carry-on the plane.  He packs his toys and treasures that he wants to take on vacation.

The large compartment ended up with several stuffed Disney creatures and at least one “light chaser.”  (A light chaser is a light-up, spinning toy, that usually makes noise, that they sell at Disney.  We have at least 3.)  The outside pocket held his Nintendo DS in it’s case with games.  He zipped it up and said he was done.  Alright!

Now, I just need to put in a book or two and he is set!

I got to see the planner in him as he was packing.  He could envision the trip and knew what he wanted to have with him . . . at the airport, on the ship, at the resort, and at the parks.  I know where that planner part of him came from!  I think I like it!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Paperwork of Travel

What’s the saying?  “No job is complete until the paperwork is done.”  This also applies to vacations, even though a vacation is supposed to be the opposite of a job.  But traveling to Walt Disney World, or anywhere for that matter, requires a bit of paperwork.

If you’re like me, you have folder for such paperwork.  Here are some of the paperwork items that are or could be included for your vacation:

  • Maps, addresses, phone numbers for your destination.  This used to be print outs of MapQuests driving directions and lists of addresses and phone numbers.  Now the addresses get programmed into our GPS and phone numbers added to the cell phone contact list.  You don’t want to know how many hotel and airline numbers I already have programmed in my phone!
  • E-tickets, boarding passes, etc. for airline travel.  I usually print the e-ticket receipt and bring with as it has our reservation number.  I then use the kiosk at the airline counter to print our boarding passes, check-in luggage etc.  While kiosks typically ask you to scan an ID or credit card, having the reservation number eliminates the “scanning” issue.  However, we still need to show ID’s at the airline ticket counter and again at airport security.  After we show ID’s at the ticket counter, one of us holds all the ID’s until we get to security.  That way one person can hand all boarding passes and ID’s to the TSA at the same time—this keeps more hands free to manage bags, the boy, etc.  Keep this paperwork, as you need it for your return flight!  Also keep the receipt for any checked luggage along with the luggage tag barcodes just in case there are issues with your bags.
  • Confirmation numbers or receipts for pre-paid stays.  I have been accused of being a bit OCD about this, but I typically place these in the order of our stay, so the first one we need will be on top, etc.  I find it’s more about efficiency!
  • Because we are cruising with Disney and have pre-purchased Disney transfers, there is some paperwork involved both with the Disney transfers which we will need to show when checking in at Disney’s Magical Express location at Orlando International Airport.  We will show this paperwork at least twice.  Once when checking in at the Magical Express Counter and again before boarding the bus.  Both times, the barcodes provided will be scanned.
  • Magical Express information.  While we won’t be using Disney’s Magical Express until the end of our vacation, it is important to include the Magical Express booklet in your travel documents.  Have it handy when checking in at Disney’s Magical Express counter at Orlando International Airport.
  • Passports. Disney Cruise Line already has our Passport numbers and expiration dates in their computer system.  We will need to show our Passports at the cruise terminal upon check-in and then again when we disembark the ship on the last day when going through Customs at the port terminal.
  • Disney Cruise Line paperwork which can be completed on-line, printed, signed, and brought with you to the cruise terminal.  Doing that will save you time at check-in.  I also printed our reserved activities—this would include any shore excursions, Palo and Remy reservations, Flounder’s Reef reservations, and any spa reservations. 
  • Walt Disney World paperwork, including confirmation of on-line check-in, if you did this 10 days prior to your stay.  This may also include receipts for your pre-paid tickets.  All of our paperwork comes in a booklet provided by our travel agent—click her to read more.
  • List of ADR’s—Advance Dining Reservations—and confirmation numbers.  I have these on a list by each day with date, time, confirmation number, etc.  I bring the confirmation numbers for our ADR’s for that day with us while touring.  We’ve only had to have the ADR number twice in all of our Walt Disney dining history, but when we did need it, I was sure glad it was handy.  Some people make a little card with the ADR’s for each day and grab the card for the day and take it with them. 
  • PhotoPass card.  Our Photopass card came via our WDW paperwork from our travel agent.  I registered the card in our Photopass account on-line.  If you wait to get your Photopass card until you get to the parks, you can ignore this bullet.  If you have pre-ordered your Photopass CD, at a discounted rate, just leave the receipt for that in your e-mail at home.  No need to print that out and bring it with you to the parks.  You will use that information when you return home after your magical vacation!
  • Any coupons or discount codes you plan to use while traveling or shopping while traveling.  This would also include any travel club cards, guest loyalty programs, frequent flier clubs, etc. that may save you money or give you access to programs and events.  For example, I found a coupon for a half-priced coupon booklet when traveling to the Mall of America.  I then purchased the coupon booklet for half-price then proceeded to take advantage of the special offers—which there were many—in the booklet.  We have also found discount coupons for dining at certain restaurants such as T-Rex Café or Rainforest Café.  You can sometimes find these on-line or in the brochure racks located in hotel entrances.
  • Other—for us this would include our Garden Grocer.com receipt and information about our travel agent—her TA number, address of her agency, etc.  This information has changed since our last vacation, so we will need the information to give her credit when re-booking either on-board for a new cruise or a “bounceback” offer at Walt Disney World.

With all of this paperwork, an organizational system of some kind sure comes in handy. 

What other “paperwork” do you make sure you have while traveling?

Next—what paperwork to come home with!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Our First Garden Grocer.com Order

Our 8th visit to Walt Disney World is getting closer and even though we have the Basic Dining Plan--click here to read more about Disney Dining Plans, we still want some snacks and beverages in our resort room for breakfasts or snacks on the run.  We usually pack these items and take them with, but since our vacation includes a cruise on the Disney Dream before our Walt Disney World stay, luggage space is at a premium.  Garden Grocer.com to the rescue!

We placed our first order with Garden Grocer.com and it was EASY!  I created an on-line account using our e-mail address and my own password.  This allowed me to shop on-line and place items in “my cart.”  (Print and fax orders are also accepted—just check out the details on the web-site.)

I had actually done some shopping prior by finding items that we might like and adding them to my “favorites” on the on-line account.  This made the actual shopping easy, as I added the favorites to my cart.

There is a minimum of a $40 purchase, a $12 delivery fee, a temporary $1.99 fuel surcharge added to each order until the price of gas returns to less than three dollars per gallon, and an optional gratuity to add to the order. 

Our delivery will include sunscreen, Mountain Dew—for the husband, cereal bars, Minute Maid orange juice boxes, granola bars, fresh pears, and Toy Story and Finding Nemo fruit snacks.  Our total before the additional charges came to $40.02—not bad for having to hit a $40 minimum.  Our total after delivery, fuel surcharge, sales tax, and gratuity ($9) was $65.81. 

We were able to designate date and place of delivery.  All of the Disney Resorts show up in a pull down menu and the address of the resort, once selected, was automatically filled in on the order and delivery screen.  We also selected the time of delivery and there is a text box to include any special directions.  I included that we were taking Disney transfers from Port Canaveral to our resort in the special directions section.

You can use a credit card or PayPal to complete your purchase.  We were able to print a copy of our order after payment and a follow-up e-mail was received with confirmation and another option to print the order.

Ordering was fast and easy.  Now, we’ll see how the delivery goes once we get to our resort.  The impression right now is that Garden Grocer.com will be an incredible convenience.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dining on a Cruise Ship

I bumped into friend, neighbor, and fellow cruiser the other day and our conversation turned to cruising.  And, while our conversation sailed from one topic to another about cruising in general, the subject of dining on a cruise ship surfaced.  Let’s talk more about dining on a cruise ship. . .

Part of the cruising experience is enjoying being served during a meal.  Yes, that meal may take a bit longer than a pizza or burger.  Yes, there will an expectation of tipping your servers at the end of the cruise—more about that later.  Yes, you may be seated with other guests.  And, yes, your servers want you to enjoy your meal.

Time:  Dining on a cruise ship in a main dining room does take time.  That’s why there are usually “dinner seatings” and guests are assigned a time.  Some cruise lines have “free style” cruising, but if you want to eat something other than a buffet, you’ll have to make reservations for a specific time.  One reason the dining takes more time is that there are courses to the meal:  appetizer, soup and salad, entrée, and dessert.  On Disney Cruise Line, there is typically a “show” of sorts in some of the main dining rooms.

Sometimes it can be difficult for a child to sit through a meal that may take 90 minutes or more.  The “show” helps, especially at Animator’s Palette.  We also come prepared with toys, hand held games, etc.  On Disney Cruise Line, you will find crayons and children’s menus for coloring, etc.  We have also had the boy’s entire meal—minus dessert it if it something that would melt—served when we are served our appetizer.  When he is done eating, he heads to the kids club and everyone enjoys the rest of the meal time.

Tipping:  It is a cruise line expectation to tip those that serve you.  Some cruise lines have “service charges” rather than specific tips.  There’s a great web-site that will help you calculate your tips or service charges—click here.  Yes, tips are per person, so children, even wee ones, count.

Interestingly, I have read in some on-line forums, about cruisers forgoing the main dining rooms and opting for other dining options on board citing reasons such as the meals are too formal, take too much time, and the food is too “gourmetish.”  The husband and I were visiting about this the other night and I’m speculating some folks may avoid the dining rooms to reduce tipping.  Hmmm. . .

Eating with others:  Depending on the size of your travel party, you may be seated with other guests for dinner.  Of our 3 Disney cruises, we have shared tables with other cruises twice.  On our first cruise, we were seated with a family of 5 from Miami.  It was the first Disney cruise for both of our families.  We enjoyed the company, but it wasn't until our last cruise that we looked forward to dining with our tablemates who were a family of 3 from New Jersey.  Disney did a great job of pairing us up. . . it was the 3rd cruise for both of our families, we had children about the same age, and had similar occupations--even though I have no idea how Disney knew that!

It can be great fun to visit with others over a meal, especially after a day of adventures in port.  And, while this can concern some prospective cruise guests, I assure you, it will be just fine.  Go ahead, give it a try. 

Please, enjoy your meal:  Chefs and dining room servers want you to enjoy your meal.  This means that you can order pretty much whatever is on the menu.  I have had a meal of just appetizers before.  Now, while this didn’t concern my server, he still wanted to make sure I was satisfied.  If you see two salads you want to try, go for it!  The husband has ordered two entrees before.  Go ahead, it’s okay.

One day the boy was going through the buffet line for lunch and put steamed broccoli on his plate—he loves steamed broccoli.  Well, as sometimes will happen, his tray fell.  And, while he was getting a new one there was either no more steamed broccoli or he overlooked it in the line.  A few minutes later, a whole plate of steamed broccoli was delivered to him.  We will always remember that.

On our last cruise, one of the dinner meals featured asparagus as a side vegetable with one of the entrees.  Asparagus is the husband’s favorite.  Our table mates ordered that same entry and since we knew them pretty well by this time, when their plates arrived, the husband ended up with a heap of asparagus from their plates to his.  Our server noticed this and soon a plate full of asparagus arrived at the table.  And, while the husband loved every bite, he felt the affects later—if you have ever eaten asparagus, you will know what I’m talking about. 

If you order something that you try and don’t like, don’t hesitate to send it back or ask for something different.  Your servers will be offended if you don’t like your meal.  Want something that isn’t on the menu?  Ask.  Chances are, what you are asking for is being served somewhere on the ship and your server could get it for you.  This is your cruise and your wait staff wants you to enjoy your meal.

What's In Your Bag?

What’s in the one carry-on bag that will go with us as our day bag on the ship?

Here’s a list:

  • Swimsuits for the husband and the boy to throw on when we check in at the Hyatt after our flight.  Nothing like taking a dip in a rooftop pool and watching planes take off and land.  I haven’t thrown in one for me. . . yet.  We’ll see.
  • PJ’s for the entire family for our night at the Hyatt—no need to open up a bigger suitcase and dig for pajamas.
  • Clothes for the morning.  This includes a matching set of Disney Cruise Line t-shirts, shorts for all of us, and undergarments.
  • Swimsuits for all of us for when we get on the ship, and a cover-up for me.  We can change right after lunch on board and hit the pool and aqua duck.  Since the suits will be wet from the night before swim, I have also packed a plastic bag for storage.
  • Dinner clothes for our first night on board.  Sometimes it takes a bit for all of the luggage to be delivered to staterooms.  We’ve never had a problem, but I want to be prepared and we have the early dining seating.  So, there are polo shirts, color coordinated of course, for the boy and the husband, dress pants for both of them, and a dress w/jacket for me.  Jewelry/accessories haven’t been packed yet, but they will be added to this bag, too.
  • Door decorations with magnetic tape on the back to decorate our door.
  • A picture frame matte—white—and sharpie markers.  If I drop this by Guest Services on the ship, all the characters will sign it and it will be delivered to our stateroom on the last day of our cruise.  It makes a great keepsake!
  • Autograph book and pens in a clear sealable bag.  You never know who you might meet at the port terminal or on board!
  • Extra sunglasses.
  • Battery operated razor for the husband.  I don’t know why that ended up in this bag, but it did!
  • A collapsible duffle bag—in case we need another bag at some point.
  • Umbrellas and reusable ponchos in individual carrying cases.  While we won’t need them for the cruise portion of our trip, they ended up in the outside pockets of this bag, so that’s where they can stay until the world portion of our trip.

Something that is not in the bag yet is sunscreen.  The sunscreen is packed in a bigger suitcase that will be checked at the airport.  We’ll make the switch to the carry-on bag at the Hyatt.

The carry-on bag, along with an over the shoulder bag will come with us to the port terminal while the rest of our bags will be swept away magically from the Hyatt to our stateroom.  Inside the shoulder bag will be my purse, our travel documents including passports, camera, video camera, snacks, etc.  Most likely we’ll already be wearing our lanyards and pins.

It’s a rookie cruiser mistake to think that your luggage and your stateroom will be accessible to you when you get on board and that is more typically not the case than the case.  Staterooms are usually not available until after 1:30 pm and it can take until 6:00 pm for all of the luggage to be delivered.  

We try to make the most of our first day on board by having anything we might need with us and easily accessible.

So, what's in your bag?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Washington Steele Family Aquatic Center

What do you do on a hot Saturday in July?  Try out a new pool, of course!

Washington Steele Family Aquatic Center

Location:  Sunset Park on the NW side of town and one block north of Highway 92; 319-653-6054

Cost:  $4 per person, $12 per family for daily admission.  Single and family season passes are available.

 Hours:  1:00 pm -8:00 pm daily;  There was a sign that indicated the pool would close early on a certain date.  Also, while we were there at opening, there were people exiting.  Based on the gift bags and the size of the crowd, I would guess it was a birthday party.  So while there is no information posted about private rentals, they must somehow be available.
Description:  Zero depth entry, two diving boards, two yellow slides that dump in 10 feet deep area, tall slide, and other water features.  Note that two of the water features--a sprayer and bucket dumper were either turned off or not working.  Both were located near the shaded portion of the pool.  Two locker rooms--no family bathroom--and concession area.  There is plenty of deck space with 3 different types of chairs--lounge chairs, regular chairs, and "beach" chairs that are shorter and can be used in the shallow water.  There are grassy areas for towels, etc. on both sides of the pool behind the rows of chairs.

Rules to Know:  Walk, keep food in the concession area (however, this rule, while posted, is not enforced.  Guests were bringing pizza, frozen food, etc. onto the pool deck.  The husband purchased a water and we drank it poolside--which I was grateful for.)  Floaties of all kinds were allowed, but didn't see any adult size personal rafts.  Goggles and masks were allowed, as were dive sticks, water balls, noodles, etc.

(Click on picture to enlarge menu.)
Food:  Variety of drinks, snacks, nachos, pizza, and frozen treats.

Cleanliness:  The pool and deck were clean.  The locker room was okay.  The one handicap stall in the bathroom would not latch shut--a maintenance issue.

Friendliness:  Folks at the entrance were friendly enough.  I spoke to a worker on the way out to ask about the web-site.  She indicated there was one but it wasn't updated often and she did not know the web address.

Pros:  The pool is well maintained other than the bathroom issue mentioned above and the wobbly yellow tube slide when someone comes down it.  Loved the short "beach" chairs for shallow water lounging.  The slides and everything else kept the boy entertained and happy.  Price, especially the "family daily admission" of $12.  If you were a family with many children the admission would be a bargain!  The music was great--Cedar Rapids/Iowa City radio station with very appropriate music.  The guests were very diverse--it's great to see that!  Lots of kids just dropped off which means the community trusts the pool.  Another "pro" is the shaded concession area--even though guest would take the chairs and move them to the pool deck.

Cons:  Lack of info available for this pool.(Hopefully this post will help with that issue.)  For example, I cannot give you the street address for the location, as an address cannot be found.  When we were waiting for the pool to open, we weren't the only ones who did not know the admission price.  There is a "safety water check" at 55 minutes after the hour, followed by an adult and guard only swim.  This is really a lifeguard break and last for 15 minutes.  Know this is happening before it is announced so that you can beat the line at the concession stand.  The paging of the "boys" to the office got to be a bit annoying as these same "boys" blocked the tall slide so that 3 of them could come down together and kept jumping up to hit/touch things around the pool like the large umbrella and the entrance to the pool house.  There's one guard station that has 2 life guards posted back to back.  Not sure the purpose, other than to make sure someone has their eye on the deep end and the slide splash zone.  It seems as if the lifeguard on the other edge of the pool could keep an eye on the entire deep end.  No height restrictions posted for the tall slide.

Fun Factor:  Fun!  We were there for almost 3 hours, including "water safety checks."  The boy loved the slides and the husband's favorite part was the water mushroom fountain, even though he spent quite a bit of time in the "beach" lounging chair in the water.  We would come back and make a day of it to play in the nearby park.