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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Marceline to Magic Kingdom Tour

Thanks to my sons-in-law, Domenic and J.R. for inviting me to be a guest blogger today and Congratulations to both of you on creating such an awesome Disney Travel web site!!

Many bloggers will talk about “touring plans” which will save you time and allow you to see all of your favorite rides and attractions in Disney theme parks in record time,  but rather than a touring plan….. Let’s talk about…. planning a tour!

photo 1On our recent trip to Disney World, my husband Phil and I took the “Marceline to Magic Kingdom Tour”.  This is a three hour walking tour that includes a few of the Disney World classic attractions.  The tour begins prior to the opening of the park, so we had early access to the park with very little tourist traffic for our excursion!  We had a small group and a super inspirational guide named Julie!  We donned our souvenir Marceline name tags and neat headphones so that we could hear every word our tour guide articulated and off we wenphoto 5t!

Marceline, as we discovered, is the small historic railroad town in Missouri and the childhood home of Walt Disney.  It is where he began his “career” as a youngster drawing, painting and selling his pictures to neighbors and family!  The town of Marceline served as his inspiration for Main Street USA, sparked his life-long love for trains and his focus on the importance of the American Family.

After an interesting and informative trip down Main Street “Marceline”,   we turned to make our way to Liberty Square and… the Haunted Mansion!   Did you know that all of the creators and collaborators of Haunted Mansion are memorialized on the tombstones and grave markers surrounding the eerie estate?   Take the tour and you will discover all the spooky secrets that lie within!

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Walt Disney and his Imagineers were very focused on creating a story around the rides in the park.  From the instant you pass through the gates of the Haunted Mansion to the moment you exit  .….if you exit…..you are transported into the world beyond with creative interactive haunts.

After experiencing the ride, we were then escorted by our guide to a special “viewing” of the behind the scenes inner workings of the Haunted Mansion!  Want to know how the dancing ghosts appear and disappear in the ballroom?  Take the tour if you dare…photo 3

The haunted mansion is a wonderful combination of spooky and silly that reflects the styles of the two main designers, Marc Davis and Claude Coats.  They originally disagreed on whether the ride should be scary or funny, but both men got their “dying” wish and today we get to ride the doom buggy through a delightfully “spirited” adventure.

After touring the mansion, we walked through Fantasyland and rode The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.  This is another “story” ride that sweeps you through the world of Pooh on a blustery day in the hundred acre wood.  We boarded our giant honey pot and bounced along with Tigger, entered the dream world of Heffalumps and Woozles , then celebrated sunny days with Winnie’s successful attempt to eat some honey!

Our group then ventured to Tommorwland and the Carousel of Progress.  This attraction was the main feature at the General Electric Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City.   In 1967 it was moved to Disneyland in California and then in 1975 it was moved to Disney World!  The ride has been updated throughout its 50 year history to reflect the technological advances experienced by the American family.

photo 2It is said that the Carousel of Progress was Walt Disney’s favorite attraction and I can see why!  As you watch the family members interact through the different seasons and throughout the years, it demonstrates the promise of continued progress and advancement to create a better family life in the future for all of us!  The Carousel of Progress has a catchy theme song that will have you humming “It’s a great big beautiful tomorrow” well beyond tomorrow!

Our tour ended there with a rare insider’s view of some of the history of Walt Disney and little-known tid-bits of Disney World.  Julie, our tour guide was an expert and was open to answering any questions about anything Disney during our three hour adventure!

The Marceline to Magic Kingdom Tour is just one of a few different tours you can opt to participate in at Disney World.  Ask your Disney Travel Planner to reserve a spot for you and your family to see this magical park from “behind the scenes”!  The cost was $30 per person and well worth the walk!  So on you next trip to Disney World, in addition to a touring plan, plan on a tour!!

Enchanted Tales with Belle

Background

Although the attraction has been open to visitors for almost a year now, Enchanted Tales with Belle (ETwB) continues to draw large crowds daily in New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom.  Due to the nature of the experience and its popularity, wait times for this attraction start building early in the morning and are consistently 30-40 minutes or more throughout the day, even on less crowded days.  If you do not select this attraction in the newly implemented Fast Pass + program, DWDads suggests making ETwB your first stop after rope drop to avoid the impending large crowds later in the day.

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Photo courtesy of Disney.com

 What to Expect

If you have not already watched a walkthrough on YouTube, we do NOT recommend doing so.  We recommend experiencing the magic of this attraction LIVE,  but if you feel like you MUST, then Be Our Guest. (See what we did there?) 

You approach Belle’s cottage, through Fantasyland Forest and you can see it is a tiny little home. The majority of the ride queue is outdoors,  wind your way closer take notice of the beautiful details of Belle’s cottage,   Only about 30-40 people are admitted at a time, the line tends to move in spurts.  Once your party makes its way into the entrance of Belle’s cottage, you are immediately transformed into Belle‘s world.   You feel like you are in her family home from the movie.  Although my boys loved the checkerboard and mugs in the center of the room, make sure you take the time to pick out some of the details that the imagineers used to immerse you into Belle’s childhood home.

IMG_0557After you move your way through the living room area – you’ll enter Maurice’s workshop at the back of the cottage. Every inch of the room is covered with inventions and gadgets that Maurice has been working on in his shop.  Then magically a door appears before you and you are whisked away into the parlor where you are greeted with an amazing piece of animatronics Madame Wardrobe.

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Here with the help of a wonderful Cast Member Madame Wardrobe explains that we are to surprise Belle by re-telling the story of how Belle and Beast met.  Props are then given out to guests who volunteer to play parts in the telling of the story.  After roles are all given out Lumiere then calls everyone to gather in Beast’s library.  Lumiere is one of the most impressive displays of animatronics around.  Seeing this character come to life is reason enough to visit the attraction.

4142048003241420480035Once in the library those with roles gather in the front around Lumiere, while the rest of the audience sits on comfortable benches around the room.  Lumiere calls Belle (live person) into the room and together they direct a small show with each of the guest volunteers playing a special part in the show. A photopass photographer captures all of the great moments of the show, and every guest that plays a role in the show, is given a chance to meet Belle and take a quick photo.  Belle is then rushed out to meet Beast at a ball, but every member that played a part is given a bookmark as a memento of the occasion.

These bookmarks, along with the photopass photos, make this attraction a memorable one.

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(front)

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(back)

Insider Tips: Making Soarin’ Even More Magical

You are probably already a hero in the eyes of your child or grandchild, and taking them to Disney World just adds to that status.  In this series, we will give you a few insider tips and tricks that we have learned from our Disney friends. These will instantly increase your hero status and add to the magic of Disney attractions for your little ones.   Some of these tips require some planning prior to your trip and, depending on the child’s age, may be difficult to pull off, but the magic you will create for your child will be well worth it.

Catch a Golf Ball – Soarin’ (EPCOT and California Adventure)

Before your trip:  Obtain a white golf ball (1 for each time you intend to pull this off) and fill in three of the dimples with a black marker to make a Mickey head in the ball like this —V1241431_10151692258452912_1672996461_n

In the park: Make sure the ball is in your pocket (cargo shorts are great for this) as you board the ride.  When the ride is in progress, make sure you have the ball palmed in your hand (just after the hang glider is your cue) and when the golf ball flies past, (8:23 mark of the video below) reach up “catch” the ball.  The second time around I had to be even more convincing so I shouted – “I caught it again.”  After the ride is over, hand the ball to the child and the rest takes care of itself.  It was even magical for other kids who asked my son to see the ball and he explained how he got it.   To this day he still asks to see the “golf ball Daddy caught” whenever we are talking about rides in Disney.

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For months Jack said the ride where Daddy caught the golf ball was his favorite ride and to this day, I still have “rock star” status for catching this golf ball.

Disney PhotoPass 101

I was looking through pictures from our family Disney trip in 1992 recently and I noticed something very interesting.  My mother isn’t in many of the pictures from our trip, and there are not many pictures of the whole group of us.  Disney has tried to solve this issue by offering the Photopass program.   Throughout the Disney parks, there are dozens of professional photographers at the best locations who are waiting to capture your family photo.  These locations are usually character spots or great photo opportunities near the most iconic Disney Parks symbols.  The process is simple: the photographer takes your picture and then scans a Photopass card.  This card can be reused throughout your vacation by giving it to each Photopass photographer you come in contact with, but if you don’t have one on you, just ask for another one, as multiple cards can be added to your account.  On our last 5 day trip as a family of 4 we had over 500 pictures after adding various borders and Disney logos.

Photopass card

[HINT – When you receive your card, make sure to take a photo with your camera/phone of the back of the card as a backup in case you lose it. The numbers on the back are what you need to be enter into the site to load your pictures.]

Magic Shots

Some of you might be saying, “Couldn’t I just hand my own camera to the photographer to take our picture?” and the answer is “Yes, of course!”.  In fact, we have done this often, mainly due to the fact that the PhotoCD isn’t immediately available, and we like to share our photos with friends/family through social media and Photopass photographers are happy to oblige.  One of the main differences between your camera and the Photopass cameras are “Magic Shots”.   These photos are taken in specific poses and later a surprise (usually a character) is added directly to the photo.  It is a very cool feature that adds to your experience,

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Three examples of magic shots Chip, Stitch and Tinkerbell 
(Borders can be added to any picture online before ordering as well)

We have taken advantage of the PhotoCD through Disney in every one of our trips since it was offered.  Although it is an added expense, it takes the pressure off of taking out your camera and asking someone to take a photo of the whole family.   We still used our DSLR camera and iPhones for candids in places that there were not photographers, but some of our best shots were done by the professionals.

Pricing

PhotoCD 

Regularly $169 – Special offer – $119 (SAVE $50) http://www.disneyphotopass.com/specialoffers/wdwphotocdlearnmore.htm

The PhotoCD only includes the pictures taken after you have signed up for the offer.  So if you pre-order the CD it will create a credit for the CD in your Photopass account.  Once you have added all of your photos and editied them  with borders and other character enhancements, you will be able to download the pictures immediately using this credit for free, or ask for CDs to be mailed to you standard shipping for $4.95 extra.  If for some reason you change your mind for any reason at all, you can get a full refund within 90 days of your pre-order.  So this package is worth pre-ordering and you can decide later.

NOTE : You must register the serial number(s) of your PhotoPass(es) online within 30 days or they expire. Your photos are taken off the website exactly 30 days after you register.

PhotoPass+

Regularly $199 – Special offer – $149 (SAVE $50) http://www.disneyphotopass.com/specialoffers/wdwppp.htm

PhotoPass+ has all of the benefits of PhotoCD, with the added benefit of all of the pictures from attractions: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, Test Track (w/o PP+), Expedition Everest and Dinosaur.  The other benefit are the photos from select dining locations: 1900 Park Fare, Chef Mickey’s, ‘Ohana (breakfast), Tusker House (breakfast), Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show, Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue.   Cinderella’s Royal Table and Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall are also included although hard copy are already included in your meal cost, you can  add the photos to your PhotoCD.

Note: You must pre-order this at LEAST 14 days prior to your vaction as you will be getting a package in the mail with a voucher that you will need to use on your trip.

Packing Tip: The Power Strip

We all know that sinking sensation: You are on your way home from a vacation and you suddenly realize that you left your phone charger plugged in at the hotel.  Or how about this ritual: You check into your hotel and look for some handy outlets to plug in your family’s four phones, your camera and your laptop; they get plugged in under the beds, behind the dresser and in the bathroom, respectively. This inevitably leads back to our first scenario. The cycle never ends.

Well, this post may be short, but it may include the most important packing tip you have ever heard.  Invest in an extra power strip to take on your vacations.  Before you leave home, plug in all of the chargers and wrap it up.  When you get to your hotel, you have your own personal charging station ready to go.  Plug it in at the most convenient spot, and you’ll likely have a hard time forgetting it when it is time to pack up to go home.

It isn't pretty, but it gets the job done.

It isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done.

This tip is so useful, we started bringing our strip with us whenever we go anywhere overnight, including our in-law’s house. Sometimes we even bring it with us when we are visiting grandparents just for a long afternoon.  As a matter of fact, we even use our strip as our home charging station, which makes it even easier to pack up when it is time to travel. So, hit up your Five Below, pick up a new strip or two and never worry about crawling around behind your hotel’s dressers again.

Money-Saving Disney Vacation Tips: Shop Before You Go

Let’s be honest: There are reasons why we are willing to pay when places like the Disney Parks overcharge us for things that would cost a fraction of the price in the real world.  For one, we are on vacation, so the money in our pockets may be considered a bit more disposable than when we are home.  Plus, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment when we are living “in the bubble” for a week; suddenly, we forget that we usually spend $2.50 for an entire case of water at home, but in the parks it is the cost of a single bottle.  So, we have to rely on our “still at home” selves to save some money for the “on vacation” spendthrifts we become!  Here are some things that you can purchase while you are still at home that could potentially save you a bundle when you are in the parks.

1. Rain ponchos

"Look, kids, these 50-cent ponchos match Mickey's shoes!"

“Look, kids, these 50-cent ponchos match Mickey’s shoes!”

Florida is known for its daily rain showers, sometimes only lasting a few minutes, sometimes lasting all afternoon.  While looking through the photos from a typical family’s Disney World vacation, you would be hard-pressed to not see at least one picture of people in rain ponchos.  Disney charges a little less than $10 for a poncho, so a family of four is spending close to $40 for ponchos.  The good news is that these are destined to be family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation.  OK, not so much.  They are plastic and they have a picture of Mickey Mouse on the back.  Also, if it rips, Disney will replace it free of charge.  Otherwise, there is no reason to have to pay that amount.  Most Targets, Walmarts and dollar stores sell ponchos, many times in a 2-pack for $1.00.  Honestly, these are trash bags with a few holes in them, and you are usually better off using them and throwing them away rather than trying to dry them and reuse them; but that sounds better than lugging around wet plastic for the week anyway, doesn’t it?

2. Bottled Water

Dealing with hydration, especially in Florida, is a top priority for any Disney vacationer.  Free water is plentiful in the parks, either at the tap or at counter service restaurants.  Many of us, however, have grown accustomed to bottled spring water.  Disney charges $2.50 for a single bottle in the park.  This isn’t too bad; the same bottle at a movie theater or a ballpark may cost you twice as much.  But it adds up.  Let’s say you drink 4 bottles a day, for 7 days: $70 multiplied by the number of people in your family.  Many online retailers (Amazon, Staples, etc.) sell cases of bottled water that can be ordered and shipped to your hotel prior to your stay.  These are usually priced higher than the case you would buy at your local supermarket, but they still represent a significant savings.  For example, a recent search on Amazon turned up a 35-pack of spring water for $22 with free shipping.  When you get to your hotel, you would have the water sent to your room with your luggage.  In the morning, everyone grabs a bottle or two and it will save you a few bucks (or some snack credits) in the park that day.

Purchase souvenirs before you leave home, so you can buy more expensive ones in the parks!

Purchase souvenirs before you leave home, so you can buy more expensive ones in the parks!

3. Souvenirs

Buying souvenirs is an important and fun part of many family vacations.  Chances are, all the money-saving preparations in the world won’t stop you from buying that really cool Epcot thimble when you see it and fall in love with it.  But, sometimes it can become frustrating to continue to spend money on things that are being sold back at home for a lot less.  Here are a few tips to help you out with souvenirs.  First, hit up the Disney Store before you leave.  Check out their clearance section for t-shirts, toys and other fun items.  Don’t tell the kids about them, and you can surprise them with little toys and gifts throughout the trip.  If you are into Vinylmation, check out that section of your Disney Store as well.  Many times, there are great deals (Buy 1, Get 1) or clearance sales (I’ve seen them marked as low as $2.99) on these collectibles.  The deals may not be on the type you want, but these make great traders in the park.  A couple of traders can keep a child collector busy for the whole vacation.  Finally, check out the dollar store for nighttime entertainment souvenirs, like glow sticks or other glow-in-the-dark toys.  Many of the toys sold during parades and fireworks can cost $15 or more.  You can be a real hero if you break out a huge package of glow sticks to give to your family (and maybe even your sidewalk neighbors, too!) while you are waiting for the nighttime parade to begin.

While these tips won’t stop you from spending (perhaps more than you wanted) while you are on vacation, they can help you avoid overpaying for some things, saving extra money for another Mickey Bar or  Dole Whip Float!