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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Disney Story Time, a AAA Member Benefit

Booking a trip to Walt Disney World using a AAA travel specialist has a few perks.  Families receive a booklet listing their reservation and all it entails including coupon for various perks.  One member benefit is Disney Story Time at EPCOT.

Reservations are required and the information regarding times, days that Story Time is offered, and the telephone number to call can be found on the back of the coupon in the booklet.  Moral of the story. . . don’t wait until you are traveling or have arrived at your destination before reading what is inside the booklet. 

Story Time has been offered as member perk for some time and in various locations such as the Magic Kingdom.  It is currently offered at EPCOT and we decided to take advantage of the offering on our most recent trip to Walt Disney World.

I phoned several days in advance, but after receiving my paperwork in the mail, to secure a day and time that would work with our park touring schedule.  Most of the times are morning or early afternoon.  Guests are to arrive 15 minutes prior to Story Time and have their coupon from the booklet with them. 

Since we were at EPCOT on Thursday, we made a reservation for Story Time for that day and picked the 11:30 am time.  This meant we needed to arrive by 11:15 at Innoventions West—just across the breezeway from the exit of EPCOT’s Character Spot—click here to read more.  This time worked with our touring schedule, as we knew we would be at EPCOT at rope drop, ride Soarin’ and Test Track first, hit Story Time, and make our 1:00 pm lunch ADR at Les Chefs de France.  We were able to do even more than we had planned that morning—Character Spot, Journey Into Imagination with Figment, play near the leaping fountains, took time out for a snack, AND rode both Test Track and Soarin’.

Finding Story Time was easy, as it was just inside the Innoventions West entrance off the breezeway and to the left.  There are signs indicating that this is AAA’s Disney Story Time. 

There is a pre-show area where guests are greeted and coupons from the booklet are collected.  We headed right in and found a spot in the small, but well designed theater. 

We were then greeted by the host who invited children to sit on the stage. 

Next, we were introduced to our reader—Princess Jasmine!  Check out the video:

When Jasmine had finished reading, there was an opportunity for photos and autographs.

We were out the door no later than 11:50 am and on our way.  I imagine that if there were more guests that photos and autographs could take longer.  Also, the character reader is subject to change.

Our impressions:  glad we did it, but don’t think we would do it again.  If a guest knew for sure what character would be hosting Story Time and was a significant fan or had a child that was a significant fan, I could see how this experience might be tops for their Disney vacation.  It may also be a nice touring break during warmer seasons—inside, air conditioning, fewer guests, etc. 

There are a variety of AAA member benefits.  Be sure to check your booklet or ask your travel specialist what benefits are available to you.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

GI-TAR DAN At Disney's Animal Kingdom

Has there ever been a song about you?  Was it composed and sung to you on the spot?  The boy can answer yes to both of those questions, as we found GI-TAR DAN at Camp Minnie-Mickey at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

GI-TAR DAN acts as the host of Camp Minnie-Mickey with his wireless microphone, themed clothing, and guitar.  GI-TAR DAN’s voice can be heard throughout Camp Minnie-Mickey as he informs guests of what character greetings are happening on the various trails.

He also performs songs for people, almost on demand.  We asked for his photo and autograph and were treated to a personalized serenade about the boy.  Check out the video:

As you can see in the video, there were other guests waiting to have their special moment with GI-TAR DAN.

You can find GI-TAR DAN in Camp Minnie-Mickey at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Monday through Friday with 20 minute performances at 11:00 am, 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 and 4:00 pm.  We were there for the 11:00 am performance, as we had just exited the first show of the day of Festival of the Lion King.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Disney Magic Strikes Again!

Do you believe in magic?  I do, and the husband’s faith in magic, especially Disney magic has been restored.

You see, on our most recent trip to Walt Disney World, the husband lost his hat.  The one you see in the pictures above.  A non-descript, brownish baseball style hat with Animal from the Muppets on it along with a handful of Disney trading pins.

He wore the hat throughout our trip, until Thursday evening.  Sometime and somewhere between dinner at the Biergarten and Future World, the hat disappeared.  The husband noticed that hat was gone when we got off the Friendship boat launch across World Showcase Lagoon at EPCOT.  Sure enough, the hat was missing.

We were headed to Spaceship Earth and Guest Services was nearby.  The husband went to Guest Services after our ride on Spaceship Earth.  The boy and I played a while on the games at the exit and then joined the husband.

He was handed a card with a telephone number for Lost and Found.  He called the number the next day at Guest Services in Hollywood Studios.  The boy and I were shopping while the husband went to conduct business.  When we exited the park and were headed to the Friendship boat launch to take us to the Beach Club, the husband sighed and said that the hat “was gone” and “for good.”

Today, March 28, is the husband’s birthday.  He sent me a text late in the afternoon that Disney had sent him a present.  I replied, “Is it your hat?”  Yes!  It was the hat and with all the Disney trading pins in tact. 

Just knowing that these kinds of miracles take place on a daily basis at the most magical place on earth is another reason we keep going back.  Do I believe in magic?  You bet I do!

Where Can You Find The Easter Bunny?

Where can you find the Easter Bunny?  Why, at Walt Disney World, of course.  Specifically, you can find the Easter Bunny at the Magic Kingdom in the Tour Garden next to City Hall on the Town Square

Guests can meet Mr. and Mrs. Bunny daily through April 8, 2012, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm daily and began on Sunday, March 18, 2012.

We were able to get an audience, including autographs, with the spring bunnies with minimal wait on Tuesday, March 20, 2012.  Their colorful attire was very impressive!

A Photopass Photographer was on hand to take photos.

We met four new to us characters during our latest visit to Walt Disney World and Mr. and Mrs. Bunny count as two of them.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We Have A New Favorite On Property Resort--Coronado Springs!

Coronado Springs is our new favorite on property Walt Disney World Resort.  We have stayed at Caribbean Beach twice, Port Orleans Riverside five times, Port Orleans French Quarter once, and Coronado Springs on our most recent trip.  A few days into our trip, we began to consider if we wanted to stay at Coronado Springs for our next trip to Walt Disney World.  The husband and I agreed yet we let the boy have a say, too.  It was unanimous!  I called our travel agent as soon as I could to make the change.  We are officially booked at Coronado Springs for our next trip.

Coronado Springs is a moderate resort, which means that the rooms are larger than a value resort, a refrigerator is included, and the themed pool will have a slide.  All true for Coronado Springs.  Yet, Coronado Springs is also a resort with a convention center and was Disney’s most recent attempt at a moderate resort.  Many of the kinks of some of the other moderates—such as the need for an internal bus system at Caribbean Beach and the inefficient food court of Port Orleans French Quarter have been worked out.  Disney has combined the magic for their resort guests with the efficiency needed for business travelers for Coronado Springs and it worked for us.

The resort has 4 main sections.  El Centro is where you will find guest registration, the resort store—Panchitos, the Pepper Market food court/restaurant, Café Rix Lounge, Maya Grill, and Café Rix.  The conference center, business center, and ballroom are all located in El Centro.  Bus stop 1 along with Magical Express drop off and pick-up all take place at El Centro.

Upon our arrival, we checked in which went smoothly and quickly due to checking in on-line before leaving home.  We were given our Key to The World Cards which included our dining credits, park tickets, and room key all in one.  The boy headed to the store, the husband held down a chair, and I then headed to Café Rix to get our mugs and fill them.  Since we were using the Disney Dining Plan, refillable mugs were included with the plan.  Café Rix had the mugs as well as the soda dispensers.  The bill would have been $46 had the mugs not been included in the plan.  We got our first refill, grabbed our resort map, and headed to our room.

Café Rix also has a limited quick service or counter service menu with sandwiches, etc.  Snacks, pastries, fruit, and other food items are available for purchase here and it is quick and convenient.

Rooms are located in three sections—Casitas which are connected to the convention center.  Guests staying here can make it from their room to El Centro without going outside.  There are various Casitas buildings ranging from 3 to 4 stories.  Ranchos are next again with various buildings.  Ranchos are 2 -3 story buildings.  Cabanas are between Ranchos and El Centro and are 2 story buildings.  We stayed in Cabanas, building 8A on the first floor.  The majority of Cabanas rooms offer lake and beach views.  We were less than 200 steps from bus stop 4 and the boy could sprint to the Dig Site main pool barely touching the ground.  Each section also includes a quiet pool.

Our room had two queen size beds, a TV, refrigerator, desk, bathroom, etc.  It was clean, well themed, and just right for us.  A noticeable difference was that there was carpet in the sink/vanity area.  In all the other resorts we have stayed at, this area was tile.  Our room was kept tidied throughout our stay and bonus—the shampoo, conditioner, and lotion was part of the H2O line which is also found on the Disney Cruise Line ships.  We brought enough home to last us for a while!

We spent more time at a pool this trip than we ever have.  Our first afternoon we took some time to enjoy the Dig Site pool.  It took us a while to figure out why we liked it, but then it hit us.  Everything was right here.  The playground, the arcade, the kiddie pool, the hot tub were all within eyesight of the pool.  At other resorts, the pool would be in one location and the hot tub down the path and around the corner, or the playground in another area.  Siesta’s, the pool bar, was also located here and in addition to being able to order adult beverages, there was a location next door where guests could refill their refillable mugs and order snacks and sandwiches.  We took advantage of this offering!  Each afternoon, Cast Members would host games and activities poolside.  The boy joined right in on our arrival afternoon.  Another day, there was a Disney trivia contest.  Team Williams took first prize!  We would also hit the pool and hot tub when returning from the parks later in the evening.  Movies would be shown on an inflatable screen in the playground area near the pool.  The boy would go from pool to playground to arcade while the husband and I soaked in the hot tub all the while being able to keep a parental ear and eye on the boy.  By the way, Coronado Springs boasts having one of the largest hot tubs with a capacity of 22 guests.

Buses at the resort were quick and efficient.  We even had an opportunity to compare then to some other resorts when we ventured off to eat at different locations.  Coronado Springs topped the comparison.  One day we had an EPCOT bus all to ourselves!  Another day, only us and another family were headed to Hollywood Studios.  Know that the busses make 4 stops.  Here is the order:  stop 2 which is Casitas, stop 3 for Ranchos, stop 4 for Cabanas, and stop 1 for El Centro.  Knowing this is also important as if you are staying in Ranchos for example and want a ride to El Centro, you can hop on any theme park bus for a ride.  Just get off the bus at stop 1 or El Centro.  Now, it is a bit different if you want a ride from El Centro back to Ranchos.  If that is the case, you want to grab a Downtown Disney bus which starts at stop 1 and proceeds through the rest of the stops ending with stop 4.

Another draw for us was the Pepper Market.  We discovered the breakfast buffet a few days into our stay.  The cost is that of a quick service or counter service meal.  Yet, you are seated by staff, have cloth napkins, and are served your drinks.  The buffet is expansive and breakfast includes made to order omelets.  The buffet is also offered for lunch.  Dinner is a la carte. 

We made a quick comparison to Cape May Café as we had eaten breakfast there the day before.  Cape May Café counts as a table service credit and is twice as much as the Pepper Market breakfast buffet.  Still cloth napkins, still get served your drinks, but the buffet does not include made to order omelets and is much smaller in selection than the Pepper Market.  Yes, Cape May Café offers three Disney characters.  Our vote is for the Pepper Market.  Note:  whole fruits were available at the Pepper Market buffet along with individual cereal boxes.  This would be a great place to eat and grab a few snack items for a day of park touring or traveling home.  We already had plenty of cereal but we did take a couple of apples with us to put in our bag.  Another plus:  since we used the Disney Dining Plan quick service credits for breakfast and it comes with two drinks, we were offered small bottles of cold water to take with us.  We did not use our refillable mugs at Pepper Market.  We could have refilled them at Café Rix and brought them with, but since we were headed to the parks we did not bring them with.  (That’s another story—seeing guests tote their refillable mugs with them while in the parks.)

So why is Coronado Springs our new favorite?  Theming, efficiency, convenience of having the pool and playground in one location, and the value of the Pepper Market.  It just seemed that everything was easier this trip.  Maybe it was that this was trip #9 and we have information and experiences under our belt.  Maybe it was the great resort.  Maybe it was Disney Magic.  Whatever it was, we want a bit of it back for our next trip.  Coronado Springs, here we come again!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

We're Back from Trip #9 to Walt Disney World!

We’re back!  We made it home yesterday after a very early morning, a smooth flight, and a fast drive.  The boy was in bed by 6:30 pm and the husband and I soon followed.  We had been up since 2:00 am our time to get the bus to the airport for an early flight.  It felt great to be home and in our own beds!

Here’s a summary of our trip. . . by the numbers:
1329 pictures taken on our camera
38 videos recorded
552 photos on our Photopass account—this is a new record for us!
4  number of times we went to the resort pool
4 & 3  number of times we rode Toy Story Mania on two visits to Hollywood Studios
3, 3, 2, and 1  number of times we went to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom respectively.
14 hours—longest day of park touring
1 new restaurant tried
1 new ride the boy tried
1 new pair of shoes for the husband while on the trip
100 number of arcade points the husband and the boy used at the resort
2 number of items we lost in the parks
1 number of items we found. . . so far!
3 number of frequent stayer, flier, or shopper reward programs we used on this trip
$99 what we paid for our Photopass CD
$169 what we would have paid if we waited to order the Photopass CD after coming home
$149 what we could pay for the Photopass CD if we bought it in the parks—no editing or adding borders to photos, though
4 number of birthday cupcakes the husband received
2 sets of matching shirts that came home unworn
23 & 24 number of times we have now been at Orlando International Airport
9 months—how long it is until our next Disney trip!

As always, the people watching was great and the stories plentiful.  The husband pointed out that I will have much to blog about.  So true!

A people story that stands out happened on our last night.  We took a Friendship boat from Hollywood Studios to the Beach Club as we were eating at Cape May Café.  When the boat made its first stop at the Swan and Dolphin Resorts, a lady did not board the boat, but turned back to wait in line, as the boat was too full and she would have to stand.  Ah hum, she was going to have to stand to wait for the next boat!  So, instead of standing for 7 minutes to get to the next boat stop, she stood for 10 minutes waiting for the next boat, which may or may not have had a seat.  Even the boy saw the error in the logic on this one.

Post trip is also when I reflect on park peeves.  There was only one this trip, but it was a big one—the people who stop in the middle of a walkway!  Get out of the way!  Move to the side of the path and look at your park map to make a decision about where you are going next and how to get there.  Move over to check your electronic device that you can’t see in the bright Florida sunshine to determine the attraction with the least amount of wait time.  I’m putting all guests who walk to the entrance to an attraction and then stop in this category, too.  Commit!  Commit to a line, a path, an attraction, something!  The kicker was the lady who was exiting the bathroom and stopped twice in front of me.  Let me restate this. . . exiting the bathroom—not entering.  And on her way out, I was behind her, and she stopped twice in her path. . . on the way out!

The husband’s park peeve was the guest at the resort who yelled at him for hoarding the soda machine when refilling mugs.  OK.  There are two machines.  And, while the husband was refilling 3 mugs, he could not have been using both machines.  Well, the husband got his revenge. . . he usually does.  A few days later, at Hollywood Studios, the husband went to the water fountain to refill a water bottle with cold water and that same guest was there. . . blocking the way to both water fountains—high and low.  The husband then said, “You’re blocking both water fountains.”  The man turned around and at first didn’t recognize him, but then came the glimmer of recognition.  The man slinked away.

Enough of the park peeves.  We had a grand time, no a magical time.  The stories will unfold on these pages over the next several weeks.  For now, I have Photopass photos to edit so I can get the CD I pre-ordered at a reduced rate!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ask The Husband Anything About Our Upcoming Trip!

Just ask the husband what we are doing for any day of our upcoming trip and he can tell you.  He can tell you confirmation numbers, seat numbers, reservation numbers, etc.  He has all that info at his fingertips.  Why?  Because I made him a set of cards.  Think business card size.  One card for each day of the trip.  Each card contains dining information, park information, reminders about transportation.  The first card of the set has our frequent “stayer” information for the hotel stay before our flights along with the reservation number, and hotel address.  The second card has our flight information—flight number, reservation number, seat assignment, time of flight, etc.

Why did I make these cards?  Well, I actually made two sets—one for him and one for me.  They are small enough to put in the plastic holder at the end of my pin lanyard, so I will be taking the cards with me into the parks for easy reference.  Primarily, making the cards helped me to organize the information for the trip and have it easily accessible . . . by both of us.  Which brings me to the secondary reason:  to stop the husband from asking lots of questions.  You see, most of the info about our trips is in my head.  And, even though I have told, mentioned, talked about, explained, etc. the info doesn’t seek in.  So, when we are driving to the airport (meaning me) the husband starts to ask lots of questions about flying for example, while I am busy concentrating on something else!

On our last trip, I printed off an itinerary for him to refer to.  It was a full sheet of paper that had the whole trip mapped out.  It helped some, but he would forget what information was on the itinerary and somehow storing a whole sheet of paper—folding and unfolding—became a bit burdensome.  The cards—fit in his wallet, pocket, or lanyard and he can carry them wherever he likes for easy reference. 

The cards haven’t stopped our conversations about our upcoming trip, but they have minimized the questions.  It seems that we are now talking about the same vacation—we both have a similar picture in our heads.  That. . . is wonderful!

In the meantime, he decided to show his colleagues the “cards” and oh, boy, did that ever get a reaction.  Some glassy eyed stares that were overwhelmed with the amount of planning that took place;  a few jabs about “any self-respecting man wouldn’t” . . . you finish the line;  and some ribbing about his wife’s planning. 

But wait a minute.  If you think that’s bad, just know that we have the trip after this one already planned and have had it planned since last July!  The flights are booked, hotel reservations made, and I’m patiently waiting until July 1 to make our Advance Dining Reservations. 

We had some good news today when I phoned our travel agent to reserve a room at the Hyatt at Orlando International the night before our cruise.  (Click here to read why we like to stay at the Hyatt before cruising with Disney.) I said I wanted the pre-paid rate.  She did even better!  She got us the pre-paid rate without having to pre-pay as it was the same as the AAA rate AND a free breakfast buffet to boot!  When I told the husband, his comment was:  put it on the cards.  He wanted to go to work tomorrow and show his colleagues that his wife was in full planning mode and it got us a sweet deal.  Ah, that warmed my heart!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cirque du Soleil La Nouba at Downtown Disney

“Haven’t you done everything yet?”  The response—NO!  I’m referring to a typical conversation that happens when friends, family, and acquaintances learn that we are once again returning to Walt Disney World.  There’s just too much to do!

An area outside the theme parks that draws guests is Downtown Disney—a retail, entertainment, and dining area.  Click here to read more about Downtown Disney.

A treat for Disney guests tucked away at the far end of the West Side of Downtown Disney is a special theater designed for Cirque du Soleil  La NoubaThis avant-garde performance designed especially for Walt Disney World is a must see.

We attended a performance of Cirque du Soleil  La Nouba a few years ago.  While it’s true that there is no bad seat in the house, it is better to sit a bit farther back, as performers use the ENTIRE space to perform—land and air.  A view from a bit farther back gives show goers a vantage point to take it all in.  We had seats in the last row of the lower portion of the theater on the middle right.  Excellent seats!  The show begins at those seats. . . and that is all I’m going to say about that.  You have to go to Cirque du Soleil  La Nouba to find out what I mean.  If you have already seen the show, then you know what I’m talking about.

 (In looking at the seating chart, we were in the last row of the purple section on the far left side.)

Performances are typically at 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm Tuesday through Saturday.  Check the Walt DisneyWorld web-site for exact dates and times of performances.

Since we were traveling with a youngster, we selected the 6:00 pm show.  We were staying at Port Orleans Riverside, so we took a boat to Downtown Disney.  I recall that we walked through the Marketplace and ate at what was then McDonalds before the show.  Then it was time to walk to the West Side and the theater that houses Cirque du Soleil  La Nouba.  Trust me, it is the last building on the West Side and walking means you go through Pleasure Island and then all the way to the end of the West Side.  It was late afternoon, so the sun was in our faces and I remember feeling a bit heated by the time we arrived at the theater.  Our recommendations—take a boat from Marketplace to the West Side—they are offered regularly.  If you are driving, park on the West Side.  If you are taking a Disney Bus, wait and get off at the West Side stop rather than at Marketplace.

Inside, the theater is a treat and the seats comfy.  There are snacks and beverages for purchase.  We bought drinks and a souvenir tub of popcorn.  There were adult beverages available for purchase as well.

The atmosphere inside the theater is a combination of typical Disney visitor—shorts and t-shirts—and the more upscale traveler in dressier clothing making an evening of it by going to the theater.  We were in shorts and t-shirts and didn’t feel out of place at all.  But since we had been touring the parks for days, it surprised me to see people in non-touring clothing.

When the show was over, we looked for the boat launch on the West Side and rode it to the Marketplace, then switched boats to head back to Port Orleans Riverside.  It was much better than walking the entire distance.  And, since the sun had gone down, the views of all the lights and the water were great from the boat.

We would consider Cirque du Soleil  La Nouba a once every few years event, not an every trip occurrence.  And, if you haven’t seen it before, we highly recommend taking the time and spending the extra money for tickets.

We have joined the Cirque du Soleil  Club on-line.  Membership is free and there are regular updates as well as special offers.  If you think you are going to a show, it might be beneficial to join the club!

In the meantime, we are going back to Disney again!  We haven’t done everything. . . yet!  And, even if we had, there are too many things we would want to do again!