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

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All Four Disney World Parks in One Afternoon: Part 2

This is Part Two in this article series. If you arrived here without reading Part One, you may want to start there. There will also be more posts in this article series so please use the buttons to the right to like our Facebook page or follow us on twitter to be notified when this blog is updated.

Part Two, First park of the afternoon: Disney’s Animal Kingdom in under fifteen minutes

Luckily, after all the distractions I ran into leaving the resort, the ride to Animal Kingdom from Animal Kingdom Lodge is very short, putting me in the park ten minutes before closing. Thinking that the last safari from Harambe was 45 minutes before closing, I figured I had no shot of catching it, so I took my time walking back towards Africa. As I came over the bridge into Harambe the last safari sign reads 5PM! Its three minutes to closing and I’m goin’ on Kilimanjaro Safaris! When I got to the safari vehicle the front row had three people and the second row had two people. I left an empty row and had the fourth row to myself with nobody behind me. The clock struck 5 and we were off on the very last safari of the day. [Read more…]

All Four Disney World Parks in One Afternoon: Part 1

My Plan for visiting All Four Disney World Parks in One Afternoon

On a recent trip to Walt Disney World with the family, I was able to take an extra day off of work and fly down in the morning, with the rest of the family catching their flight after work and school. Since we had already tackled all four disney world parks in one full day on a previous trip, I figured I would give it a shot by myself, on the day that I arrived in Orlando Airport at 1PM. I know, sounds crazy, but realistically I am not expecting to be able to hit many attractions. The goal is to set foot in every park, grab a few photos, and maybe hit a ride or two. [Read more…]

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!

Kids Stay and Play for Free!

Disney has announced its Kids Stay and Play for FREE! package to for 2011.

Book a non-discounted room and ticket package with a minimum 4 night stay and children age 3-9 get theme park admission FREE. Book by February 13 for stays most nights February 17 to April 16, 2011. Book by March 27 for stays most nights April 28 to June 14, 2011 and August 14 to October 1, 2011.

The title of this offer is a bit misleading since children under 17 can always stay at a Disney Resort  for free with their parents. Also, the tickets are base tickets, without the Park Hopper or Water Park Fun and More options. Regardless, these ticket savings can be significant.

For more information, check out Mousesavers or the Disney Web Site.

Planning for our first Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Although I have been fortunate enough to visit the magical world of Disney four times over the past three years, I have yet to experience this wonderful thing they call the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. This is a perfect combination of my three favorite things! I grew up with a mother who took cooking classes from the Culinary Institute of America, James Beard and Richard Grausman, the American Representative for Le Cordon Bleu. We currently live in the New York Finger Lakes Region which boasts some of the finest up and coming wines like Riesling and Pinot Noir. And it’s all at Disney! I feel as if they created this festival just for me!

As soon as this year’s festival map was out, I printed myself a copy. Before the festival even started I was highlighting the food I wished to try. I tried to get the kids excited, but my son, who has food allergies and a picky appetite, was only interested in the German booth’s offering of the Sausage in a Pretzel Roll. My daughter, who is a bit more adventurous, was at first turned off by the “wine” reference, but as soon as she saw sushi on Japan’s menu, she was hooked.

Unfortunately this year our trip starts on the next to the last day of the festival. No matter, that will give me plenty of time to research the reviews so I can plan accordingly. Daily I have been reading the Disney Food Blog and the AllEars websites for updates and pictures. I have been highlighting my map in different colors, what I wish to try, what looks good, what people recommend, etc. I have been noting pricing too, since we are traveling during a “free dining” promotion, I want to get the most out of my snack credits. (Did you know you could use your snack credits towards the sample plates? How awesome is that??) So far, the best deal looks like the $7.25 Lobster Roll available at the Hops and Barley Marketplace. And it looks delicious too! Most plates are very reasonably priced from $2.50 to $5.00 for a more than adequate sample.

But this festival is more than just food; it’s also wine, and other beverages, both adult and kid friendly. The beer selections don’t interest me as much. I like good beer, (you won’t catch me drinking a Budweiser) but I want to focus more on drinks that I couldn’t get at my local bar. I had a harder time finding reviews on the drinks being offered. (I would think after about 3 drinks you could hardly walk straight much less form a cognitive opinion!) And unfortunately they are not considered a “snack” and although the wine seems to be reasonably priced, the mixed drinks tend to be substantially more expensive than the food.

Let’s start with the food. I have 10 “definite” booths I would like to try, 12 items total. The top of my list includes that Lobster Roll, Japan’s Tuna Sensation and Argentina’s Grilled Beef Skewer. And I will have to try France’s Escargot Persillade en Brioche. (My kids probably won’t even walk near a booth that serves snails!) And Belgium’s Steamed Mussels look heavenly. It was really hard to narrow this list down! I have 9 “maybe” booths, food that had mixed reviews or just doesn’t look as appetizing in the pictures. And I originally had 7 “skips” until I read more reviews and two of those booths had inexpensive items that came highly recommended. (Poland’s Pork Stuffed Cabbage and Puerto Rico’s Medianoche Sandwich each for only $2.75) And we’ll only be there for the last two days!

Now the drinks. I think that wine will be my beverage of choice for the most part. There are 18 booths that have wine (including South Korea’s Rice Wine and Ireland’s Honey Wine). I have tried wines from some of these countries, Canada, Australia, New Zealand even South Africa and Chile, but I have never had Italy’s sparkling Prosecco or a Moroccan Sangria. A Chardonnay from China? Yes, I’m going to have to try that one. Glasses of wine seem to start at only $2.50 each (although I have no idea what the pour size is, it is difficult to judge in some of the pictures and they may vary from booth to booth) and the most expensive is Canada’s Ice Wine at $5.75. Alright, I’ll admit there are a couple of other drinks I may have to try; Poland’s Vodka Strawberry Balsamic Chiller just sounds interesting. And how can anyone pass up a Godiva Chocolate Liqueur Iced Coffee from Belgium?

And although it may be hard to think about after all that, there are still some desserts I would like to try too. 13 of the 27 booths are offering something for the sweet tooth, including one that is exclusively Desserts and Champagne. Belgium’s Waffles seem to be a big hit in the reviews and they are one of the less expensive choices at only $2.75. I’m a sucker for a bread pudding (Boma and Tusker House have the best) so I will have to try the Pecan Bread Pudding from the Hops and Barley Stand. (Actually, I may end up using all my credits at Hops and Barley. Now if they only sold wine…) And even though we live pretty close to Canada, I have never had the famed British Columbian Nanaimo bar and from the sounds of it, this one is pretty good.

So does anyone else have a plan of attack for the Festival? Have you already been there and can offer suggestions or tips? Any idea if in past years, booths would “wrap up early” towards the end of the festival and we might miss out on anything? I would love to hear from you to help make the most out of those last two days. And if nothing else, I’m sure it will all be a learning experience for the hopefully longer trip we can plan for next year!

Tips for Using the Disney World Magical Express Service

We have a couple tips to share with you regarding the Walt Disney World Magical Express Service.  For a quick description of this service, see the post “Disney’s Magical Express“. Over the last several years we have used the service many times and for each of those trips the Magical Express has served us well. We would like to share our experience to help you optimize your enjoyment of everything that Disney has to offer by avoiding some of the waits that can be associated with using the Magical Express service. [Read more…]

Why We Plan our Disney Trips

Sample Disney Touring Plan

Sample Disney Touring Plan

April first through eighth, 2008. Our first trip as adults to “modern day” Disney. With kids. Recommended touring plans from our Passporter book were adjusted to our ride preferences and entered in to my Outlook Calendar and Task List. Daily park choices were based on the Extra Magic Hour schedule. Dinner reservations were based on daily park choices. From the minute we arrived in Orlando, to the minute we had to depart Orlando, we had just about every minute of every day planned in as much detail as possible. We knew it was an aggressive schedule. We didn’t care. We were going to do it all. With seven nights and eight days, we even had one morning, and one whole day left “unplanned” as slack time to do the things we might miss because our plan was too aggressive as well as leave some down time for “relaxing” at the pool. The entire schedule was printed in a daily format and carried with us for each day. It included lists of rides and attractions in the order we would attempt to do them, dining reservation info, even ideas on when and where to grab snacks and quick service meals. How did all this Disney planning work out? Fantastic for several reasons… [Read more…]

Planning Resources for our Trips

So, we are going to Disney World. What to do? When to do it? Where to eat? Where to stay? So many things to decide and coordinate. When I go on vacation, I have no desire to spend the majority of my time relaxing by the pool. I want to explore and experience all the destination has to offer. The food, entertainment, attractions, scenery, etc… How will we get the most from our trip to Disney World without completely running ourselves ragged?

Before Gillian came in to my life I didn’t know much about what Disney had to offer. Luckily, she had been a subscriber to the AllEars weekly e-newsletter for some time. Through the AllEars web site, she learned of a book called “PassPorters Walt Disney World 2008”. These two resources offer a wealth of information on everything from planning and packing to dining and touring. AllEars is an excellent, “live” resource, with contributors that live near the parks and visit and blog about those visits multiple times a week. (Lucky!) The information is well organized, up to date, and mostly free of advertising. The PassPorter web site, packed full of information, tips, and message forums, is an excellent resource as well. The PassPorter Walt Disney World books are similar in their content, with information on dining, rides, ride reviews based on age, extra activities, and has all sorts of organizational pockets packaged in a spiral bound book format.  I highly recommend purchasing the latest edition of this book as soon as you know you will be planning a trip. Have it accessible for the ride/flight to Disney and carry it with you in the parks for reference. In our opinion, these two resources, plus the schedule information on the Disney web site are all one would need to develop an excellent plan of attack for Disney World.

In addition to the above online and print resources, Disney, in partnership with Verizon, have released the Disney Parks Mobile Magic App.  This is a great resource to help you adjust your  plan while actually in the parks. Check out the article.