Monthly Archives: May 2013

Holidays at Disney (Scary – and I’m not talking Halloween!)

When I first heard about the Monstrous Summer All Nighter, I had a little itch to go.  I’m always looking for a reason to go to Disneyworld and what better reason than 24 straight hours of fun! Sadly, I didn’t attend the all nighter – I was probably home in bed by 10pm when the fun was just gearing up (okay – I was watching the live stream online!!)  But that’s not the point.  Why didn’t I make the trip?  It wasn’t because I couldn’t get there – I actually found a really good deal on flights.  It wasn’t because of ticket prices – I have an annual pass.  So with a cheap flight and a free ticket, what would keep me from going?? A holiday weekend!!  The all nighter was scheduled for Memorial Day weekend.  Deal breaker.

I’ve been to Disney on two separate holidays over the past 6 months:

  1. Disneyland in California for New Year’s Eve 2012 – of course a crowd is to be expected
  2. Disneyworld on Presidents Day 2013 – crowd was NOT expected, at least not by me

With the experiences of back to back holiday trips fresh in my mind, I decided it’s just not worth it to go during any holiday where a large part of the general population is off work! In case you’re not convinced, let me enlighten you with a few details.

Let’s start with New Year’s Eve. Of course the parks will be crowded. Everyone knows this.  I guess my idea of crowded was longer-than-usual lines and a little more weaving through the crowd – but it would be worth it to celebrate the new year with Disney fireworks in the background as I joyfully kissed my husband at the stroke of midnight, right?!  I rarely admit something like this, but I was WRONG! It was not nearly as romantic or magical as I had imagined.  I should have known on Day 1 of our trip when we went to Disneyland and were not let in because the park was at capacity.  We were told to return around 5pm and there ‘might’ be room after the parades when people exit the park. Lines for the most popular rides, normally a 60 or 90 minute wait were upwards of 340 minutes!!!! 5 hours? Really?

The next sign that something was different was when people starting laying in the streets – it felt like I was at a concert with people getting their spot for the show.

Disneyland NY Eve 2012

Disneyland NY Eve 2012

New Year's Eve

Camping in front of Aurora’s Castle – New Year’s Eve 2012

As it got later, the crowd got thicker and it felt like there wasn’t enough air for everyone! (Maybe that’s my claustrophobia talking or just the fact that I’m shorter than everyone and couldn’t see anything but bodies!)  It got to the point where strangers around me were touching me on all sides, my legs and feet getting hit with stroller wheels and we were literally moving like a herd of cattle. I felt some minor panic until I got to an opening.  I’ll say it wasn’t too magical for me.  This picture looks like the crowd is watching something but we’re not – that’s how we were walking. MOOOOOO!

Crowd at Disneyland

Crowd at Disneyland

We ended up leaving before midnight and I was glad when we finally made it to the exit (I know, blasphemy!)

Camping out on Main Street at Disneyland- NY Eve 2012

Camping out on Main Street at Disneyland- NY Eve 2012

For my father in law, who was in a motorized scooter, things were frustrating to say the least. He really couldn’t move anywhere because of the crowd so he remained parked along the side a lot of the time.  Not how I envisioned starting the new year!

The following day, New Year’s Day, was much less crowded and we got to enjoy California Adventure.  I was still a little traumatized from the night before, but I loved seeing Mickey’s Fun Wheel and things started to feel a little more relaxed.

Mickey's Fun Wheel & California Screamin'

Mickey’s Fun Wheel & California Screamin’

That was an extreme example of a holiday at Disney.  But even for a much less notable holiday, things were still pretty crowded.  For President’s Day, the lines weren’t quite as long but they were longer than I’m used to and since we were only there for a long weekend it felt magnified because we wanted to fit everything in. The mistake we made for that weekend was thinking that we would be able to come in and wing it and get on all the rides we wanted – we should have known better! So we ended up walking around but not riding a lot which was disappointing.  Factor in that it was only about 40 degrees and it was even more of a bummer – uh, oh, discontent in the bubble – how could this be? This was a first.  On both of these trips the care-free, relaxed vibe that is the essence of why I love going to Disney was diminished.

So on the heels of that visit, I decided to pass on the Monstrous All Nighter. For all the money that goes into a trip to Disney why waste it when you can’t get to go on your favorite rides!?

That’s not to say you can never go around holidays – we went the week after Thanksgiving and saw all the amazing Christmas lights, shows, and attractions and it was just about the closest it was like a ghost town in the parks! What a difference a few weeks can make!  From now on I’ll spend my holidays at home and plan to pick ‘ordinary days’ to stay in the bubble!

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Deciding which Disney resort is right for you

If you’ve read my other posts, you know that after weighing the pros and cons of staying on the Disney property, I’m a huge proponent of staying ON the property!  The premise of this entire blog is about the magic of staying ‘in the bubble’ and you just can’t get that staying off the property.

After deciding to stay at a Disney resort comes the big decision – which resort is right for you? With nearly 30 resort options, it can be overwhelming to decide where to stay.  The first thing to consider is budget.  There are 3 main levels of hotel according to price, categorized as Value, Moderate and Deluxe.  I say 3 ‘main’ levels because there’s also a campground option at the Fort Wilderness Resort where you pay for your campground space if you have a camper or tent (yikes!)  I’m not the camping type so this kind of resort is pretty much never on my radar when deciding where to stay.  At the other end of the spectrum are the Deluxe Villas, which are larger spaces than deluxe rooms, so they’re a notch up in price from deluxe resorts.

Value Resorts

Value resort pricing starts at around $100 per night.  There are certain options you can select, such as a pool view or a preferred room which will increase the price.  I’ve stayed at 3 of the value resorts and my #1 recommendation if you choose to go with value is this: UPGRADE TO THE PREFERRED ROOM!  If you pick the standard room, you risk being far from the main building, bus stop and the main pool area. One year, we were in a room that was in the furthest building from the entrance, around the backside, so far that if we took 10 steps from our room I think we would have been off the hotel’s grounds!  It took a long time to walk to the main building to grab a coffee in the morning and after a long day it was torture to walk back to the room when we were exhausted.  The preferred upgrade charge is well worth it – I’ll never do standard again!

We’ve stayed at All Star Sports, All Star Music and Pop Century.  By far my favorite is Pop Century, mostly because it has a dedicated bus.  The All Stars sometimes loop to all the All Star resorts, making it a longer trip when you just want to get to the park (or more importantly, get home from the park!)  We’ve stood in long lines at the end of the night to get on a bus only to wait through a stop or two before getting back to the resort.  Couple that with a far-away standard room and it’s prime time for a meltdown!

All Star Sports Resort

Pop Century Resort bowling pin pool

Pop Century Resort bowling pin pool

Overall what you get at the value resorts is just that – value.  What you miss out on are the bells and whistles of added amenities but if you plan on being at the parks most of the time, then you’re not missing a whole lot.  The first few years we went to Disney we stayed exclusively at value resorts because we spent so much time in the parks that the resort was really was just a place to sleep.  Value resorts still offer the perks that are included with every resort stay like Magical Express, park bus service, friendly staff and Mickey waffles for breakfast – what else can you ask for?

Moderate Resorts

I’ve only stayed at one moderate resort and that was the Caribbean Beach resort.  However, just today I booked a stay at Port Orleans – Riverside, which is also a moderate, so I’m excited to get there and check it out!

Caribbean Beach Resort

Caribbean Beach Resort

The differences I noticed most at the Caribbean Beach vs. value resorts were:

  • Atmosphere: The feel was relaxed with more space and less of the crowded hustle and bustle of the value resorts
  • Room: The room and decor was a little nicer than a value room and had a mini-fridge
  • Pool: The pool was a definite step up from a standard pool at the value resorts.  The theme of this pool was impressive – a pirate fortress, water cannons, and most importantly, a waterslide!   The waterslide really does add to the entertainment value for kids (or adults like my husband) who never seem to tire of running up and sliding down.

Activities:

    There is more to do around the moderate resorts like evening campfires, boat rental, bike rental, fishing, and fitness centers.  We took advantage of the paddle boat rental and it was a beautiful scenic cruise along the lake (if you don’t mind the work of paddling!)
View from the paddle boat at Caribbean Beach Resort

View from the paddle boat at Caribbean Beach Resort

Moderate is great if you plan on spending time just hanging around the resort and want some entertainment options without splurging on the deluxe resorts.

Deluxe Resorts

I’ve also only stayed at one deluxe resort, it was actually a villa!  My husband and I went to Disney to celebrate our 10 year anniversary this past November and decided to go all out and stay at a deluxe resort.  We got a good deal because of the time of year (we went the week after Thanksgiving, before the Christmas/New Year’s rush) and we chose the BoardWalk Villas.   Our room had a kitchenette (which included a refrigerator, microwave, sink, and dishes,) a couch, and a balcony that overlooked the pool.  Unfortunately it wasn’t very warm so we didn’t get to swim but it was still a nice view – yes, that is the Tower of Terror!

View of Tower of Terror from BoardWalk Villas

View of Tower of Terror from BoardWalk Villas

I’m not sure what I was expecting from the room, but I wouldn’t say there was anything about it that was really spectacular.  The best thing about the resort wasn’t the room – it was the location!  Right next to the resort is Disney’s BoardWalk, which has shops, restaurants, and live performers along the picturesque boardwalk.  One night we ate at the Big River Grille & Brewing Works where we watched the Illuminations fireworks from Epcot AND the Fantasmic fireworks from Hollywood Studios!

Dinner and two shows!

Beer Tasting - Big River Grille & Brewing Works

Beer Tasting – Big River Grille & Brewing Works

Hands down the best part about the location was the walkway leading right into Epcot’s World Showcase!  Since Epcot is our favorite park, this was definitely a huge perk of staying at the resort.

Disney's Boardwalk at night

Disney’s Boardwalk at night

Disney's Boardwalk

Disney’s Boardwalk

Several of the deluxe resorts are within viewing distance of the Magic Kingdom fireworks (Grand Floridian, Contemporary, and Polynesian) and the Animal Kingdom Lodge has rooms with a savanna view where you can watch the animals roam – so like they say, location is everything! That’s one of the primary amenities you’re paying for when you stay at a deluxe resort.

There’s a lot to consider when picking which Disney resort is right for you.  My recommendation is to figure out your budget first, then decide if you want to pay around $1,000 for a week (value), $1,600 for a week (moderate) or $2,800 for a week (deluxe) – these are just rough estimates, as prices vary throughout the year.

A few final tips

  • Plan your vacation in the off-peak season – you can get room discounts if you’re willing take your vacation in the slow season and you could probably stay at a resort that you couldn’t afford during peak season.
  • Look for free meal deals – Disney usually offers a free meal plan at certain times in the spring and fall which could help offset dining costs, allowing you to afford a better resort.

No matter where you stay, there’s no bad place to be as long as you’re in the bubble!

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Mickey Monitor – Monsters University Edition!

Look what arrived in my mailbox today! A top secret case file from Monsters University!  What could it be?!

Mickey Monitor cover

Mickey Monitor – Monsters University

Upon opening the file I discovered a letter from the Dean of the School of Scaring at MU stating that the folder contained a series of student reports outlining observations and research projects on the scream potential of the subjects they studied, a.k.a. ‘passholders.’  Since I fall into the category of a ‘passholder’ specimen, I was anxious to read through the data files.

Letter from the Dean of Scaring at Monsters University

Letter from the Dean of Scaring at Monsters University

I was targeted to receive this file, as it is one of the perks of being an annual passholder – the Mickey Monitor is the quarterly newsletter with upcoming events, passholder specials, and what’s new in the parks.  This edition, I must admit, is much more exciting than the usual version and I read it cover to cover!

Obviously this is a confidential report but I’ll share a few of the topics: Star Wars weekends, MyMagic+,  Animal Kingdom’s 15-year anniversary, Aulani (Disney’s Hawaiian resort) and what’s new on the Disney Magic cruise ship.  All good reads!

However my favorite section was the summer guide to Disney Resort Pools, including Mike Wazowski’s report on The Correlation Between Screams and Pools.  The ‘best’ resort pools were listed as follows:

  • Best Pool for Kids: Hippy Dippy Pool at Pop Century Resort
  • Sandiest Pool: Stormalong Bay at Yacht & Beach Club
  • Most Adventurous Pool: Fuentes Del Morro at Caribbean Beach Resort
  • Biggest Hot Tub: The Dig Site at Coronado Springs
  • Best Waterslide: Nanea Volcano Pool at Polynesian Resort
  • Most Luxurious Pool: Uzima Springs Pool at Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Biggest Pool: Big Blue Pool at Art of Animation
Mickey Monitor Best Pools

Mickey Monitor Best Pools

The Correlation Between Screams and Pools by Mike Wazowski

The Correlation Between Screams and Pools by Mike Wazowski

I’ve been to the pools at Pop Century, which are like everything else at the value resorts – they get the job done, but there’s nothing especially spectacular about them.  But it’s the only place I’ve ever swam in a bowling pin-shaped pool!

I’ve also stayed at Caribbean Beach resort and I agree that the pool is adventurous….unfortunately I’m not a big adventurer in the water.  However, my daughter loved the waterslide so I mostly hung out near the bottom to watch her plummet into the water.

In looking at the pictures I really need to get myself to the Animal Kingdom Lodge pool – it looks like a desert oasis and I could definitely see myself relaxing there.  If all goes according to plan I may get there sooner than later!

 

Pros & cons of staying on Disney property (a.k.a. in the bubble)

A big part of vacation planning is deciding where to stay.  It’s also a big part of the cost in any vacation so it takes careful consideration to weigh the options when deciding whether to stay at a Disney resort or at a hotel in the surrounding area.

I’ll admit – I’m cheap.  I hate spending a lot of money on anything that has a cheaper option.  But I also believe that you get what you pay for – and it’s also the case with Disney.  Of course the biggest con to staying on the Disney property can be the price.  There are several levels of accommodations ranging from affordable at the Value Resorts to a mid-range option at the Moderate Resorts and a major splurge for most peoples’ budgets at the Deluxe Resorts. There are also options at the campground if you’re the outdoorsy type and deluxe villas for larger parties.  I’ll talk about my thoughts on the different resorts in another post, but if you can’t wait there’s plenty of info about the resort options on Disney’s website.

We recently stayed off the property for the first time ever. We went to Disney for a long weekend and we were trying to make the trip as cheaply as possible.  We have annual passes so we didn’t need to buy tickets, found a cheap flight and a hotel for $50/night in Orlando!  So even though we didn’t love the idea of staying outside of the bubble we thought we’d give it a shot.

We packed all of our stuff in carry-on bags so we didn’t have to pay baggage fees.  But this was the first inkling that something was different from our usual Disney vacations. Normally we just bring a backpack on the plane since you don’t have to worry about your bags when you’re staying on the property – you check them at the airport when you leave home and the next time you see them is in your Disney resort room later that day!

First stop after arriving at the airport was the car rental counter.  My husband does most of the driving on trips so he had to put up with the bulk of the driving, parking and traffic aggravation (which he is very prone to) – already a sign that some of the relaxation would be plucked away from our normally care-free vacation.

Next we were off to the hotel.  As we got close to our hotel, we passed the typical tourist-area stores with 99 cent t-shirts and gaudy signs luring people in to buy junk.  To be fair, the hotel was fine.  It was clean, quiet, and for the price it was exactly what we were looking for.  But it wasn’t Disney!

In the morning when we got up, instead of jumping the bus to Magic Kingdom, our travel went as follows:

  1. Got in the car
  2. Drove 15 minutes to Magic Kingdom parking lot
  3. Parked in ginormous lot
  4. Walked to the tram
  5. Waited for tram to fill up with passengers
  6. Rode tram to transportation center
  7. Got off tram and walked to boarding area for ferry or monorail
  8. Waited for ferry/monorail to arrive (we took the ferry)
  9. Sailed across the lake to Magic Kingdom

A little inconvenient, huh?

Once in the park we all breathed a sigh of relief – whew!  The sight of Cinderella’s Castle can make everything better, right!?  For the day we forgot that we had to venture back outside the bubble in the evening.  But when it came time to leave, we repeated the morning procedure…a little more slowly after walking all day in the park.  And instead of closing our eyes in the darkness and listening the bus engine roaring to get us back to our resort, we had to navigate the signs to point us onto the right highway back to our hotel.  Not fun.  Why did we decide to stay off property again?

From that trip, I really realized how much I love staying on the Disney property.  At the value resorts, we’ve always been able to find an affordable place to stay and while it may not be a luxury room, it’s in the bubble and that’s what matters to us.

STAYING IN THE BUBBLE: PROS AND CONS

Pros:

  • You don’t have to leave the property! All Disney, all the time! Completely engrossed in the atmosphere – forget about the outside world!
  • No driving – buses can take you to the parks & Downtown Disney, dropoff at the front gates, dedicated buses by resort
  • Magical Express – no lugging suitcases (especially nice for those with strollers, car seats, etc.) and your vacation starts the minute you arrive at the airport
  • Send packages from the park shops to your hotel – no carrying around bags or waiting until the end of the day to buy souvenirs
  • Charge to the room – key, ticket, credit card all in one
  • My Magic+ – booking fast passes, shows (I don’t know all the details on the MagicBand yet but I’m sure it’s going to be awesome!)
  • Extra magic hours – early entry or late access to the parks
  • Activities at resorts like fire side stories, flamingo feedings at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, story time in just about every lobby, movies at the pool, etc.
  • Character wake up calls & birthday calls

Cons:

  • Value Resorts are crowded and Deluxe Resorts are unaffordable
  • You can’t run out for supplies if you want to (unless you rent a car)
  • If you have to leave you must take a pricy taxi – we took a taxi to church on Sunday ($50!)
  • Have to dine on the property all the time which can get costly

From my analysis, the pros definitely outweigh the cons for staying on the Disney property.  A big part of what I love most about Disneyworld is getting away from the outside world and living in a fantasy world for a few days where ‘a dream is a wish your heart makes.’  I’m dreaming of going back to the bubble soon!

Pros and Cons of Staying on Disney Property

Pros and Cons of Staying on Disney Property

Picture Gallery of Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival

I’ll admit it – I don’t have a green thumb.  I see my neighbors every weekend diligently pruning bushes, planting flowers, pulling weeds, but it seems like such an unforgiving hobby.  All you need is a bad storm, a local bunny or even the neighborhood kids to rip through and ruin hours of tedious labor!  My husband does 100% of the yard work at our house and for that I am so thankful!  Otherwise we’d be living in mile-high grass and the only flowers we’d have are the ones no gardener wants to see – dandelions!

I like enjoying the view of a beautiful landscape, I just don’t like doing the work.  And after seeing how much work goes into a small yard with modest landscaping, I can’t begin to imagine the hours that go into the amazing displays of horticulture at Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival – not to mention the sheer volume of plant life needed to pull off this magnificent display!

The event is sponsored by HGTV and it turns both Future World and the World Showcase into an amazing wonderland of perfectly manicured flowers, topiaries and Disney characters made from plants.  For those who love HGTV, the weekends have special events where personalities from HGTV and DIY have demos in the dome that’s in Future World over towards Ellen’s Energy Adventure.

Epcot Flower and Garden Sign

Epcot Flower and Garden Sign

Here are some of the HGTV celebrities who were there for the 2012 show.

HGTV Personalities at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival 2012

HGTV Personalities at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival 2012

The flowers throughout the park were amazing, with floating bouquets on the lake area by the Odyssey Center where you cross between Future World and the World Showcase.

Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival

Floating Flowers at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival

But the most amazing part was the characters.  It was really incredible to look up close and see how the different colors were incorporated and everything was done with such precision – it was hard to believe that these were live plants!  To make it fun and engaging, there was a scavenger hunt throughout the park to locate all the different topiaries.

Epcot's Topiary Scavenger Hunt

Epcot’s Topiary Scavenger Hunt

I think we found most everything on the scavenger hunt – we may have missed a few photos, but not many!

Mickey & Minnie Topiary

Mickey & Minnie Topiary

Aurora & Prince Phillip

Aurora & Prince Phillip

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

Cinderella & Prince Charming

Cinderella & Prince Charming

Snow White

Snow White

Fantasia Ostrich

Fantasia Ostrich

Pluto

Pluto

Daisy Duck

Daisy Duck

Lady & the Tramp

Lady & the Tramp

Woody

Woody

Magician Mickey

Magician Mickey

I have yet to see any garden outside the Disney bubble that matches the perfection of the Flower and Garden Festival in terms of amazing arrangements.  It’s definitely a must-see for everyone, whether you are an avid gardener or just the owner of a chia pet – prepare to be amazed!

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