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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Down To The Last 24 Hours!

We are down to the last 24 hours before departing on our family vacation.  It is interesting to notice how each one of us handles the last part of waiting prior to our trip.

The boy is beyond excited; even more excited than he has been on previous trips.  While running errands yesterday, he noticed a former teacher walking her dog and told his dad to stop the car.  He then opened the door and began to tell her the countdown of our trip.  He is watching YouTube videos featuring character meet and greets and attractions.  Anticipation is a pleasurable feeling and I am glad he is able to enjoy while waiting for our vacation.

The husband created a list of things to do before we leave.  Okay, I helped him with the list and he has three days to accomplish what is on the list and in any order.  He is famous for waiting until the last minute and adding things to the list that could have been taken care of at any other time and/or are not necessary during trip preparation.  It reminds me of a time when a friend was preparing for a party at her home and on the afternoon of the party she wanted to stain her coffee table.  No time for that as there are other things to get done that are more pressing.  Anyway, his crunch for time and additional pressing items he added to the list caused temporary grumpiness which has passed.  Whew!  I reframed with “I am grateful that you took care of those things” stance.  I am however, waiting for the “did you bring/pack the. . .” questions to start upon exiting the driveway, even after going over the list with him a couple of days ago.

I know he is starting to envision the vacation, though, as he informed me of our predictable procedures while at the airport.  Yes, we fly or have flown that much to have established procedures and routines for airports. (This will be something like our 30th time at Orlando International Airport.)  I think these routines help as there is no guessing as to what needs to be done and who is going to do it.  That unpredictable problem solving is when conflicts can occur.

As for me, well, I’m already in relaxation mode.  The Netflix movies keep arriving, get watched, and mailed back.  I’ve watched more movies and read more in the last few days than I have in the last few months.  There’s no last minute rushing; just a few more tasks that need accomplished—like packing vitamins and medicines—that have to wait until the last moments.  I do have a short list that includes packing a hairbrush.  Somehow, a hairbrush hasn’t made it into the suitcase yet.

I bet a whole book or at least a psychology paper of some sort could be written about how different people handle upcoming events that take them away from their home, even when it is something pleasurable and exciting. 

This will be my last post until we return.  You are welcome to follow along with us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WilliamsFamilyBlog.  Bon Voyage! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tried and True Favorites For Our Upcoming Trip

Old favorites?  No.  Let’s call them tried and true favorites; experiences that have become like traditions when our family travels with Disney.

Here’s our list of tried and true favorites that are on our “agenda” for our upcoming summer vacation that includes a Disney cruise and a visit to Walt Disney World:

  • Toy Story Midway Mania.  Hands down, this is our family’s favorite attraction.  Located at Disney’s Hollywood Studios this 4D interactive (dare I say competitive) ride is a “must do.”  We plan to ride twice.  Once by going through the stand-by queue right after rope drop—which is the only way to see the talking Mr. Potato Head—and again, right after, with FastPass+.
  • Goin’ down Splash Mountain.  Again, a family favorite at the Magic Kingdom.  One of the longest rides in all of Walt Disney World—Kilimanjaro Safari is almost double the length—with the great drop.  First time riders just have to guess when the big one is coming!  We have a FastPass+ scheduled for this attraction.
  • Downtown Disney.  Even though it is under construction, our family enjoys the slower paced ambiance that does not require a park ticket.  Shopping and dining are tops on our list here.
  • Dining at Rose & Crown in the United Kingdom Pavilion at EPCOT.  I must admit that dining here is a part of a lazy strategy to eat and watch Illuminations while sitting down.
  • Dining at Ohana’s.  Endless, giant skewers of grilled steak and shrimp delivered right to your plate.  Why not?  For me, it’s the salad and the dumplings.
  • Test Track and Soarin’ attractions at EPCOT are also on our “must do” list.  The plan is to ride Test Track after rope drop and we have a FastPass+ for Soarin’.

There you have it.  Our list of tried and true favorites.  It is hard to cap the list as there are many other dining locations that are favorites and we aren’t getting to this trip, like Teppan Edo, Chef Mickey’s, or Crystal Palace.  Guess that’s a reason to plan another trip!

Monday, July 14, 2014

New Experiences Planned for Our Upcoming Trip

“Haven’t you done everything yet?” people ask when they learn we are returning to Walt Disney World for the 12th time as a family and embarking on our 6th Disney Cruise.  Our answer, NO!  We haven’t done everything yet.  And, part of planning a trip—the fun as well as challenging—is balancing the favorite and familiar with new experiences.  It is this balance that makes returning even more exciting.

So, with that, I’ll share the new experiences we have planned for our upcoming vacation:
  • Dining at Via Napoli in the Italy Pavilion at EPCOT.  We continue on our quest to “eat around the World”—World Showcase that is and this will be our first time dining in Italy.  Only Mexico is left!
  • FastPass+.  This will be our first time using and navigating FastPass+.  Just when we thought we had FastPass figured out, even with the enforcement of return times, Disney goes and changes the system.  I am excited to give it a try.
  • MagicBands.  Ours are packed and ready (we won’t need them until we get off the ship).  I already know that I will have a hard time taking it off when we get home.  Do I have to?
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Coaster.  Enough said!
  • All the FROZEN inspired opportunities.  While we don’t have these specifically put into our plan, I have a feeling we will at least see the fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. 
  • Experiencing the champagne brunch at Remy on the Disney Fantasy.  The husband and I will surely enjoy this decadent experience.
  • The Rainforest Room on the Disney Fantasy.  Our one-day passes will allow us to experience and explore.  Just get me to the heated benches overlooking the ocean so my body can melt.
  • The Disney Fantasy!  This is our first time onboard this particular Disney ship and we are looking forward to exploring.
  • Pirates League on the Disney Fantasy.  The boy has a reservation for a First Mate Make-over on Pirate Night.  What a treat!
  • Universal’s Express Plus and Photo Connect.  While we have been to Universal Orlando before, this will be our first time using the Express Plus Pass as well as Photo Connect.  Curious to see how these work out for us.
There you have it—our list of new experiences planned for our trip.  And, there may be new experiences that aren’t planned as we stay open to the magic that is Disney.

Tomorrow—the list of familiar favorites!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

We Are Most Looking Forward To. . .

It seems that our family can’t gather together without talking about our upcoming vacation.  Meals, car rides, or anywhere in our house where all three of us land in the same room at the same time brings on a conversation about what we are looking forward to.  And a meal, changes the subject a bit as to what we are looking forward to eating.  So here’s a snippet of what each of us is most looking forward to for our grand summer 2014 vacation that includes Universal, a Disney Cruise, and Walt Disney World.

The Boy:
  • Endless ice cream—on the ship of course.  He also has plans to order room service—a BLT.  I don’t think I even knew what room service was when I was his age, let alone how to order it or what was on the menu.
  • Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios.  That coupled with a visit to the food court nearby to try out the many Simpsons themed treats and drinks.
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Coaster.  In his words, he can’t wait!
  • Trying new restaurants along with some old favorites.  He’s just as excited about Via Napoli as he is about Ohana’s. 
  • The clubs—on the ship.  Due to his age, he can go between the Oceaneer’s Lab and The Edge, depending on what is going on and his preference. 
  • The AquaDuck on the Disney Fantasy.  I did talk him into riding at least once with me.  He reluctantly agreed.  Now that he can go by himself, he prefers that status.

The Husband:
  • Food.  Most kinds, even exotic, and most of the time.
  • Not having to cook the food or deal with the dishes.  He is looking forward to time off from the kitchen and the decision making that coincides with “what’s for dinner?”
  • A cushioned deck chair on deck 4—on the ship.  These shaded, cushioned lounge chairs beckon him along with a book.  The question is how much time will he read and how much will he nap.  These comfy loungers also afford a great spot to watch the world float by—literally.
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Coaster. 
  • Meeting and getting a picture with Anna and Elsa.  Yep, this is on his list!
  • Spending time with his family.  Gotta love him that he uttered these words when asked what he was most looking forward to.
  • Anticipating the new and embracing the familiar favorites.  (That’s part of the fun in planning a trip!)
  • Making new memories and having new experiences with the family. 
  • Crab cakes and crème brulee.  These words crossed my lips the other night after finishing my chicken breast dinner.  Crab cakes are an appetizer on Pirate Night when the Pirates IN the Caribbean menu is offered and crème brulee will be on the dessert menu at some point.  I may have more than one!
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Coaster.
  • Experiencing, navigating, and studying Universal Orlando.  Our last visit was 2008 and there have been changes since then.  Also, now that the boy is older, our touring will be different.  More Hulk Coaster, less High in the Sky Trolley.
  • Photos.
  • Sinking my toes in the sand at Castaway Cay.  Maybe there’s a part of me that is meant to live on a tropical island as I feel like I have to soak it all up to tide me over until our next visit. 
  • The adventure.  I love that feeling that comes as soon as we pile into the car and make the drive to the airport, leaving behind the rest of the world and enter vacation mode; enjoying the journey as much as the destinations. 

There you have it—our expectations lists actually.  And, if we each get to experience and accomplish the things on our lists our vacation will have been successful, maybe even fulfilling.  And, isn’t that part of why we travel; why we vacation?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Summer 2014 Planning and Preparation--An Update

Just a handful of days left before we commence on our grand summer 2014 vacation which includes a day at Universal Orlando—both parks, a sailing on the Disney Fantasy, and a week at Walt Disney World. The list of “to do’s” is dwindling and other obligations are starting to be visible in the rear view mirror.  Soon, we will be in full vacation mode. 

Here’s an update:
  • Took one last trip to the grocery store.  We will be taking sandwiches, snacks, and fruit to eat while in transit.  Nothing like enjoying a juicy peach on the plane!
  • Shared our itinerary with family and friends so they know how to contact us.
  • Uploaded any pictures from cameras and then erased all SD cards.  Cameras fully charged.
  • Refilled the boy’s allergy medication.
  • Figured the tip budget.  Our tips for the cruise have already been pre-paid, so the tip budget included mousekeeping, room service, luggage handling, the town car, and table service meals.  Tips for our entire trip, including the cruise comes to just over $500.  This budget category can catch people off guard.
  • Ordered 2 one-day passes to the Rainforest Room.  Looking forward to sharing this experience with the husband.  It will be our first time using any of the spa services on the ship.

Now, to get our paperwork in order, including Passports and finish packing (we’re actually almost done—it just never feels like it until the suitcases are loaded into the car).  Oh, and maybe a treat for me—a pedicure.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Gotta Get Our Homework Done!

Homework?  It’s summer vacation.  There’s no homework!

Yes, there is homework and it is FOR the summer vacation.  Most people think that a summer vacation would not require homework.  But, let’s remember that a trip to Walt Disney World does lend itself to some homework; some planning.  This isn’t the kind of homework I’m talking about. 

The kind of homework we are completing prior to our summer 2014 family vacation is to watch movies such as Disney’s Lady and the Tramp.  Why?  To build background.

You see, we are dining, once again, at Tony’s Restaurant on the Town Square in the Magic Kingdom.  We know that Tony’s theme is based on the movie.  We want to be immersed in the story when we dine there and building background by re-familiarizing ourselves with the movie will help.  We will be more able to recognize and appreciate the details that Disney does so well when theming a ride, attraction, or restaurant.

Another part of our homework is to watch the Harry Potter movies--again.  Why?  To refresh ourselves with his world before we visit Universal Studios.  We, muggles, want to be familiar with the language and the story before entering Harry’s world at now two theme parks at Universal Orlando Resort.

We even recorded and watched the recent TV show about the making of Diagon Alley.  The show definitely built excitement for our trip—which is what it was intended to do.

Another reason we are completing our homework is that it is fun.  We watch the movies as a family and it helps to build anticipation for our upcoming vacation.

Homework FOR a summer vacation?  YES!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Will This Be A Better Way To Pack Toiletries?

I succumbed and purchased a product from HSN.  My hope was that Joy Mangano’s Better Beauty Bag would keep me from packing my toiletries in plastic bags which was touted as blasphemous during the product display. 

The products arrived yesterday—two Better Beauty Bags an XL and medium and the mini steamer.  The husband was excited about the steamer.  Who knew?

I immediately started filling the zippered pockets of the bags.  The XL bag held full size bottles of hair products, toothpaste, contact solution, body lotion, deodorant, etc.  Soon, I had it filled to the brim.  Now where to fit it in the suitcase?

Our new duffle bag had a large compartment on the top and the beauty bag fit the space perfectly.  Voila! 

The verdict is still out on these products until I road test them some more.  But here is an initial assessment—the bag is large when folded up and secured.  If we didn’t have that compartment in the duffle bag, packing this item would not be easy and because most of the products are “liquids” it does need to be packed in a checked bag rather than carry on bag.  My plastic bags—gallon size-- could be somewhat flattened and packed on top of whatever clothing was already in the suitcase.  Yes, there were numerous plastic bags, but it seems as if they didn’t take up as much space.  And, I had a bag for each need—a toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash bag, a hair care bag, a contact/glasses bag, and a shower bag with sponge, body wash, face scrub, shampoo if needed, and a razor.  I could just take out the plastic bag that I needed.  I can do the same--removing the needed zippered pouch via velcro--with the better beauty bag and I guess I could not fold it up, but leave it flat and put it in the suitcase that way.  It was just that I couldn't fit all of the same category of needed items into one compartment of the better beauty bag.  My plastic bags that I reuse have more flexibility when it comes to space.  The better beauty bag lists "padding" as one of its benefits, which of course, the plastic bags do not offer.  

If we weren't packing full size products, the medium sized better beauty bag would do the trick.  But with the number of days we are traveling and the number of people using the products, full size products were needed. 

The steamer is not going with us on our trip—there is no need.  But am excited to give it a try at home.  As I was ironing an outfit with beaded trim, prior to the arrival of the steamer, I realized how convenient the steamer would be.

I ordered the white version, which is no longer available.  I really wanted red but that was not a choice.  I first stopped at Ebates.com, so that I could shop and earn cash back, and discovered a 20% code for HSN that helped to reduce the price. 

Oh, and the plastic bags.  Well, I packed some empty ones. . . just in case.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Matching Shirts For Summer 2014 Vacation!

We have six new sets of matching shirts for our upcoming grand summer vacation!  By "set" I mean three shirts that match to wear on the same day.  It's our thing. . . our tradition.  If you want to know why we wear matching shirts--click here.

We plan to wear these new "Cruisin' With The Mouse" shirts the day we head to and board the Disney Fantasy.  Oh, and there will be photos to mark the occasion!  This shirt was custom made at Zazzle.com.
Another Zazzle creation features the gang from Lion King.  We will be wearing these shirts on our day at Disney's Animal Kingdom.  No worries. . . the day will be great!

The shirt featuring Olaf on the beach was a must do design at Zazzle.com for our day at Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line's private island in The Bahamas.  After me made and ordered the shirts, we found out Olaf greets guests on the island.  Can't wait!

Another Olaf design from Zazzle.com that we originally planned to wear to EPCOT.  But then Anna and Elsa relocated to the Magic Kingdom.  Now the plan is to wear these shirts to the Magic Kingdom on the day we are there all day.  Looking forward to Anna and Elsa's reaction to our shirts.

Another new set of shirts, this time from Disney Store.com features Mickey.  These shirts are packed in the Walt Disney World bag.  Purchased with a discount, we can't wait to wear our favorite pal!
Yes, I will be wearing a Captain America t-shirt.  These shirts were too purchased with a discount code at Disney Store.com and were originally planned for our day at Universal Studios.  Then, we learned that Captain America greets guests on the Disney ships.  So, these shirts are packed in our Disney Cruise Line bag.

All of these shirts along with enough matching sets for each day of our vacation including the days we fly to and from Orlando are packed and ready.  Let the vacation commence!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

AAA's On Board Gift/Benefit For Disney Cruise Line

An example of an 8X10 photo
Four 8X10’s and three 6X8’s—our AAA on board gift for our upcoming cruise.  That’s right, the moment we walk onto the ship, okay, into our stateroom, we will find a certificate honoring us with credits for the photos.  All we’ll need to do is provide Shutters, the on board photography headquarters, with the certificate and then pick out our photos.  But wait. . . (insert screeching sound).

Selecting seven photos from the hundreds that will be taken during our 7 night sailing will be difficult.  Not only because of the quantity but also because of the quality—and some photos only come in certain sizes. 

An example of a 6X8 photo.
Instead of lamenting over which photos to select, I have a different plan.  (This is where the husband would say, “of course you do.”)  I plan on using the photo credits towards the purchase of the photo CD from Shutters which would include ALL of our photos.  And, often, there is a special where the prints are also included as well—ALL of the prints.  I will happily pay the difference!

A "Lifestyle Portrait"
In addition to the character photos, there are photo opportunities with the ship’s Captain on formal night.  Also, “Lifestyle Portraits” are available each evening before and after dinner with various backgrounds.  Our packing list includes clothing for family photos with the idea of holiday cards in the future.  Ship’s photographers are also found on Castaway Cay and in the dining rooms to capture candid photos.  See what I mean about hundreds of photos?

Not purchasing photos was one of two regrets after our first Disney Cruise (the other was not rebooking onboard).  We won’t make that mistake again and recommend photo purchases to others—click here to read our top travel tips for Disney Cruise Line.

Now the bad news.  Bad news?  Yes, there is bad news.  Disney Cruise Line has discontinued its partnership with AAA and there is no longer a AAA gift or benefit when booking a Disney Cruise.  AAA and its agents can still handle Disney Cruise Line reservations and bookings, and our travel agent will continue to handle our reservations, it’s just that there will no longer be any benefits.  And, if you are a AAA member and receive AAA’s Living magazine, you will notice the lack of advertising for Disney Cruise Line amongst the pages of the magazine.  Walt Disney World—yes;  other cruise lines—yes, but not Disney Cruise Line.

The AAA gifts have varied over the years—free fruit basket in your stateroom, on board credits, drink credits, free float/tube rental at Castaway Cay, photo credits, etc. and were based on the length of the cruise and category of stateroom.  Each year, AAA negotiated with Disney Cruise Line about the on board gift/benefit. 

We are planning to enjoy this one last AAA gift/benefit and make the most of it!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Quicksilver. . . To The Rescue!

I laughed out loud when I read a post on the message boards about an engaged couple deciding on whether or not to fly or drive 18 hours to get to Walt Disney World and wondering if they would still want to get married after the drive to and from.  After an 18 hour drive the question for us would be, “Who is filing for divorce first?”

I jest a bit, but not much.  The reason we fly—and subsequently let Disney do the driving—is that we want to stay married.  The husband and I each bring a different skill set to the driver’s seat and his skill set is not meant for long distance driving into unknown territory on multi-lane highways.  This means I would either be driving or directing the driver. . . so instead, we fly!

And, while flying offers all sorts of advantages—convenience, timeliness, etc. it can also offer challenges such as how do we get somewhere at our destination that requires transportation.  You see with Disney, we don’t worry. . . Disney’s Magical Express efficiently transports us from Orlando International Airport to our Disney Resort and back again—for FREE!  While at the Walt Disney World Resort, we rely on fleets of buses and boats to whisk us from place to place along with the monorail.  But on our upcoming vacation, we are venturing away from Disney for just a bit and will need transportation.

The dilemma became how to get from the Hyatt at Orlando International to Universal Orlando Resort and back again.  A rental car was immediately nixed . . . due to the who is going to drive thing.  So, we were left with a cab or some sort of car service.

I checked the Taxi Cab Fare Finder website which allows you to enter your city and then the destinations you are traveling to and from for rates.  The range of $40 to $70 one-way for the almost 15 mile jaunt, depending on amount of traffic and tolls and of course, a tip would be in addition to the fare.  The PROS of a cab were that it was going to be easy to get a cab at the Hyatt at the airport and we could come and go when we were ready—very flexible.  The CONS of a cab was that we wouldn’t know the amount of the ride until the ride was over so there was no way to budget.

I also checked Quicksilver Tours website for their fares from the airport to Universal for a town car.  The rate was $125 round trip plus gratuity.  PROS of using the service included knowing the rate up front for budget purposes.  CONS were that it was less flexible than a cab as pick up times had to be scheduled and it could potentially be more costly than a cab, but that was a gamble.

After searching, it was time to talk to the husband and make a decision.  When I mentioned getting a town car, he turned to me and said, “You’re going to drive, right?”  (See what I mean about the driving skill set?)  I replied, “No, honey, we will have a driver.”  He was sold!

Making a reservation on Quicksilver’s website was quick and easy.  I also mentioned that we were repeat customers—we used their service the last time we went to Universal—and got a $5 discount.  I also asked if there was some flexibility in the time we got picked up at Universal if the weather took a turn, etc.  I was told that if a car was available that would be fine, otherwise, we would stick with our pick-up time.  I programmed the number into my cell phone.

So, we will be traveling to and from Universal Orlando in style.  Our pick-up will be at the “motor lobby” of the Hyatt which is two levels below the registration lobby and accessible by elevator—no venturing to baggage claim or through the airport to get to our car.  The best part?  We will stay married!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Our MagicBands Arrived!

After waking up to an exciting email last week from Disney Destinations informing me that our MagicBands had been shipped, the whole family was looking forward to their day of arrival.  Each morning we would wonder if today would be the day.

Well, the MagicBands, our MagicBands have arrived! 

The box said it all, “Here’s the key to making your experience INCREDIBLE!”  Inside were our three customized MagicBands. 

I took mine out of the box to check out the personalization inside the band.  The husband tried his on, and the boy put his on then took it off and placed it on the Disney Infinity base and opened up a Dragon Keep in the Toybox mode of the game.  His band is back in the box, now.

What I am most looking forward to is the convenience of having all of our “stuff” loaded onto the bands—actually the account connected to the bands—at the water parks.  Just scan the bands for photos, dining credits, and park admission.

I have decided to wear mine on my right wrist and use the index finger on my left hand for scanning to get into the parks.  The husband may do the opposite and then we will compare.  The boy will most likely imitate my plan.

Another question. . . when do we put them on?  NOW!  No, that would be premature.  Since we won’t need them until we arrive at our Walt Disney World Resort (most guests need them when they arrive at Orlando International as the band contains information needed for Disney’s Magical Express) I’m envisioning that we will wear them on the morning we disembark the ship.  MagicBands are not yet needed/used on the Disney ships, other than children registered for the kids’ clubs and those bands must be returned the last night of the cruise.

When to take them off?  Answering that question is more difficult.  I’m leaning towards NEVER!