Thursday, June 30, 2011

We Want to go to Disney. Where do we begin?

      Whatever you do, don’t just call up Disney and make a reservation to go during your kids’ school spring break.  That alone will set you up for a less than ideal vacation.
      First you need to decide when to go.  I do discourage people, especially a Disney World newbie from going during Christmas break or spring break.  These are the two most crowded times of year at Walt Disney World, and therefore also the most expensive.  So you will pay more and see less.
      I think the best time of year to visit is the fall, particularly September.  This does not include Thanksgiving week (see above re: spring break).  For the last several years Disney has offered a free Disney Dining Plan promotion during September.  This can save you a lot of money.  Yes, I know the kids are in school, but that is why it is the least crowded, least expensive time of year to go.
      If it is not possible to go in September, then October, early November, or the first 2 weeks of December are also great times.  If you are unable or not willing to take the kids out of school, I still feel the hot summer is better than those two major school holidays.  If your school district gets out at the end of May, go the first few weeks of June. If your school gets out at the end of June, go the last two weeks in August.  Yes, it will be hot.
Once you have decided on WHEN to go, you need to decide for how long and where to stay.  I will cover resort recommendations in other posts, but in more general terms of where to stay? STAY ON PROPERTY!  For some reason, people seem to think they will save money by staying off site. Maybe you may save a little bit, but not much, or enough to make staying off property worth it in my opinion.  Unless Great Aunt Edna is letting you use her two bedroom timeshare 5 minutes from the gate for free, you are almost always better on property.  
Let’s look at why.  A small, basic and clean off property hotel for a family of 4 may cost you $60 a night.  A Disney Value Resort may run between $80-$100 a night.  On the surface, people think staying on property is more expensive.  If you are staying off-site and you visit the Disney Parks, you will need to pay for parking. That’s $14 per day.  So make that $60 hotel room now $74.  How are you going to get to the parks?  You’re going to need a car.  Yes, some off site hotels have “shuttles to the parks” that they make sound so wonderful and accommodating.  These shuttles normally run only every hour.  If you miss that bus, due to an emergency potty stop, meltdown, or booboo, you are guaranteed a one hour wait before the next bus comes.  If you are going to the Magic Kingdom, those busses can’t even take you to the front of the park! That is for Disney busses only.  They will drop you off at the Ticket and Transportation Center, and you will still have to either take the Ferry or Monorail to the park entrance. IF you get a great deal on a rental, and gas is not through the roof, it’s going to be at least $20 a day, probably more.  Your inexpensive hotel is now $94/night.  Just stay on property.

If you are a Disney Resort guest, Disney will pick you up for free at the airport, and return you to the airport at the end of your stay via their Magical Express.  In particular if you have small children, this can be wonderful. No car seats to lug onto the plane, and schlep through the airport!  Disney Resort busses run approximately every 20 minutes or so.  There is no schedule, they just keep coming.  Is it possible you may have to wait 30 minutes for your bus, yes, but not very often.  Usually the wait is 20 minutes or often less.  And instead of having to buckle all the kids into their car seats and booster seats into a hot car, and drive everyone around like you do at home, you get to get into a nice air conditioned bus and “just sit back, relax, and enjoy your trip”. Just stay on property.
The other reason you don’t just call up Disney and make a reservation (or ressie as they are known on the web), is that Disney will not let you know about any other their special promotions unless you specifically ask.  In recent years with the economic downturn, Disney has offered some FANTASTIC deals. For example, free Disney Dining Plan, stay 4 nights get 3 free, and percent off room rates.  Do your research before you call, and you may receive a much better deal.  The websites to the left side of my blog page: MouseMisers, and MouseSavers, will have the most up to date information on current deals. At MouseMisers, you can sign up for email alerts when a new promotion is announced.  I will try to keep current offers listed on the blog as well.
If you are hesitant to book and want to wait for a better deal, don’t.  Unlike an airline ticket which you usually can’t change, Disney reservations are easily changed.  If you book a deal for say 20% off at a Value Resort, and then Free Dining becomes available, you can call Disney and rebook at the better rate. It’s a win-win situation, so JUST STAY ON PROPERTY.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Girls Only Trip to LA and Disneyland-Part III

As far as the overall impression of the ride? It's a dark ride. That sums it up. I think they did a good job, the "Under the Sea" scene was artistically amazing, but how thrilling can a dark ride be? Your little princess will probably love it. I enjoyed it. The 30 min wait was fine, it loaded VERY quickly. But I would never wait more than that for it. I think once the newness wears off lines wil consistently be 15 min or less.

Time for more pics!


Girls Only Trip to LA and Disneyland-Part II

After a minor hiccup I am on my way, and running on fumes! I got up at 9am Tuesday, put in a 7pm to 7 am night shift and got maybe a 2 hour nap. Pushed through the day, then tried to take a snooze from about 9 till 2am. Unfortunately, I was awakened twice by a horrid shrill alarm. My brand new weather radio, which was purchased after the recent tornados in the south, was going off. I'll need to figure out how to lower the volume on that thing! I want to know if a storm is coming, not scared half to death that the Russians are bombing! Yikes! According to the radio, a thunderstorm was coming our way....dun dun dun...

Up and out the door on time at 0310. Hit some rain, and got a beautiful show of lightening the entire 100 mile journey to Chicago. At one point through Gary this storm was so strong, I had to slow to 35 mph. The lightening was so bad, it was like a strobe light at some aweful party, and I strongly considered pulling over. BUT... just keep swimming!

Once on the plane I was ready to go, and ready, and ready... Yup, that darn thunderstorm was back to haunt me. I think mother nature was angry with me because the second time the radio alarm went off I unplugged it and removed the batteries! We were delayed 50 min for the storm. So much for my hope of getting in a few minutes early and making the 8:30 Disneyland Express. Now I was just praying to make the 9:30. I did! This is where I sit now on my way to see the Mouse. It's kinda overcast and gray, but it's not supposed to rain.

I got a good rcommendation on the Disneyland Express. Nice clean bus, and on schedule.

The Disneyland Express worked great. I was able to find a coupon online and received $5 off per ticket, so the final price was $17 for the one way journey. Very easy to find and use, and I would definitely use the service again. In comparison I priced out a taxi, and it came to $113 before tip! Even my Southern California native friend was impressed by the price, as she had never heard of it.

I requested to get off at the Grand Californian as was recommended by a fellow MO. It truly is a beautiful hotel. The lobby is very dark and reminiscent of VWL or AKV. I loved it!

I wandered out toward downtown Disney and saw this in the window, a Disney Couture wedding dress. WOW! I wish there were Disney dresses 9 years ago when I tied the knot.

My goals were conflicting in that I knew I needed to eat, but the Disney commando in me was desperate to get on some rides before the crowds swelled. I abandoned my original plan of finding the Jazz Kitchen take out window for beignets. I have never had one, and was anxious to try some, but the commando won out. I dis not pass the Jazz Kitchen on the way toward the parks, so I just decided to go hungry for a while. Here is a really cool sign outside the World of Disney store on the way to the park entrance.

I made it to the park entrance and through the bag check. The poor lady had to go through my big packed bag from the plane! Then I was able to rent a medium size locker in the plaza between parks. I was sort of intimidated by getting a locker. Silly I know. It was super easy. $10 for a days rental.
I swear this sign said Disneyland. It must have rotating pictures.

I made it into DCA, got my birthday pin, made a wrong turn in Albequerque, and made it to Voyage of the Little Mermaid. The stated wait time was 30 min so I jumped in the line.

Hidden Mickey scrollwork in the LM line

Shells embedded in the sidewalk along the line.

Mural at loading dock.

Shell cars

Entrance into the ride at Loading dock, you go through the back of the boat.

Girls Only Trip to LA and Disneyland

'm waiting at the gate for my 0600 flight to LA and thought I'd get my TR started!

Background: Even 13 years after graduating from Notre Dame, I am still very close with my 5 best college friends. The past 13 months have been rough for the 6 of us, including: a new marriage, 2 new babies and a little post-partum depression, 1 baby with unexpected Down's Syndrome, 1 broken arm, 1 broken leg, and 3 miscarriages. Whew! We needed a first ever girl getaway. This will be only the second time since graduation that we will all be together. While looking for affordable places for all of us, flights dropped to LA and the Midwest crew was able to get roundtrip to LAX for $200!!!

The cast: me! Today is my 35th birthday and I am looking forward to celebrating at Disneyland. I am a mom of three boys and an RN. "The Librarian" is a mom of a 11 month old little guy with Down's. In her former life she was a librarian for the Historical Society in Madison,WI. She is our most eccentric and dramatic of the group, with degrees in Mid-Evil Studies and a masters in Old English of all things. "Twinkle Toes" is a mom of 2 girls, and a former marketing agent turned ballet teacher from the Chicago burbs. "Doc" is a doctor of internal medicine from Seattle, and mother of 1. "PhD" is a professor of environmental chemistry at U of Utah, and the first member of her Sioux tribe to hold such a degree. "MSW" is a mother of 2 and medical social worker from San Diego, and our California host. The 6 husbands and 9 kids are staying home!

The Plan: I arrive in LA at 8:30 local, and will take the Disneyland Express to DCA, and will make a mad dash to Little Mermaid! The Librarian is arriving early and going to an art museum in Malibu. PhD and Twinkle Toes arrive around 4-ish, and will meet the Librarian back at LAX where MSW will pick them up and meet me at DTD for dinner. Tomorrow we pick up Doc at 10am at LAX and spend the day at DL. Saturday and Sunday are relax/beach days. I could barely get them to agree to the one DL day, and I pulled the birthday card to guilt them into it!

We have a rented beach house on Newport Beach for the 3 nights, then a late flight back on Sunday!

I'm on the plane and here we go!

February 2010 Last Minute Trip -Part VI

Last day of TR 2/23!

Today was an easier day for us, check-out day and we were EXHAUSTED! We had a late breakfast at Artist's Palate. We got the big breakfast platter, and instead of the biscuit and potatoes they let us trade those out for two extra Mickey Waffles. The platters were so big, with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and three waffles each, two of them were enough to feed both DH and I and all three kids! I have to say, the scrambled eggs were really quite good!

We had a few last minutes with mom and dad before they had to catch their 11am Magical Express. Mom and Dad left to get to the bus stop by 10:45....and did they have an ordeal! At SSR the Magical Express bus stop is right across the driveway from Bell Services, so thankfully when ME didn't show up by 11:20, they went to bell services to ask about the bus. When SSR called ME, the ME lady said, oh yes they had picked up two people at SSR on the 11am bus....the CM said "well I'm looking right at them, and they've been here since before 11, so I don't think you picked them up". So ME said they were going to send someone. Two more ME buses came and dropped off people, but were not there to pick them up. Finally at 11:40, the concierge called them a cab and gave them a voucher to get to the airport! As I told Dad, it's unusual for Disney to mess something up like that, but at least they made it right!

While this was going on we took the bus to DTD for last minute 20% off shopping, and planned to go to Epcot. At the bus stop a bus for the Boardwalk pulled up and I convinced DH we could take that bus and walk through the boardwalk to check it out and go in the back door of Epcot. Okay, that bus ride from DTD there is too long for me. First the bus went to the second DTD stop. Then Typhoon Lagoon, then Swan/Dolphin, THEN Beach Club before Boardwalk. That would seriously make me not want to go from Boardwalk to DTD. We ended up getting off at the Beach Club. We'd never been before and it seemed very nice. SAB looked very cool and the boys loved the whole pirate ship thing. DH was unconvinced. He loves AKV and even Beach Club was not exciting enough for him. Then again he grew up 30 min outside Atlantic City and went to Cape May all the time, so I can see how both resorts are less than thrilling to him. Maybe after 3 or 4 more stays at Kidani I can convince him to try BCV or BWV.

Epcot was beautiful the weather was 70 degrees! Our best day so far! Some of the Flower and Garden displays were already visible, and some partially if you were willing to peek behind the tall trees like me

We hit Norway and Mexico for the boat rides with the kids, DS5 really wanted to do test track, but the FP's were for too late in the day, and standby was like 45 minutes. We hit Nemo, and Turtle Talk with Crush. Crush is a blast always. Today we had to watch crush dodge an obnoxious kid who first mentioned that a Bikini top was for covering a ladies "b***s", and then told crush he wanted to eat him. Whoever was manning Crush that day gets a job well done from us.

We took a quick ride on Imagination (still so disappointing compared to the original), and got some ice cream. I ran to the photo center to have them print out a photo we had the Photopass person take of my parents to give to them as an anniversary gift. Bus back to SSR to catch the ME!

Boys at SSR

Thankfully ME was smooth sailing for us. TSA was fun again, especially b/c there was an international family (I'm thinking Brazil or Argentina) who looked like they bought out Best Buy and then tried to place it all in their carry on. Seriously, PlayStation, digital cameras, digital photo frames and about 10 other stuff, the TSA agent kept removing from their carry on's and rescanning! UGH!

Happy to be home, sad to be away from our other "Home" . Can't wait for our trip in August! Thanks everyone for reading!

February 2010 Last Minute Trip -Part V

After lunch we took the kids on their first ever trip to Tom Sawyer's Island. This is one of the few places we have never done. My mom has photos of me on the Island at 4 years old in about 1980! The kids loved it! The birthday boy wanted to stay all day and "be an explorer mom".

"Still Crazy After All These Years" Mom and Dad playing Checkers in Fort Langhorn.

We also did the 3pm parade for the first time ( usually too hot!)

We spent an easy afternoon on BTM, the train, Pirates, Tiki Room, and Magic Carpets. We missed the afternoon shower by a luckily planned shopping trip to the Emporium. I couldn't figure out why it got so crowded all of a sudden until I noticed the downpour outside! more 20% off shopping!

Evening in Monsters Inc. The evening was only a bit dampened by a call from my hospital "Kate, we have you on the schedule for tonight, it is 7:19pm where are you?" ACK! "No, I have another RN covering for me! I can't really come in right now, I just got off the Peoplemover in Tomorrowland in Disney World..." They found her. She forgot she was covering me...still caused me a bit of stress. I don't like letting people down. No harm done thankfully!

I sent the family to secure a Wishes viewing location, and the birthday boy and I went on a Funnel Cake Mission! YUM! Also for those who don't know, if you are on DDP (we weren't this trip) even though there is no "snack icon" next to the funnel cake at Sleepy Hollow, and it is more than $4, if you ask, they will let you use it as a snack credit! I learned this from "another board" and it worked for me in September! Anyway those funnel cakes are YUMMY! Just the perfect thing to munch on while waiting for Wishes! The music when the kids sing "Starlight, star bright..." makes me tear up every time! This summer we will be seeing "Summer Nightastic" or whatever that will be. I'm super excited about the Mainstreet Electrical Parade....loved it as a kid.

After Wishes another quick getaway back to SSR. Kids to bed by 9pm! Mom and Dad and I headed to Artist's Palate to get some dinner. I cannot recommend enough that Roast Beef and Blue sandwich there. It was fantastic. Tomorrow....Gran and Pop leave early and we have a late flight out....will sleep in and have an easier day. We are all exhausted! Never done MK from open to close with the kids before....probably won't again! But we did a lot we usually miss because of naps like Tom Sawyer Island and the Parade.

Gotta get dinner on the are getting cranky! Will finish the last day TR later.....My folks had Magical Express Issues!

February 2010 Last Minute Trip -Part IV

Monday 2/22

Today DS4 becomes DS5! We are so happy to celebrate at WDW with him. DS2 and DH have each had a birthday there. We were off to MK for rope drop! We left SSR by 8am for the 9am opening. We did the Give a Day Get a Day promotion and DS7 wanted to turn in his voucher for the pin set. I'm glad we got there early because it took about 10 minutes to get it done! DH and I are saving ours to use for the FP's in August. But we were afraid they might run out of pin sets by then for DS.

It is a very nice set of pins mounted on an ear hat figurine! Very cool. We had to turn in our voucher at guest services for another voucher, which we had to take to package pickup after 12pm! Yikes. But it is a great souven"ear". We did Project Linus and made blankets. It was a great experience for DS7.

We were there for the opening show!

DH took this photo of mom and I waiting for Mickey. Behind my DH taking the photo was a family all wearing "1st Visit" pins. The one girl who looked about 8 or 9...when the train pulled in...her eyes were like saucers and her mouth was so wide! It was great! I said to the mom "I love your daughter's expression! She is so excited!", the mom said "we all are, this is our first visit"! I can only imagine how this little girl must have looked when she saw the castle!

We followed our usual commando plan for MK and headed straight back to Fantasyland for a ride on Dumbo! Then to the carousel! I know, I'm a bit crazy but it wasn't that crowded, and there were no little girls in princess costumes...SO... I made a beeline for Cinderella's personal horse. You know it has purple flowers and a gold ribbon tied on its tail. SCORE! Finally got to ride it. Okay so I'm a big kid. We did Peter Pan, Haunted Mansion, IASM, Snow White, and Pooh! Whew! I was so happy that it wasn't too crowded like it had been on Saturday night. It seems most people's school holidays were done and the crowds were much better. A few more Barnstormer rides, and then we took DS7 on his first ride on Space Mountain! It was closed for refurb last trip! Here we are prior to take-off....

He seemed to have a good time, but stated he wanted to wait until our next trip to ride again! A quick visit with a photopass photographer for a family photo in our Tie Dyes.

Then it was off to Crystal Palace for Birthday Lunch!
I really like the Crystal Palace. The food is good, large selection and the location can't be beat! You don't have to deal with transportation to one of the resorts, and if you time it right you can watch the Dream Along with Mickey show while you wait for your buzzer to go off!

BTW the chilli salmon at Crystal Palace was fantastic! My kids are still young enough to enjoy Pooh and friends.

They joined the parade around the Palace and Liam enjoyed the frosting off his birthday cupcake. For those of you who don't know the little Sara Lee frozen birthday cakes have increased in cost from $12 to $21!!! Sorry kid, you're getting the free cupcake. 

February 2010 Last Minute Trip -Part III

On Sunday 2/21 we celebrated my Mom and Dad's 40th Wedding Anniversary! Quite an accomplishment these days! Mom loved wearing her button and relished every "Happy Anniversary" she received from CM's and even other guests! Dad is a bit more low key and was a little shy about wearing his, but my DH was happy to alert my mom when dad was sans button. My dad now promises to pay DH back for said treason on another trip....we'll see...

On Sunday we were happy to get not one but 3 wake up calls! Two were automated and one was from the front desk making sure we had gotten the automated one. At least they make a good effort to correct mistakes. We were out the door on time and made it to AK just about RD.

I decided to use the Unofficial Guide's general touring plan this time, as I haven't used it in AK before, but have had good luck with their plans in MK. DH went to Everest to get FP's and we took the little ones to triceratops spin. I was happy to see the park seemed very empty, and we rode the ride several times in a row. My kids had never been to Dinoland here before! On our first family trip we skipped AK entirely and last fall we were rained out. Twice. My last time in the AK was after running the Expedition Everest Challenge 5K in a monsoon in September. My friend and I barely finished the race, squishing in our shoes when the thunder started and they closed the race! So sad, no after party! And no Expedition Everest ride for me. Today would be my first!

After Triceratops Spin we hit Dinosaur. Both DS7 and DS4 made it through with eyes closed and ears covered and elected not to go on again! But we only had a 5 min wait! The CM mentioned that she was surprised how empty it was at this point. Yeah for us! We were then off to Everest! We had 6 FP's but after learning it went backwards, Gran and Pop decided to pass. They took the little ones in search of a frozen lemonade and DH and DS7 and I rode. With the FP's we were on in less than 5 min. I loved it! DS7 did pretty good, he looked like he was having fun, but declined to ride again with the second set of FP's. We did have fun however finding a family and giving them a magical moment with our 3 extra FP's! We love doing this.

Next we met up at the safari and jumped on the standby line of 10min! My kids love this attraction. I rode it just after AK opened in 98' and it was very disappointing. They have really gotten the animals to come out into view compared to 98' and we love it.
Baby elephant

Even though it was only about 65 degrees, my DS7 wanted to ride Kali River Rapids, so DH, DS7, DS4 and Pop went for it. Mom and I and the baby walked the Tiger trail. DS2 Loved the tigers! I haven't done that trek since AK opened in 98' either. By the time we were done, our men, 2 of whom were soaked were off the river rapids. Apparently just as they sat in the raft, DS7 said "we won't get wet Pop", and of course, DS7 and Pop were SOAKED! Dad actually was dripping. Brrrr! Thankfully they had taken off their sweatshirts before the ride and so took off the wet shirts and put on the sweatshirts!

It was about 11:30 at this point and so we decided to bus it over to AKV for lunch at the Mara. We own AKV, and my parents are staying with us in a 2br in August there, and we wanted to show it off. They were really impressed and we are even more excited about our summer trip now! The pool at AKV looks so much better than in September! The pool refurb has the pool bottom looking blue. In September it looked a little green. I don't know if that was the actual color it was painted, or if it really was algae, but it looks great now!

I had the vegetable flatbread at the Mara and it was great! The salty olives are delicious! and oh...the zebra domes! Dad had a sandwich of some sort and said it was quite good, and that the couscous was a welcome change from french fries. They also have quite a large kids meal selection, so the kids were happy. Mom's cheesecake was also quite good.

We took the bus to DTD thinking of walking back to SSR, but decided to do some shopping instead!
****AP Holders****They are currently offering 20% off merchandise at Disney owned stores! You have to ask for it, and show your AP and ID, but what a great deal! Originally it was just until early Feb., but it has been extended twice and we were told that it was going until at least May! This was a huge savings for us! And it probably worked for Disney because we probably bought more because of it!

After some fun birthday shopping for the boys, we bussed it back to SSR (tut tut it looked like rain). Ordinarily, I am a Disney commando and would have said "no DTD we need to go back and take a nap", but I was trying to be a bit more relaxed this trip. I should have stuck with my bossy plans. We didn't get back to SSR until probably 4:30 and we were exhausted! BUT I did not want to miss Illuminations! So ignoring DH's disgruntled protests I marched us back to EPCOT at 6pm.

We went right to Soarin and got on the standby line (FP's were gone by now) which was 30 min. I skipped it this trip and took DS2 on The Land, and Nemo. Soarin is my mom's favorite ride so we couldn't skip that. We then had a nice dinner at Sunshine Seasons. I had the California rolls and they were quite good. I had the creme brulee and it was awesome, especially for a CS.

We had a quick ride on Nemo, and found a spot on World Showcase to see Illuminations. I didn't have such a good view in September and I forgot how much I really enjoyed it. I'm a bit of a sap so it seemed to have even more meaning since the Olympics were going on at the time. We were right by the bridge b/w Future World and World Showcase so this made for a quick and easy Epcot exit. But man were we tired! DS4 missed all off Illuminations because he just sat in the stroller and fell asleep!

Tomorrow MK all day and Liam's 5th Birthday!!!!

A couple of photos:
Me and the boys at HISTK Playground in DHS

DS2 and DH going crazy on the Barnstormer

DS4 to be DS5 on our first night at MK, on the teacups. Do you think he is happy to be in WDW for his birthday?

Loved this topiary on early display outside of Italy

DH snapped this one of a "hidden" or not so hidden Mickey at Epcot for F&G

More TR later! __________________