Welcome to the Williams Family Blog!

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



Opening Magic Kingdom

Opening Magic Kingdom

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

I Did Get A Fireworks Photos--Just Not The One I Expected

Fireworks Photo at Magic Kingdom July 2014

It is customary prior to a visit to the magical place on earth that we determine and share our goals/priorities for the trip.  One of my goals was a fireworks photo at the Magic Kingdom.  It has been one of our traditions to find a Photopass Photographer somewhere in front of the Castle when the Dream Along With Mickey show is going on and inquire as to whether or not they could take a fireworks photos.  We haven't been told no as of yet. . . well, not until our most recent trip. (Click here to read about fireworks photos as a "must do.")  Here's what happened:

The timing was right on. . . we were exiting Crystal Palace and could hear the Dream Along With Mickey stage show happening and we began to approach photographers.  The husband went one way and I went another with the boy somewhere in between, each of us waiting for the chance to ask the Photopass Photographer.  There were lines of guests queued up behind the photographers so we had to wait even to ask if they could get the photo.  Time was ticking. . . the fireworks have 3 blasts towards the end of the show.

My photographer opened up first and I asked if she could take a fireworks photo.  She said "Yes."  I told her I would be right back as I stepped away to get the husband and the boy.  They both came running when I called for them!

We positioned ourselves in front of the photographer and asked how much longer until the fireworks.  That's when we got the news.  "There are no fireworks during the show."  You see, there was a large crane positioned near the Castle for some sort of repair/prep work and due to safety reasons there were no fireworks blasts during the Dream Along With Mickey stage show.

The photographer apologized, and so did we.  There were moments of disappointment.

Yes, we'll have another trip.  But Dream Along With Mickey is coming to an end.  Will the new stage show in front of the Castle that begins in May have fireworks?

When downloading our Photopass photos I realized that there was indeed a fireworks photos. . . at the Magic Kingdom.  It was when we had opened the park and the photographer taking the photos captured the moment!  It wasn't the fireworks photo I was hoping for but it WAS a fireworks photo!
Opening Magic Kingdom March 1, 2016
Oh, and for our next trip. . . fireworks photo AND wave photo at Typhoon Lagoon are on the list!  Less than 90 days!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Our Stay At Disney's Pop Century Resort

It took 13 trips for us to try out a "Value Resort" at Walt Disney World.  Resorts on property at Walt Disney World are divided into categories based on price, amenities, size, and location--Deluxe, Moderate, and Value.  We've stayed at "moderate" resorts for all of our other trips to Walt Disney World, but on our most recent trip, to celebrate my BIG Birthday, we wanted to give a Walt Disney World value resort a try.  Why?  Well, I knew we were going to purchase Annual Passes, so I didn't want to wipe out the budget with a resort, our stay was a short one comparatively speaking--5 nights, and we wanted to give a different resort a try.

What we liked:
  • We enjoyed the theming.  When we did our online check-in we requested the 80's themed buildings but we were assigned to the 90's.  That was okay as there is only one 90's themed building according to the resort map and it was in close proximity to the 80's buildings so we got to see them rather than stay in them.  
  • We had a ground floor room, even though we had requested a top floor room.  It really didn't matter as our room was ready upon our arrival.  I got a text message as soon as I turned on my phone when we landed in Orlando with the info--building number and room number.  It was slick!
  • The proximity of the food court/shopping to the bus stops.  We had breakfast a couple of times at the resort before venturing to the parks and we really liked how close the organized bus stops were to the food court and shop.  This worked well at the end of the day too if needed to pick up a package at the resort shop.  This also meant bathrooms were nearby in case we needed to make a pit stop after getting off a bus and walking to our room or prior to getting on a bus to the parks or Disney Springs.
  • Refrigerator in the room.  We hadn't expected this so it was great to be able to chill juice boxes, water bottles, and soda.
What we didn't like:
  • Double beds.  We need bigger beds.
  • No ceiling fan.  We missed the white noise at night.
  • No motorized cart to come get us and our luggage when checking out.  It's funny that when I called about our next Disney vacation and the Cast Member on the phone asked us where we wanted to stay I said Coronado Springs.  I explained that we had just returned from a stay at Pop Century and I missed the queen size beds, the ceiling fans, and the modified golf cart that would tote us and our luggage at check-out.  He laughed and said that we were seasoned guests as most do not even recognize the presence or absence of those amenities.  We DID have someone from luggage services come to the room with a large two-wheeler that stacked up our luggage and we walked with him to Resort Airline Check-in, so there is assistance available.  We just called the night before we checked out.
  • Limited products.  We had shampoo and bar soap.  That was it.  No lotion, no conditioner, no body wash.  Good thing I had brought some of those with us.
  • No clock.  I don't think this is just Pop Century but is a grander experiment across all resorts to not have a clock in the resort room and install one only upon guest request.  We did request a clock and had one installed promptly.  Why would Disney do this?  To save electricity.  Clocks are plugged in all the time.  Now multiply that usage across thousands of resort rooms--it would add up.  If a guest doesn't miss a clock enough to call and get one, then why have it there in the first place?  With many people using their cell phones for time and alarms, a clock in a resort room becomes less of a necessity.  Not for us, Walt Disney World.  We will always ask for a clock!
Would we stay here again?
Yes, we would.  Pop Century offered us value and that is what we wanted.  We had great access to bus service--minus a glitch on one day--and there were parts of the resort we didn't try such as the pools.  If staying during a peak or holiday period for a few nights, we would definitely stay here again.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Heartfelt Farewell to Lights, Motors, Action! at Disney's Hollywood Studios

One week from today, the last performances of Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show at Disney's Hollywood Studios will be performed.  An import from Disneyland Paris, we have enjoyed this show numerous times.

The stands can hold thousands of guests and we've sat high, low, and on either side and in the middle.  There isn't a bad seat in the house.  We like to sit close enough to feel the heat of the flames during the various fires and explosions. 

We've seen the show before Lightning McQueen and Mater were added.  And, we enjoy the trivia questions displayed on the big screen prior to the show.  Our best tip for viewing is to bring in water and/or a snack to enjoy during the 38 minute show.  We also use our inflatable Pocket Seats (click here to read more) and find the looks from other guests when we start to blow up the cushions a hoot.

We've been escorted past guests, to an elevator, and to special seating when the husband used a Birthday Fastpass in 2010 when there were special offers for being a Walt Disney World on your actual birthday. 

But our most recent and last time at Lights, Motors, Action! was the best!  Part way through the show, a Cast Member comes into the stands looking for a volunteer to drive a "remote control" car.  We've seen this part multiple times and the boy did stand up and wave. . . this time as he has done before.  Well, this time it worked and he was picked out of the crowd to join the show!

He did a great job of driving the car.  He said he "pretended" he didn't know that it was really a hidden driver actually driving the "remote control" car. 

He received a certificate and commemorative Disney pin only given to the children picked for this special part of the show.  The boy's plan now that the show is closing--keep the pin and let it increase in value.  Then, he has designs of selling it on Ebay.  (We've never sold anything on Ebay so I have no idea where he came up with that one!)

Lights, Motors, Action!, you have given us many great family memories as well as respite for our feet in the middle of the day while visiting Disney's Hollywood Studios.  We thank you and bid you fond farewell!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Photopass Photographers Were Everywhere!

A Photopass Photographer was at the exit to Haunted Mansion.  I guess we did bring a hitchhiking ghost with us!
Yes, it was our 13th trip to Walt Disney World.  Yes, we had pre-purchased Memory Maker and had it linked to our Magical Disney Experience (MDE) account that was linked to our MagicBands.  And, yes, we ended up with 555 photos in our account from four full days in the parks.

Some guests are hesitant to purchase Memory Maker either prior to their trip, which is a discounted $149 (down from $169 just recently--yes, Disney reduced the price of something!) or during their trip--this was $199, but I know the price has been reduced.  Some guests wonder if the product is worth the money.  During our first couple of trips to Walt Disney World way before Memory Maker and MagicBands, we wondered, too.  But sometime around our 2nd or 3rd trip, we realized the purchase of Photopass products, especially at a discounted rate prior to a trip, was definitely worth the money. I've written (and said) this before and I'll write it again. . . how many times have you seen photographs in a garage or yard sale?  Other souvenirs can be outgrown or damaged and yet we often don't hesitate paying $50 for that sweatshirt.  I'll go for photos over stuff anytime!

What made our pre-purchase of Memory Maker even more "worth it" this trip was that we found Photopass Photographers EVERYWHERE!  Okay, not exactly everywhere, I mean, they weren't in the bathrooms, but they were close!  Here's some evidence of where we found Photopass Photographers:

At Disney's Hollywood Studios we found photographers in the Streets of America which was great as this area will be closing April 2.  Sunset Boulevard was another location, both in front of Tower of Terror and also Rock-n-Roller Coaster plaza just under the sign.  
At Pixar Place, a photographer added some surprise guests to our photos.  

 In addition to the traditional spots for photos at EPCOT--in front of Spaceship Earth, we found photographers near the Imagination Pavilion and near some of the topiaries on display for the EPCOT Flower and Garden Festival that was starting the day we returned home.

 This series of photos were a surprise!  The boy was exploring the Living Seas Pavilion on his own with a camera.  We were outside the Pavilion and he had a specific return time to find us.  He decided to put himself in some Photopass photos, getting his MagicBand scanned.  Yes, he knows how to do this!

With the Beast's Castle in the background.

Big Thunder Mountain always makes a great background!
 At Magic Kingdom, we found Photopass Photographers at locations beyond Main Street and the hub in front of the Castle.
Prince Eric's Castle in Fantasyland

Cinderella's Castle from the Tomorrowland Bridge
And, of course a visit to Disney's Animal Kingdom would not be complete with a photo of the Tree of Life, but this photo was taken on the backside--on the walk-way between Africa and Asia. 

There you have it, some of our 555 Photopass photos from trip #13.  We can't imagine not having Memory Maker and allowing Disney Photopass Photographers to capture the memories of our magical vacations!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ultimate Day of Thrills VIP Tour

When researching for our trip to Walt Disney World to celebrate my BIG Birthday, I came across the VIP tours.  There were two VIP tours that were NOT the hourly fee--one the Ultimate Day of Thrills and the other the Ultimate Day for Young Families.  I knew then, which one we wanted.  I called 180 days prior to our stay and booked our tour.  Here's the link to the Ultimate Day of Thrills VIP Tour on the Walt Disney World website. 

The tour is offered on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays during non-peak times in the parks.  We booked our for Sunday.  The tour begins at Magic Kingdom and guests are asked to check in at the Tomorrowland Terrace by 8:15 am.  Magic Kingdom had a 9:00 am opening that day so we inquired at the Concierge desk at Pop Century about the buses and what time they would begin running.  We were told the first bus for the Magic Kingdom is at Pop Century at 6:45 am.  While we didn't need to be on that bus, we were reassured that Disney transportation would be able to get us where we needed to be, as when I had called for the tour reservation, it was suggested that we take a taxi to the Contemporary and walk over.

We made it to Magic Kingdom in plenty of time and moved to the line to the left which was for people with early dining reservations and tour reservations.  I had our tour confirmation number with us, which was a good thing as when we told the Cast Member just inside the gate our name and tour, when she flipped the page, there were no names listed next to the VIP tour.  She took our confirmation number and told us to go to Town Square Theater--she said all tours meet there.  I told her that we were supposed to go to Tomorrowland Terrace.  She just shrugged her shoulders and waved us on.

Once inside Magic Kingdom, there were very few guests milling about and we made our way down Main Street and just prior to turning right to Tomorrowland Terrace, we found a Photopass photographer taking photos and we jumped right in.  Then, it was time to check-in for our tour.

We were greeted immediately just outside Tomorrowland Terrace and directed up the ramp and to the right.  We were checked in and given lanyards, name tags, and offered snacks and drinks. 

The menu for lunch was available and we were asked to place our lunch order for the Hollywood Brown Derby located in Disney's Hollywood Studios. 

Both of the Ultimate VIP tours Thrills/Young Families were checking in at the same time and location.  And, of course, our guides had thought of everything from sunscreen to celebration buttons.  The boy wanted to know if we were going to get a commemorative trading pin for the tour and we were told "no."
After waiting for everyone to arrive and the park to open, it was soon time for us to make our way across the Hub to our first attraction.
Up first--Pirates of the Caribbean.  The park had just opened and we actually had to pause a bit for the attraction itself to open.  We used the Fastpass + entrance for this as well as all of the other attractions in the tour.
Splash Mountain was next.  All of the people in the ride photo were on the tour, too.  Want to stay "dryer" on Splash Mountain?  Sit on the left.
Big Thunder Mountain was next.  Our group of 18 took up a train car.
Next was Haunted Mansion.  Our guides made it so it was mostly the tour group in the room--you know which room I mean!

After we exited Haunted Mansion, we made our way through Fantasyland to Gaston's Tavern where we took a break--bathrooms and drinks/snacks at Gaston's or the vendors nearby.  During the break, I was confronted with the reality of the real Magic Kingdom, as there were lines--lines to get into Gaston's, lines for the bathroom, and lines to meet Gaston.  It was the first time, that day, that I had experienced lines. 

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Coaster was the next attraction after our break. 
Space Mountain was next and our last attraction in the Magic Kingdom.  The boy decided he didn't want to ride and our tour guides helped him find a spot to wait for us.  I was a bit scared to ride, too, but so glad I did.  Yes, we rode the one on the left, which seems to have the reputation of being a bit more jerky but knowing that your maximum speed is 27 mph helps.

It was time of us to leave Magic Kingdom and make our way to Disney's Hollywood Studios.  We exited Magic Kingdom through a "back door" near Buzz Lightyear.  And, since we were backstage, we were asked not to take photos.  We obliged.  The group was divided into two vans.  We were offered cold water to drink during our trek.  The guides allowed us to ask questions during the ride. 

Once we arrived at Hollywood Studios, we went in a back door near Rock-n-Roller Coaster so that is what we rode first.  Again, the boy chose not to ride (and there were others in our tour that did the same) and he met us at the exit.  Note:  He has ridden all of these rides previously, and for some reason, had attractions he did not want to ride this trip.
I didn't mean to capture the light behind the husband's head to make him look like he had extra hair!

Since we were in the area, Tower of Terror was next.

It was time for lunch!  We walked into Hollywood Brown Derby to find table settings with our names.  The lunches that we ordered soon arrived.

I was even surprised by a little Birthday treat!
We had never dined at Hollywood Brown Derby before so this was an added bonus to an already fantastic day.  Everyone took a bathroom break and we were ready to move on.
Toy Story Midway Mania was our first stop after lunch.  (I ended up with the highest score in the car--stunning some of the other tour members.)
Star Tours--The Adventure Continues was our next destination.  I'll note that Star Tours had taken out some of the guide rail between the Fastpass and not Fastpass queue causing confusion and delay at the top of the ramp. 

Sometime, while we were off playing, the vans had been moved to an area behind Toy Story and we left the park through another back door.  It was now time to go to Disney's Animal Kingdom.  While we made our way to an area just behind Dinosaur, we caught glimpses of the new Rivers of Light floats/boats. 

When we got out of the van, one of the guides asked me to put out my hand.  I did.  She then slipped me two trading pins as she had overheard the boy asking about that earlier in the day.  I put them in my pocket without looking, but smiled and said "thank you."  The boy didn't know about the pins until later in the day.

We walked up the stairs and found ourselves in the DINOSAUR gift shop.  We headed to Expedition Everest and encountered a glitch.  Everest was down.  So, we turned around and walked back to DINOSAUR.
We've ridden this ride multiple times and it is very different depending on which row of seats you ride in.
Since Everest was still down, we made an unexpected stop to ride Primeval Whirl.  The boy rode, but not with us.  He ended up in another ride vehicle with other guests on the tour.  He had a blast!
We got the good news!  Everest was back up and running so the tour group headed there.

After Everest, the tour group gathered to determine everyone's plan for departure.  Some of the group was staying at Disney's Animal Kingdom for the remainder of the day.  We were headed to EPCOT, so we walked back to DINOSAUR and exited through the gift shop to the van.
After a photo with one of our guides, we were taken to the Ticket and Transportation Center where we caught a monorail to EPCOT.  Another option was to return to Magic Kingdom.

The In's and Out's of the Ultimate Day of Thrills VIP Tour:
  • The cost is $299 per person and includes lunch (and lunch tip).  Discounts are available when using Disney Rewards Visa--which we took advantage of!
  • The tour lasts 7 to 7.5 hours.  That sounds like a long time, but it is also fast paced.
  • We were told to wear closed toe and heel shoes, meaning no sandals.  There were other guests on the tour in sandals, which wasn't a problem.
  • We were also told, when we called to make the tour reservation, that a Park Hopper ticket was required.  So, we had one, BUT the ticket/MagicBand was only scanned at Magic Kingdom.  We did not have to scan our bands for entry into any other park.
  • It was fun to visit with other guests on the tour and our guides.  There were people from Nevada, Oregon, Wisconsin on our tour.  The guides said they either get Disney veterans or first-timers on the tour.  I guess we fall into the "veteran" category.
  • Be sure to have Memory Maker attached to your MagicBand.  You are riding all of these incredible attractions with ride photos and video in one day.  You'll want the photos!
  • All ages were represented.  The tour doesn't suggest an age limit.  There was a boy who was 7 or 8 also along for the tour. I would hope parents check height requirements of the attractions included in the tour prior to booking.
  • Another guest turned to me to ask about tipping our guides.  I relied on our knowledge and experience of other tours and told him that tipping would not be expected--that the guides would most likely have to refuse the tip.  
  • Our guides handled non-scheduled bathroom requests with ease, were happy to hold bags while we rode attractions--this in itself was an incredible service, and provided background information about the rides and attractions.
Would we do this tour again?  YES!  Would we recommend this tour?  YES!