Friday, May 31, 2013

Keep on Reading!

Google is a company of progress.... and sometimes that progress includes frustration!

As a blog reader, I've collected MANY blogs to read via Google Friend Connect and other RSS feeds into my google reader.  As a blogger, I can log into my google account and have all my blogs ready to go in my google reader.

Well, as google refuses to leave well enough alone, Google Reader (and most likely google friend connect) is going away.

So, if you're reading blogs on a list like I do, make sure to find another reader to get all of your blogs in one place!

I recently found Feedly - it's an easy switch and for the time being, it logs directly into your google reader account and finds all of your feeds!!

TOO EASY DRILL SERGEANT.  Sorry.  Flashback!

So, now the real question is:
how do you follow/read blogs?
Do you click on links from twitter, facebook, pinterest, or have an RSS feed reader like me?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Random Thoughts: Disney Changes and Improvements

Random Thoughts: Disney Changes and Improvements
By: Rebecca Farrell (Follow me on Twitter @RMZFarrell)

My husband and I were talking the other day, discussing how Disney is currently re-inventing itself to attract visitors. With the expansion of Fantasyland, addition of DVC villas at the Grand Floridian and major overhaul of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs, the times - they are a changin’.

If I look at these changes wearing my “public relations professional” hat, it’s easy to appreciate the need to capture the attention and imagination of both new and returning visitors.  Those of us who have traveled to the parks time and again know that Disney vacations are almost never inexpensive (try as we might) and it makes sense to give people more ways to measure their return on investment.

Updates to Resort Properties
You may have heard to read about the rumored changes at Disney’s Polynesian Resort that could include the addition of DVC villas and a lazy river. I’m admittedly torn on this one: according to what I’ve read online, the changes to the resort would mean the elimination of Rapa Nui, our favorite longhouse.  But I do like the idea of a lazy river and upgrades to the quiet pool…I just hope the resort doesn’t lose that campy, 70s feel.

I’ve also seen in recent days that Disney is releasing dates for the Grand Floridian DVC villas for the end of this year.  That building sure has gone up fast, proving there’s a high demand for luxe accommodations close the parks. I do think it will also draw some people away from Bay Lake Tower, opening up more rooms there to DVC and non-DVC folks alike.

I know that they are updating rooms on the 14th floor of the Contemporary, and it will be interesting to see how those pan out. Our recent stay on the 12th floor/Club Level was delightful – the rooms were very fresh, clean and we like the ‘mod’, sleek style!

Updates to the Parks
I’ve experienced the first part of the Fantastyland expansion at the Magic Kingdom firsthand. Frankly, I’m not all that impressed with the new Ariel ride and my luncheon dining experience at Be Our Guest was a bummer at best.  I do hope that the addition of the Seven Dwarves Mine Train in 2014 and the removal of the scrim that runs behind Winnie the Pooh will return the full-on magic of that part of the park.

 
I have heard (for several years) that some version of CarsLand or a Monsters Inc. land would come to Hollywood Studios. I think that one – or even both – of these ideas are fantastic and have the potential to make HS a full-day park again. Right now, we just pick a morning to get there for rope drop, ride Toy Story and Star Tours, maybe see Beauty and the Beast and then get out. Likely this will change when we have our son…but otherwise, no.

In EPCOT, I am pleased to see that they’re adding more dining options to Morocco and am hopeful that the current table service restaurant will step up its game to meet guest expectations.  While I didn’t visit any of the food booths during the Flower and Garden festival, I was pleased to see that the addition of booze didn’t seem to bring out (at least not in droves) the drinkers/drunks like at Food and Wine festival. I also think Disney would do itself a favor by adding a new pavilion to the World Showcase to represent a major culture

As the newest park, Animal Kingdom has the least amount of ‘holes’ as far as I’m concerned (read about what could have been here).  It’s still a half-day park for us as visiting adults but has plenty to keep us busy and good food options.  I’d love to hear what others think could be added to this park.


What do you think?
What changes would you like to see?
Do your kids have opinions? Leave a comment below!



Rapunzel's Tower / New addition to the Fantasyland Expansion

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tiggerific Tuesday Trivia

Thanks to +Jodi Whisenhunt+Mike Ellis, and +Heidi's Head  for cohosting!

While I was pursing one of Lou Mongello's Trivia Books, I saw a "Did You Know" that made me need to do a bit more research...

So, here it is:

Did you know:
DinoLand, U.S.A. in Disney's Animal Kingdom was originally supposed to have another roller coaster called "The Excavator"

I had never heard that!  We never spend that much time in DinoLand, though Noah sure did love playing around in The Boneyard

So, why didn't this happen?  Well, like so many other things (especially at Animal Kingdom), it boils down to money!  Making AK cost a LOT more than originally planned, so many things were cut here and there.  But, it looks like it would have been cool.  I think they should still add it in - check out this full story from Jim Hill Media for more details!





Saturday, May 25, 2013

What Have You Missed?


If you're like me and may have missed a day or two this week....


Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, May 24, 2013

180 Days Out!

It's that time of year again - I'm just about 6 months out from my next Walt Disney World Adventure!

The craziest part is that I didn't even realize until I received a happy email from my wonderful Travel Agent, Kelly the Disney Guru, asking if there were any ADR's she wanted to make for me (yeah, did you know that TA's will wake super early to get you that special ADR? yeah! They will!).

For me, that specific ADR is a dinner at Be Our Guest for a table of 8!

We'll have to get an update of this pic, but with their new siblings!  

Our next trip will only be for 2 park days, but I'm still looking forward to seeing my friends and visiting my happy place again!

Those babies are a lot bigger now!

And, did I mention where we'll be staying?

I can't wait to see Noah's face when we get to go in our room!

Now, the real question is -
how many days until your next trip?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Disney for Two: Enjoying the Parks While Pregnant

By: Rebecca Farrell (Follow me on Twitter @RMZFarrell)

Dear readers, as you have likely noticed from my recent blog posts, my husband and I are expecting our first child later this year. The little man, due in mid-October, was also the reason we recently changed our Disney Fantasy Western Caribbean Cruise to a 9-day Contemporary Club Level stay (read more about it here).
**For Jenn's Pregnant Touring Experiences, Click Here**
So while I’m sorry I can’t be blogging about the Mayan ruins at Tulum or a memorable meal at Palo, I am pleased to be able to share some unique insights with you about enjoying Walt Disney World with a baby on board.

But before I get into the specifics, I have to share this little tidbit – I have always been amazed at the number of VERY pregnant women I see wandering around Walt Disney World. Frankly, I admire them and don’t know how they do it. I have never been so tired in my life! OK, now we can move on…

Accommodations: Stay Close!
This was a no-brainer for us as we knew that a deluxe resort with a great location was an absolute necessity.  Prior to switching our trip around, we had already booked in three nights at the Club level of the Polynesian, our favorite resort.  When we changed our plans, we found a more cost-effective option was the Club Level at the Contemporary, and we were pleased with our choice.

Being close (walking distance) to the Magic Kingdom cut down on a lot of waiting around for Monorails and buses, especially important because my doctor didn't want me on my feet all day. Also, when it came time for a mid-day break to swim and nap, we could be back at the hotel inside of 15-20 minutes.

My advice:
Try to stay close to the parks
Take a mid-day break
Determine your tolerance for an evening park return on a case-by-case basis

Be Prepared for: Flexibility and Disappointment
I had NO idea how much this pregnancy would wear me out. Even at only 16 weeks pregnant, I was so tired after a morning in the parks that I barely had the energy to sit up a dinner much less go back to a park in the evening.  I even designed our itinerary with only five (5) park days out of eight (8) days on the ground at Walt Disney World, but that didn't seem to be enough!

My new level of tired (and, let’s face it, cranky) meant being flexible with several dining reservations, missing out on evening live sets by Off Kilter and the British Revolution, and even skipping IllumiNations fireworks for the first time EVER. Was it disappointing? Sure, and in the heat of the moment I may even have shed a few tears, but I know we’ll be back some day and we've done it all before.

The weather during our trip also meant that we ended up skipping a day at Animal Kingdom when mother nature was kind enough to make it rain ALL DAY and adding a day at Epcot instead. We figured we’d rather spend more time with the manatees at the Living Seas than be soaked to the bone during a Central Florida monsoon.

Finally, I was glad we decided NOT to invest in park hopper tickets because we never would have received our money’s worth on this trip. One park a day was all I could manage.

Below is a grid with how we spent our time on this trip, using the TouringPlans.com crowd calendar so we didn't hit any park on an over-crowded day:

Day
Activity
Saturday
Flight to MCO, dinner at hotel
Sunday
Epcot
Monday
Magic Kingdom
Tuesday
Break day – Massages at Grand Floridian
Wednesday
Magic Kingdom
Thursday
Break day – Hung out at hotels due to rain
Friday
Epcot
Saturday
Epcot

My advice:
Plan an itinerary that allows for flexibility
Listen to your body
Remember that you WILL be back some day with your little one!

Expectant Mothers Should Not Ride
I was already prepared not to be allowed to go on quite a few rides in my condition, but I certainly didn't hold my husband back. He enjoyed a few of those on the “no no list” while I took a snack break on a nearby bench.  By the way, being pregnant is an EXCELLENT reason to indulge in park pretzels and popcorn if I do say so myself!

Following is a list of rides that expectant mothers should avoid due to jerky motions, potential for motion sickness, etc.  (Note – this list was compiled from several sources – always speak to your doctor about what is safe):

Park
Location
Ride
Magic Kingdom
Tomorrowland
Space Mountain
Magic Kingdom
Tomorrowland
Tomorrowland Speedway
Magic Kingdom
Tomorrowland
Stitch’s Great Escape
Magic Kingdom
Frontierland
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Magic Kingdom
Frontierland
Splash Mountain
Magic Kingdom
New Fantasyland
Goofy’s Barnstormer
Epcot
Future World
Mission: Space
Epcot
Future World
Soarin’ (this has to do with the harness that hits your abdomen)
Epcot
Future World
Test Track
Hollywood Studios
Echo Lake
Star Tours
Hollywood Studios
Sunset Boulevard
Rockin’ Roller Coaster
Hollywood Studios
Sunset Boulevard
Tower of Terror
Animal Kingdom
Africa
Kilimanjaro Safaris
Animal Kingdom
Asia
Expedition Everest
Animal Kingdom
Dinoland U.S.A.
Dinosaur
Animal Kingdom
Dinoland U.S.A.
Primeval Whirl

My advice:
Talk to your Doctor about your trip
Don’t do anything stupid
Take a break for a snack while others in your party go on rides you can’t


Our "Souven-Ears" - can't wait to wear them on our first Disney trip as a FAMILY!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tiggerific Tuesday Trivia


When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, there was only 1 park - the Magic Kingdom.  Entrance into the park was $3.50 for adults/$1.00 for children - and included no rides.

Did you know:
Rides were available for different prices, based on their level of interest, from A-E tickets.  Today, we consider the "E" ticket attractions to be the mountains, but as their were none on opening day (Space Mountain opened in 1975).

A tickets included: The Main Street Vehicles, Omnibus, and Cinderella's Golden Caroussel

B tickets included: Swiss Family Treehouse, Main Street Cinema

C tickets included: Dumbo, Peter Pan's Flight, Mad Tea Party

D tickets included: Skyway, The Hall of Presidents (can you imagine!?)

E tickets included: The Haunted Mansion, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

And, with this trivia, I'm giving away a set of WDW Vinyl Magnets shaped like the original park tickets!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Have a Great Trip Without Breaking the Bank

Just the other day, I was told "I can't go to Walt Disney World.  I can't afford that."

Now, I understand that a WDW vacation is not cheap, but it can be doable without breaking the bank!  There is a lot of bad information on the internet about going on the sly,  but I have some other options - ethical ones!

Visit During the Value Season
Yes, your children might be in school, but if they have a teacher work day you can tag an extra day off with, you'll miss the crowds and save some money.  Food and resorts all cost more during peak (school vacations - summer/Christmas/Thanksgiving/Spring break) season!

Find Cheap Transportation
Driving may seem less expensive, but if you're paying for gas, car costs, and time, it may not be the least expensive options.  I know from DC to Orlando, we've found flights as low as $150 per person round trip.  For a savings of over 9 hours (12+ hour drive), it's totally worth it!  Plus, we don't have to take extra days of vacation for extra travel time!

Travel When They're Young
They're free under 3, but no longer children in Disney's eyes when they turn 10.  Go before the double digits to save money on food and park tickets!

They have fun even when they're little!

Save Money on Food
Yes, I like eating at fancy-ish restaurants and WDW vacations are no exception.  BUT, it's also not necessary on every trip.  To save money on food:

  • Share entrees - some counter service restaurants serve large meals (such as 1/2 Rotisserie Chicken combo with mashed potatoes and a veg for $9.99).  Maybe buy that with another side for a good meal for 2!
  • Ask for no sides - while this may not always work, I've heard it tends to work easily for the kids meal.  You don't always need a side and drink with a kids lunch!
  • Bring snacks/food for breakfast!  If you're not driving, consider using a grocery delivery service or send a package to yourself (from home or amazon) before you go - non-perishable goods - to save some money!
  • Save some money to enjoy the food and snacks.  As AJ Wolfe of the Disney Food Blog says "food is a theme park" and I agree.  You'll totally be missing out if you don't eat any of the great food WDW has to offer!

Take Advantages of Discounts When Possible
While I don't always recommend the dining plan (even free dining) as the best option, it's better than paying rack rate and full ticket prices!  Touringplans.com has a ticket calculator that helps you find the best ticket for you and where
to find it!

Stay on Property
Yes, this is controversial.  Often you can find a "better deal" off property.  But, if you're really sure that you won't be able to afford this again, it's worth the $99/night you'll be paying in a Disney Value Resort.  Staying on property, you'll have free parking at the parks ($15 a day if you're staying off property.  Again, there are way around this, but they're not necessarily ethical or worth the effort!).   If you don't want to rent a car, you won't have to, thanks to Magical Express and free transportation.  Add in the value of extra time in the parks (extra magic hours) and the time you'll be saving driving on and off property...  Now, add in the perks of staying on property - all Mickey all the time - absolutely worth it for that once in a lifetime trip!

Skip loading up on Souvenirs
Set aside a set amount per person for souvenirs.  If it's $20, maybe everyone gets a hat or a tshirt.  Or, find a great pin, vinylmation, or other small trinket.  Maybe a $10 coffee mug.  Probably not all of the above.  Just like a regular shopping trip, try to set a budget to stick to!

Pack Well
Make your list and check it twice (check out one or two of our packing lists for examples).  Don't leave home without packing your own meds, ponchos (unless you want an $8 souvenir poncho), socks, comfortable shoes, etc...  Disney sells everything you need, but you'll be paying more than you normally would!  Of course, I love those incidental souvenirs, like the t-shirt I had to buy when Z peed on me...  yes, really.  Don't try new diapers on vacation!

Use a Fee-Free Travel Agent
While I hope to join the league of extraordinary free travel agents, I'm currently just a fan of their services!  Travel agents keep their eyes and ears on the news to find you the best deals and apply the best discounts to your trip!   If you plan your trip before resort discounts or dining discount are out, don't worry - they'll be applied when they come out!  So, while expecting to save 20% on your resort can't be guaranteed, if it happens after you've budgeted, you may be excited to all of a sudden have 20% more to spend on food, souvenirs, or your savings account!

Save, Save, Save!
We use a Disney Visa credit card for pretty much everything.  Our standard plan is to buy everything with CC instead of check/cash/debit, earn points, and pay off every month.  That way, we earn rewards on our everyday needs.  The Disney Visa might not get the best point, but, we now have a good amount of Disney dollars to use for our next trip.  They should actually cover the majority of our resort bill!  Plus, with the visa, you can get:

  • discounts while shopping (10% on purchases over $50)
  • discounts on dining (10% on many sit down meals)
  • free photo op with characters in Epcot - includes a FREE photo!
  • early access to runDisney events, resort discounts, and more!
Our Disney Visa picture 2010


Keep checking back for more great money-saving tips!



Friday, May 17, 2013

Transportation and Sick Kids - Perks of Staying on WDW Property

For our trips, we switch between staying on and off property.  While we all prefer staying on property, sometimes it makes more sense to rent a villa off property (more room/less money).

When we decided to stay on property instead of lugging around 2 carseats, I was nervous about not having our own car.  We always have our own car.  

What about nap time?
What if we need a quick getaway from a meltdown?
What if, what if, what if?

Well, we started off with another *mostly* great experience with Disney's Magical Express.

Little waiting and a nice and easy drive to our resort.

So relaxing that I missed our sign....


But other than that, the ride was almost perfect.

Now, one thing I had never really considering before when staying off property and having a car was - what would happen if one person got sick.  Would everyone have to stay home?  Would we take a cab?  

Mid-trip, Zachary had a fever.  He wasn't sleeping well at night (very unusual for him) then could hardly keep his eyes open.  He is constantly one to have a fever/cold symptoms while teething, and what would you know but a tooth popped thru on our 3rd park day.  But, with him not sleeping and needing to nap, we were left with 2 options - all of us go later in the day (which would have been our option staying off property) or split up.

So, Noah and I hopped on the first bus to Epcot and went on our way!
Not so good at the selfies, huh?

We learned that morning EMH hours aren't the best at EPCOT when you're there with someone under 40."  

But, we had an hour all to ourselves.  We had a peaceful morning, had a snack, met some characters, purchased a light-up Agent P hat (well, 2 - the first one didn't light up, so we took it back and they replaced it!), and learned about hydroponic vegetables.
I wish I could spell EPCOT in my produce!
After Z woke up from his early morning nap and had a calm breakfast, Adam and he hopped on the next bus and met us in Future World.

The next morning, we were able to do a trade off - Noah and Adam went to DHS and Z and I met them when we were ready instead of rushing out with a cranky/sick baby.

If there was ever an extra perk of staying on property, this is definitely one of them!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Morning Extra Magic Hours with Kids - Epcot

I seem to always recommend using Disney's morning Extra Magic Hours, don't I?  In our first 4 trips with a baby/toddler, they always made perfect sense - as early risers, we simply took advantage of what perk we had with a baby.

Even on Noah's 5th and Z's 1st trip, I had our schedule planned out based on crowd levels and morning extra magic hours.

But, when Z got sick and Noah and I headed out on our own, we stuck with our original plan to hit up Epcot for the crowds.  Noah hadn't had an "official" height check, so I wasn't sure if he was 40", but I figured even if he wasn't that there would be plenty for us to do in Future World.  Right?

WRONG.

Without Adam to ride-swap with, there was literally no point for us to be there.

Open in Future World for morning EMH are:

  • The Land Pavilion (Soarin')
  • Test Track
  • Mission Space
  • Spaceship Earth (not sure if this was actually open when we were there)
  • Mission Space.
That left us with:
  • Living with the Land
  • Spaceship Earth (which we didn't do b/c I really don't think it was open!)
  • post-show areas.
Yup.  After we were denied into Soarin', we rode Living with the Land which, while enjoyable, isn't quite enough for extra magic hours.


We shopped, admired some of the topiaries that were up in preparation for the Flower and Garden Festival, and were some of the first in line for Epcot's Character Spot.
He literally tried to run through the roses
If only he actually smiled in posed pictures...
And... that is the hat we had just bought for him during our shopping spree.

So -
we should have changed our plans - maybe headed to the Magic Kingdom for a non-EMH rope drop, but either way - getting up and out early to wait around from Nemo and Figment.... not worth it!  Sorry Epcot, no morning EMH needed for the little kids!



Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Stay Dry!

Welcome to those of you joining me from Pursuing the Magic and those of you just hopping aboard. I am the 2nd stop on our Magical Blogorail!

It's the spring... and with spring (and summer, fall, and 'winter' in Florida) comes the rain.

The question is always - 
what do you do in the rain?

If you're traveling with babies like I have been, running for the shorter lines isn't really in the game plan (but once my boys are over, we'll be running again, too!).

On our February trip, the boys were supposed to leave my mother-in-law, baby, and me alone for an afternoon of munching around the World Showcase.  Unfortunately, due to rain, the game was delayed by several hours and the boys crashed on our girl time in the rain.

So, we tossed on our ponchos and traveled the world!
Shopping in Morocco

While Future World isn't the best place to be stuck in the rain due to all of the open areas, the World Showcase has enough covered areas, though most are inside the shops!

Shopping in Japan... anyone else think the whole pearl from a live clam thing is creepy?

Inside Karamelle Kuche?  Yes, please!

Mini Terra Cotta Warriors in the China Pavilion


Drumming in the African Spot
Luckily, the rain in Florida rarely lasts very long, so we were able to run from pavilion to pavilion and then it eventually stopped for the day!

With little ones, rainy days may not be the most fun, but the World Showcase gave us a great place to meander (and run in between major downpours!).  And, we only spent a little money sampling snacks (pumpkin spiced funnel cake, random Japanese candies, etc..).

What do you like to do in the rain?

Thank you for joining me today. Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail Loop is Cooking with Mickey.



Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:
1st Stop ~ Pursuing the Magic
**2nd Stop ~ Disney Babies Blog** You Are Here

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Disney Vacation Planning: Is the Club Level for Me?

Disney Vacation Planning: Is the Club Level for Me?
By: Rebecca Farrell (Follow me on Twitter @RMZFarrell)

So you've decided to plan a trip to Walt Disney World – that’s fantastic! Now come all of the hard decisions…when to go, where to stay, where to eat, the list goes on and on.

I’ve blogged already about my Disney favorites, both resorts and restaurants, so I wanted to dive a bit deeper into one of the rare hotel accommodation experiences at the happiest place on earth – the Club level of the Contemporary Resort.

Hotel categories: A refresher
Disney has three levels of hotels: value, moderate and deluxe. If you want to split hairs, over and above the deluxe level are the Club (or Concierge) level rooms and Deluxe Villas. The Villas are part of the Disney Vacation Club and include kitchens, multiple bedrooms, etc., designed to house large families. The Club level comes complete with a lounge and exclusive access to concierge staff that can help with everything from package delivery to dining reservations and even bottles of water to carry to the parks.

Why Club level?
On our recent “switcheroo trip” to Disney, my husband and I knew that we would be taking frequent breaks from the parks and also have several rest days built into our itinerary. Keeping this in mind, having a dedicated lounge with drinks and snacks was something we would definitely take advantage of during the trip.  Our travel agent priced out several of the deluxe resorts and club level rooms for us – and we found the best price was at the Contemporary.

The Contemporary’s Club Level
The Atrium Club level of the Contemporary has rooms on both the 12th and 14th floors of the hotel. As of January 2013, the 14th floor rooms are under total renovation – and we did hear some construction noise during the day. Our room was on the 12th floor and had fantastic views of Bay Lake, both hotel pools and on clear days we could see all the way to Epcot. The lounge, also located on the 12th floor, has sweeping views of the Magic Kingdom, providing an IDEAL vantage point for watching the Wishes fireworks and Electrical Water Pageant each night.

What’s for eats?

Each morning, coffee is set out at 6:30am (there is also an espresso/cappuccino maker), followed by a continental breakfast from 700-10:00am.  We took advantage of the coffee EVERY day – using the larger mugs from the coffee maker in our room and often enjoying coffee on our balcony.  Later in the day, there are refreshments and snacks available (Goldfish crackers, homemade potato chips, Gummy bears), and the service switches to “wine and cheese” from 5-7pm that includes beer and cordials as well as two rotating hot hors d'oeuvres.  From 7-10pm, dessert is available. ALL DAY there are cold sodas and juice, water and iced tea and fresh fruit (apples, bananas and oranges).

 

Helpful staff

As I mentioned above, having dedicated concierge staff available from 7am-10pm each day was a godsend for us. We used them extensively, and they were able to help us with spa reservations, dining reservations, luggage delivery, package delivery and they provided us with bottled water and bagged snacks to take into the parks.

Is it for me?

As you may have guessed, the Club level rooms are expensive. And if I wasn't pregnant, it would not have made sense for us to spend the extra money for this level of service because we’re seasoned Disney travelers who would have spent 12 hours a day at the parks and not in our room or at the pool. But for this trip, with all of the breaks, changes, and much-needed rest, it was exactly what we needed.

 



View of Cinderella's Castle at night from the Contemporary Club Level Lounge



View of Space Mountain from the Contemporary Club Level Lounge


View of the Contemporary pool area and Bay Lake from our room on the 12th floor