Welcome to the Williams Family Blog!

Now that you have found us, we invite you to return often for more adventures!

Backs of Shirts Just as Important as Fronts!

Backs of Shirts Just as Important as Fronts!

Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Thursday, May 29, 2014

More Milestones Reached For Summer Vacation!

Many more milestones reached in the planning and preparation for our upcoming summer vacation!  One milestone was checking in on-line at our Disney Resort.  Easy!  When it came to room amenity requests—such as location—I had to stop and think.  I ended up leaving that section blank, as all rooms at Port Orleans French Quarter are near transportation, etc.  A “corner room” isn’t necessary, though we have had them before.  So, we will take our chances.  My greatest hope is that the room is ready upon our arrival as we disembark the ship.

Another milestone, and one you may be more interested in, is our FastPass + selection process.  The “window” in which to begin selection opened and I stayed up late to get on-line at midnight Eastern Time.  I had read reviews that the process could take up to two hours.  It took me 20 minutes and we had all of our selections nailed down.  I already had the “which park on which day” decisions made which also sped up the process.  Hints/Tips:  When the screen asks for you to prioritize your top three choices—take a moment and do that, as it will save you time adjusting later.  And, if you are trying to select a time and it looks like no times that you want are available—say an early in the day time—for a specific attraction, double check the times for your other selections as the system will not overlap times and will instead not make them available.  For example, we wanted an early time for Soarin’ but it looked like the times weren’t available.  The reason—the system had assigned an early time for Nemo.  I had to change the time for Nemo and then early times opened up for Soarin’—hence the recommendation to set the priorities during that screen.

Also, we left plenty of room to make more FastPass+ selections for later in the day, especially at Magic Kingdom, now that the system allows users to select additional FastPass+’s after the three selections have been used or return times have passed.  Of course, the addition selections can only be made one at a time and only at a kiosk in the park or at another park if guests take advantage of Park Hopper. 

Highlights of our FastPass+ selection include an early morning meet and greet with Anna and Elsa!  Also, we plan to spend an evening at Magic Kingdom, after enjoying Typhoon Lagoon, so we selected FastPass+’s for Wishes and the Main Street Electrical Parade.  Oh, so appreciate the lazy person’s way to enjoy the nighttime spectaculars at Walt Disney World—reserved viewing for Wishes, Fantasmic Dining Package with Reserved Seating, and dining at Rose & Crown during Illuminations!

Packing was another milestone!  Took advantage of the long, holiday week-end and dedicated time towards packing.  I’m trying a new packing plan for this trip instead of our usual one checked bag per person with all of their belongings, I am using the same amount of luggage, but dividing up needed items based on parts of our trip.  All of our clothing for Walt Disney World is in one bag, while another holds our daytime cruise wear, and the third is for evening attire and needed items before we get to the ship.  This way, we can stash the Walt Disney World bag while on the ship and only deal with two suitcases.

The system, so far, is working well.  I laid out our matching shirt sets, coordinated bottoms, and designated them to either ship or resort.  Then it was easy to pack one suitcase at a time, rather than divide clothing items into three separate bags.

A fun milestone of making stateroom door decorations was also reached.  While enjoyable, it took me a while to figure out how to do it again.  Once every year and a half isn’t often enough for me to remember how to make all of the pieces go together.

And, a portion of our Universal tickets has been purchased.  Due to us designating just one day for Universal, we had decided that Express Pass was essential to get the most out of our day.  Express Pass grants guests access to the Express queues and is an additional fee.  Universal limits that number of Express Passes on any given day and when I peeked at the website, it looked like there were not any Express Passes available for the day we wanted.  This seemingly limited supply got me worried.  Originally the plan was to purchase Universal park tickets with Express Pass one at a time, sprinkling the hefty price tag out over time so as not to disrupt the household budget.  But after the “scare” of non availability of the Express Pass, I purchased three of the Express Passes for our designated day.  (The Universal web-site allows for that and I can purchase the park-to-park tickets when I like, including from a discount retailer.)  The Express Passes were available for “print at home” which was the option we selected.  I’m breathing a sigh of relief as there is no longer a concern about the availability of Express Pass.  And, with the announcement of the opening of Diagon Alley it makes our Universal visit even more exciting!

I might also add that the pet sitter has also been secured.  Small detail yet one to cross off the list!

Still counting down!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Compliment From The Boy!

“There’s a genius right here who can fix things.”  Those words came out of the boy’s mouth last night, were directed at me, and were meant as a compliment (as he indicated with his next sentence.)

Let me begin with compliments from one’s children do not come all that often, so this one went straight to the heart.  Not to say that the boy isn’t caring or loving, he definitely is.  It is just that children do not typically think to compliment their parents.

Now, the context of his statement.  We were in Central Park awaiting the enjoyment of watching Disney/Pixar’s Planes.  As the movie began, the video was visible on the large screen, but at first there was no sound.  Then, the sound was fixed, but the volume wasn’t loud enough for the park.  Then, once the volume was fixed, we were only getting half of the audio—getting music and sound affects, and some dialogue.  Other dialogue was being missed. 

All of this was happening as darkness fell and the lights had been turned off in the park.  I knew the husband had a flashlight in his pocket so we offered it to one of the “volunteers” who might be able to help with the situation.  My thoughts were did they have the input/output cords plugged into the speakers correctly—you know, right/left.  The volume issue was initially solved when “they” discovered that there were volume buttons on the speakers that could be turned up. . . a discovery that was helped along with the supplying of our flashlight.

It was during this time that boy announced to everyone around him that his mom was a genius and could fix things.  And, while my heart softened at the statement, the mantra “I am not in charge” was being uttered from my lips.  Even others around me, beyond my own family, directed their frustrations towards me.  I listened and kept the mantra going. . . “I am not in charge.”

Why the mantra?  Well, I am a take charge person.  True confession.  Even before the movie started the boy was asking me, “When is the movie going to start?”  My reply was something along the lines of “I don’t know.  I am not in charge.”  You see, the boy is used to me being in charge or at least “in the know” so that I can answer his questions.

About 40 minutes into the movie, the problem was solved and we could then hear all of the dialogue.  We were some of the few in the park that stuck it out and we were glad we did, as I hadn’t seen the movie yet.  And, with the release of the new Planes movie coming this summer (that’s code for when we are on the Disney Fantasy), I wanted to have seen the first movie.

In the meantime, the boy’s words are still ringing in my ears and warming my heart!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Quest For The Gold!

The truth came out. . . what the husband is most looking forward to during our upcoming summer vacation is receiving his Gold Castaway Club Lanyard when we check in for our Disney cruise at Port Canaveral.  Well, I’m sure there are other things he is looking forward to, but this one trumps all others. . . times 10!

Seems his quest to wear and show his cruising status will be fulfilled with the receiving of the gold lanyard, representing Disney Cruise Line’s Castaway Club level.

All guests sailing with Disney automatically become part of the Castaway Club upon completing their first cruise and are considered Silver Level members.  The tiered system is based on the number of Disney cruise sailings.

Here are the perks for each level:

We appreciate the perks of the Castaway Club, though they are becoming fewer and fewer.  In the spring of 2012, Disney Cruise Line “flatlined” the on board credits for rebooking on board that were also included in the tiered system.  If you were a Gold Member and rebooked your next cruise, your on board credit from Disney was more than a Silver Castaway Club member rebooking their cruise.  Then, earlier this year, Disney Cruise Line “adjusted” the rebooking benefits and added “blackout” dates in which discounts did not apply and extended on board credits to cruises of certain lengths, etc. 

We know they are a business and businesses have to make financial decisions.  Though, Disney Cruise Line also has the most repeat cruiser business in the industry.  With the changes in rebooking policies, that may no longer be the case.

Meanwhile, we are counting down the days until our next Disney cruise and when the husband will receive his coveted symbol—the gold lanyard.  For me, the MagicBand will do the trick, and it will arrive BEFORE our trip!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Universal's Express Pass

Princess Fiona and Donkey from our 2008 visit to Universal Studios
As a part of our Summer 2014 vacation, we are returning to Universal Orlando, which features two theme parks—Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, and a shopping and dining district—CityWalk.  Our last visit was in 2008 and consisted of visiting over multiple days.  This year, we’ve go one day.

Due to our condensed schedule, we are planning to take advantage of Universal’s Express Pass.  Express Pass gives guests access to a different line, the Express Pass line.  While free to on-site guests (and the ability to use it on the same attraction more than once), off site guests can pay for this privilege. 

Express Pass can be added to park tickets for an additional fee per day, varying based on whether the ticket is for a child or adult, one park or two parks, and time of year visiting.  The starting point is $30 (rounding up from $29.99).

For example, we are purchasing 3 adult (children 10 and up are considered adult, just like at Disney) multi-park, 1-day tickets during peak travel time.  The addition cost for Express Pass is $90 per ticket—making the final price for our tickets $230 per person.

Is it worth it?  In our case, yes!  Only having one day, essentially 13 hours, to get the most out of both parks, Express Pass will cut our wait times significantly allowing us to do more.  Actually, if Express Pass was not available, we would change our plans and only visit one park.

Express Pass is limited to certain attractions and can only be used once for each attraction per ticket.  We are good with these restrictions.  One attraction not yet on the list is Diagon Alley and the Hogwart’s Express which will transport guests between the parks.  Guests wishing to take the Hogwart’s Express will need park-to-park tickets—which we will have!

The boy and the husband are looking forward to the many rides and attractions.  And, while we will all enjoy them, I am looking forward to the experience—the details, the “how to”.  And, yes, will keep you posted!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

While You Wait. . .

With peak travel season to the most magical place on earth swinging into high gear, there’s lots of information out on the web to help prospective visitors.  The husband was under the impression that much of the information was being published by Disney, and much of it is, but also, there are many folks, just like me, offering suggestions on how to manage and navigate a location that draws nearly 32 million people annually. 

On Mouseplanet.com, the Parenting Panel gave varying perspectives on how to handle waiting in line which is almost inevitable while on a Disney vacation.  After encountering lines at the airport to board your plane, the next lines would be for Disney’s Magical Express or at your rental car counter.

There are various ways we have learned to combat waiting while at Walt Disney World.  Here they are:
  • Waiting for Disney’s Magical Express while at Orlando International Airport.  While, the wait typically isn’t very long, it can feel like forever as this is the last part of your journey to get you to your Disney Resort and into the Disney bubble.  We manage this wait with food.  Yep, grabbing a bite to eat on the way or pulling out snacks from our own stash seems to help this wait go faster.  The boy has been known to sit on the floor in the line, enjoy his snack, and watch the video monitors installed just for this purpose.  The husband and I try to guess which lines and buses will try to move next and of course, the people watching is great!
  • Waiting for a Disney bus, or any transportation, from your resort to your destination.  This wait is usually in the morning and we master this wait by talking to other Disney guests.  That, and food.  I’m usually grabbing my breakfast as we head out the door of our resort, so I finish it while waiting for the Disney bus.  The husband has his Mountain Dew bottle in hand which often stirs a conversation.  And, the boy, will talk to almost anyone waiting for a bus, but is drawn to other families.  He asks them where they are going and what they have planned for the day.  Yes, I know where he gets that!  Of course, our ears are alert for the familiar sound of the Disney bus and our eyes strain to read the destination in anticipation that it is “our” bus.  Again, this wait typically isn’t more than 20 minutes and rarely that long.
  • Waiting to get into a park at rope drop.  Yep, that’s us, waiting near the turn styles for the park to open.  We manage this wait by talking to other guests and Cast Members, taking pictures, electronic games, and sometimes food.  The boy is usually ready for another bit of sustenance by this time, so snacks are good.  And, we are known to put his hand-held electronic game in a bag and this is a great time for it to be used.   Often, the game draws a small crowd of other waiting kids, and parents who are grateful for the distraction.
  • The most often addressed wait at Walt Disney World is in line for rides and attractions.  The best strategy is to avoid these waits and use FastPass +, but there are some cases when that is not possible, so ways to make the time pass faster include enjoying any interactive queues that are available, talk to other guests, enjoy a snack, take pictures, and my personal favorite—plan what you are going to do next!  This will eliminate the need for stopping at the exit of the ride or attraction to plan and therefore blocking other guests.  Okay, this is a park peeve of mine, so again, use that time waiting in line to pull out that trusty park map or electronic device and figure our your next move. 
  • Waiting for parades and fireworks.  This are my least favorite things to wait for, so my recommendation is don’t.  With reserved seating and/ or space available for every parade and nighttime spectacular at Walt Disney World, take advantage of these opportunities.  Otherwise, have someone from your traveling party stake a claim 2 hours prior while the rest of the group enjoys more rides and attractions.
  • Waiting in restaurants, either to be seated or for food.  With Advanced Dining Reservations, most guests experience little to no waits for tables at dining locations.  And, the restaurants that do often have waits, even with ADR’s, offer guests portable pagers that have a significant range for the signal—for example, Rose & Crown’s portable pagers are good throughout the United Kingdom Pavilion.  So, grab the pager and go explore.  Otherwise, whip out the electronic game, grab the crayons and draw on the menu, take photos, or visit with other guests.  I’ve also been known to ask for a menu so that we can decide about our selections prior to seating—gotta love multitasking! 
  • Waiting at the airport for your return flight back home.  This is one wait that we both dread and enjoy.  Yes, it feels good to be going home and yet, we are leaving Disney.  The boy has this wait down pat.  He opens his backpack on the floor and plays with his toys while other kids come and join him.  Seems that our “on the go” vacation didn’t give him much “down” time to play, so he enjoys this wait very much.  The husband and I slowly transition into the real world, by listening to the news on the overhead monitors, getting glimpses of newspaper headlines, and possibly checking emails.  Of course, snacks and/or food, are typically part of this wait as well, depending on the time of day.  And, people watching at the airport is always a great way to pass the time waiting for your flight.

There you have it. . . how the Williams family handles various waits while on a Disney vacation.  The only wait we don’t have any advice for is waiting for the day of your trip to arrive!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Two Months "To Do" List

Two months from today we will embark on our next, magical, summer vacation.  And while many of the details have been taken care of, there’s still much to do. . .

  • Purchase Universal Tickets—this is going to be a chunk of change so I am pacing myself.
  • Order a tuxedo for the boy for formal night on the ship.  This is done on-line and the tuxedo is delivered to our stateroom.  Already ordered the husband’s!
  • Secure waterproof watches.  These are already in my Amazon cart.
  • Finalize Garden Grocer order.  Again, convenience reigns supreme with this grocery delivery service.  Our “shopping cart” is ready.
  • Select FastPass +’s.  Just learned that FastPass +’s come live at midnight Eastern Time at the 60 day mark.  Planning to stay up late that day!
  • Pack.  Funny story. . . the boy just returned from a 2-day overnight science camp and he was chomping at the bit for days prior about packing.  Yes, I know where he gets that need to prepare in advance.
  • Service car—oil change, etc.
  • Reserve pet sitter/house watcher.
  • Arrange for lawn service.

That’s all on my “to do” list as of right now.  I am sure it will grow the closer we get to our vacation!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day Reflections

 Being a forty-eight year old mom of an eleven year old boy, makes for some interesting moments.  You can do the math and figure out how old I was when the boy was an infant and the same math will also tell you that retirement for me and college for him will hit at the same time--a little joke life is looking forward to playing on us both.

When people hear my age at work, they are usually surprised.  This is either a giant compliment to my genes and skin care routine or confusion about how could I be that old and have an eleven year old son.  I work with someone who is older than I am and has a child the same age as mine and another child two years younger, so it isn't unusual to be an older mother.  I also work with someone two years older than I am who just became a grandmother.  It makes me think about my mom at my age--she would have had two kids--26 and 23 years old, but no grandchildren.  Yet, my husband's mom was 40 when she had him, so when she was my age she would have had an eight year old!

It's funny to consider all of it. . . the ages and life stages of family, friends, and co-workers.  In the meantime, I'm happy to be a mom of such a great boy and appreciate the teamwork the husband provides in raising our son and taking care of our home.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Land or Sea First? Definitely Sea!

Disney Cruise Line posted a question on their Facebook page the other day about when you combine a trip to Walt Disney World with a Disney Cruise, which do you do first?  The land or the sea?  I thought I had written about this on the Williams Family Blog previously, but could not find the post.  I know I have written about it on message boards, as it is a question people ask quite frequently.

Having sailed five times with Disney and our sixth cruise nearly two months away, we have combined or will have combined three out of six cruises with a visit to Walt Disney World.  Each time, the sea portion has been first followed by the land.  Here’s why:

·         Time.  Getting to and on the ship can take a large portion of the day.  Getting off the ship and to a Disney Resort is quick and we have been off the ship and to a theme park by 10:00 am.  Therefore, we get most out of our time by having the land portion come after the sea.

·         Money.  The sea portion of a land/sea vacation is typically more expensive—think out of pocket expenses for photos, excursions, drinks, shopping, etc.  Our preference is to have the more expensive portion of our vacation take place first, so we aren’t worried about money while at Walt Disney World.

·         Energy.  I am translating this category into sore feet.  It takes a lot of energy to traverse theme parks and water parks.  Often, my “dogs” are barking at the end of our vacation.  I would much rather have sore feet at home than on a Disney Cruise.

·         Disappointment.  It is hard to leave that ship!  Knowing that we are on our way to Walt Disney World when we disembark helps to curb disappointment.

·         Flexibility.  Cruises have distinct travel dates, but when you combine a cruise with a Walt Disney World stay, you gain flexibility in terms of return travel home.  Often, we have adjusted our stay at Walt Disney World based on when we could get the best price on return flights.  This flexibility can save time and money!

There you have it--our reasons for preferring to sail with Disney prior to visiting Walt Disney World.  Opinions definitely vary on this topic.

What do you prefer?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

We Will NOT Be Using FastPass+ For Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Coaster

 It's official!  Walt Disney World announced that the newest jewel in the Fantasyland Expansion--the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Coaster will be opening on May 28.  Guests traveling during that time period already have access to reserve FastPass+ for the experience although rumors indicate that all FastPass+ selections are gone for the first month after opening. 

After learning more about the three-part interactive queue, two of which guests with FastPass bypass, we have decided to take our chances and experience the new ride without FastPass+.  The plan is to head there immediately after rope drop on an extra magic hours morning.  It may be us and hundreds of other guests, but it is also okay that they get a little bit ahead of us.  Why?  Because if other guests get in front of us and fill up the queue, we get to have some time with the interactive portions of the queue.

We want to experience the new interactive queue and it can be both frustrating and exhilarating to have to walk right past all of those elements because you are some of the first in the line.  It's like having to quickly walk past Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story Midway Mania queue because you are some of the first on the ride.  If you take a little bit of time and let others in front of you, you can find the just right spot in the queue to experience all of the elements, but not rush, and still ride the ride in a timely manner with minimal wait.  Part art, part science, all timing. . . Disney timing!

Monday, May 5, 2014

FREE Rash Guards For The Husband Using Swagbucks

As the planning continues for our summer 2014 vacation which includes a Disney Cruise and a trip to Walt Disney World, the need for various items arises.  The latest need and/or request from the husband were rash guards that he could wear while on the ship and at the water parks.  I checked various stores to no avail, but found a great supply--lots of color choices and the size he needed--on Amazon.  Better yet, due to my ability to earn Amazon gift cards through Swagbucks, his rash guards have arrived and were FREE!

He got four of them ranging in price from $16 to $19 with the dark colors being less expensive than lighter shades.  The rash guards can be machine washed and tumbled dry, another convenience.

The next items in our Amazon cart are waterproof watches and already I've earned $10 worth of gift cards to go towards their purchase using Swagbucks.

Earning is easy with Swagbucks--just click here to get started.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Just Meet Me At EPCOT

A mom at soccer yesterday debating about letting her young daughter play on the playground nearby without her directly supervising reminded me of a recent conversation, dare I say request that the boy made regarding our upcoming Walt Disney World trip.  His request—to “meet him” somewhere at EPCOT.  He wants to be able to go off by himself for a while and designate a meeting spot and time. 

When I shared this with the mom at soccer, she laughed and said, “Well, he knows it by heart and the Cast Members call him by name.”  I laughed in response as it is partly true.

But it will have been a year. . . a whole year, since we were last there.  Yes, it will be his twelfth trip to Walt Disney World and who knows how many visits to EPCOT.  We have said before at some point in various trips for him to “go ahead and go to Germany and the train garden” when we were behind him one or two World Showcase Pavilions and met up with him after a leisurely stroll.  So, his request is not out of the ordinary. He has definitely grown up with Disney.

It also made me remember that due to his age, Disney Cruise Line has already afforded him the privilege of checking himself in and out of the kids clubs on board.  Up to age 10, we had a choice as to whether or not to give him that privilege, but at age 11, he is automatically given that option. 

Oh, the parenting dilemmas of how much freedom and independence to allow your kids whether it is at the nearby playground, on a cruise ship, or at a theme park!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What Will Be Our NEXT Disney Cruise?

Yesterday I wrote about our plans to spend our on board credit during our 7 night sailing on the Disney Fantasy this summer and other budget considerations, such as budgeting for the deposit for our next cruise.  A Williams Family Blog reader then commented with a question about what we were thinking for our NEXT cruise, which was an excellent question.

So the photo photo above is where we are right now in the decision making process.  The matrix will help us decide what itinerary we will book next--while we are sailing.  The only unknown or yet unannounced itinerary is for the holidays 2015 and there is no word yet on when Disney Cruise Line will release that information.  The good news is that the farther out the itinerary the less expensive the cruise will be at the time of booking, even if there is no rebooking discount, which is typically 10%.

Let's review each of our options:
  • 5 nights on the Wonder out of Miami in March--Our Spring Break is early in March which means the prices for the cruise are not peak prices and the "black out" dates for rebooking discounts may not apply.  Due to the boy being 12 at the time of sailing, we are aware of the less than stellar tween club on the Wonder.  The only port in this itinerary that we would take advantage of is Castaway Cay.  This cruise would be for pure relaxation. . . and to add another sailing to our list and help move up our Castaway Club status.
  • 5 nights on the Dream in July 2015--This is a been there, done that cruise for us, but still fun none the less.  More expensive than the 5 night on the Wonder, but more flexibility in terms of flights and travel dates.  The double dip means two stops at Castaway Cay!  
  • 7 nights on the Fantasy during the holidays in 2015--right now this cruise is in the lead, even without the rebooking discount.  I think all of us would love to sail again either over Christmas or New Year's.
  • 7 nights on the Fantasy summer of 2015--we could select the Eastern Caribbean itinerary, which we have yet to experience.  This would be a tight fit for our budget.
There you have it. . . our thinking at this point.  I can say though, that is almost a certainty that we will rebook on board.  A benefit that is no longer available when rebooking a Disney Cruise while on board is getting the extra perks from your travel agent.  Disney Cruise Line is no longer in partnership with AAA and our upcoming sailing will be the last cruise that we walk on board with both DCL's on board credit and perk from our travel agency.  We can still book cruises through our travel agent and our travel agent can still handle the details of our Disney Cruise if we rebook on board, but the perks are gone.  Glad we were able to take advantage of them when we did!