Category Archives: Disney Planning

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!

 

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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

A Typical Day at Animal Kingdom

Anyone who has been on Pinterest lately has undoubtedly seen the infographics that are pinned on every subject imaginable.  In case you don’t know, an infographic is a way to give information in a more visually appealing way than traditional charts and graphs.  They are so fun to look at that I just had to create one myself.

I found a site that has free templates which are really easy to use called Piktochart. This was just as fun to create as it is to read – I think I’ve just discovered another way to spend hours thinking about the Disney bubble!  Let me know what you think!  Re-pin it here from my Pinterest board.

A Typical Day at Animal Kingdom

A Typical Day at Animal Kingdom

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A Typical Day at Epcot

Lines you WANT to wait in at Disney

They say patience is a virtue and I agree.  I just don’t happen to have that virtue.  I do things to try to practice patience – I meditate when I’m in the doctor’s waiting room, I play loud music and avoid looking at the clock when I’m in traffic and running late.   One place where most people (either patient or impatient) can get a little frazzled is in a long line – couple that with a few cranky kids, cranky husband, hunger, heat stroke, and fatigue – and you have a perfect storm for a meltdown.   This perfect storm is almost guaranteed at some point when you’re at Disneyworld.

However, there are some attractions where the lines are part of the fun – I’m disappointed if we happen to get right through with no wait!  Here are the best along with the worst lines – but luckily all of the worst have Fast Pass availability, so I’d highly recommend taking advantage unless you have a surplus of patience that day!

Here are the best and worst lines to wait in at Disneyworld:

Magic Kingdom

Best Line – Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid (New Fantasyland)

The path to this ride leads through a coral-like rock formation that looks like it was just pulled from the seas.  There is an animatronic show that sings every few minutes, keeping people entertained.  But the most captivating part is the interactive hologram in the fish tank windows.  Guests’ actions in front of the windows cause sea creatures to appear and react – it was pretty entertaining and made the line go by fast.

Worst Line – Big Thunder Mountain 

This line is pretty barren – just up and back, up and back until you zig zag your way to the front.  The worst part is the lack of fresh air, especially in the summer. There’s just a lot of humid air and unpleasant odors at times on a hot day.  Wrangle yourself up a Fast Past, partner!

Animal Kingdom

Best Line – Expedition Everest

This line is pretty cool from the get go.  The theme is a mountain expedition with detailed displays of the supplies, artifacts and anything else that the Sherpas have left behind from their journeys.  In the middle of the line there is a wishing well structure, except instead of water there is a monkey sculpture in the middle, representing the sacred status of monkeys in the area.  Once inside the last room before you get to the ride there are books, documents, masks, and even a giant Yeti footprint cast that makes you question if it’s really real…

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Yeti - Real or Make Believe? Yeti – Real or Make Believe?

Worst Line – Kilimanjaro Safaris

The part I hate most about this line is that it’s very wide and there are several sections where the cast members direct you to ‘fill in all available space’ even if that means you’re coming up beside (what seems like cutting) the people in front of you.  I just don’t like doing that, and there’s not much interesting to look at in this line. Say ‘Jambo’ to a Fast Pass!

Hollywood Studios

Best Line – Toy Story Midway Mania

This line puts you right into the Toy Story movies.  There are giant crayons leaning against the walls, a game board on the ceiling, barrel o’monkeys strung from side to side.  But the best is the interactive Mr. Potato Head at the front of the line who talks to the guests.  This line has so much to look at and is so recognizable from the movies that it can keep you entertained for a while.  I guess with 240 minute wait times they had to come up with something to keep people occupied!

disney vacation 2012 127

Worst Line – Tower of Terror

Until you get up to the entrance of the Hollywood Tower Hotel there’s not much other than a cement path with walls that kids can’t help but want to climb all over, to parents’ dismay.  I’d suggest you take the Fast Pass!

Epcot

Best Line – Test Track

This line was pretty interesting under the old design but with the newly re-imagineered design it’s a look into the future.  The first section has prototype futuristic cars that lend themselves to conversations about what the future will be like, how these cars would work (the car below would run on tracks in big cities – no driving required!)   There’s a little lull in the line when you’re getting into the design room, but then you’re back in action designing your car.  The surprising part about this ride is that after the ride is over, we probably stayed for another 30 minutes in the exit rooms – driving the car we designed around a virtual racetrack, picking a soundtrack for our car, and getting our picture with some of the model Chevrolet cars (all of our car info was on a swipecard that we kept throughout the ride.)

Future car - no driver necessary!

Drive your virtual car after the ride

Drive your virtual car after the ride

Worst Line – Soarin’

This line reminds me of a long hallway corridor in a hospital.  It’s drab, there’s nothing on the walls and it seems to go on forever.  Disney attempted to make this interactive by having giant screens on the wall that you’re supposed to be able to wave at and make plants grow, fly birds around… but the only person who can reach high enough to activate it is my 6 foot 3 husband, not 5 foot 2 me and certainly not a kid!  Upgrade to first class and get a Fast Pass!

I guess we can all take comfort in knowing that in the bubble, even at the end of a bad line is a magical fun time!

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The best laid plans

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”   This famous quote from John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men is very relatable to a Disney World vacation.  No matter how much you plan there’s always room for something to go wrong.  I came across this picture and thought back to the time that we decided to bring our own supply of water and food for the week.  We weren’t going to have a rental car to venture off the property and this was before the time of high baggage fees (I‘m pretty sure this bag would not have made weight!)

Water suitcase

Since then we’ve realized there are grocery delivery services that can make getting your in-room snacks there much easier!  Also, if you rent a car it’s ideal to stop off at Publix or Winn Dixie and grab some snacks for your room.

We made the mistake of planning a little too much – but we did save on buying drinks once we were there!  In the Disney bubble, you can always get what you need or forgot at home, but you could be paying prices that you would most certainly scoff at outside the bubble – but what’s a vacation without a little splurging?

Here’s a quick comparison of just a few things that you’ll probably need on vacation but will regret not bringing once you start shelling out the premium prices inside the parks.

Bring vs Buy Disney World

Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to bring because the foods are fairly compact and you can pack a variety of options for cheap.  We usually bring granola bars, pop tarts, bagels & peanut butter – and all of these can also double as a between-meal or late-night snack.  Just watch out for chocolate chip granola bars – they’ll melt pretty fast in the summer heat!

Even if you stop at a grocery store to get bottles of water, you’re stuck carrying around 6-8 bottles during the day.  My husband, who bears the brunt of carrying the backpack, prefers bringing 2 refillable bottles to save his back some aches and pains.  The other perk of the refillable bottle is that you’re never stuck drinking warm bottled water that’s been in the backpack all day.

One of the cutest sights in the park is all the little girls dressed as princesses.  What’s a little less cute are the price tags on the Cinderella and Co. dresses in the parks!  They can range anywhere from $60 – $150 depending on what comes with it (shoes, wig, gloves, purse, etc.)  I picked up a Cinderella costume at Target before our trip for $20 – it was just as adorable as the dresses in the parks.

An essential item if you go during rainy season is a rain poncho or jacket.  We used to buy the super cheap plastic ponchos but even that turned out to be a good idea gone bad.  They rip very easily and if they’re wet and you don’t dry them thoroughly they can get musty in a hurry.  A smelly, ripped, shred of plastic is not something you look forward to throwing on when you’re caught in the middle of a humid summer downpour in Orlando!

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Now we have our ‘vacation jackets’ which are combination light jacket/rain jacket/windbreaker.  They were around $25 each at a local store, but well worth it to avoid getting caught up in what looks like a glorified trash bag (which I have seen people wearing in the rain!)

As another famous author – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – once said, – “Into each life, some rain must fall…” even in the bubble!

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Enjoying the rain at Disney World

Feelin’ hot, hot, hot!

I love hot weather.  I mean REALLY hot weather.  So today when the temperature hit a balmy 80 degrees in Cleveland, it made me think of my favorite month of the year to go to Disney – August.  Most people think this is crazy but I guess I’m just a cold blooded person. The only time I really feel warm-to-the-core is August in Orlando.   Luckily, with a little preparation you don’t have to melt if you’re not as enamored with the thought of spending 8 hours in stifling humidity and scorching temperatures characteristic of Florida summers.

August in Orlando

August in Orlando

Tip 1: Bring a refillable bottle.  We use the Brita water bottles that have a filter in the lid so you can re-fill at water fountains throughout the parks.  It’s way cheaper than buying water every time you’re thirsty, which is all the time!

Tip 2: Personal fans help in two ways when you’re waiting in lines – blowing air to cool you off and re-directing any sweaty fumes that may be lingering in the area.  Standing in close quarters with a hundred other guests at the end of a 95 degree day can become quite unpleasant, if you know what I mean!

Fan 1Fan 2

Tip 3: Find a spray ground. Every park has water misters in various locations so you can cool off as you’re walking between attractions.

Hot weather spray

Hot weather spray

Tip 4: Alternate indoor and outdoor activities to stay cool.  This can mean walking through the shops, seeing a show, or even going in the bathroom!  That cool blast of air from indoors is a welcome reprieve from the burning summer sun.

  • In the Magic Kingdom, there are several indoor rides like the Haunted Mansion and “it’s a small world” but my top recommendation for a super-hot day is Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress.  I have to admit, this is my least favorite attraction in all of Disneyworld.  It’s pretty cheesy with a repeating song that will be stuck in your head for days – but there’s hardly ever a wait and I’ll make the sacrifice to sit in an air-conditioned seat in the shade for 20 minutes!
  • At Epcot, Ellen’s Energy Adventure is similar – slow moving and moderately interesting – but a cool place to relax for about ½ hour.
  • Hollywood Studios & the Animal Kingdom both have really good shows to enjoy while you cool off – The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo, respectively.

Tip 5: Enjoy all the frozen treats Disney has to offer!  From Mickey-shaped ice cream bars to the infamous Dole Whip, nothing tastes better on a hot day than a cool treat.  And don’t worry about the calories – you’ll have no problem sweating them off!

Mickey ice cream

Mickey ice cream

Tip 6: During the hottest parts of the day it’s never a bad idea to head back to your resort and hit the pool for a few hours.  Then you’ll be refreshed and ready to head back to the parks for fireworks!

Re-pin this handy ‘beat the heat’ infographic on Pinterest here.

Beat the Heat at Disneyworld

Beat the Heat at Disneyworld – INFOGRAPHIC

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To hop or not to hop

To hop or not to hop

A big part of planning a vacation to Disneyworld is deciding what kind of ticket to purchase. There are several options which can be customized to your vacation style and budget.

As I mentioned in my last post, we learned the hard way that you can’t use a single day ticket to get into multiple parks (rookie mistake!) We thought if we had a 5 day park ticket that we could use 2 in one day, leaving 3 tickets left to get into the parks. That’s not how ticketing works, which we learned as our daughter threw a tearful fit in the turnstiles of Hollywood Studios.  Since we had a long planned dinner reservation, we caved and upgraded to a Park Hopper ticket on the spot. Lesson learned!

Here’s the lowdown on tickets just in case you aren’t planning on making a special memory of dropping an extra $250 on a ticket upgrade as you’re walking into the park!

Single Day ticket –  allows entry into one park per day. The longer you stay, the lower the ticket price per day.  As of today, a 1-day adult ticket is $89, 2 days are $88/day, but a 6 day ticket drops to $46.33/day. So after your first 2 days, you basically pay another $100 for 4 more days in the parks. Good deal!

  • Best for: First time visitors can definitely get away with single day tickets because there’s so much to do in each park that you can easily spend 8-10 hours there (or more if it’s extra magic hours!)

Single Ticket Prices

Park Hopper ticket – allows same-day entry into any of the 4 parks – Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios.

  • Best for: Anyone who wants to go to 2+ parks in one day. Sometimes extra magic hours are available in one park, but your dinner reservation or special event is in another park – that’s when the Park Hopper is so convenient because you don’t have to plan to spend your entire day in a park just because you have a reservation.

Water Parks and More ticket – adds a ton of other options for entertainment outside the 4 main parks. The ticket includes entry to the 2 water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon,) ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, DisneyQuest in Downtown Disney, Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course, or Disney’s Fantasia Gardens/Winter Summerland mini golf courses.  One thing to note is that you can only pick one extra per day – you can’t go to 2 water parks or golf and a water park in a single day.

  • Best for: Visitors who will be staying a week or more, have been to the parks before and want other options to spend a few days outside of the parks while remaining in the Disney bubble!

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

The best laid plans

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