Disney World On Site vs Off Site Hotels

When your Walt Disney World trip planning starts, one of your first decisions may be to choose between staying at one of the Disney World On Site Resort Hotels or an off site hotel. We’ll take a look at the pros and cons to both the on-site and off-site options, some things to think about to help you make your decision, as well as our personal opinion and experiences. [Read more…]

Rained out for a Hard ticket Event at Disney World?

Have you ever worried about purchasing a ticket to Disney event such as Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and having your plans ruined due to rain or other unforeseen circumstances? We experienced a torrential downpour for a Halloween Party in October 2012 and thought it would be helpful for our readers to hear about our experience and what Disney may be able to do for you. Hopefully it will make you a bit less hesitant to spend the extra bucks for one of these hard ticket events. [Read more…]

FastPass+ First Impressions and Tips

In case you are unaware, FastPass+ is Walt Disney World’s new, free, high tech ride reservation system offering shorter waits for a limited number of pre-selected attractions at pre-selected times. It basically does the same thing for you as the “legacy” FastPass system, except that you can now use the MyDisneyExperience web site and Mobile Apps to schedule your ride times up to 60 days in advance and you can make as many changes as you want, right up to the moment that your selected time slot for the attraction begins. Your FastPass+ can be redeemed using your Key To The World Card or your MagicBand.

[Read more…]

Disney’s Magical Express

Magical Express Booklet

Magical Express Booklet

What is it?

Disney’s Magical Express (ME) is a service offered by Walt Disney World to provide free airport transfers and luggage service between Orlando International Airport and select Walt Disney Resort Hotels. This service can be booked at the same time you make your Disney Resort reservation.  If you don’t know your airline info at this time, it can be added anytime up to ten days prior to your arrival. It is recommended that you book the service a minimum of six weeks prior to your arrival.  During the busy seasons early booking is most likely very important, but for our off season trips our motor coaches are rarely above 25% capacity. Regardless, don’t put it off if you have your flight info. [Read more…]

Touring Disney World in the Rain

Anyone who has traveled to central Florida in summer knows that the area is notorious for its nearly daily rain showers. If you are planning a visit to the Disney World theme parks during the rainy season, touring the parks in the rain is unavoidable. However, do not let the rain interfere with enjoying your Disney World vacation. As long as we are not talking about a hurricane, a rainy day at Disney World is quite manageable.

Lightning over Space Ship Earth

Lightning over Space Ship Earth

[Read more…]

Citizens of Hollywood

The Citizens of Hollywood, formerly known as Streetmosphere, are a hilarious group of actors that put on various performances multiple times a day in the streets of Disney’s Hollywood Studios. These performers are not to be missed and when I see parents dragging their kids past them to get in line for a meet and greet or ride I just shake my head. The Citizens of Hollywood are amazing ad-lib comics that everyone should take the time to appreciate. Below are some of my favorite moments from these performances.

First, some introductions…

Dorma Nesmond, Hollywood Moviestar

Dorma Nesmond, Hollywood Moviestar

Hollywood Director Otto Von Bonn Bahn of Disney's Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Director Otto Von Bonn Bahn

Mimi Kaboom and Stone Granite

Mimi Kaboom and Stone Granite

Evie Starlight and Officer William Club

Evie Starlight and Officer William Club

My personal favorite for his many faces and emotions…

Officer Percival Peabody

Officer Percival Peabody

Famous Hollywood Gossip Columnist…

Chloe Canard, Hollywood Gossip Columnist

Chloe Canard, Hollywood Gossip Columnist

There are multiple story lines they work from. In this scene, Peabody stands in as a stunt double to take a punch from Dorma Nesmond.

Peabody stands in as a stunt double to take a punch from Dorma Nesmond

Peabody stands in as a stunt double to take a punch from Dorma Nesmond

Here, Director Otto is fed up with Peabody’s inability to follow directions and directs him off the set. Peabody is obviously disappointed.

Officer Peabody is ejected from Otto's set due to his incompetence

Officer Peabody is ejected from Otto’s set due to his incompetence

But as in all Disney stories, there is a happy ending and Peabody is invited back to the stage.

Otto allows Percival back on his set at Disney's Hollywood Studios

Otto allows Percival back on his set

These skits usually run about 15 minutes in length and seem somewhat random in timing. I’ve gotten differing responses when asking cast members what the actual schedule is for the Citizens of Hollywood, but they can be found on either Hollywood Boulevard or Sunset Boulevard. Like I said before, these performers are not to be missed. They offer a break from the running from ride to ride and sometimes they even give out prizes to participants, usually instant fastpasses for the participant and their family, for being a part of the show.

Credit goes to studioscentral.com for the names of the Citizens of Hollywood. For more info on the Citizens of Hollywood, check out the Citizens of Hollywood Directory page over at Studios Central.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival 2011

Well, it’s almost time for us to visit the happiest place during happiest time of year – Walt Disney World during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival! If there was one thing we learned from our last trip, it’s that you can’t do it all in a weekend! Last year was our first visit during the Food and Wine Fest and it was also unfortunately the last weekend of the event. We were overwhelmed (but truly what did we expect?) by the masses lined up at the booths. Much to our dismay, we were unable to take full advantage of all the unique and diverse culinary samples that we were so looking forward to.

Last November’s trip was during a free dining period, which was great for use of our snack credits at the booths. We also had the kids with us, it was fun for them to try some new foods, but they weren’t as focused on the Fest as we adults wanted to be. I had planned an entire itinerary of the offerings at the different booths, which was the best use of our snack credits, which dishes were most recommended or sounded the most interesting, the drinks we really wanted to try,etc. etc. Well, none of that really happened. We sampled maybe 4 or 5 different things (the favorite being the Grilled Beef Skewer at Argentina), I did get to try the Prosecco in Italy (it was ok, but I’ll try something else this year) but we didn’t even get the best use of our snack credit with the Lobster Roll (at the Hops and Barley booth) or enjoy the escargot in France (something I knew I wouldn’t have to share with the kids!)

So this year we are going in October, we will have 2 days that are not over a weekend to take full advantage of all the mouth-watering offerings. We hope to even attend one of the Culinary or Wine and Beverage Seminars. And we are going without the kids. We know now what to expect in the crowd level and I’ll condense the itinerary to be a bit more manageable.

Does anyone else have a “plan of attack” for the Food and Wine Fest? We would love to hear other suggestions, still being novices at this event, any planning tips would be greatly appreciated!

Planning a Relaxing Trip to Disney World

During our family trip to Walt Disney World in November 2010, the kids complained that it was not relaxing enough. That we spent too much time park hopping to do all the attractions we wanted to do and get to all the table service meal locations we made reservations for. That was the kids third annual trip and the first time we had heard this complaint. Normally, we plan park days around Extra Magic Hours and any special events, as well as advance dinner reservations. This trip was also during free dining, so we had five table service meals planned for the duration of our five night, six day trip. We normally plan to visit more than one park per day for just about every day of our trip. And up to this time, the busy schedule doing everything we could possibly squeeze in seemed to be what everyone wanted and loved. Note that this busy schedule included “downtime” and even unplanned full days. For those times we still usually elected to do something other than “relax”.

So after last years complaint about being all “go go go”, and no “relax”, and after visiting the Beach Club Resort and having the kids fall in love with the incredible pool, we planned a seven night, eight day stay for August 2011 with only two planned table service meals. One at Tusker House for lunch and a dinner at Cape May Cafe. We also didn’t plan specific days to see things like Fantasmic!, Wishes, or IllumiNations. The thought being that with fewer planned meals and attractions to get to, things would be less hectic, leaving more time for relaxing. For us, this did not work out at all.

Sandy Bottom Pool at Disney World's Beach Club Resort

Sandy Bottom Pool at Disney World's Beach Club Resort

The Problems with Traveling to Walt Disney World Without a Detailed Plan

The kids enjoy eating at all the different restaurants and trying all the different snacks and drinks, so one of the biggest problems for us was the lack of a daily meal plan. It seemed with no plan as where to eat, nobody ever wanted to eat at the same place. The two kids wanted to go to places they liked in the past and the adults wanted to try new places. In addition, the kids usually didn’t agree in their choices, or, since one has a shellfish and tree nut allergy, we couldn’t always accommodate everyone’s needs at a place that was conveniently located. So, we end up running around searching for a place to eat, and being forced to eat at off meal times, instead of relaxing.

We also thought that, since we were visiting during a slower time when the Orlando schools were in session, we would not have too much trouble with getting a table as a walk up. This was a false assumption. When we first started targeting the “off season” we were amazed at how empty the parks were. In the last couple years though, it just seems there is no off season.

Sea of Humanity at Epcot: August 25th, 2011

Sea of Humanity at Epcot: August 25, 2011 This is a bit exaggerated since it is right after morning rope drop and everyone is rushing towards Soarin' or Test Track, but it makes a point: Its usually busy at Walt Disney World!

Another problem was that, oddly, after wanting to be less tied to a schedule, the kids were always asking what we were doing next. They then ended up with their own idea of what our day was going to be and it was frustrating for them when it didn’t pan out.

Here is something I really didn’t expect while staying at the Beach Club. Seeing Illuminations almost never happened! I was hoping to see it on a few nights from a few different vantage points so I could find some new angles to photograph it from on our Pixelmania trip (without the kids) in October. You would think that being a two minute walk from the park we could find a few evenings to do this but without it being planned it just didn’t happen. So this time I was the one frustrated when my unplanned plans didn’t pan out.

IllumiNations! photographed from Epcot's World Showcase

IllumiNations! photographed from Epcot's World Showcase

After all our non-planning so we could “have a more relaxing trip and enjoy our deluxe resort with the totally awesome pool”, I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to take advantage of much of the luxury of our first stay at a Deluxe resort. Incredibly, on one of the wicked hot days near the end of our stay, instead of relaxing by the pool, everyone decided to make a second trip to Downtown Disney to go shopping! Well, everyone but me. I hung out by the pool and had drinks delivered to me in my lounge chair. At least someone was relaxing! 🙂

The Reality of What We Do at Walt Disney World

During the trip Mom and I saw the frustration of not knowing what we were doing next, as well as the fact that the kids were not all that focused on actually relaxing like they thought they wanted to. We talked with the kids about this and they agreed that the way we had planned our trips in the past worked better for everyone than what we tried this year. As the kids get older the attractions remain important and the list of attractions they want to experience is changing. Also, we all enjoy the unique food opportunities at Disney.  There is just no way around having to plan all of this.

Having everyone Involved in the Process of Planning their Disney Trip

For our thoroughly planned trips, we involved the kids in the planning process. Everyone knew long before the trip that they were going to get to do everything that was most important to them. Getting this input from them long before the trip prepares them for the times when they get to do their stuff, as well as when they need to go along with what others want to do. Once we are on vacation, the schedule allows everyone to look forward to the attractions or activities they want to do instead of worrying about when or if they will be doing these things.

The moral of the story, at least for our family, is: If you want a truly relaxing vacation at Walt Disney World, you still need to plan as many of your activities and meals as possible! Including a few hours of down time for at least a few of your days is important too. Maybe even one day thats wide open for either relaxing or making up lost time due to weather or crowds. For this unplanned day you still may want to have meal reservations or at least an idea of counter service options that everyone can agree on.

This is the way it is for our family but I imagine not everyone is the same. Do trips seem more hectic if you don’t make fairly detailed plans? Do you at least plan your meals? Let us know in the comments below!

Is Tables In Wonderland a Good Deal?

The Tables in Wonderland dining discount membership is available for purchase by Florida residents for $100 or annual passholders for $75. Our previous trip in November we had purchased annual passes for ourselves, and realized that with the trips we have tentatively scheduled over the next year, the dining discount could be worth it. So, on our last “adults only” trip in January, we purchased the Tables in Wonderland dining discount card. Here is what we learned…

Tables in Wonderland Membership card (front)

Tables in Wonderland Membership card (front)

Benefits of Tables in Wonderland

Tables in Wonderland (TIW) gives you 20% off on food and drinks (including alcoholic beverages!) at almost all Table Service restaurants, some Counter Service (Pizzafari, Flame Tree Barbecue and Restaurantosaurus in Animal Kingdom), the late showings of Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue and Spirit of Aloha, and the value resorts food court restaurants. Because TIW includes alcoholic beverages, it is also honored for just drinks at most of the lounges at the deluxe resorts and, our favorite place for a drink, The Rose and Crown Pub in the UK Pavilion.

With the TIW discount, at Table Service restaurants, an 18% gratuity is automatically added to your bill. Usually the service at any Disney establishment is worth that amount and it is a “suggested” amount to add at the bottom of any receipt, so if you take that into consideration, your discount is a full 20%. If though, you tend to tip at the more standard 15% level, then the TIW discount is a bit less. This 18% gratuity is also added to a bar tab, so if you usually only give a couple of bucks for a $20 pour of 18 year single malt scotch, your savings may not be as great. If you use your Tables in Wonderland card at Victoria and Albert’s, a full 20% gratuity is automatically added, but with the cost of Victoria & Albert’s, saving the gratuity alone here could easily pay for your TIW membership.

TIW membership also includes:

  • Complimentary resort valet parking services for the sole purpose of dining. This benefit is good for one vehicle per membership card.
  • Complimentary Theme Park parking for the sole purpose of dining. If you arrive before 5:00pm, you will pay for parking at the Toll Plaza.  On your way out of the Theme Park, visit Guest Relations and if it has been less than 3 hours, show your membership card and dining receipt for reimbursement for parking. After 5:00 p.m., members can show their membership card at the toll plaza to enter the parking lot. Theme park admission is required for dining in all Theme Park restaurant locations. On Block-Out dates, there will be a charge for parking and valet services.

Currently, the Block-out dates for Tables in Wonderland are: Mothers Day, Easter Sunday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Also, there is a $50 replacement fee for lost or stolen  cards, so take good care if this card!

When you get your card, it comes with the latest version of the booklet listing the participating locations. You can also ask for this booklet at any guest services location. Note that the info in the booklet can change at any time, so if you have a TIW membership and are considering visiting a location that is not on the list, always ask!

Tables in Wonderland Member Booklet

Tables in Wonderland Member Booklet-Resort Locations

Tables in Wonderland Member Booklet

Tables in Wonderland Member Booklet-Resort Locations

Tables in Wonderland Member Booklet

Tables in Wonderland Member Booklet-Resort Locations

Tables in Wonderland Member Booklet

Tables in Wonderland Member Booklet-Resort and Theme Park Locations

Tables in Wonderland Member Booklet

Tables in Wonderland Member Booklet-Theme Park and Other Locations

Tables in Wonderland Member Booklet

Tables in Wonderland Member Booklet

Our experience with Tables in Wonderland

The first use of Tables in Wonderland was on our 5 day January trip. We made no advance dining reservations, just deciding to “wing it” when it came to meals. We were able to get into 4 Table Service restaurants without reservations; Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom, Via Napoli and Tokyo Dining in Epcot and The Cape May Café at Beach Club Resort. Normally getting into a Table Service without ADR’s is unheard of, but the end of January is not a peak season and it was just the two of us, so that worked to our advantage. We were also staying at Pop Century, so we used the TIW discount for a couple of quick breakfasts before we headed out to the parks. One morning we enjoyed Pizzafari which, unbeknownst to most visitors, serves a full breakfast. (We’ve had breakfast there twice and were the only people in the restaurant!) We also took advantage of the full discount (no tip added) at Flame Tree Barbeque which, in my opinion, is one of the best values in the parks, their food is excellent and the portions are worth the money even without a discount. This being an “adult only” trip, we also took advantage of a couple of the lounges, Todd English’s bluezoo, Martha’s Vineyard in The Beach Club and of course the Rose and Crown.

Our actual savings from Tables in Wonderland

So in total we used our TIW discount at 10 different establishments. With only the two of us we saved $61.53 just in those 5 days based on our usual 15% tip. If we normally tipped 18%, the savings would have been $71.68. We already have an 8 day trip with the kids scheduled for August, and we are tentatively planning another trip during the Food and Wine Festival in October. We should have no problem seeing significant savings from our TIW membership.

Our advice for purchasing Tables in Wonderland

If you travel to Disney World often enough to justify an annual pass, and enjoy eating at a few table service restaurants on each visit, I highly recommend purchasing the $75.00 Tables in Wonderland dining discount. As a Florida resident that is not an annual passholder you will have to decide for yourself if you can use a TIW membership enough to see a return on your $100 purchase. If you dine regularly at Signature restaurants, especially those at the resorts and Downtown Disney where you don’t need park admission, you could certainly see significant savings. If you only go a few days a year but you have a large family that likes to eat at table service restaurants, you may also be able to see some savings, but do your research first.

For official details regarding TIW, see the Disney TIW web page. This page is intended for Florida residents only and it may ask you for a zip code. Here is one that will work: 32801

Should I buy the Disney Dining Plan?

As a follow-up to our previous post “Is the Disney Dining Plan a Good Deal?”, we will try to help you determine if the Disney Dining Plan will be right for you and your family. Several factors go in to determining if the Dining Plan will be a good deal for you. Note that Disney offers three options of the Dining Plan, Quick Service, Standard, and Deluxe. At this point, we are addressing only the Standard Disney Dining Plan. (See the Dining Plan Pricing here) Note also that during peak seasons plan pricing goes up $5 per day for adults and $1 per day for children corresponding with an increase in menu prices during peak season.

The first factor is [Read more…]