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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Disney Gift Arrived in the Mail!

I wonder if there will be a time in my future when I don’t appreciate Disney and all it has to offer but I’m not sensing it is likely.  In addition to efficiency, the Disney pillar of service keeps pulling me back as there is no other service like Disney and we have multiple examples including one just recently.

When we opened the mail this week, there was a package from Adventures by Disney (we traveled with them in 2009).  Inside the box was a gift, a DVD of Disney’s Brave, appropriately wrapped in ribbon of Scottish plaid.  There was also a card wishing us happy holidays.

I was floored, as was the husband.  The boy was excited as while we had seen Brave, we didn’t have the DVD, so it was readily added to our collection.  What was so amazing was the unexpectedness of the gift. . . the surprise, and the thoughtfulness.

But that is what Disney does.  They go beyond what might be expected and raise the bar of service.  If any company has “made my day” it is Disney and numerous times.  And, for that, I am always extremely grateful. 

The other side of the coin is that we do expect a Disney level of service and yet are truly surprised when the service goes beyond. . . rather than expecting the “upgrade” so to speak.  We have seen and heard people demand the increased level of service with some luck but no magic. . . guests demanding to be let into a park early because they were told they could go in before opening, guests demanding that their child be allowed to wear diapers in the Mickey pool on a ship even though clearly posted signs indicate otherwise, guests demanding that their small child be allowed to ride the Aqua Duck because they were promised, etc.  Most likely we have all seen and heard these instances.  And, while Disney will do whatever they can, within reason, to make situations right, they won’t forgo safety, as that would infringe on another Disney operational pillar.

So, as we venture off on our next Disney vacation, we take a bit of pixie dust with us that arrived via mail and look forward to the possibility of magical experiences that may come our way.  We will keep you posted! 

We, the Williams Family, wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and safe holiday!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Silhouettes at Walt Disney World

Silhouettes of children or grandchildren can make great gifts.  And, getting a Silhouette cut and framed while visiting the Walt Disney World Resort can be even better!

We found a kiosk or cart for Silhouette cutting at Downtown Disney near the Disney Pin Trading store in the Marketplace.  There was no wait and this was something on our “would like to do and haven’t done yet” list, so the boy plopped in the provided chair and sat reasonably still while the Cast Member used his small scissors to successfully cut the boy’s  silhouette.    Three silhouettes are cut simultaneously and are put together in one purchase.  Frames are extra.

We purchased the silhouette which came with three “copies” and one frame for around $30.  The silhouette was placed in the frame with the other copies also placed in the frame, so be sure to remember that you have “extras.”  The silhouettes fit nicely into any 5 X 7 frame.

Silhouettes can be made of more than one person in a single silhouette, so if you have more than one child ask about having multiple children in one, or have one made of your whole family!

While we found Silhouettes to be offered at Downtown Disney’s Marketplace, I understand there is another cart located in Liberty Square in the Magic Kingdom.  I can’t confirm it for sure, so if you do know for sure drop us a comment.

We used the silhouettes as gifts for the holidays. . . grandmother’s and we kept one and put it in a frame, penciling in the year on the back.  So, for $30 we got two holiday gifts, a special treat for our wall, and an experience the boy had yet to experience.  I call that a deal!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Free Guest Wi-Fi Now at Downtown Disney

Walt Disney World has added free guest Wi-Fi access at Downtown Disney.  Now, all guest areas—theme parks, water parks, resorts, and Downtown Disney all have free Wi-Fi service available for guests.

Free Wi-Fi service is the base for the Next Gen initiative that will include internet based applications for guests to manage their reservation, park tickets, dining reservations, and Fastpasses.

RFID locks are being installed on resort room doors and have already been installed on the Disney Dream and Fantasy for entry into staterooms.  RFID locks only need the card with the appropriate radio frequency waved near the door handle, rather than placed inside a slot to unlock the door.

RFID guest entrances are being used at the Magic Kingdom, just when we thought fingerprint technology was high tech!

When the boy checks in for the kids club on the Disney Dream, he will have an RFID bracelet on his wrist that allows one touch entry and exit for the club.  This same idea is being touted in the Next Gen initiative for all Walt Disney World guests to wear that would include ticket information, dining reservations and dining plan credits, and Fastpasses all inside the chip in the bracelet.  I’m game, I tell you, I’m game!

The Walt Disney Company has been a leader in the use of the latest technology to enhance guest experiences and the Next Gen initiative is slated for the same.  I am anticipating in 2013 and beyond that we will see the applications of technology for guest use to make the pillar of Disney efficiency even more efficient.  It is exciting and may just thrust me into the life of being a Smartphone user!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Will Room Service Warm Up Our Blanets?"

“Will room service warm up our blankets?” was the question being posed from the boy while soaking in the bathtub the other night. 

In order to understand the context of this particular question, some back story is required.  First, it is helpful to understand that the boy is about to experience is 5th Disney cruise and is well aware of room service.  It is also helpful to know that we were talking about ordering cookies and milk for Santa from room service on Christmas Eve, since we will be on the ship.

Second, it is helpful to know that one way the husband spoils us is to warm up our blankets and pajamas in the clothes dryer at night before going to bed during the winter months and that is exactly what he was doing when the boy posed the question.

The husband responded indicating that we certainly could ask, dignifying the boy’s question, knowing full well that room service wouldn’t honor our request.

I was in the other room trying to contain my laughter and shaking my head at the convergence of ideas and experiences necessary for the boy to even consider asking the question.  Most 10 year olds don’t even know what room service is, let alone consider them for a service their dad usually supplies that adds comfort to our home.  Add on that we are traveling to The Bahamas where it is warm, so warm blankets may not be necessary, though potentially a nice treat.  And, that we will be sailing with Disney with impeccable standards for service and amenities.

What can I say?  We Williams’ like our comfort and if we can get some of the comforts of home while traveling, well, that is even better.

Could we warm up the blankets on the ship?  Sure we could.  We could strip the turned down beds and head to the laundry room and give them a spin in the dryer.  Though, I don’t envision us doing that and am certainly not making that suggestion. . . just indicating that it is possible.

Instead, we will look forward to the towel animal or figure awaiting us from turn down service, savor the chocolates wrapped in a picture of Sleepy from the Seven Dwarfs, curl up in our beds, and let the sea gently rock us to sleep.  Ah, the comforts of traveling with Disney Cruise Line!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Parenting: How Much Indpendence At Walt Disney World?

As the boy continues to get older, one of our parenting dilemmas is how much independence to give him when traveling to Walt Disney World.  What is the right age?  How much independence is the right amount?  Along with the general parental worry about safety, etc.

For us, it has been a gradual journey and I’m sure the journey will continue as the boy stretches the apron strings farther and farther.  What started out as him being a few steps ahead of us hand grown into “I’ll go ahead to Germany and meet you there” with a reply indicating we would meet him at the train garden.

He now rides attractions by himself, selecting to sit by himself or with others rather than his dear old mom and dad.  We are usually riding too, but in another vehicle or row.

Every parent has to make these types of decisions for themselves.  We know that our boy has knowledge of the parks due to his frequent visits.  He has a label inside his shirt with my cell phone number and can recognize Cast Members and ask for help if needed.  And, while it can be easier sometimes if there are two or more children to go as a group, that is not our situation. 

The boy has been able to show us or tell us when he is ready for the next stage or level like giving up the bottle, sleeping in a big bed, riding a bike, jumping off the high dive, etc.  So if we offer the freedom and he doesn’t take it, I know he doesn’t feel ready yet and if he asks for the freedom, within reason, I know he considers himself ready and I need to squelch my anxieties and give him the parameters and support, such as “we will meet you at the train garden.” 

Was he at the train garden after leaving us in the Japan Pavilion in EPCOT?  You bet he was.  And, we let him know when we arrived.  The husband and I enjoyed the short walk from the Japan Pavilion to the Germany Pavilion getting a taste, if only for a moment, what it might be like to travel to the most magical place on earth sans child.

The next decision is how much freedom the boy will have while sailing on the Dream.  His age gives him privileges of checking himself in and out of the kids clubs—with us granting him that status of course.  That, in itself, isn’t the issue, it is being able to know where he is and how he can find us if he does check himself out of the club.  I have a magnetic white message board and marker in the suitcase just for this and the wave phones may come in handy this trip!

How much freedom and independence do you give your child or children when traveling to Walt Disney World?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Used Swagbucks For My Holiday Shopping

 Shhhh. . . . Don't tell anyone on our holiday shopping list, but I got all of the items in the photo above for FREE!  How did I do that?  Swagbucks, that's how.  When interacting with the Swagbucks website, I was able to earn Swagbucks that could be redeemed for prizes and gift certificates.  My favorite is the $5 Amazon gift card.  I then apply the gift card to my Amazon account--they never expire--and then make purchases at Amazon.  All of the items in the photo above were purchased at Amazon.  So, 4 Disney watches, cookie cutters, and an Olympus camera all for FREE.  Okay, the camera isn't for holiday gift giving, it is for our family.  I began earning Swagbucks in July and had nearly $200 in Amazon gift cards when it came time to do our holiday shopping.
Here's how Swagbucks works:

Once you click here to get started, you will be greeted with a log-in or join screen.  You can create an account through Facebook or by using an email and creating a  password.  Joining Swagbucks in free.

Once you join, it is about earning Swagbucks.  The easiest way to earn is by searching--using Swagbucks as your internet search engine, just like you would Google.  Just type in your search in the Search and Win window at the top of the Swagbucks homepage.

You can also download the Swagbucks toolbar to your desktop and use it for your internet searchers.  I typically "win" twice a day when searching. . . once in the morning after 2-7 searches and again later in the day.  Here's what it looks like when you win Swagbucks.

Another way to earn Swagbucks it to find Swagcodes.  When you see the Swagbucks Swidget click on SC to see if any Swagcodes have been released in various locations--right there on the Swidget, Facebook, Twitter, or the Swagbucks Blog.  You can find a Swagbucks Swidget here on the Williams Family Blog--I use it to find Swagcodes.

When you find a Swagcode, copy it and paste it in the "Gimme" box on the Swagbucks homepage.

There are still more ways to earn Swagbucks.  Check out the "Earn" menu on the Swagbucks homepage for Coupons--just print, save, and earn 10 Swagbucks for every coupon scanned when you shop.  You can watch the news on Swagbucks TV and earn Swagbucks.  Then there is "Shop & Earn" where you can earn Swagbucks by shopping at your favorite on-line retailer.  Just start at Swagbucks Shop & Earn when you go to shop on-line.

When you have earned Swagbucks, head on over to the Swagstore and redeem your Swagbucks for prizes.  Find the Swagstore under "Redeem" on the menu bar on the Swagbucks homepage.

Be sure to "Verify" your Swagstore purchase either on-line with your password or through your email.  It can take a few days, no more than a week, for the gift card code to be credited to you but Swagbucks will send you an email telling you the gift card code is ready to be used.

Amazon not your thing?  Well, there are Target, Wal-Mart, Paypal, and many other gift card selections available and other prizes.

My goal is use Swagbucks for all of my holiday shopping one year from now.  And if I was able to snag almost $200 in Amazon gift cards in less than half a year, I'm pretty sure I can earn enough Swagbucks when I have an entire year.  I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

So, go head.  Get started earning Swagbucks.  It's easy and free.  Click here to get going.

Yes, some things in life are free!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Once In A Lifetime or Frequent Visitor? Which Are You?

Are you a “once, maybe twice in a lifetime” Disney visitor or “frequent visitor”?  It seems that folks who travel to Disney typically fall into one of these categories and their park touring style may be reflective of the category.  So, which category might be reflective of the commando park touring style?  I would surmise that either category would support the rope drop to park close Disney vacationer.  Let’s explore some more. . .

The once, maybe twice, in a lifetime guest wants to either take the kids because they went as a child or put a check mark next to items on a bucket list or feels pressured by the media to go at least once to find out what all the fuss is about at Walt Disney World.  They may stay on property or off and may only visit one of the four parks.  Amount of homework may vary and the quality of their experience will vary based on the amount of homework and planning. 

We have heard, seen, and know these folks.  Most of them never return to Walt Disney World citing bad experiences of heat, crowds, and long lines.  Many weren’t planning on returning anyway, hence the once in a lifetime category.

A variety of park touring styles can be found in the once in a lifetime group, including commando style park touring.  You know, the rope drop to park close folks.  (And, yes, we sometimes resemble this ourselves—just not everyday!)  They want to get the most out of their vacation dollar and attempt to ride every ride, see every show and parade, and experience every nighttime spectacular in each park. . . sometimes going from park to park on the same evening to experience the events.  Sound exhausting?  It IS exhausting and this is another reason some once in a lifetime guests stay just that.

There are some rare birds who start in the once in a lifetime category who have done homework and planned their trip, trying to get the most out of their Disney vacation.  For example, a friend and her family just returned and for a first timer, she knew about refillable mugs, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the value and convenience of staying on property and using Disney’s Magical Express service, Disney Dining Plan, and Photopass.  Not bad!  And, while she and her family may now be in the once in a lifetime category, I would bet that changes. . . eventually.

That is how we were on our first trip.  The husband and I reminisce about our first trip with the realization that we have many more tricks up our sleeve now when it comes to visiting Walt Disney World, but our first trip was pretty good, too.  We knew about character dining, the value and convenience of staying on property and Disney’s Magical Express service, Disney Dining Plan, and Extra Magic Hours.  We still weren’t sold on Photopass yet. . . that took until trip number three.  And, at the time of our first trip, we had no idea we would be returning.  It wasn’t until we got home, reflected on our experience and knew we were hooked that trip number two was booked.  Funny because as we are days away from trip number 10, two hundred dollars is in the budget to reserve trip #11 with approximate costs, etc. 

And, just like others before us and after us, we were transformed to frequent visitors.  You can recognize frequent visitors by their demeanor and usually, their attire.  Frequent visitors know how to dress comfortably for park touring—no flip flops or high heeled shoes in this category (YES, we have seen this!).  They have park touring bags, have maps, but are seldom seen reading them and are instead checking the Times Guide off to the side of a walkway.  They have more of relaxed and yet excited attitude that eludes confidence.  Just ask Cast Members.  They can recognize frequent visitors and sometimes know them by name! 

Frequent visitors have a park touring pace that is steady and efficient.  They also know when to slow down, and dare I say it, take a break.  As I type this, I’m smiling because the husband is going to read it and say, “Take a break, yeah, we never do that.”  He’s right.  I just can’t fathom the mid-day break, but I can make an early evening happen.  We typically have one late night that includes Wishes or Illuminations in each of our trips.  I’m okay with heading back to our resort at 7:00 pm and soaking in the hot tub before bed.  So, honey, that is a break!  Frequent visitors know that by going slower, for lack of a better word, they will actually get to see and do more.  And, if they miss something, they know they are coming back!

For example, the boy is a bit disappointed that we aren’t going to EPCOT during our upcoming trip.  Yet, he knows Test Track will be waiting for him for the next trip.

So, which are you?  Once in a lifetime or frequent visitor?  And, what do you wish to be?  Remember, a dream is a wish your heart makes.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Will Santa Finds Us On The Ship?

“Will Santa find us on the ship?” was the question the boy posed last year at this time when considering how we were going to celebrate Christmas in 2012—on the Disney
Dream in the middle of the ocean.

Well, that time of year has arrived and the pondering has continued.  Will Santa find us on the ship?  This Santa’s helper hopes so!  But Santa typically doesn’t have to take the TSA into consideration, yet Santa’s helper certainly does!

No wrapped packages in checked bags.  Okay!  So, there is are some small wrapped packages doubled bagged in the sipper compartment on the inside lid of one of the carry on bags.

Santa started thinking about this in spring when Ridley Pearson, the author of the Kingdom Keepers series of books released the 5th book in the series, Shell Game, which takes place on the Disney Dream.  Santa’s helper ordered the book from the local bookseller in the spring and has kept it hidden since.  The 6th book in the series is due out April 2013, Dark Passage, and also takes place on a Disney cruise ship.

Santa then found a t-shirt at Wal-Mart on the clearance rack this summer that has the Little Green Men from Toy Story on it that glow in the dark.  That will surely fit in a stocking and doesn’t have to be wrapped.

Amazon had a great deal on 2” Mario figures—18 of them for less than $20 shipped.  They are now wrapped in a small, but almost exploding, box.  Santa also found a water proof watch on-line this summer.

Toys R Us had a great deal on Nintendo games so two new games—both Mario—were gathered for the boy’s new Nintendo 3DS XL that he got for his birthday.  Santa finished yesterday when finding two Angry Birds Star Wars plushies on sale at Amazon.

Santa had to think small, yet meaningful, and with little or no movie parts for easy storage and travel.  So, no Legos, even though we most likely will make a purchase at the Lego Store in Downtown Disney before returning home.  At least then, the package can stay closed until we get home.

When Santa was done, mom and dad had to consider a gift.  Enter mom’s bargain hunting skills and a Disney Universe game for the Wii found its way under the Christmas tree that was purchased in the summer when Best Buy offered the game for less than $8.  What is driving the boy batty is the big box for him under the tree.  His imagination is running wild considering all that it could be and of course he wants to open it or know when he can open it, since the typical “Christmas morning” answer won’t be one of the choices.  What’s in the box?  Pajamas!  Several pair including some footy jammies for now and some for warmer weather.  I’m thinking the Angry Birds footies will be the favorite.

This Santa’s helper has told my other helper the plan and shown the location of the “delivery” that will be in my hands for the journey. 
So, will Santa find us on the ship?  I sure hope so!  And, as Santa’s helper, I am doing all that I can to help.

The boy continues to speculate how Santa might get to the ship.  Magic is one of the best answers.  He also thinks that Santa’s sleigh can turn into a boat and the reindeer can be dolphins pulling the boat.  Good answer!

No matter how Santa finds us, our plan is to have a joyous and memorable holiday and we wish you and yours the same!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Disney Cruise Line--Early 2014 Itineraries Announced

Speculation was rampant regarding Disney Cruise Line’s itineraries for 2014.  We weren’t alone waiting for the announcement and guests using DCL’s website had fewer and fewer cruises to choose from as the months marched on.  Most thought itineraries would be announced in October and then rumors spread indicating itineraries would be released after the first of the year.  The time frame narrowed to mid-December, so it was a pleasant surprise to receive the email on Tuesday announcing the news.

Guests wishing to sail on a Disney ship in 2014, or at least the early part of 2014, will need to make their way to Florida as all four ships will make Florida their home port.

The Disney Wonder will sail 4-night itineraries to the Bahamas and two different 5-night itineraries to the Caribbean out of Miami.  All of the 4-night itineraries and SOME of th3 5-night itineraries make a stop at Castaway Cay.

The Disney Magic, Disney Dream, and Disney Fantasy will make Port Canaveral their home port for either all or some of 2014.

The Disney Magic will alternate 3 and 4 night sailings with the 3 night itineraries departing Friday and returning Monday with the 4 night sailings departing Monday and returning Friday.

The Disney Dream will also alternate 3 and 4 night sailings with 3 night itineraries departing on Thursday and returning on Sunday while the 4 night sailings depart on Sunday and return on Thursday.

The Disney Fantasy will offer Saturday to Saturday 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries with a new port of Falmouth, Jamaica being added in May of 2014.

Whew!  That’s a lot of Disney ships sailing near and around Florida and will make Castaway Cay the most visited port with a 100 stops in the first 120 days of 2014!

Part of the appeal of the 2014 itineraries is that guests may sail on a Disney ship leaving almost any day of the week other than Tuesdays when you take into consideration the Disney Wonder’s Wednesday departure schedule.  Guests wishing to extend their Disney vacation with a short cruise certainly have their choices with both the Disney Magic and Disney Dream offering shorter itineraries with varying departure days including a long week-end opportunity with a Friday to Monday itinerary.

Disney Cruise Line has done the math and is basing the itineraries on the fact that most Disney cruisers sail on two shorter cruises before booking a 7 night or longer cruise; sort of a 2 to 1 ratio.  Since DCL fares can “seem” more expensive than other cruise lines, value minded guests are willing to try it for a lesser amount with a shorter itinerary and realize the Disney difference.

We were just please to see the itineraries announced prior to our December 2012 sailing so that we can book our next cruise on board at a discount and larger on-board credit towards the next cruise.  Jamaica, here we come!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Our "Top" Lists For The Next Disney Vacation

We are handfuls of days away from our next Disney vacation and the anticipation is building.  Yesterday, we had a conversation as a family about the top three “things” we were looking forward to for our next vacation.

The husband’s top three included a relaxing day at sea, a good meal, and meeting new characters and not necessarily in that order.  He specified that the good meal could either be on the ship or at the World.  I’m guessing he will get more than one good meal out of our trip.

For the boy, it was difficult to narrow down three, but he started there with meeting Wreck-it-Ralph at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, trading for “Christmasy” pins, and riding the Aqua Duck.  Yes, he has goals!  He quickly added others like meeting new kids in the kids’ club, Fastpasses—especially for Star Tours as he wants to ride it four times with his dad, and food—specifically BBQ chicken pizza available at Luigi’s Pizza on the Disney Dream.

My list started with a very specific statement—sand in my toes while basking in the warm sun on a tropical island—Castaway Cay.  The list then veered to traveling safely and efficiently.

The husband quickly vetoed that item as he said it was a “given” and that he, too, says a prayer for safe travel prior to any trip.  We are traveling in the winter, giving new meaning to this particular item on the list.

Having item number two vetoed, I then said photos.  Again, vetoed.  The husband said that photos and Disney are like breathing and I couldn’t add Photopass to my list either.  All-righty-then, I’ll add making memories to my list and enjoying the adventure with my family.

What I am most looking forward to may not be what I most remember or even the best part of the trip as there may still be magic, Disney magic, in store for us.

I do so appreciate knowing the husband’s and boy’s lists though.  As the “vacation director” it helps me plan and set priorities.  I know getting to The Magic of Disney Animation character meet and greet at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is going to be a priority, as that is where the Wreck-it Ralph characters will be greeting guests.  Check!

I also know that during our day at sea on the Disney Dream, the husband wants to relax.  So while I may flit from activity to activity while the boy swims or chills in the kids’ club, I know the husband will want to be curled up in a deck chair with a book rather than “programmed” for a portion of the day.  We can make that happen, too.  Check!

What’s on the “top” of your list for your next Disney vacation?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tips For Tipping--Walt Disney World Vacation

In the movies or on TV, a person providing a tip has the exact amount in their jacket pocket or in their hand ready to hand to the cab driver or bell services.  Ah, to live in the movies.  In real life, tipping may look more like fumbling in the purse, digging in the pants pocket, rifling through the wallet for the right bills or frantically using the calculator function on a mobile device to calculate the right amount for a tip and then painfully signing the receipt as the tip is added to the bill.

When planning and budgeting for a Walt Disney World vacation, be sure to include tips.  This expense, if not expected, can sneak up on you and as the husband so eloquently put it. . . bite you in the #%&!

Let’s consider some of the possible tipping situations to plan and budget for.  We’ll begin at your home airport.

Luggage handlers at your home airport when you take your bags out of your car may be your first tipping encounter.  We appreciate their helpful service.  Typically a tip of $1-$2 per bag is appreciated.  They know this, though, and will offer to take the boy’s backpack and my rolling bag.  I politely decline and thank them for handling the bigger bags as we tip accordingly.

Depending on the time you arrive at Orlando International Airport, you may have more luggage handling to do, especially, if it is after 10:00 pm when Disney’s Magical Express needs you to claim your own bags and take them with you on the bus or if you are using some other form of transportation which means claiming your bags as well.  If you employ luggage assistance at the airport by waving a porter down, be sure to tip the $1-$2 per bag as they assist you in transporting your luggage to your destination within the airport. 

Tips for Disney’s Magical Express driver are appreciated but not expected.  I would suggest tipping if the driver is also handling your luggage under the bus with the $1-$2 per bag rate.

Okay, you haven’t even arrived at the resort yet and have had possibly 1-3 instances where tipping would be expected.  Do you have those in your budget?

Once you arrive at your resort, you may ask Bell/Luggage Services to assist you to your room.  If you do this, be prepared to tip them the $1-$2 per bag.

Mousekeeping, as housekeeping is referred to at the most magical place on earth, is another area where tipping is considered with a rate of $1-$2 per person per day for keeping your resort room nice and tidy.

The area where tipping can become more weighting, no pun intended, is dining.  All table service meals, unless the tip is included in the cost of the meal, are considered tipping opportunities with a recommended percentage of 18%.  Larger parties will automatically have 18% added to their bill.  You can then decide if you tip based on the post tax amount of use the pre-tax total to calculate your tip.

When table service meal totals are typically in the $100 range, even for our family of 3, the $20 tips can add up over the duration of the trip and be a surprise if not planned for ahead of time.

You may also tip for other services while at the World, such as a trip to the Harmony Barber Shop, a session at Pirates League or Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique, spa treatments, childcare, or special excursions may also be tip worthy.

When it is time to return home, tipping Bell/Luggage Services to assist you with your luggage between your room and Disney’s Magical Express pick-up is customary, as would be the Disney’s Magical Express driver if luggage handling was included with the ride.  Back at Orlando International Airport, tipping a luggage attendant to help you to the airline counter would also be considered for tipping.  And, once you arrive back at your home airport, you may need luggage assistance again at baggage claim.

Planning ahead with bills of certain denominations and having them ready can alleviate potentially embarrassing or stressful moments, and potentially over tipping if you don’t have the right amount or only bigger bills.

The service industry thrives on tips and the many helpful folks who add a bit comfort and service to your vacation certainly deserve tips.  Just be prepared for the situations and have tips be a part of your vacation budget.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ebates--Get Money Back When You Shop On-line

I want to talk about Ebates.  Ebates is an on-line hub with links to your favorite on-line stores where you can earn cash back for shopping on-line.  I joined in February 2011 have earned $135 in cash back for my on-line purchases.  Ebates mails me a "Big Fat Check" four times a year for my earnings.  Joining is FREE and all it requires is an email address.  You can make up your own password.

I am still amazed by the tech savvy folks who shop on-line regularly who have yet to use Ebates.  Consider this a tutorial of sorts.

Start here by clicking on this link.  It will take you to the new member screen for Ebates and you will get to select your Bonus!  You will earn your selected Bonus after you make your first qualifying purchase.

After you select your Bonus, you will be directed to a login screen where you enter your email and password.  This is also the screen you will see when you login after your initial visit to Ebates.

Once you have joined and are logged in, you start shopping.  Check out the list of stores by clicking on "Shop All Stores" button featured in the upper left hand side of the screen.  Clicking here will give you an alphabetical list of all the stores featured on Ebates.  And, great news, Ebay is back!

For this shopping trip, I am going to pretend that I want to make a purchase at Disneystore.com.  (You knew I would get it in there somewhere, now didn't you?)  So, after clicking on "Shop All Stores" I would find Disney Store in the list.  (Once you become familiar with the stores, just type the name of the store in the Search box on the screen.)

Wow, shopping at the Disney Store through Ebates will allow me to earn 3% back on my purchase.  I then click on the store name as it will take me to a list of on-line codes for even more savings!

If I wanted to purchase a Disney Dooney and Bourke bag, I could save 10% using the on-line code provided on Ebates.  Each store will have a listing of codes and offers.  You may have to enter the Code in the Promotion Code box during check-out when making your on-line purchase if it isn't already linked to the transaction.

Click "Shop Now" on the screen.  You will see an Ebates Tracking Ticket open on the screen, but usually for just a few seconds.  Don't worry.  Ebates automatically stores the Ticket number in your account. . . just in case you need it later.  Here's what the Ticket looks like:

Once the Tracking Ticket disappears from the computer screen, you will then see the homepage for the on-line store.  In this case, Disneystore.com.

Go ahead and shop!  Your transaction will be linked to your Ebates account and your 3% will be credited to your account within a few days.

If your shopping gets interrupted, no problem.  Just log back into Ebates and make your way to your on-line store again, even if it means multiple Tracking Tickets for the same store.  The only tracking ticket that matters is the one connected to the purchase transaction.

In addition to Disney Store and Ebay, there are other opportunities, like LivingSocial and Groupon.  There is even a "Gift Card" section on Ebates where you can earn money back for purchasing Gift Cards--great for holiday gift giving!  Check out travel offers with cash back being available for hotel, airline, and rental car purchases, too!

If you want to check the status of your account, click on "My Ebates" on the screen.  Here's a screen shot of my account:

I'll get my next "Big Fat Check" in February!  More cash to apply towards our next trip to Disney!

Ebates. . . it's FREE, easy, and you earn cash back doing the on-line shopping that you would normally do.  Yes, some things in life ARE free!  The trick is remembering to start at Ebates every time you shop on-line.

Happy shopping!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Disney Phone a Friend--Who Is Yours?

The first text message read “Sunny and 77.”  There was another text message later “I’ve got you on speed dial!”,  followed by a phone call at 9:07 pm.  “Where are our tickets to the parks?” was the question on the other end of the line.  Good question from a first time Walt Disney World visitor.

You see, a friend and her family are traveling to Walt Disney World for the very first time.  They used a travel agent to book their travel, but needed more detailed information than a travel agent might provide.  I was happy to help and offered the Williams Family Blog as a resource along with my cell phone number.

“Your tickets were given to you when you checked in at your resort.  They look like a credit card and are the same as your room key.” was my answer on the phone.

A lightbulb sigh followed by an update about their flights, their resort, getting their refillable mugs, and their plans for tomorrow followed.

I just couldn’t leave it at that, so I sent a text message. . . “Be sure to set a wake-up call for the morning.  You never know who will call!  Push the speaker button on the phone when you answer so everyone in the room can hear.”

A reply text message—“Thank you!”  and something about having a call from Mickey waiting for them when they arrived in their room.  Only at Disney!

When the call came in, I was already snuggled in bed watching Glee recorded on the DVR.  My cell was in the kitchen, charging, and the husband answered and brought me the phone.  I pushed “pause” on the remote and took the call.  When I got off the phone, I told the husband about it and explained that this is a level of service travel agents don’t, can’t, or won’t offer. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love our travel agent and spoke to her earlier in the week and even mentioned that I knew she was helping this family with a trip and that I had offered my cell phone number if they needed anything.  I explained that I receive several text messages and phone calls from folks traveling to Disney with either updates or questions and that I am happy to help and I enjoy getting text messages from the most magical place on earth.  Sometimes, I am the one sending the messages!

This whole thing got me thinking. . . even the game show “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” had phone a friend as a lifeline.  I’m thinking that every Disney traveler needs a phone a friend; someone with Disney knowledge or experience, or someone who can be excited for you as you experience Disney magic.  A travel agent’s hours of work limit this type of service making access to an experienced Disney traveler even more important. 

Not sure how to find a Disney phone a friend?  Just listen to conversations at work, at the gym, even the grocery store.  People who love Disney find a way to weave it into almost any conversation and then take the opportunity to introduce yourself.  Us Disney fans love talking about Disney and we love hearing your travel plans, too.  Not an eavesdropper?  Ask around.  Ask your friends, neighbors, and co-workers who they might know of that has Disney experience.  Your travel agent might be able to recommend someone as well. 

Speaking of our travel agent, when I was talking to her on the phone earlier this week, I wondered out loud about teaching a class on how to plan your Disney vacation.  Hmmm. . . who knows where that little wish may end up?  In the meantime, I will continue to help prospective travelers with the Williams Family Blog and all of my phone a friends traveling to Disney.

Who is your Disney phone a friend?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tickets To Ride. . .To The North Pole!

On Saturday, we headed to Mount Pleasant and the ground of the Old Thresher's Reunion for our annual trip to the North Pole via the North Pole Express!  Our tickets were purchased mid-October via mail in registration for the first train of the day.

When I picked up the tickets at the ticket booth, the outside of the envelop said "Poinsettia" and I figured we were again riding on one of the coaches.  It wasn't until I looked inside the envelope and saw that our tickets were for the Poinsettia Caboose!  We were excited!

A list of offerings at the North Pole along with a map were provided in our envelop as well.

The husband asked if all the trains were sold out and was told "yes."  The trains were running the Saturday we were there and for the next two week-ends. . . the first two week-ends in December. 

We had a few minutes before the the train pulled into the station.  Guests were either too excited or too cold to sit and wait for the train.

You can see the train coming round the path behind the boy.  It was the number 6 Shay!  Nothing can stop the Shay!
Here is a video of the train coming:

Soon we were climbing into the Poinsettia Caboose.  Here is the video:

The husband and the boy decided to sit in the top of the caboose for the trip to the North Pole.

Here is video inside the caboose:

During the ride to the North Pole, a portion of the audio of book The Polar Express, is played throughout the train.  The story ends and the music swells as the train pulls into the North Pole and guests are greeted by a winter wonderland!

Our first stop is Santa's Caboose at the North Pole!

We saw the Snow Princess while waiting in a short line to see Santa.

Santa has a pocket watch with a train!  The boy told Santa what was on his wish list. . . video games for his Nintendo 3DS XL.  Santa took note!

Here is video inside Santa's Caboose:

The husband and the boy were thrilled after seeing Santa and stopped for this photo on the way out of the caboose.  Can you see the bell in the boy's hand?  Each guest seeing Santa receives a bell.  The bell rings for all who truly believe!
Hot chocolate and cookies were next on the list and are included as a part of the ticket.  I believe this photo was taken during seconds!
We visited the Red Caboose Gift Shop next, but not before I snapped a photo of the sign on the door.

Oh, so many things to look at and all train themed.  We can home with an ornament for the Christmas tree to commemorate the event and a small battery operated train set.

One of our traditions at the North Pole is take a photo of the boy with the conductors.  Here are as many conductors as we could gather at the North Pole for this photo.  Each coach or caboose has a conductor for the trip to and from the North Pole.  We appreciate these folks volunteering!

Electric trains were set up for children to take turns running and the boy spent quite a bit of time in this spot while we were at the North Pole.  He got a certificate to bring home, too.

A commemorative photo is taken of every group while at the North Pole and is included as a part of your ticket.  Just remember to pick-up the photo before loading the train back to Mount Pleasant.
Soon it was time to board the train.  In total, we spent about an hour and a half at the North Pole.  Just enough time.  The boy grabbed more cookies and another cup of hot chocolate to take with him on the train for the return ride.
Here we are back at Mount Pleasant after deboarding the train.
We went to get a closer look at the engine. . . the number 6 Shay.
I couldn't resist taking a photo of the manufacturer's stamp on the train.  It was made by Burnham and WILLIAMS Company!

A lovely family from Muscatine, that was with us in the Poinsettia Caboose, offered to take the picture above for us.  How kind!  It was their first time at the North Pole Express.

The boy made it inside the the engine thanks to a familiar face.  The gentlemen in the picture below has been a conductor for a number of years we have been going to the North Pole Express and is now a "fireman" on the train.  It was great to see him!

We have bells from Santa at the North Pole Express dating back to 2006. . . that hang on our Christmas tree.  Each year, the bell is a bit different in size or color, or colored ribbon attached to the bell.

Riding the North Pole Express to the North Pole has become a family holiday tradition.  This year, the boy pointed out that the North Pole was a shed decorated to look like the North Pole, but he had no hesitation visiting with Santa.  The lure of trains may be part of what keeps him coming back and he enjoyed interacting with the other children.  I'm wondering how long this family tradition can continue but am hopeful for at least one more year.

If you would like to a ticket to ride to the North Pole via the North Pole Express, click here for more details.    Mail-in registrations typically begin mid-October and phone sales begin Nov. 1.  Tickets are usually sold out with a day or two of phone sales opening, so plan accordingly.  This is not an event that you can stop by and get a ticket so planning ahead is a must.