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Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Our FROZEN Summer Fun!


With the popularity of Disney’s FROZEN it was no surprise that we spent a portion of our summer vacation with the hottest characters!

 Our plans to meet or get a glimpse of the characters started way before our vacation began.  We knew Olaf, or a replica of Olaf, was located at Castaway Cay, Disney Cruise Line’s private island in The Bahamas.  And, we had snagged a Fastpass + to meet Princess Anna and Queen Elsa at the Princess Fairytale Hall in the Magic Kingdom 60 days prior to our vacation. 

We had also “heard” that Anna was greeting guests on board Disney ships, so imagine our delight when we saw that both Princess Anna and Queen Elsa would be on the Disney Fantasy.  All we needed was a special ticket!  I headed off to D-Lounge at the designated time—shortly after 12:30—and had to speak to three different Cast Members before obtaining the magic ticket.  One ticket per stateroom, everyone in the party there at the designated time, no need to arrive early, etc.  The time on the first ticket was going to overlap with some activities we already had planned, and eventually, we were given a ticket with a time that worked for us.  I did not have to wait in line very long to obtain the ticket, but had heard that the line had been quite long just a few minutes prior.  Also, many guests did not see the advertisement in the Navigator when they checked in at the port, but were still able to obtain a magical ticket from Guest Services.


Our designated day was our first “at sea” day and our time was 11:30 am.  Location—Animator’s Palate on Deck 3 Aft.  The restaurant had been turned into a frozen paradise by the creative use of lighting and digital displays on the screens.  We showed our ticket at the door, followed the path, and gave our ticket to the appropriate Cast Member, and our Key to the World Card to the photographer and the rest was history.  It was great to meet the characters together.  We did not need to bring autograph items as that was being handled for us. . . but more about that another time.  All three of us agreed this meet and greet was a highlight from our cruise.


Next came Olaf at Castaway Cay.  We said hello first thing in the morning as we exited the ship.  Good thing, too, as when we returned to the ship, one of Olaf’s arms had been broken off.  We informed the nearest Cast Member upon discovery.

Our next interaction with Olaf came when the phone rang in our resort room at Walt Disney World.  Olaf’s voice was telling us it was time to get up and have some FROZEN summer fun!  Just a note—one of our recommendations is to set a wake-up call and then answer by pushing the speaker button on the phone.  That way, everyone in the room can hear the character on the other end.  I asked people throughout our trip if they had heard Olaf’s wake-up call and I could not find anyone else who had made a wake-up call! 


 At Disney’s Hollywood Studios we once again bumped into Olaf as a puppet of sorts and then again on the big screen in front of the hat for the “Welcome Show.”  And, of course, all of the characters from FROZEN showed up in some magic photos throughout Hollywood Studios.





The FROZEN fireworks display was also hosted by the characters—both live and digital.  Just another treat!  Oh, and speaking of treats—we enjoyed the Olaf cupcakes at Hollywood Studios, too!

We “hopped” back to Hollywood Studios on another afternoon and took in the FROZEN Sing-a-long.  We obtained a ticket for a specific showing, queued up 20-30 minutes prior, and made our way in the Premier Theater.  We ended up with great seats in the second row! (NOTE:  There are plans to move the sing-a-long to the location which previously housed The American Idol Experience, as that attraction is closing.)


The show itself was delightful!  Hosted by two citizens of Arendale who are then joined by Anna, Elsa, Kristof, and Olaf digitally.  The story is retold with great movie footage and of course, singing along!  (Remind me to tell you the story of the young lady sitting in front of us.)


Finally, it was our day to meet Anna and Elsa at the Magic Kingdom.  We had a Fastpass+ time for 9:00 am which was great for morning extra magic hours.  The wait was less than 5 minutes for us and we were ushered into the room to greet the Princess and the Queen—separately, but in the same room.  No wonder the wait is so long—as Elsa just watched us greet Anna and by the time we got to Elsa, another family had been let in.  My efficiency radar went way up on this one, but nonetheless, it was magical.

There was also a shop when guests exit that is filled to the brim with FROZEN and other Disney Princess merchandise.  We found the playset that we had been hunting for since leaving the ship and promptly paid for it.  It included the figures of all the characters and we didn’t buy it on the ship thinking we would get it at Walt Disney World.  Alas, no one had it, even World of Disney! 

Speaking of merchandise, we also brought home an Olaf plushy and ornament for the Christmas tree to commemorate our FROZEN summer fun!

NOTE:  We saw the movie for FREE when it opened in theaters courtesy of Adventures by Disney--click here to read more.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What To Do About Photos On a Disney Cruise?!?


Some of the questions that puzzle guests both prior to or when sailing on a Disney ship are about photos—how many?  How much?  Etc.  And, they are the same questions we have pondered during our seven year/six cruise history with Disney Cruise Line.  So, let’s see if I can help.
A Lifestyle portrait
Do you have to have your photo taken by ship’s photographers?  There is only one photo required and that is the photo taken by a Cast Member when you check in at the port.  The Cast Member will hold up a webcam like device and snap a photo of your entire party all at once.  Those photos are then linked to your Key To The World card for identification purposes.  Other than that, NO, you do not have to have your photo taken.
A special background just for Pirate Night
Will ship’s photographers take photos with my camera?  Yes and No.  It all depends on what types of photos they are taking.  Are you meeting a character?  Then yes, there is usually a Cast Member/character handler nearby that will be happy to assist with your camera.  Getting formal portraits taken in front of a backdrop?  No.  Ship cameras only.  Now, while the backdrops will be picked up and put away, you can take a photo in front of ship icons such as helmsman Mickey anytime—as long as formal photos aren’t being taken at the same time, that is.
Sometimes there are props available during photo sessions
How do I see/select photos taken by ship’s photographers?  Well, this depends on what ship you are sailing on.  If sailing on the Wonder/Magic, your photos will be on display at Shutters and then you decide if you are purchasing them or not.  On the Fantasy/Dream, the photos are put inside a Folio and each stateroom is assigned a Folio based on a color, Disney character, and number.  Green, Mickey, 25 has been our Folio number at least one cruise.  Anytime Shutters is open, we can view the photos in our Folio.  But, if Shutters is closed, we can find a digital kiosk or even the digital Studio on the Fantasy, scan our Key to the World Card and view all of our photos—as photographers can your Key to the World Card.
An example of a photo taken in one of the restaurants.
What if I want to purchase?  If you want to purchase photos, there are several print packages to select from—starting with single print purchases all the way to all print purchases.  Single 8X10 photos are about $21.00.  Another option is the photo book.  I believe the magic number is 34 photos that can be included in the photo book that can be ordered and made at Shutters on the ship.  There can be a deadline for ordering the photo book, so be sure to inquire.  Another purchase option is the photo CD.  Prices vary depending on the length of the cruise.  The photo CD will have all the photos taken that are attached to your stateroom and do include the special borders.  Click here to go to a website that offers price information as well as a way to pre-order—typically at adiscount.
Most single character photos come in 6X8 size.
Sometimes the photos are a different size than I want, can I change the sizes?  The photos taken by ships’ photographers are either 8X10 or 6X8.  The size is pre-determined.  For example, a formal family portrait will be 8X10, but most character photos will be 6X8—though there are some exceptions.  Unfortunately, guests cannot request that a photo taken as an 8X10 be changed into a 6X8 or vice versa.  The only way to adjust the size is to purchase the photo CD and then change the size when you print photos at home or order on-line prints through another vendor such as Walgreens or Shutterfly.
Photo taken while boarding the ship
When are photos taken?  Typically, photos begin prior to even boarding the ship with a photographer on-hand at the port terminal taking pictures with characters.  Then there is the pre-boarding photo.  After that, ship photographers can be seen at most character meet and greets that are listed in the daily Navigator.  Ship photographers can also be found taking formal and lifestyle photos prior to dinner—both seatings.  You can also find photographers roaming restaurants, positioned on Castaway Cay, and roaming Castaway Cay to capture your memories.  Just a caution to not wait until the last minute to decide if you want your family’s pictures taken.  On our must recent 7-night sailing on the Disney Fantasy, photography services ended Friday at noon—which was Castaway Cay day.  So, any photos taken the last night were only by personal cameras—and trust me, there were still character meet and greets along with lots of other activities around the ship.  The service stopped so that Shutters could prepare photo books and photo CD’s. 
Meet Minnie at the Port Terminal
Oh, the stories I could tell about watching guests agonize over photo purchases on the last night of the cruise.  And, with a price tag of over $20 a pop for a single picture, I can understand.  Our first cruise, we did not purchase any photos—something we regret to this day.  On our second Disney cruise, I sprang for a photo package.  Our third cruise, I again purchased a photo package, but upgraded it to the package with the most photos by the time our cruise had ended.  Since then, we have purchased the photo CD from Shutters.  The sticker price can be a bit much—but let’s do the math.  The photo CD for our 7 night sailing was $399.95 (If we had pre-purchased it would have saved $50.)  I had a photo voucher from our travel agent as a gift that saved us $100, so the CD ended up costing us $299.95.  We had 275 photos on that CD.  That’s a little more than $1 per photo.  Buying the photo CD is one of our top tips for prospective cruisers.

The number of photos you have taken will vary depending on whether or not your family or traveling party wants to be photographed.  For us, it is a priority and can be fun.  When I got wind that there weren’t going to be photos taken Friday night, we re-arranged our schedule Thursday night.  It was semi-formal night and we had photos taken before dinner.  After eating, we changed our clothes and had photos taken again prior to going to the show.  We did wear those same clothes again the next night, but not a problem as we only had them on for a couple of hours.  But we wanted the photos!
One of my favorites!

Family Portraits Taken at Downtown Disney's Photopass Studio

We did it again!  We had photos taken at the Photopass Studio at Downtown Disney!

Each trip we try to make at least one stop to the Photopass Studio at Downtown Disney near Guest Services to have family portraits taken by Disney Photopass photographers.

Our experiences have varied from very attentive to obligatory, but each time we have appreciated the variety of photos that were taken and added to our Photopass account. 

Since we had pre-paid for Memory Maker prior to our trip—at a discount—we were happy to add as many Photopass photos to our account as possible.  We then edited and downloaded the photos once we got home—but actually, you can download them anytime after they appear in your account.

The  session did not take long—less than 15 minutes.  The largest portion of time was spent waiting in line for the next available Cast Member.  There were no other guests getting photographed or waiting to be photographed. 

This time, we also arrived in the afternoon.  Previously, we have been there first thing in the morning, which may make a difference in wait times, attentiveness of staff, etc.  

There is no additional fee to have these photos taken.  The only cost is for photo packages, downloads, or print outs.  But since we had Memory Maker already, the photos were added to our Photopass account and then downloaded—all for the cost of Memory Maker.  We had a total of 484 Photopass photos during our week-long vacation and paid $149 (pre-order) price for Memory Maker—that’s like paying 30 cents per photo. 

And, now, we have all of these photos digitally and can use them for a variety of purposes—social media, photo cards, customized gifts, etc. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Our Stay At Port Orleans French Quarter--A Walt Disney World Resort




Let me begin with some background. . . We have stayed at Walt Disney World Resorts twelve times:  twice at Caribbean Beach resort, five times at Port Orleans Riverside, three times at Coronado Springs, and our trip in July was our second stay at Port Orleans French Quarter.  Let’s talk about our stay.

Our stay at French Quarter was 6 nights/7 days.  We arrived around 10:00 am on Saturday after disembarking the ship and were very pleased that our room was ready as check-in typically is not until 3:00 pm. 

When the DCL bus dropped us off, the husband stayed with our luggage near the port-cochere as I checked us into the resort.  Reason being that if luggage services took our luggage and held it and our room was ready, we would immediately have to get our luggage out of luggage services—which is what happened last time. 

Once we had our room number—no Key to the World cards as all info was in our Magic Bands—I headed back outside and asked Bell Services to assist us in getting to our room.  They also retrieved our Garden Grocer order which was being held in Luggage Services.  Soon our bags were being placed on the large cart and we were off to our room.  I so appreciate Bell Services doing this as it can be a winding maze to find your room in the sprawling Disney resorts.

We were in building 4 on the third/top floor with a garden view.  Our room was neat, clean, and cool!  It was an easy walk to get to the bus stop through the “back sidewalk.”  We changed our clothes and headed to Blizzard Beach for the afternoon.

Throughout our stay we took advantage of the pool, hot tub, playground, evening campfire with roasted marshmallows—no smores though, the nightly movie shown in the garden (the boy watched one night), the food court along with drink refills, the arcade, resort shop, and boat launch to Downtown Disney.

As for bus transportation—it took us until the last day of our stay to get the timing down for the buses in the morning.  We typically walk out the door at 7:50 am to catch a bus to a park opening at 9:00 am.  This gives us time to walk to the bus stop, ride the bus, and arrive at the park prior to opening.  What kept happening was that we would have to wait until 15 or 20 after the hour for the bus.  One the last day of our trip, we left the room 5 minutes earlier and it made all the difference in the world.  The buses were arriving at 10 minutes ‘til the hour and we were just missing them!

The boat launch was a different story.  After spending the first part of the day at Typhoon Lagoon, we returned to our resort to clean up and go to Downtown Disney.  I knew that some of the piers at Downtown Disney may not be available due to all of the construction, so I phoned the front desk to ask where we would be dropped off if we took the boat launch.  I was told that the boat would stop at the Marketplace and the West Side.  We headed to the loading area for the boat launch.  A boat arrived from Downtown Disney heading to Port Orleans Riverside and was unloading passengers.  We asked if we could board and ride to Riverside and make the return trip.  We were told by the boat Captain that we could, but all passengers would have to exit at Riverside and line up again to board.  He suggested that we wait for the next boat to take us to Downtown Disney.  When we boarded the next boat that arrived a few minutes later, I asked the Captain if we would be dropped off at the Marketplace, which was our destination.  I was told no as that pier was not open yet.  I told him I had asked the front desk for specific information and he told me they were wrong.  He then went on to say that the boat launches had repeatedly communicated with the resort and that I should have asked for a manager.  At this point, I was wishing we had taken the air conditioned bus, especially after the teenage boy with the family in front of us dropped his chocolate ice cream on the floor and splattered the husband’s white shoes with chocolate not to mention making a mess on the boat. 

We did arrive at Downtown Disney via the Pleasure Island boat pier and then walked to the Marketplace.  The good news was that it was easy for the guys to take the boat back to the resort after leaving DisneyQuest later in the evening.  (I didn’t take the boat—I took a bus back to the resort.  And, I called the front desk when I returned to give them accurate information about the boat launch.)

Like a flash, soon it was time to go home.  I phoned Bell Services the night before we checked out and asked for assistance to arrive at 7:00 am as we wanted to use Resort Airline Check-in and have breakfast prior to our Disney’s Magical Express pick-up for return service to Orlando International Airport at 8:10 am.  I was instructed to make sure our luggage was ready to go prior to 7:00 am.  Really?  They have to tell guests that?  Of course our luggage was ready.  It was actually waiting for them outside our resort room door. 

7:00 am arrived and no Bell Services.  I phoned.  The Cast Member who answered said she had no way of radioing someone to come and did not know if someone was on their way or not.  I stayed on the phone with her while she tried to find out and in the meantime, a representative from Bell Services arrived.

Resort Airline Check-in is an amenity we have grown accustomed to and would definitely miss if it weren’t available.  We delivered our checked bags and our boarding passes were printed and our checked luggage whisked away—no having to check it in at the airport or having to stop at the airline counter at the airport! 

There was some confusion though as the phone message we received about Resort Airline Check-in told us that all members of the traveling party had to be present.  But both Bell Services and the Cast Member at Resort Airline Check-in said that if all members of the traveling party have the same last name, only one person needs to be present.  I explained that was not what the pre-recorded message left on our resort room voicemail said.  They were going to do some checking.  (I really think that Cast Members need to know what it feels like/looks like from the guests’ perspective at least once.)

After the luggage was taken care of we enjoyed breakfast in the food court and took the bus back to the airport for our return trip home.

All-in-all, our stay at Port Orleans French Quarter was just fine.  The husband tried to get his mug refilled at the pool bar—with soda--only to be scoffed at and rebuked by the bar tender.  You see, at Coronado Springs, there is an area next to the pool bar that DOES refill the resort refillable mugs. 

I will also say that French Quarter was not our first choice—Coronado Springs was—for this trip, but it was available and part of the summer special being offered.  Coronado Springs was undergoing a refurbishment and had no availability for standard rooms during the dates of our vacation.

Would we stay at French Quarter again?  Yes. . . if our preferred resort was not available.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pirates League At Sea

Already wearing a pirate t-shirt and shorts with skulls and crossbones brought from home.

Many Disney guests and fans are familiar with Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques that transform little girls into Disney Princesses located at Walt Disney World.  When Disney realized that boys—and girls and adults—also wanted to be transformed, Pirates League was created and could be found inside the Pirates of the Caribbean area at Walt Disney World.  Knowing that both of these transformative opportunities were a hit with guests, Disney Cruise Line decided to include BOTH when building their newest ship, the Disney Fantasy.

Located on Deck 5 midship on the Disney Fantasy, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique on most days turns into a Pirates League on Pirates IN the Caribbean Night celebrated once during 7 night sailings. 

Since it was going to be our first time sailing on the Disney Fantasy, we decided to give a pirate make-over a try.  We knew Pirate Night was going to be our 5th night on-board based on the information provided in our on-line reservation.  We were able to schedule a First Mate Make-over with our other on-line reservations.

The boy’s appointment was at 3:45 pm.  When making the appointment, it was recommended that we allow 45 minutes.  The timing was perfect.  He would be transformed into a pirate prior to dinner and most likely be able to meet characters before dining as well.

We arrived in a timely fashion and the usually pink and feminine Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique was now swathed in a pirate motif.  Even the Cast Members were sporting pirate gear for the occasion.

After checking in, the boy was asked to roll a pair of dice to determine his pirate name.  Tobias Wavewrecker was born!

Before the make-over could take place, the boy had to select from 3 different make-over options for the First Mate Package—which included make-up, headband, eye-patch, sword, earring, sash, tattoo, and commemorative pirate oath featuring his pirate name for around $35. 


Once the selection was made, the make-over commenced.  He had to lean back in the chair for make-up to be applied.  (Too bad the chairs themselves don’t lean back.)   The headband and eye-patch were next.  One rule is that the eye-patch has to be worn above the eye, not on the eye.  Safety first!  The earring was then attached to the headband—clever.



After the tattoo was applied to his hand and the sash and sword were arranged, it was time for the pirate oath.
He then received his commemorative pirate oath featuring his pirate name and we were done.  Elapsed time of the make-over:  15 minutes.

There are a variety of pirate packages to choose from beyond the First Mate Package, which was the least expensive.  Some packages include the entire costume.  There are also pirate packages for girls, which include nail polish.  And, one of the girl pirate make-overs features Tinkerbell. 

Appointments are available throughout the day and evening.  Pirate Night was on a day we were in port—Jamaica—so plan port adventures and any appointments accordingly. 

The boy took full advantage of his pirate make-over the rest of the evening, including  meeting Disney characters in their pirate attire, the Pirates IN the Caribbean deck party, show, and of course, fireworks!  It did take some scrubbing to get off the eye liner.


Last words:  We are glad we did it ONCE.  Pirates League won’t be on our agenda next time.  The cost for the 15 minute make-over was a bit pricey.  The sword did make it home in our luggage with no problems with TSA.  Oh, and I was allowed to take pictures but only of my pirate for privacy reasons--no problem.