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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

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Walt Disney World in the Summer? Prepare for Tour Groups

If you are planning to head to the most magical place on earth during the summer, you are most likely prepared for the heat, the rain, the longer park hours, and the crowds.  But are you prepared for the tour groups?

The first time we went in July was 2011.  We were prepared for everything BUT the tour groups.  We had heard about them via on-line forums and word of mouth, but that does not prepare you for their presence or how to “combat” them for lack of a better word.

In July of 2013, we studied the tour groups, especially the husband.  A few times, I went head to head with various tour group members who were creating havoc, line jumping, etc.  Click here to read more about howthe tour groups made our magical vacation even more memorable.

It want to be clear.  I am glad the tour groups are there.  It boosts our economy.  They are spending money in our country.  What I want and need them to do is adhere to rules like not budging in line or commandeering character meet and greets or washing their hair in bathroom sinks.  And, the question I still don’t have answered is how do they wear the same shirt every day?  Doesn’t it get dirty?  Are they doing laundry?

Anyway, I digress.  What the husband discovered during his observation period is that the line jumping, cutting, or budging begins with a single member of the tour group.  This is what I am asking all of you to be on the look-out for.  A single member, typically a young female—think teenager here—will venture into the queue with a “I am looking for my friends” statement and forlorn look.  They will walk on pass you in the queue, and unwittingly, you let them by.  Mistake!  There is NO friend in the line.  They are going to park themselves next to a distracted family and then call or text the rest of their tour group to join THEM in line.  And the cutting of 20-40 people begins with 4-5 of them at a time coming through the line with an adult with each of the groups, so as to make it look more legit.  And, at this point it is legit. . . as their friend or brother or sister is now in line.

So, want to know what to do?  Don’t let that one single female, or possibly a pair of single females, get past you in line.  No matter the language barrier, everyone understands “no.”

This is what I did while waiting in line to see Ariel.  I would not let “her” get past me.  I told her “no” and that her friend was not in front of us.  I had been in line long enough to know that there was no friend in the same matching tour group shirt in line in front of us.  And, I had been in the parks enough days to recognize the shirt she was wearing as one from a tour group.  Once she left, something surprising happened.  The people behind us in line cheered, laughed, and congratulated me. 

Other than standing firm and saying “no” there are other ways we found to minimize going head to head with the tour groups:
  •      Get your magic fix at a different time of year, other than summer.
  • ·       Go where the tour groups are not.  We did not see them in the Hall of Presidents or Spirit of America show in EPCOT.  Actually, EPCOT was void of the groups except for Illuminations but the groups were handled by Cast Members in a specific area.
  • ·         Try to warn Cast Members ahead of time.  Like we did at Ohana’s when we arrived for breakfast, since we had seen a tour group take over the characters at Crystal Palace.  The forewarned Cast Members assured us all would be well, and it was!
  • ·         If not ahead of time, let Cast Members know when rules are being broken.  A Cast Member intervened when the line budging became prominent at Blizzard Beach.  While they weren’t in matching shirts, their behavior gave them away as a tour group.  And, we still ended up with our place towards the end of the line after the line cutting, but the group had been warned.
  • ·         Observe and realize that not all of the tour groups behave the same.  Many of them do follow the park rules. 

Obviously we weren’t affected so much that we wouldn’t want to return, but I know some would be travelers are turned off to traveling during the summer for a variety of reasons, including the tour groups.  Not us.  I still need to get the question answered about the wearing of the same shirt every day.  I will keep you posted. . .

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I Love Talking To Our Travel Agent!

I love it when my travel agent calls!  She phoned last night and left a message, so I returned her call today.  Every time we talk, it means excitement and adventure are just around the corner.

Seems my name came up when she was having lunch with a friend, who asked HER why we still use a travel agent.  Something about having done “this” enough times that surely I would know how to do it on my own.  Our travel agent had a quick and spot on reply, “She likes the service and the discounts.”  Exactly!  I did find it ironic that the travel agent was being asked the question and not the customer, but the universe is like that sometimes.

I told her that I get asked that question regularly and that I actually wrote about it our blog—click here to read why we use a travel agent.  The husband said he even gets asked that question at his work.  I didn’t know that until today when I was sharing about my phone call.

I also appreciate that our travel agent appreciates us, as clients.
So, we made a date to visit again in January, when we will book the Walt Disney World portion of our summer trip, as January is AAA’s Disney month!  Our 16 day adventure already includes a 7 night sailing on the Disney Fantasy. I also reminded her that Disney typically releases its summer discounts in April, so we would most likely revisit our reservation at that point.  There might even be other incentives!

I wished her happy holidays and hung up the phone.  Now, to wait until January!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Magic Kingdom's New Bus Loop To Offer Park To Park Transportation

I was reading Chris Barry’s top 5 staunch opinions about Walt Disney World on Mouseplanet.com—click here to read the article.  And, while I agreed with some, his definitive yes to Park Hoppers added to Magic Your Way park tickets or already included in Annual Passes to Walt Disney World had me a bit skeptical.

Our mileage with Park Hopper, which allows guests to visit more than one theme park on any given day, has varied.  Usually due to our inability to take mid-day breaks and that we typically organize our dining reservations to avoid any need for Park Hopper. 

Another factor was the time involved from going from one park to another using Disney’s Transportation System—a fleet of buses, boats, monorails, and trains.  To go from Animal Kingdom, say, to Hollywood Studios, a guest could either ride the bus back to their resort and hop on a bus to Studios, or take a marked bus to the Ticket and Transportation Center, located in the parking lot of Magic Kingdom, and then transfer to a bus headed to Studios.  See. . . lots of travel time.  Using the monorail between EPCOT and Magic Kingdom is usually very efficient, with only the need to transfer monorails at the Ticket and Transportation Center.  Traveling by boat between Hollywood Studios and EPCOT’s International Gateway can also be efficient.  Any other park to park moves required some doing.

But, a new bus loop is ready to open at Magic Kingdom, possibly taking away much of the park to park travel pain.  The new bus loop, or third bus loop, will allow for Disney buses to offer park to park transportation right there, near the entrance to Magic Kingdom.  No more traveling to the Ticket and Transportation Center to switch buses—which if you were already at the Magic Kingdom required a monorail or ferry ride, just to get the Ticket and Transportation Center.

We have experience using the Magic Kingdom bus loops for resort to resort transportation like the time we had dinner at Cape May CafĂ© at the Beach Club and were headed back to our resort.  We just caught the Magic Kingdom bus outside of the Beach Club, rode to Magic Kingdom, and then found the bus stop for our resort.

So, will the new bus loop and added efficiency of moving from park to park,  cause us to add Park Hopper to our tickets, which is an additional expense?  Maybe.  I know we will add Water Parks and More Fun to our tickets already and Disney has done some great pricing strategies making it more economical to add both Water Parks and More and Park Hopper to the Magic Your Way Base tickets.  It also depends on our touring strategy.  If we spend the morning and early afternoon at a water park but then head to EPCOT for dinner, there is no need for Park Hopper. 

The good news is that Disney has responded to guests about how inefficient it can be to travel from park to park, especially when paying for Park Hopping privileges.  Looking forward to seeing the third, and new bus loop at Magic Kingdom in action.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Disney Dreamin' and Designing--For Future Trip

 I will confess. . . I have been dreaming of our next Disney trip.  While it is still over seven months away, it is hard not to dream a little.  Last year at this time, the bags were nearly packed as we headed off for a holiday cruise and quick visit to Walt Disney World.  As a part of my dreaming, I played around on Zazzle.com a bit and designed a possible new shirt for our trip.

 Alas, not quite ready to buy yet. . . waiting for a great discount code.  Yet, one of the many things I appreciate about Zazzle is that you can make your designs whenever you want—when you have time or are feeling creative.  You can either save them in your “In Progress Designs” or do what I do and go ahead and add them to my cart.  That way, when a great discount code is released all I have to do is apply and pay!

Our "Tour Schedule" on the back

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Santa Paws 2013

Photo by Leslie Heemsbergen

We attended Santa Paws, an event for Heartland Human Society, again this year.  Our local Earl May store provides the setting, a local photo shop donates the photo processing, a gracious volunteer is Santa, and local photographer, Leslie Heemsbergen, donated her time for photography.  Therefore, the entire $10 cost of the 5 X 7 photo ends up going to Heartland Humane to help the animals.

This is an annual event we have participated in for years, well, ever since we have our dog, who is now 13 years old.  Also, we have posted the event on the Williams Family Blog on more than one occasion.

But something happened this year that soured me on the event.  When we arrived it was great to see other dogs and we happily waited in line.  Since it can take a while to get the dogs ready for the photo, I asked if the boy could see Santa and I could take a photo with my phone.  The photographer told me no.  She said that this was a fundraiser and that I could pay for the extra photo.  I told her we were going to purchase a photo with the boy, the dog, and Santa, but wanted to capture a photo with just the boy and Santa.  Again, was told no and “what if everyone wanted to do that?”    What I was thinking was that not everyone was there to do that nor would they be coming to do that in the four hours for the event.  She kept asking me if I understood and I kept replying “no” as I didn’t.  Finally, she stopped asking me and we waited for our turn for her to take our one photo.

While it was great that the photographer was donating her time, what difference would it have made for us to snap a photo with our phone or any other camera?  We were still paying for the photograph of which is she isn’t earning anything based on the volunteer status.  Her actions were intended, I guess, to raise more money for the event but what her actions may have done in the long run is to make less money for the event due to folks like us not wanting to return.  Another family attending the event, while not told no, were distracted by the photographer when they got out their camera/phone.

Also, we have been able to take photos at the event before, with the same photographer, and used them to promote the event via the blog.  So, why the change?  If we were taking the same photo that the photographer was taking or were somehow interfering with profit or copyright, I would understand.  But we weren’t, nor did we plan to.  I did express my displeasure to the organizers of the event.

Click here and here for photos and stories of previous Santa Paws events.

Let me compare this to other experiences when the goal of selling photos has been the same.  Let’s take Disney’s Photopass service as an example.  Certainly their goal is get you, as a Disney guest, to purchase photos, photo CD’s, even merchandise.  Though, each and every time a guest comes to a location with a Photopass photographer, not only will they take a picture with their camera, but they will offer to take a photo using the guest’s camera, phone, or tablet.  Since service is one of their pillars, it comes first before making the sale.  And, you know what?  We slap down the big bucks and pay for the photo CD.  Often, when they offer to take a photo using our camera, we decline as we appreciate their work and the ability to relax and enjoy our vacation.

So, while I wish I could share more photos of the event with you, this year, I am not able.  Next year?  Well the plan is to have video!  No one is selling video so this shouldn’t be a problem.  Should it?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Free Frozen Tickets Came In The Mail

On Tuesday, I arrived home from work to discover that Adventures by Disney had sent us a gift in the mail—two tickets to Disney’s new movie Frozen!  Actually, the husband had opened the envelope and had told me about the surprise via phone on my way home.  The surprise was a bright spot in my day!

This isn’t the first time Adventures by Disney has surprised us with a gift in the mail—click here and here to read more.

We called our local theater to make sure the tickets would be accepted and got the show times for the next day.

How decadent it is to take in a movie on a week-day afternoon! (We all had the day off from work and school.)

Now, without spoiling the movie for anyone who has yet to see it, please know that it is very good.  The music, characters, animation, adventure, and story are all top notch.  There was never a “down” or “slow” part of the movie where kids and adults get restless.  Also, references were made to other movies, such as Indiana Jones.  (If you don’t get that reference let me know and I will fill you in.)

Disney has done it again with Frozen bringing to the screen a version of true love and has chosen an excellent time to release the film.  And, Adventures by Disney has again surprised us with a great treat with free tickets.  Just another reason we love Disney!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!  It is that time of year when we take a moment to count our blessings and there are many.  So what is the Williams Family thankful for?

Health!  The older I get the more I am grateful for, as my insurance man says it, being a healthy person.  That goes for the rest of the clan, too.

Fun!  Add laughter to that, too!  While we have disagreements just like any family, we also have lots of fun and laughter. 

New experiences!  I think it is in my DNA to continually learn and seek out new experiences to try.  This year there have been several opportunities to learn new things in which we are very grateful for.

Friends and family, of course!  These folks are our rocks and soft spots to land.  Thank you for being there for us!

A Disney trip in our future!  You knew I would make the link eventually.  Our family enjoys having something to look forward to and it just so happens that it is a Disney vacation.  We happily plan our next adventure.

It is also the time of year when I remind myself not to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the coming season.  Instead of the “to do” list taking over my life, I remember to relax and enjoy the magic of the season.  Having spent the holidays last year immersed in Disney magic will help me to remember, as there is only a “to be” list, not a “to do” list, while traveling with the mouse. 

Wishing you and yours the happiest and safest Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I Was A Guest On A Podcast!

I was a guest on a podcast!  It was my very first time, which means I am hoping to do more, and was very exciting.  The topic?  Disney, of course.  Here’s the story:

About two weeks ago an email appeared in my inbox from Shannon Albert, owner/operator/editor of a website wdwprepschool.com.  I was familiar with the site as she had linked The Williams Family blog to her site before.  In the email she introduced herself and asked me to be a guest on her podcast.  I was thrilled and we set a date to visit via Skype, just like a phone call.

While the recorded part of the podcast lasts less than a half-hour, Shannon and I visited for over an hour.  Folks can bond quite quickly with a shared passion and interest.  It was great to talk to her about her recent trips to Walt Disney World, the decision to leave the corporate world behind and follow her passion, her creation of an e-book to help plan a Walt Disney World trip, and the in’s and out’s of managing a website.  Shannon is one of my heroes! 

The topic that she asked me to talk about on the podcast was some of our amazing and exciting adventures of being chosen or selected for various events while at Walt Disney World.  Seems Shannon’s family had set out to be selected for some magical experiences on a recent trip and had found The Williams Family Blog in their planning expedition.  So glad they did!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Do You Know What You See Or See What You Know?

Do you know what you see or see what you know?  An eternal question that, for us, keeps being answered with “see what you know.”   Roughly translated. . . Disney is EVERYWHERE!

Let’s take this lazy and cold Sunday morning as I write this post for example.  The husband and boy are both in their Mickey flannel pajamas.  Technically, they put them on last night, but today counts, too.  The boy is playing Disney Infinity which is filled with Disney characters.

Earlier this week, I attended two social functions.  At one, someone other than me, brought up Disney.  Everyone around the table had something to add, share, or say about Disney.  Some had trip memories to either Disneyland or Walt Disney World.  Others had trips planned.  This wouldn’t be the last time I would witness Disney bringing folks together.

At another social function being hosted for a local charity, I was asked if we had any Disney cruises planned from someone I had helped prior to their first Disney cruise.  Another volunteer at the event was a graduate of a Disney University program—which I was aware of as well.  Since both people were in the same vicinity, I introduced them and shared their “Disney” history.  Voila!  That was all I had to do; a bond was formed at that very moment.

Whether it is across the miles or across the room, Disney has a way of bringing people together.  Just another reason we are Disney fans!  Now, to get me some Mickey jammies. . .

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Disney Phone a Friend--Questions About Staying at the Hyatt Prior to Sailing

Retrieving luggage at baggage claim before checking in at the Hyatt

Saturday afternoon the phone rang.  A familiar voice was on the other end of the line; the husband of a former colleague and Disney fan.  Reason for the call?  Had a few questions about staying at the Hyatt at Orlando International Airport before sailing with Disney in February.  Fire away.

Do we pick up our luggage and take it to the hotel?  Yes.  Since they would be flying in the day prior to sailing, then yes, pick up luggage at baggage claim and take to the Hyatt—which is upstairs (or elevator or escalator if you prefer.)  This also means NOT tagging your luggage with the Disney Cruise Line luggage tags, at least not yet.  I also shared that baggage carts can only go as far as the lobby of the Hyatt and that Bell Services would take the bags from that point.

Where’s the entrance to the Hyatt?  The entrance is located between in the security gates on Level 3, or the main level of the airport.  The check-in desk for the Hyatt is actually one level higher and can be reached by escalator or elevator.  While I didn’t tell him this, as he will find out, the elevator will only access the public levels unless a room key is used upon entering the elevator.  This is a security measure for guests.

The blue tag was our admittance to the bus for port transfers and was stapled to our cruise documents.
So we just go downstairs the next morning and catch the bus?  Basically, yes.  I told him to be sure to tell the folks at the Hyatt upon check-in that they would be sailing with Disney the next day.  They would then be given a piece of paper to record number of pieces of luggage, room number, etc. that is then given to the Cast Members that check guests in for Port Transfers the next morning.  This way, they could tag their luggage with the DCL luggage tags and leave the bags in the room at the Hyatt as they would be retrieved and taken to the port.  (I must admit that this is one of the most convenient services I have found! )   Of course, they would have reserved the port transfers and paid for them along with their cruise reservations.  I have heard of guests showing up at the port transfer desk and paying for the transfers right at that moment or charging them to their ship board account.

Where is the check-in for the Port Transfers?  The check-in is right next to the check-in for Disney’s Magical Express Service, so lower level B side of the airport.

What time?  The first bus usually heads out to the port about 9:30 am.  I said we try to be there before 9:00 to check-in.  I also told him that the boarding group numbers are now assigned at the port.  Since they have sailed with Disney before, there was an understanding of boarding etc.

The call ended with me offering assistance with any other questions between now and their cruise and to have a great cruise.  I was thanked and we hung up; happy that I was able to help.

What was cool was that these folks were there to help us when we planned our first trip to Walt Disney World.  I remember peppering his wife with questions hoping to plan a great vacation for our family.  The boy has been the recipient of tokens and souvenirs from their previous trips, too.  We Disney fans stick together and know who to “go to” with questions.  Help is usually just a phone call away!

Friday, November 15, 2013

2015 Itineraries and New Policy for OnBoard Bookings--Lots of News for Disney Cruise Line

There was lots of news coming from Disney Cruise Line this week! 

First was the announcement of some of the 2015 itineraries, at least through April of 2015.  All four of the Disney ships will be sailing out of Florida, and the best news. . . ALL itineraries have a stop at Castaway Cay!  (I told the husband that DCL must have been listening to me!)

The Disney Fantasy will be at Port Canaveral featuring 7 night Eastern Caribbean sailings with varying itineraries featuring St. Maarten and St. Thomas.  Interestingly, sailings are Friday to Friday.  Let’s see how that impacts travelers.

The Disney Dream will also be sailing out of Port Canaveral alternating 3 and 4 night cruises to Nassau and, of course, Castaway Cay.  Sundays and Thursdays seem to be the prevailing sail days, making the Dream itineraries ideal for a land/sea combo vacation.

The Disney Magic will make Port Canaveral its home as well, offering 7 night Western Caribbean itineraries that vary between Key West and Jamaica.  Sailings are from Saturday to Saturday.

The Disney Wonder will be sailing from Miami and feature 4 and 5 night itineraries that include either Nassau or Grand Cayman or Cozumel.

So, what does all of this mean?  It means that prospective cruisers now have more sailings to choose from and Florida would definitely be the destination.  I would also venture a guess that the Fantasy is now more of a “draw” than the other ships and by making the itinerary a little harder to manage in a week’s vacation time with the Friday embarkation day, will cut down on the reservations and shift them to the other ships.  Hoping prospective guests may be thinking. . . Yes, I want to sail on the Fantasy with Disney, but oh, a Friday sail date won’t work for me, so let’s sail on the Magic or Wonder instead.  After all, it will still be a Disney Cruise and I do have my heart set on a Disney Cruise.  Time will tell if DCL’s predictions are accurate in terms of guest wants and needs.  And, what’s great is that if reservations don’t start filling up, DCL has the opportunity to change course, literally.  The only difficulty will be finding space in the Port Canaveral line-up to make adjustments. 

Another piece, is that DCL has a contract with Port Canaveral that includes a certain number of sailings from that port each year.  Stacking up that number early in 2015 with 3 ships at the port will give DCL more flexibility about ports later in the year. 

The other bit of news coming from Disney Cruise Line this week has to do with changes to on-board booking reservations.  A bit of background on this one. . . historically, DCL has offered discounts and on-board credits to guests rebooking their next cruise while on-board.  Personally, this is a perk we look forward to and have used multiple times.  One of the early selling feature the Future Cruise Sales staff has used is that you could book your cruise and then change it if the dates didn’t work out.  Well, that was all and good until about a year ago or so, when DCL changed the policy to you could move your booked cruise once and only once to still keep the perks of the on-board rebooking.  Well, now, with the recent changes, if you move the sail date further than 18 months of your reservation, you lose the perks.  This is crimping news to the folks who rely on the ability to push back their cruise dates.  A Williams Family Blog reader had already rebooked on-board and were hoping to use their reservation for a summer 2015 sailing.  “They” will be okay as for guests with existing reservations, they have an additional 6 month extension beyond the now enforced 18 month window for sailing again with the perks.

The revamped policy includes the following:
  • 10% off your future cruise based on prevailing rates (this was previously a perk)
  • Up to $200 onboard credit per stateroom (this benefit has changed over the course of time, as prior it was also based on your Castaway Club level—but those perks were flat lined a while ago.)
  • Reduced deposit (okay, this is where the info starts to splinter a bit—some sources say that the reduced deposit is for cruises of 7 nights or longer, other sources indicate that the reduced deposit is for all sailings.  Knowing that the reduced deposit of 10% rather than 20% has been a perk previously, I am leaning towards the side of cruises of any length.  If someone has first hand knowledge, please let me know.)
  • Guests must complete travel with 18 months in order to maintain these benefits. (I get this one, and at the same time, DCL needs to be able to provide itineraries 18 months ahead in order for me to take full advantage of this one.  If we had sailed in October, I would have only had through Dec. 2014 to select from in terms of sail dates and that would not have been 18 months ahead.  Ball is in your court DCL, to keep the itineraries released that far in advance.)
  • Guests who are unable to sail within this time period will have any current onboard booking benefits removed from their reservation.
  • Guests can modify their sailing dates within this 18-month timeframe as long as these modifications are done outside of any applicable cancellation period. (Okay, here is my loop-hole.  If we sail and itineraries are not yet released for 18 months prior, I can then make a “dummy” reservation and then push it back as long as it is still within 18 months of when I first made the reservation.  This, I can live with.)

Sounds like Disney Cruise Line still wants to offer perks to guests who re-book onboard; which is a good thing.  Also sounds like they want people to honor those reservations rather than continually move a reservation and still keep the benefits.  And, since DCL has the highest cruiser return rate of any cruise line, they can start to be a bit more stringent with the perks.  These policies will also help to have a more accurate inventory of available staterooms with less moving of existing reservations.

Will all of these changes keep us from rebooking onboard?  No way!  The deposit for our next cruise will be included in the budget.  I just need the rest of the itineraries for 2015 to be released!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Top 10 Reasons We Love Castaway Cay!

A Williams Family Blog reader is about to embark on a holiday cruise on the Disney Dream—how lucky are they!?!  Anyway, their questions about their upcoming adventure, got me thinking about Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line’s private island in The Bahamas. 

When I get whining about missing “my ship” and dreaming of sailing with Mickey, one of the things I am usually missing is the pit of paradise offered by Castaway Cay.  We have been to Castaway Cay—pronounced “key”—six times, which is more times than we have sailed thanks to a couple of “double dip” itineraries that had more than one stop at the island.

Here’s our top 10 list of why Castaway Cay is a favorite:

1.  The ship pulls right up to the dock or pier.  No tendering.  Grab your Key to the World Card and photo ID and walk right off.  Walk right back onto the ship anytime you like—well, before it sails anyway.

2.  Transportation throughout the island is free.  Hop a tram for a ride to the Family Beach, Pelican Point, or Serenity Bay.  Walking is also free.  Bike rental has a fee though.

3.  Dining on the island is like dining on the ship—it’s included!  Lunch is served at three locations on the island and has the best BBQ ribs we have ever tasted.  The ice cream machines and soda station are also available.  The boy loves getting an ice cream cone for each hand and testing all of the flavors.  I don’t worry about messes as he is in a swimsuit and can be hosed down.

4.  Pelican Plunge.  Take a swim out to the island for some water play and enjoy the water slides.  Pelican Plunge a bit too adventurous?  Then try Spring-A-Leak, a fresh water play area near the bike rental station.

5.  Pristine beaches—the smells, the sounds, the feel of the breeze.  This along with an abundance of lounge chairs, even some hammocks make Castaway Cay even more like paradise.

6.  Think you’ll be bored?  Think again!  There’s plenty to do. . . fishing, snorkeling, bike riding, kayaking, hiking, running, along with swimming and splashing.  We’ve parasailed and snorkeled with stingrays, too.

7.  Massages.  Yes, there are private massage cabanas available.  Just schedule on-line or on the ship. 

8.  Shopping.  Even this tiny island offers shopping experiences for guests.  There are gadgets and gizmos a plenty, even whoozits and whatzits galore in the various shops on the island.

9.  One of my personal favorites. . . photo ops.  It is almost as if Disney Cruise Line said, “Let’s design an island that is picture perfect” and that is exactly what they did.  Everywhere you look it is a feast for the eyes and the camera lens.

10.  And, it wouldn’t be a Disney island without a few of your favorite friends also enjoying paradise!

There you have it, our top 10 reasons why Castaway Cay is a family favorite.

When we sailed an itinerary that did not have a stop at the island, we felt as if our cruise was “missing something”  and that something was Castaway Cay.  We can’t wait to go back!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Helping First Timers

Had a conversation yesterday with a friend and potential first timer to Walt Disney World.  The questions and answers took nearly two hours.  The aha moments were frequent.

It is always interesting for me to hear first timer questions, as they give insight into the preconceived notions that folks have about the most magical place on earth and how, typically, they have never had an experience that rivals what they are about to experience with a trip to Walt Disney World.

Often overlooked or misunderstood is the enormity of the land that is Walt Disney World.  It is not just Magic Kingdom.  47 square miles, the size of San Francisco or double the size of Manhattan that includes 22 resort hotels, 4 theme parks, 2 miniature golf courses, 2 water parks, PGA grade golf courses, and a dining and shopping center.   The place is HUGE!

When I shared that there were going to be multiple buildings at the resort, she was blown away.  Yeah, this isn’t like Howard Johnson’s and there isn’t an IHOP across the street.  Then I explained that the resort had more than one swimming pool.  Huh?  Yep, many resorts on the Walt Disney property have a themed pool and then quiet pools spread throughout.  Again, her mind was blown.

I also explained that it would take about 2 hours to get to the resort from Orlando International Airport.  What?  Yes, Walt Disney World is NOT right next to the airport, but several miles away.  Orlando International Airport is big and it takes a while to traverse from the terminal gate to Disney’s Magical Express check-in location.  Then there can be a wait for a bus, then a wait to get started, then the bus ride, then potentially multiple resort drop-offs, then check-in, and then finding your resort room.  Two hours from plane to resort room is a good approximation.

Disney’s Magical Express was another mystery to be explained---luggage tags, airport check-in, bus ride, etc. 

Then there is packing for flights—TSA regulations, what to put in a carry-on bags, etc.

Disney pins for trading?  Sure.  Autograph books?  Definitely.  

Our conversation ended with two things:  Her realizing that there is no way to do it “all” during a 5-6 day vacation.  Yep.  Totally agree.  And, one of the many reasons we keep going back.   The other was an invitation for me to visit their “dance moms” group and explain all of this to them.  Agreed.  When I told the husband, he said I should charge.  I am willing to do it for the adventure and a soda.  Helping people plan magical Disney vacations brings me joy.  Gotta love first timers!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What Disney Has Taught Me About Budgeting

We have flown in and out of Orlando International Airport over two dozen times and have flow from various airports. . . going where the price and times of flights were the best.  Our upcoming trip is no exception and it was without hesitation that we purchased our airline tickets over 10 months ahead of time.  And, now the price for those same flights has increased $189 per person.  Wow!  Paying that price would have taken a much bigger bite out of our vacation budget.

Budgeting is on my mind for a variety of reasons. . . one being that we currently have a vacation budget being built and adjusted, another is that I responded to a post on a message board about budgeting for the holidays, and I am getting ready to make a short presentation this week about budgeting for the holidays and spending less.

Let’s face it, unless we are trust fund folks or live off investments, we are all living on a “fixed income”—no matter the source of that income.  My pay is the same each month, no matter the hours I work and if I want more income, well then I work another job or find other ways to increase the amount of money coming in.  The majority of people operate similarly.

So the ideas that will be presented this week for budgeting for the holidays and spending less are based on the same ideas of planning and budgeting for a Disney vacation or any vacation.  Here they are:
  • Set and know your budget.  Don’t let emotions of the holiday or event override the budget.  Yes, we would all like to splurge, but the momentary exhilaration is not worth the long term grief or worry of going over the budget.
  • Get organized.  Buying something at a great price ahead of time is wonderful, but then you have to know where you put it/hid it for the upcoming holiday or vacation.  I had a friend who kept buying the same color of shoes over and over because she couldn’t find hers.  Organization can save you money!
  • Plan ahead.  Yes, I know that means making decisions ahead of time rather than going with the flow of the vacation or holiday gift buying.  I would rather spend a little bit of time making decisions at my leisure than use time during the holidays or during a vacation to make decisions that are pressing.  Planning ahead lets me enjoy the wonders of the holidays and my vacation time.  Consider planning ahead for grocery purchases as well as gift purchases. 
  • Prioritize—stuff vs. experiences.  What is important to you and your family?  For us, we made experiences a priority over stuff.  So when the holidays role around, we go to festivals, shows, and concerts—many of which are free or their admission goes towards a charity.  This is same for our Disney vacations—souvenirs are much lower on the priority list than say a meal at a unique location, or another experience. 
  • Look forward to the next one. . . whether this be the next vacation or the next holiday.  As soon as one is over, the planning begins for the next!  Spreading and spending time, energy, and resources throughout the year rather than feeling exhausted during the moments that we want to savor. 

Am I glad we purchased our airline tickets so far in advance?  Definitely!  Part of shopping for anything—airline tickets, the holiday turkey, or the latest electronic gadget, is knowing a good price when you meet it and making the leap.  Speaking of which, I’m off to the grocery store to snag a free turkey.  That price is definitely in the budget!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Agent P's World Showcase Adventure At EPCOT

A “new-to-us” experience while at the Walt Disney World Resort in July 2013 was Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure at EPCOT.

This is something the boy had been wanted to do for some time so on one of our days at EPCOT, we decided to give it a try.

The kiosks to sign up for an adventure are located either on the Odyssey Bridge between Future World and World Showcase, Norway Pavilion, Italy Pavilion, or near the International Gateway. 

The boy received his F.O.N.E. and his mission at the Norway Pavilion.  We had actually checked the kiosk n the Odyssey Bridge, but Agent P’s World Showcase Adventures go live at 11:00 am.

Since we were leaving Norway and heading to China, the boy chose his adventure to be in the China Pavilion.

The following Pavilions are options for the Agent P’s Adventure:
  • Mexico
  • Norway
  • China
  • Germany
  • Japan
  • France
  • United Kingdom

Each secret mission is to find clues and defeat Dr. Doofenshmirtz.

The missions last 30-45 minutes and at the end, secret agents are given the option to continue with another mission in another pavilion—typically the one nearby.

The F.O.N.E.’s can be returned at any kiosk and have a secret location to return in each of the pavilions containing adventures just in case you want to return the device but are far away from one of the distribution kiosks.

What was neat about the adventure is that the boy had to listen, read, and pay attention to the clues coming from the F.O.N.E.  We also got to explore the China Pavilion, which is something we hadn’t done even after numerous visits to EPCOT. 

Is it a bit gimmicky?  Definitely.  There are also bits of story in between the clues that make the adventure last longer.  Personally, I would have liked to have had just the clues and get on with it.  But again, that is just my opinion.

Will we do it again?  Probably.  This is definitely something the whole family can do together.  And, again, gives you a great opportunity to explore World Showcase pavilions in more detail than you might normally.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Resort Airline Check-in, Just Another Magical Disney Service

Don’t want to schlep your luggage to the airport after a magical Walt Disney World vacation?  Want to have that same magical handling of your luggage at the end of your trip as you do at the beginning?  Well, Disney can make that happen with Resort Airline Check-in.

It took us several trips before stumbling upon Resort Airline Check-in.  I think it was more about the timing of our return flights—very early morning—rather than not knowing about the service.  But when we did experience it for the first time, we have used it ever since.

Resort Airline Check-in allows guests leaving the Walt Disney World Resort the opportunity to check in for the flights and check in any luggage right at the resort.  Resort Airline Check-in is handled in various locations in different resort.  For example, at Port Orleans French Quarter, there is a space in the lobby that includes the kiosks for airline check-in and scales to weight checked bags, etc.  But at Coronado Springs, Resort Airline is handled near luggage services.  So, check with your resort for the actual location.

On our return day, we make arrangements for Bell Services to pick us up at our room, along with our bags.  The service is free, but do expect to tip.  We know Disney’s Magical Express return times are 3 hours prior to flight departure, so we plan accordingly considering time to check our bags for our flight, eat breakfast, etc.

At the Resort Airline Check-in counter, be prepared to show identification, just as you would at the airport.  You will be checked in for your flights, be able to check in any luggage and pay luggage fees if applicable (sometimes those fees are a few dollars less than you would pay at the airport), get boarding passes printed and off you go.  No taking luggage with you to the airport, other than personal items and carry-on bags.  The next time you see your luggage will be at your final destination.  Cool, huh?

Know that there are certain airlines that are able to utilize Resort Airline Check-in, so be sure to check if your airline qualifies for this service.

Before making flight reservations for our next trip, I called the resort and asked about the times for Resort Airline Check-in.  I was told that it started at 5:00 am.  Knowing Disney’s Magical Express 3 hour pick-up window meant that flights departing prior to 8:00 am would not allow for the use of Resort Airline Check-in.  Since our flight is scheduled to depart after 11:00 am, I know that we can still use Resort Airline Check-in prior to our flight even with an 8:00 am Magical Express pick-up.

I overheard a first time visitor back from their trip telling someone how Disney magically handles luggage both on the way to the Walt Disney World Resort and the return trip. . . all for free!  It is services like this that keep us going back.