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Backs of Shirts Just as Important as Fronts!

Backs of Shirts Just as Important as Fronts!

Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Monday, April 30, 2012

Ordered Shirts for Our Next Trip!

Combine a rainy day with a 50% off discount at Zazzle.com and 10% cash back option at Ebates.com and what do you get?  A new set of t-shirts for a Williams Family vacation and a Disney vacation at that!

I designed these t-shirts for our upcoming Disney Cruise and stay at Walt Disney World.

What’s cool is that at Zazzle.com you can personalize the fronts and backs of the shirts.  You can do that at other on-line t-shirt designers, too, such as customink.com, but I have yet to find a discount and they don’t have Disney designs.

Are we counting down to our next trip?  You bet we are!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Disney Cruise Line Adds Auto-Gratuity Payment System

Disney Cruise Line is adding auto-gratuity payment system.  Guests coming on board any Disney ship will have gratuities automatically added to their shipboard account for stateroom host/hostess, server, assistant server, and head server.

So what does this mean?

Well, if guests are using a credit card for any on-board charges, the gratuities of per person per night of sailing will be charged to the credit card upon boarding, or shortly there after.  Guests’ using their credit card to pay for gratuities has always been an option, but guests needed to go to Guest Services to charge the appropriate amounts and get the little slips to go into the tip envelopes that are typically given to Cast Members the last night of the cruise.

Guests may also select to pre-pay gratuities when paying for their cruise.  This option has been available for some time.

Guests wanting to pay gratuities in cash, will need to go to Guest Services and have the auto-gratuity removed from their account.  Then, it would be my understanding that the cash tips would still be given to Cast Members the last night of the cruise.

Why make the changes?

Other cruise lines have already instituted a pre-pay gratuity system much to guests’ satisfaction—one less thing to worry about.

Also, if a guest “forgot” to tip that will no longer be an issue, as tipping will be handled automatically.  Guests will possibly feel more comfortable making Palo/Remy reservations for the last night of the cruise knowing that the tipping of the servers at their rotational restaurant is being handled for them.

It may also mean less visits or shorter lines at Guest Services for this particular issue.  Not tipping will require a visit to Guest Services and become a more conscious act.

I’m baffled when I hear about the folks who board the ship planning never to set foot in one of the main dining rooms.  They plan on eating at the quick service locations on the top decks or use room service (which requires tipping).  I hear reasons such as “don’t want to have to eat at a specific time,” or “the dining time interferes with shore excursions,” or “traveling with children and the main dining rooms seems so formal” or “we’re not foodies.”  All excuses in my opinion for avoiding tipping of the server, assistant server, and head server, as all of the reasons listed can be fixed! 

If you need a different dining time, ask for it at the time of your reservation.  If it isn’t available, use a wait list option and check back, or attempt to make the change once on board. As far as children go, the crew has vast experience with them in the main dining rooms including an excellent menu with tasty choices for children.  Our child likes to order and try items from the adult menu.  We aren’t “foodies” either, but we do enjoy trying something original when we cruise and the bonus is if we don’t like it, we can order something else, without paying extra.

Here’s our plan to handle the auto-gratuity system:
            Either we will pay cash up front or take cash with us and have the auto-gratuity removed from our on-board account.  For our cruise last summer, I already had the tip amounts for each person in an envelop, so it was easy to transfer those amounts to the tip envelopes provided on the ship.

Not sure how much to tip? Check out the Cruise Tip Calculator.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Disney Bubble

Have you heard of the Disney bubble?  If yes, then you know what it means to be completely immersed in magic, service, fun, adventure, and family.  If not, then let me try to explain the phenomenon of the Disney bubble and how it feels to go in and come out.

I was reminded of the Disney bubble by my husband as when I returned home from work the other day, I couldn’t wait to be inside our home, away from the rest of the world; cocooned.  I told him that coming home that evening was similar to the feeling of being in the Disney bubble.  He then told me the Disney bubble would be a good topic for the blog.  So here it goes. . .

The Disney bubble is the state and feeling of being removed from the real world.  “Leave your troubles and your worries far behind. . .” as the song goes.  It is being isolated, but not alone or lonely.

We begin to experience the state and/or feeling when we all get in the car and head off on vacation.  Somewhat removed, but still having access to news, newspapers, cell phone connectivity, etc.  Since the cell phones go off when we board the airplane, the feeling of being inside the bubble increases. . . but it is not yet a Disney bubble.  Once we board our Magical Express bus to our resort, we have entered the Disney bubble surrounded by all things Disney.  It is a feeling of relaxation, excitement, and anticipation all rolled into one!

From that point on, we are in control of what permeates the membrane of the Disney bubble.  News?  Not usually.  Only the weather report.  Newspaper?  Nope.  Computer?  I did check e-mail a couple of times on our last trip using the free Wi-Fi at the resort.  I didn’t search anything else, though.  Contact from home?  A handful of text messages, and 1-2 phone calls. . . just to check-in. 

We typically don’t leave the Disney bubble until we are back at the airport waiting for our flight back home.  The re-entry into the real world can be painful, almost shocking sometimes.  It’s being re-exposed to news of the world, weather in other parts of the country, and service outside of the Disney bubble.  I can remember us standing outside of the cruise terminal in San Pedro, California, luggage at our sides, waiting for a hotel shuttle that said they would be there in 30 minutes or so.  The husband turned to me and said, “Well, that’s the end of Disney service.”  Yeah!  I can also remember on trip when we returned to Orlando International Airport for our flight home, Sarah Palin’s name was in the news and we hadn’t even heard of her before our trip.  Talk about a feeling of time warp!

Staying in a Walt Disney Resort helps keeps our vacation within the Disney bubble.  Some guest venture out of the Disney bubble voluntarily.  Not us.

There’s a Disney bubble while cruising with Disney, too, but you exit the bubble during shore excursions.  While shore excursions, also known as port adventures, are offered and purchased through Disney Cruise Line, they are not operated by DCL, but outside vendors.  Sometimes dealing with the outside vendors temporarily pops the Disney bubble, but another bubble forms once back on board the ship.  That’s what makes Castaway Cay such a tranquil experience; being on shore and still being in the Disney bubble.

Cocooned describes the feeling and state of the Disney bubble best; cocooned in service, fun, adventure, convenience, efficiency, and magic.  Who wouldn’t want that?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

It's Been 9 Months Since Our Last Disney Cruise!

It’s been 9 months since our Disney Cruise.  I’m saying that with a bit of a whine in my voice, as it will be another 8 months until we cruise again with Disney.

The topic of our next trip came up at dinner the other night.  The husband and the boy were wondering what movies would be shown on the ship and how they would watch while eating pizza and hamburgers.

We pondered about the boy needing a watch, as he would be old enough to check himself in and out of the kids’ club.  Having a watch would help him keep track of the time and when he needed to be somewhere, etc.

I fantasized about the white sand between my toes at Castaway Cay.  The husband drooled about a bucket of cold beers while on the beach.  He then wondered if Phineas and Ferb would be on the ship.

The boy then asked, “When do we fly?” as if he were visualizing the trip in his head.

We are definitely looking forward to our next Disney cruise on the beautiful Disney Dream.  Great service, great food, a great stateroom, and great entertainment are just the beginning!

We have much to look forward to and much to be grateful for!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

9 Out Of 10 Disney Princesses

9 out of 10 isn’t bad.  At least for meeting Disney Princesses!  We were able to meet 9 out of 10 Disney Princesses during our most recent trip to Walt Disney World.  See if you can determine which Disney Princess is missing.
 We saw Belle at the Princess Gathering in the Town Square Theater and at EPCOT in the France Pavilion with The Beast.

Rapunzel was in the Fairy Tale Garden, but now has a new meet and greet location in the Town Square the Magic Kingdom--click here to read more.

 Pocahontas was with Meeka near the entrance to Festival of the Lion King at Camp Minnie Mickey in Disney's Animal Kingdom.

 We found Sleeping Beauty, also known as Princess Aurora at the Princess Gathering in Town Square Theater at the Magic Kingdom and also in the France Pavilion in EPCOT.

 Princess Jasmine was near the Magic Carpets in the Magic Kingdom.  We also saw her at the AAA Story Time--click here to read more.  And, we have found her in the Morocco Pavilion at EPCOT before.

 Mulan greeted the boy at Disney's Hollywood Studios during, what we call the Character Explosion, also known as Character Palooza--click here to read more.

Tiana was greeting guests at her gazebo at the Magic Kingdom. 

Ariel, and Prince Eric, were found on the veranda at Adventureland in the Magic Kingdom.

Cinderella was with other princesses in the Princess Gathering at the Town Square Theater in the Magic Kingdom.

If you guessed Snow White as the missing Princess you would be correct.  We knew we would find her at EPCOT in the Germany Pavilion and had read the Times Guide for exact times.  Since we had a 6:00 pm ADR at the Biergarten, we made sure we could get to the 5:30 pm meet and greet time.  We went to the spot only to discover a Cast Member, and character handler at that, informing us that Snow White was not available to meet guests that day.  Oh, no!  We were a bit disappointed, but we had met her before on previous trips.  And, it gives us another reason to come back!

Williams Family Blog Hits 100,000 Page Views

I’ve been watching the clicker to the right as it rolled through the numbers as readers found and read the Williams Family Blog.  I’ve been watching as the numbers climbed up and up and as I compose this post, the clicker is 60 page views from 100,000.  I’m confident that by the time this post is published, the page view counter will have scrolled to the momentous mark.

The husband took a look at the number too.  I asked if I ought to write about hitting 100,00 page hits.  His response, “Yes.”  So, upon his advice, I’m reflecting on the occasion.

For our faithful readers, thanks for tuning in regularly for a dose of Disney or highlights about our family.

For those who have recently discovered the Williams Family Blog, welcome!

The Williams Family Blog has been alive and well for a little over two years.  What started out as a way to express knowledge and information about Disney and other potential travel pursuits for families has turned into a passion.

Our trips now include phrases such as “This is for the blog” or “Are you going to blog about this?”  Our photo taking is for capturing moments and memories for us and capturing information—for you.

There have been some memorable events because of the Williams Family Blog, such as the time we were recognized at Chef Mickey’s by a blog reader—Thanks, Sherri!  Or when I introduced my Mother-In-Law to a family and she was greeted with “I’ve read about you in the blog.”  That sure made her day!

Beyond the husband and the boy, our family, at times, has been skeptical, but that is okay. It feels good to do something that you look forward to doing and enjoy doing.

My greatest hope is that we have helped people answer a question or get needed information to make their adventures more enjoyable.  I write as if I were the one searching for information;  I write about things I would want to know.

Thank you for reading and joining in on the adventure!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Would We Go THAT Far?

After our most recent trip to Walt Disney World, I made a few prints of photos for my office at work.  When I brought the photos and put them on display in frames, I was amusingly accused by my coworkers of coordinating our shirts with character visits, backgrounds, and borders.

What?  Would we go that far?

Would I know that the border added to Animal Kingdom photos after arriving back home would match our shirts worn to Animal Kingdom?

Or that Tigger would enjoy seeing himself on our shirts?

Or that the EPCOT border would be purple?

Or that the background at EPCOT’s character spot would match our shirts?

Or that the green shirts we wore to Hollywood Studios would blend in with Chip & Dale’s ties?

Or Daisy and Donald’s attire?

Or be enjoyed by Mike and Sully?

Really?  Would we go that far in our planning and coordination to make sure those things happened?  What do you think?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Making Magic at the Magic Kingdom

I had someone approach me the other day about planning something special, something magical, for a family traveling to the Magic Kingdom.  This person described it as “Auntie Magic” as she will be traveling with a family that does not plan.

The suggestion that came first to mind would be to arrange for a fireworks photo.  This is something we have done for the last handful of trips.  We know that 20-25 minutes into Dream Along With Mickey, the show on the castle stage, fireworks will be shot off as part of the show.  We check the Times Guide for times and consider when we might be near the hub when the show is going.  Then, we find a Photopass photographer and ask them if they can do a fireworks photo.  We have yet to be turned down!  Hint:  You’ll want a photographer with a handheld camera.  If the camera is on a tripod, walk down the street until you find a Photopass photographer holding their camera.

Another idea I had was an Advanced Dining Reservation for Crystal Palace.  Since the family is traveling in June, it would be best to make the reservation now, if reservations are still available.

Next, I would recommend knowing which characters can be found at the Magic Kingdom and approximately when.  Steve Soares web-site can be very helpful

While it really isn’t Auntie Magic, knowing how to use the Fastpass system would be beneficial.  All ticket media can be used to obtain Fastpasses and they are free. 

If the family would be staying at the park all day, then staking out a spot for the evening parade and Wishes might be a good idea.  This would require possibly splitting up the family and returning to the spot and the holder of the spot later.

I’ll keep thinking and reader suggestions are appreciated!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Jedi Training Academy 2012

Jedi Training Academy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a way for children ages 4-12 to play out their Star Wars fantasies.  The 30 minute show featuring participation of the padawans is held multiple times a day on the stage outside Star Tours.  Check your Times Guide for a listing of times.

The boy has been in Jedi Training Academy since our first or second trip to Walt Disney World.  We have seen the selection of participants go through many renditions from selecting from the audience to lining up and hoping you were in the next show to the way it is done now.  Those interested sign up for a time slot at the former Sounds Dangerous location which is between Indiana Jones and Star Tours.  Look for the signs and head inside.  Have the child or children with you that want to participate—it’s a requirement.

Now, since we arrived at Hollywood Studios at rope drop and the park opened 15 minutes early, I headed to Toy Story Mania to get Fastpasses while the husband and the boy went off the sign-up for Jedi Training Academy.  We had already checked the Times Guide and had an idea of what show would work best in our plan for the day—the 2:20 pm show.  When the husband and boy arrived, the Cast Members were filling up the first shows and when the husband said he wanted the 2:20 pm show, it sort of threw them off.  They hadn’t anticipated someone asking for a later show; they were just filling in time slots.  But after consulting with each other, they decided it was okay and gave the husband a slip of paper with the show time and the number slot assigned for that show, which was #1.  This slip of paper is important as you will need it when you return for the show.  He was told to arrive and check in at the same location 30 minutes prior to the show. . . 1:50 pm.

We knew about the 30 minutes ahead of time check-in requirement, which was another reason for selecting the 2:20 pm show time.  We had a 3:45 ADR at Mama Melrose for our Fantasmic Dining Package and well, the time just worked out better with our plan for the day.

We arrived at the appointed time and checked in with the slip of paper in hand.  We watched as others checked in, but for one reason or another didn’t have the little slip of paper.  For example, one parent headed off to check-in 30 minutes prior, but the other parent had the slip of paper.  Nope, you have to have the child or children, slip of paper, and be there 30 minutes ahead.

Then, we watched those who were on the “wait list” hoping for a chance to participate.  We’ve been in that spot before, but we were confident it would work out—click here to read more.  In this instance, there were tears coming from the children who were waiting and parents who were trying to figure out what they could do to make this dream happen for their child or children.

When all children had gathered with proper paperwork, the group is assembled and goes to the staging area in a line.  Parents are asked to walk along the line to make sure others don’t join in the line.  At this point, the children are all carrying their little slip of paper with them and then the papers are collected once the group of 15 gathers at the stage in exchange for their brown hooded robes.

Parents are now finding spots to photograph the event, but remember to stand behind the line painted on the ground, as that area is reserved for the Photopass photographer who rolls on a chair around the stage to capture photos of children in the Jedi Training Academy.  

Parents are given a special Photopass Card indicating their child was in a training session.  Before leaving the park, be sure to stop at The Darkroom or Cover Story before leaving the park to select and add the pictures taken at Jedi Training Academy to your Photopass account.  You can then edit and add fun borders to the pictures—see below.

The Jedi Training Academy show is fun and revolves around the young padawans being trained to fight the dark side.  Each participant gets to go up against Darth Vader during the show.

The participants are given a certificate of participation at the end, which can be personalized and framed upon returning home.

Another special note is about asking the Photopass photographer at the end of the show about “magic photos” of you and Darth Vader.  We forgot this trip, but have done it before.

The boy seemed less interested in Jedi Training Academy this trip, but was glad he took the time to do it.  And, as you can see in the pictures and videos, he is definitely enjoying himself.

Our best tips are to arrive early, have the child with you when you sign up for the show time you want,  keep track of the little slip of paper given to you as you will need it later, and arrive 30 minutes prior to the start of the show.

Interestingly, questions about this experience are the most often asked when we are waiting at the gates at Hollywood Studios. Maybe it is our matching t-shirts that tip folks off that we have done this a few times or maybe it is the fact that we are traveling with a young boy that may give it away that we know how to do it, but each time, we have been waiting for the park to open, we get asked about Jedi Training Academy.  In fact, the husband had other families follow him to the sign-up location.  He was happy to help.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

How To Decide Which Park on Which Day?

Yeah!  You’ve decided to go to Walt Disney World and are now trying to decide which parks to go to on which day.  Deciding a schedule for park touring can be a bit tricky, but with a few things to consider, along with some hints and tips, it can be easy, well, somewhat easy.

Begin with knowing that Walt Disney World has 4 theme parks and 2 water parks.  The most known and attended park is the Magic Kingdom.  The Magic Kingdom is often considered synonymously and yet incorrectly, with Walt Disney World.  The Magic Kingdom is the home of Cinderella’s Castle.  The other parks are EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios—not to be confused with Universal Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  The water parks are Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.  It may be beneficial to decide if you will be going to a water park before you begin your planning, as it may change the type of ticket you purchase or your park touring schedule.

Next, consider the length of your trip.  If you are visiting for a week, touring each park is doable.  If you will only be at Walt Disney World for a long week-end, it may be beneficial to prioritize which parks you want to visit.  We’ve taken a few 4 day trips and skipped Disney’s Animal Kingdom during those visits.  Not because we didn’t like the park, but just because we had limited time and knew we would have to cut out some things.  Also consider if during your week you will be taking in any other attractions in the area such as Sea World or a visit to the coast, as this will affect your park touring schedule.

Now you are ready to decide which park on which day.  But there is some more information you might want to have before making your final decisions:
  • Park Hours.  Are any parks offering Extra Magic Hours in the morning or night for resort guests and if so, on which day?  What parks might be closing?  This information is available on the Walt Disney World web-site.
  • Advanced Dining Reservations.  Where are you dining and when?  If you are dining at a restaurant inside a theme park, it will be important to make sure that park is included in your touring schedule for that day.  Not all day, per say, but you’ll have to get to the park to get to the restaurant.  Nearby resort restaurants may also dictate some of your park touring, for example, if you plan on dining at Chef Mickey’s you may want to tour at the Magic Kingdom or EPCOT those days as getting to Chef Mickey’s will be made easier by monorail.

We often pick our park days before making our ADR’s, but it can be done both ways.

Now that you know the park hours and your dining schedule, you are definitely ready to decide which park on which day.

Our decision making would go something like this, for a 4 day trip:
Arriving late in the day on Friday, and EPCOT is open late, so we will go there for dinner possibly and watch Illuminations.  Saturday morning, Hollywood Studios has AM Extra Magic Hours, so we ill get there for rope drop and get a head start on Toy Story Mania!  On Sunday, we have an ADR at Teppan Edo, so we will spend our day at EPCOT.  Monday, definitely Magic Kingdom, as we hadn’t visited that park yet.  We could have on Sunday night during pm Extra Magic Hours, but wanted to see if Monday morning after the extended hours were a bit less crowded.  No park on Tuesday, as we would return home.

There you have it, our thinking behind the decision making.  Our plans would require a 4 day ticket—nothing more.  No Park Hopper would need to be added or Water Parks and More option required on our ticket.  Adding these options to tickets can be expensive which is why it is important to have some idea of your touring plans before purchasing park tickets.

There’s an even bigger secret that is important and that is that there is no one right way to make a decision about which park to visit on which day.  No matter what you decide, a magical vacation is in your future!