My Disney Bucket List

This coming weekend (November 1-3) is the first weekend in an often-mentioned, but rarely understood week at Walt Disney World: Jersey Week.

Every year, New Jersey teachers have a conference in early November that takes place during a Thursday and Friday. This offers the families of New Jersey school students a mini-vacation that’s not during a holiday; it’s a perfect time to visit Disney World! Over the years, however, Jersey Week has developed a reputation for being a busier-than-average week to visit the parks.  While it is probably an exaggeration to think that New Jersey visitors alone could effect park crowds all that much, there may be some other contributing factors to this being an out-of-the-ordinary week to visit.  That’s why Jersey Week isn’t a week that I fear going; contrarily, it is item number one on my Disney Bucket List.

Disney Bucket Lists. All Disney fans have them; many contain similar items. Most rely on repeated and frequent trips to Disney World and Disneyland (and, more than likely, other parts of the world). Some items probably rely on more than a sprinkling of pixie dust. Regardless of its contents, a Disney Bucket List offers the regular Disney visitor a focused set of vacation-oriented goals; how many other travel destinations can claim that??

My list includes:

Visit during the first week of November

This year’s Jersey Week happens to fall during the first week of November (it usually does, but doesn’t have to).  But it’s not the “Jersey Week” part of this week that lands it on my list; it is the FIVE Disney special events that take place in a 10-day span!  This is the perfect storm of Disney events. If timed properly, a visitor during the first week of November can accomplish all of the following:

  • Visit the last Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (This year it is taking place on Friday, November 1)
  • Visit the first Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (November 8)
  • Experience the Epcot Food and Wine Festival (runs until November 11)
  • Visit the Festival of the Masters, an outdoor arts festival at Downtown Disney (November 8-10)
  • Run in the Wine & Dine Half Marathon (November 9)

Whew. For most of us, going this week would help us cross off several of our Bucket List items in one visit!

Four Parks, One Day

There are many online reports from others who attempted this unofficial Disney World game: visit all four parks in one day, making sure to complete a set number of tasks at each park.  These tasks usually include a certain number of attractions and meals.  This seems like a difficult task for those of us with young kids, or those of us who are only in the parks for a regular vacation and would prefer to not spend one of our days running around like a madman.  My hope is that the right trip will come along, and I’ll be able to finally try my hand at this Disney Fanatic’s ritual.

Stay at every Disney World resort/Visit every Disney Park in the World/Go on every type of Disney vacation (cruise, Adventures by Disney, Aulani)

These items are all pretty similar and basically require two things: time and money.  For a while, we weren’t really considering a bucket list when it came time to book the next Disney vacation; we would stay at a resort that fit our budget and that we were familiar and happy with (usually Pop Century); but things have changed.  We have several Disney vacations in mind for the next few years, and if all goes as planned, we’ll be able cross a couple of new resorts off our list.

Club 33/Cinderella Castle Suite/Walt’s Apartment

These are all items that require a little (or a whole bunch) of pixie dust.  Club 33 is an exclusive, members-only restaurant that is in Disneyland.  This one is manageable, since you can get a reservation if you know a member who is willing to help you out,  Walt’s Apartment is located above the Fire Station in Disneyland, and it is actually included in some tours, so this one is also attainable.  The Castle Suite is the ultimate bucket list item.  As of now, Disney claims there is no way for a regular guest to stay in the suite (although, like most things, money talks).  I probably won’t spend a lot of time thinking about this one, but it still deserves a spot on the list.

Be the Mayor of Main Street

OK, world wide web, it’s confession time.

When I retire, I would like to move to Orlando and be the Mayor of Main Street. This is a streetmosphere character who walks around Main Street and greets park guests, shaking hands and taking pictures.  To me, it sounds like the perfect way to spend your golden years.

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{sigh}

If there’s one thing a Disney fan can do, it’s dream.

So, what’s on your Disney Bucket List?

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Disney World: The Family of Five Dilemma

This year, both of the DW Dads welcomed their third sons to the world.  Domenic’s son Zack was born in July and JR’s son Liam was born just a week ago (Congrats, JR!).  This is an exciting time for both of their families; however, choosing the right resort when they vacation at Disney may become a real head-scratcher!

For the next three years, they will continue to be considered a family of four, so there is tons of flexibility when it comes to what type of resort and room they can choose.  But, when the babies turn three, the families will have to stay in rooms specifically designed for five.  You see, Disney does not offer roll-away beds or cots and it sticks pretty strictly to the maximum occupancy quoted for each room type, so would-be vacationers have to really crunch the numbers on the options to see what works best for them.

I recently had a family of 6 (the 6th is a baby) ask for a quote for a trip to Disney.  The following is an excerpt from the e-mail I sent them,

“First, since your youngest is under 3, you technically have a family of 5. This will allow for a little more flexibility when it comes to resorts/rooms.  I’m not sure what resort level you’d prefer to stay at, so I’ve put together a few sample quotes. All of the following are based on a Saturday-Saturday stay, the last full week of June 2014; tickets are included and are park hoppers (you can visit multiple parks in one day), but they do not include water parks; and there is no dining plan included at this time.

Value: All-Stars/Pop Century
At these hotels, you can only have 4 people (plus the baby) per room, so you would have to get two adjoining rooms. The upside is that you would have more space and two bathrooms. The total for two rooms is approximately $4350.
 
Moderate: Port Orleans Riverside
This is the first level where you could potentially all be in one room.  Only one moderate level hotel – Port Orleans Riverside – allows for families of five (plus the baby).  They have two queen beds and a small Murphy bed. There is only one bathroom, though, and the room isn’t huge, so it may be a little tight.  The total for one room here would be approximately $3900. Of course, you could also get two adjoining rooms here, just like at the Value resorts above.
 
Suites: Art of Animation
This is the newest resort at Disney World.  It is technically a Value resort, but 75% of the rooms are family suites, so the prices are actually higher than the moderate resorts.  Each suite contains a bedroom with one queen bed and a common room with a very small kitchenette and two additional “beds” (the kitchen table turns into a double bed and the couch pulls out to a double bed). There are two bathrooms.  The total for one suite is approximately $5000.  I should probably say that, if my family of five were going a few years from now, this is the option we’d choose.  Keep in mind, however, that the Art of Animation is often excluded from discounts, because it is so new and popular.
 
Deluxe (Example: Grand Floridian)
There are many options at this level, if you’d prefer to stay somewhere closer to the parks, like on the monorail loop.  These rooms are larger than the Port Orleans room mentioned above; many have two queens and a pullout couch.  Still, only one bathroom. Again, there are many options at this level, but one example: the total for one room at the Grand Floridian would be approximately $6260.
 
Disney also offers the following: Deluxe level suites, 1- and 2-bedroom Villas, Cabins, Treehouses (no, really!)…there are many more options besides the ones listed above.  Once we have an idea of your budget, we can start narrowing down the possibilities.”
So, you see, families of five have a lot of considering to do. So, for comparison’s sake, here is a list of the options, from most affordable to most expensive.  I’ve also included some numbers for the Villas, Fort Wilderness Cabins and Saratoga Springs Treehouses. This is based on the same info as the e-mail above (last full week of June 2014, Park Hoppers included, Dining Plan is NOT):
1 Room at Port Orleans Riverside – $3900
2 Rooms at Pop Century – $4350
1 Cabin at Fort Wilderness – $4850
1 Suite at Art of Animation – $5000
1 Room at the Beach Club – $5300
1 1-Bedroom Villa at Old Key West – $5900
1 Room at Grand Floridian – $6260
1 2-Bedroom Villa at Old Key West – $7700
1 Treehouse at Saratoga Springs – $8550
Does YOUR family of five (or two, or three, or four, or…you get the point) want to take a trip to Disney World? Let DW Dads know, and we can help you plan a magical family vacation. And remember: our services are always FREE! Contact us today!

Flying to Disney World: Carry-on Essentials

Going on a vacation can be a real bittersweet experience at times; you are excited to go, but you are not necessarily thrilled about the “getting there” part of the trip.  When the trip requires flying, this feeling can be even more overwhelming, as you decide what gets packed in which bag, how much to pack and how heavy your bags are.

Disney offers a service called Magical Express which makes getting to and from Orlando International Airport easier and cheaper (it’s free) than taking a cab; however, it doesn’t come without its caveats.  For one thing, your checked luggage won’t show up to your resort until a few hours after you do, so depending on your plans, you need to think very carefully about what is going into your carry-on bags. Here are some suggestions:

1. Extra clothes
We commonly pack an extra set of clothes for each person in the family whenever we fly anywhere, in case our checked luggage is lost in transit.  This may be particularly important if the clothes you are flying in are not suitable for a day in a theme park.

2. Sunblock
It’s important to wear sunblock while visiting the parks, but you can’t throw your entire bottle of it into your checked bags, due to the liquids rules while flying.  Make sure you fill a couple of airline-acceptable containers with enough sunblock for the whole family.

3. Swimsuits
Some families prefer to spend their first day at the resort pool.  This is a great way to ease into your vacation without burning one of your theme park tickets on a partial day.  Just make sure you pack your suits in the carry-on, so you can hit the pool right away!

4. Snacks/Entertainment/Chargers
These are items most people typically pack for any flight; just make sure your devices are charged up before the flight.

5. Sunglasses
A lot of our flights leave out of our home airport early in the morning, so we aren’t necessarily wearing our sunglasses when we leave the house.  Make sure you pack them in your carry-on, so you’ll have them when you need them upon arrival in Orlando.

6. Pins/Vinylmations
If your first day plans involve going somewhere that includes pin- or vinylmation-trading, make sure you have your traders with you.

7. Guide books/Itinerary
Even as smartphones take over as the go-to resource for accessing your vacation plans, we would still recommend a hard copy of your essential information – reservation numbers, times, etc.

MagicBands

8. MagicBands
This is a new one, but we will all soon get used to the common reminder: Don’t forget to pack your MagicBands in your carry-on!
MagicBands are the focal point of Disney’s Next Generation initiative, and they are being rolled out across property as you read this.  They are bracelets that replace your room key, theme park keys and credit card.  When you book a Disney vacation, you can personalize a MagicBand for each member of your party, and they are sent to your house ahead of your trip.  This is a fun and exciting package to receive in the mail as you are counting down the days until your vacation; but you have to remember to pack them! Furthermore, they should go in your carry-on so you can begin using them as soon as you get to the resort.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive; we each have our own items that we can’t travel without. But, if you include these things in your carry-on, you likely won’t feel like you forgot something when you are checked into your Disney resort and are ready to start your vacation!

House Meets the Mouse

May 1993.  Your family is gathered around the television in the living room. You are watching what may go on to become one of the greatest hours of TV ever broadcast.

The series finale of Cheers? No. The episode about George and Jerry’s pilot on Seinfeld? Nope. Letterman’s last Late Night or the series finale of Saved by the Bell? No and no.

Over the course of two nights – May 11th and May 18th, 1993 – ABC’s Full House presented its two-part sixth season finale. The episodes’ titles are House Meets the Mouse Parts 1 and 2, and they are pure TGIF perfection.

In the episodes, the members of the Tanner family, for various reasons, decide to visit Walt Disney World.  There are mishaps, stumbles and lessons to be learned by all.  It’s everything you remember about Full House, wrapped in a warm, delicious Disney World crust.

There are three main storylines. First, Jesse and the Rippers are going to play a concert in the Magic Kingdom, so Joey invites himself so he and Jesse can broadcast their radio show live from the parks.  Soon, the rest of the family decide to join in the fun. While there, Danny plans on popping the question to his girlfriend, but it doesn’t go too smoothly for him. The final storyline involves Michele becoming a little full of herself when she wins an Aladdin-themed contest to become a princess for the day.

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The episodes take place all over property, but the emphasis is on Magic Kingdom and Epcot. There are also a couple of memorable scenes that take place at the Grand Floridian. Aladdin – that year’s big theatrical release – is featured prominently in an early scene.

The episode is fun because the scenes don’t just take place in the most obvious locations. Sure, there is a big scene on Main Street and Town Square, but there are also scenes in the Living Seas, the Germany pavilion and the lobby of the Grand Floridian.

We recorded this on our DVR about a year ago, and the episodes haven’t been deleted; I’m not sure they ever will be. The kids watch them about once a week.

Here is the great news: The House Meets the Mouse Parts 1 and 2 are scheduled for tomorrow night, Wednesday, September 25. Part One is scheduled for 10:00 PM and Part Two is scheduled for 10:30 PM.

Watch Before You Ride: Muppet*Vision 3D

This is the first in a new series that will give suggestions for films and tv shows to watch prior to your next visit to the Disney Parks.

Regardless of their individual duties, Disney Imagineers are first and foremost storytellers.  In the Disney Parks, their storytelling is evident in every detail that is visible to park guests.  Sometimes the story for a particular attraction begins well before the queue.  Think, for example, of the “coming attractions” posters that line the walls of the tunnel under the Main Street Train Station; or, the faded billboard on Sunset Boulevard that advertises the dilapidated Hollywood Tower Hotel.  These are details that create a complete story; even someone unfamiliar with the source material that serves as inspiration for the attraction can understand and fully enjoy the experience. But can the storytelling actually begin even further away from the attraction; like from the guest’s living room?

There are many films, tv shows, books and songs that may help broaden a Disney guest’s immersion in an attraction.  While many attractions (Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage!, Voyage of the Little Mermaid) tell a complete story, others can benefit from some prior knowledge.  Again, a guest wouldn’t need to watch these to enjoy his or her time in the park, but watching the films and shows below may – to use a term Walt Disney himself coined – “plus” the experience.  These aren’t Required Viewing; they are Enhancement Viewing.

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There was a time when Kermit the Frog had the potential to rival Mickey Mouse in the area of universal popularity.  After Jim Henson died, however, the Muppet brand stumbled a bit and Kermit and the gang found themselves teetering on the edge of obscurity.  Then, at the 2009 D23 convention, dozens of Muppets poured onto the stage to announce the coming of a brand new theatrical release.  That film, The Muppets, borrows quite a bit from real life as it tells the story of the once-powerful, and now sort-of-pathetic troupe of felt performers.  It is the first production in decades that captures the spirit of the Muppets as they were produced under Henson, their creator.  It is a worthwhile addition to any family movie night schedule and will definitely prepare younger guests for the sort of eccentric humor that defines the Muppets.  Because the theme park attraction was the last project that Henson worked on, there is a temptation to cite the original Muppets trilogy or even The Muppet Show as your enhancement viewing assignment; there is even the possibility that The Muppet Christmas Carol would be your best bet, since it prominently features Bean Bunny, who is essentially the star of Muppet*Vision 3D.  The new film, however, strikes a near-perfect balance of respectful homage, zany nostalgia and modern edge and will prepare every member of the family to fully appreciate this Disney Park classic.

Additional Viewing: The Muppet Movie (1979); The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
These two, both mentioned above, will help to more fully round out a guest’s understanding of the Muppets’ sense of humor.  While the guest stars may be lost on younger viewers*, the stories are classics and the songs are timeless.  (*Here is one connection you can make for your tweens and teens: Dom Deluise appears in the opening of scene of The Muppet Movie; while your children may not know him, they may know his son, actor David DeLuise, who plays Jerry Russo – the dad on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place.)

Extra Credit: Great Muppet Caper (1981); Muppets Take Manhattan (1984); The Muppet Show (1976-1981)
Let’s be honest: you can’t watch The Muppet Movie and not want to continue watching the others films in the Jim Henson Muppets Trilogy.  Each a classic in its own right.  The five seasons of The Muppet Show showcase some of the most obscure guest stars that the world has ever known, but the humor generally holds up, even for some younger viewers. A personal favorite episode is season 4 episode 17, starring the cast of Star Wars. Try to check out this wacky meeting of intellectual properties that will both one day be acquired by Disney.

Advanced Degree: The Tale of the Bunny Picnic (1986; not available on DVD; check ebay for VHS); The Muppets at Disney World (1990; not available on VHS or DVD; check YouTube)

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As mentioned above, Bean Bunny is the de facto star of Muppet*Vision 3D, and The Tale of the Bunny Picnic was his film debut.  Originally aired on HBO, it is readily available on VHS on ebay, or perhaps at your local library.  While it is not an Easter story per se, it can loosely be considered the springtime counterpart to Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.  The Muppets at Disney World is a fanboy’s dream.  Before there was Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel and Jedi Mickey toys, there was this fun mash-up that tells the story of the Muppets’ arrival at Walt Disney World.  While only crude versions are available on YouTube, it is worth searching out; our fingers are crossed that it is released one day in all of its original glory.

Online: The Muppets Studio Channel on YouTube
Today’s modern Muppet fan would be remiss to not check out this goofy YouTube collection of newer Muppet video clips and shorts.  While it isn’t updated as frequently as it was a couple of years ago, there are still tons of fun segments that are the closest thing to a throwback to the original The Muppet Show as anything produced in the past thirty years.

Staying Cool in the Disney Parks

It’s July, so the Disney Parks – East Coast and West Coast – are going to be hot.  In some cases, the heat will seem close to unbearable; however, there are a few things you can do to stay cool and enjoy your day.

☀ Drink plenty of water

One key to staying cool is staying hydrated and the best way to do that is to drink lots of water when you are touring the parks.  Many people today are averse to drinking water from the drinking fountains (especially in Florida, where the tap water tastes a little like…Florida?); however, it is free and plentiful.  The casual service restaurants and snack carts will also provide you with a FREE cup of ice water if you ask.  Some people prefer bottled water; it is available for about $2.50 per bottle, but you can also get a case or two sent to your resort prior to your stay. Many online retailers will ship it there for free, and it can save you a bundle in the parks.

☀ Use misting fans or cooling pads

If you’ve ever vacationed in Disney World during the summer, then you know that misting fans are as ubiquitous as Mickey’s face.  For about 20 bucks in the parks, you can pick up one of these water bottles with attached fan.  They are usually sold in large bins filled with ice, accompanied by a pusher..er, vendor who gives you your first mist for free.  These are also readily available at your local Walmart or Target for a fraction of the cost.  Another, more recent phenomenon is the use of special cooling pads while walking around the park. These pads, or towels, are made of a special material that gets very cool when wet.  You won’t find them in the parks, but you can pick them up before you leave at sporting goods stores or online.

☀ Get to the parks early

In Florida, it’s usually pretty hot by the time you leave your resort in the morning, but it gets substantially hotter as the day progresses, so getting an early start is essential.  In California, the early morning summer hours have the possibility of being downright chilly, but it warms up quickly by afternoon.  In either case, spending mornings and evenings in the parks and afternoons back at your resort will help you stay cool and relaxed.  Getting to the park when it opens in the morning will also help with our final tip…

Spending afternoons at the resort pool is a great way to keep cool during the summer.

Spending afternoons at the resort pool is a great way to keep cool during the summer.

☀ Have a good touring plan

So, this one isn’t usually listed among the other tips to keep cool, but it makes a lot of sense: it’s cooler in the air conditioning than it is outside, so you want to spend as much time in there as possible. The best way to spend more time in the attractions is to know which ones you are going to visit and to spend as little time as possible wandering planless and standing in outdoor queues.  Stopping and smelling the roses is a totally worthwhile diversion in the Disney Parks, but if you are there in the summer, I would reserve this activity for later in the evening when things begin to cool a little.  Hit up touringplans.com (personalized, but with a subscription fee) or easywdw.com (general, but free) before your trip and make a plan that suits your family.  Then spend more time riding and less time baking!

Don’t forget: getting overheated is not only uncomfortable, but also dangerous.  If you begin feeling lightheaded or dizzy, drink some water and see a cast member right away.  Stay cool and have a great vacation!