Mar 092009

By Erica Colmenares

In honor of’s tenth anniversary, we’re trip-planning by tens. Here’s a quick run-down of ten things we recommend doing ten months out from your Walt Disney World vacation, as well as ten weeks, ten days, and ten hours. The lists aren’t exhaustive, but they’re a good start!

Ten Months Out

  1. Start looking into airfare. Some people like to wait for last-minute bargains, but for the best times, booking early is a good bet. For some carriers, like SouthWest and JetBlue, you’ll have to wait to book tickets.
  2. Where are you going to stay? On-site? Off-site? Now’s a good time to contact a Disney-specialized travel agent or start narrowing your options online.
  3. Make an over-all plan. What do you really want to fit in during this trip? Take some time to find out what everyone in your travel party wants to get out of this trip.
  4. Order your WDW planning DVD.
  5. Listen to Disney fan podcasts. New faves on our list are Travelears and Be Our Guest. Podcast neophytes should check out our podcast primer, Put Disney in Your Ears.
  6. Consider subscribing to TourGuideMiKE, especially if your trip is during one of the more crowded times (between Christmas and New Year’s, around Easter, or during the summer). To get three dollars off the $21.95 subscription price, visit our TGM member savings page.
  7. To get in the mood, program “Disney” into your TiVo or consult Bartlett-Sloan’s weekly guide of Disney-related TV.
  8. If you are traveling to Disney World from outside of the United States, be sure your passport and visa are in order.
  9. If this is a first visit for you to Disney World, reading a guidebook or two can be invaluable. No need to buy them new. Your local library should have copies of the Unofficial Guide and Passporter. Check ’em out!
  10. Purchase park tickets

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Jun 302008

By Erica Colmenares

Here at Magically Speaking, we often get questions from families with children who have special needs. Honestly, almost every family has some kind of special needs, from mild to challenging, from easier obstacles like picky eaters to more serious situations involving health issues.

Two specific issues that come up a lot are taking vacations with children who are on the autism spectrum, and visiting the World with kids who have ADHD or ADD. Books could be (and have been) written on this topic. This article covers basic information and some tips on how to successfully plan for a Walt Disney World vacation, with these special needs in mind. Some tips may apply more to children with autism, or to children with ADHD or ADD. And many are just plain good advice for anyone planning a vacation in central Florida. Read on, and use the information and tips that will help you plan a successful WDW stay.

Before You Go
Picking your vacation dates comes first. If at all possible, try to aim for less crowded times. While this isn’t always an option for a wide variety of reasons, if you can avoid the super-crowded times (the weeks before and after Easter and the week between Christmas and New Year’s), that’s a plus. While Disney is never “dead” anymore, late August and all of September, early December, and January (after the first week) are good bets.

If you can schedule your travel in such a way as to limit stress and upset, that will help begin on the right foot. If you are flying, select a departure time that ensures you can easily get up and out of the house to catch your flight, without rushing. If at all possible, try to get a non-stop flight. If you can’t get a non-stop flight, be sure that there’s plenty of layover time. If your family will need special accommodations from the airline, be sure to let them know in advance.

Many families recommend having your own transportation while at Disney. Disney transportation is reliable, yet it may not be waiting for you right when you need it. If you want to ensure you can leave a park or resort when it’s right for you and yours, consider renting a car if you are not driving to Disney.

Once you make your travel plans, think through each step of your trip, not just the WDW portion. How will your child handle leaving home, pets, or his/her things? What situations might you face during your travel from home to Florida? Security checks, airline flights, picking up a rental car, or taking the Magical Express bus — what elements of your trip may be a challenge? For many children, it will help to talk through what is going to happen, in advance of your vacation starting. Every child is different, and you know best what situations you and your child will need to prepare for ahead of time.

When you turn to the nitty-gritty of planning your visit, there’s no end of useful resources out there to help you and your child(ren) get familiar with Orlando and Walt Disney World. For the adult planners in the family, here are three resources we recommend:

  • Disney has an online guide for guests with disabilities, with descriptions of attractions and their accessibility — these descriptions could be helpful in understanding whether any certain ride is going to be difficult for your child to handle. The guide also lists the locations of the first aid stations and the companion-assisted restrooms in each park.
  • The book Passporter’s Open Mouse for Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line – Easy Access for Travelers with Extra Challenges is fast becoming the classic resource for those planning Disney trips with special needs in mind.

If feasible, it pays to do some of your research and planning with your child(ren). Here are our top picks for kid-friendly info on Disney World:

  • The Disney vacation planning DVD is full of information and fun to watch. You can get your free copy by visiting the Disney World website request page.
  • Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World for Kids is chock-full of photos, and rates each attraction for its scary factor, the noise involved, and if it’s a dark ride. Kid contributors offer their personal takes on many of the rides.
  • You Tube is a near-infinite source of attraction videos of Disney attractions. Use their search function to find ridethroughs of attractions you are planning, or ones that you aren’t sure will go over well. You can see which rides have loud noises or dark sections, and also watch the videos with your children so that they can see, ahead of time, what they want to try and what looks outside their comfort zone.
  • The Travel Channel often runs specials that cover Disney World. Keep an eye on your television schedule, or check Disney Theme Parks TV for the Week.

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Jan 282008

By Bret Caldwell

Well, we’ve finally made it to the last chapter of this adventurous trilogy. Glad that so many of you are sticking with me for the duration of this tale (Mom, you still there? Anyone?).

In the first chapter, we covered the selection process. In the second chapter, the Princesses were preparing their tiaras for a luncheon with Cinderella. So let me continue our tale from there…

We once again took our private horse-drawn carriage (OK, I lie – it was the same mini-bus, but that just doesn’t sound as good, now does it?) over to the Magic Kingdom. We took a few pictures with Cindy inside the castle, and then headed upstairs for lunch at her Royal Table. The meal and entertainment was great, but I think most of us were eager to finish up and head over to the Castle Suite. One especially nice touch about the meal was that they served us a second dessert (is one dessert ever really enough?) – chocolate Cinderella slippers filled with chocolate mousse. Now that was a special treat!

Bret slices off a piece of the dessert.

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Jan 142008

By Bret Caldwell

Left to right: Laura, Kim, Heather M, Beth, Kara, Brigitta, Mickey, Bret, Darcie, Erin, Beatrice, Heather R, Michelle

In Part 1 of this tale you may recall the story of how a Prince and eleven Princesses won their respective spots on the Moms Panel court. We found out our great news on Wednesday, November 7, and now had a little over four weeks to get ready to prepare for a four-day journey for training at Disney World.

If you didn’t read Part 1, I’ll simply summarize for you that the last article was focused on the Moms Panel contest application process. It was engaging, thoughtful, funny, and extremely well written. Just believe me, no need to confirm.

For Part 2 I’ll try to hit the highlights of pre-training, and our first full day of the Moms Panel training adventure. Yes, that does mean that there will be a “Part 3” for your reading pleasure (Who said torture? I heard that!).

So, regarding the details of what happened for the next few weeks, I’m sure you’d love to hear about my packing lists, plane reservations, what I ate for breakfast each day, and other similarly fascinating details, but in the interest of saving ink (virtual though it may be), I’ll fast forward to my arrival at the Orlando airport.

As the plane approached MCO at approximately 4:30 p.m., outside my window I’m sure I saw a short man on a tower ringing a bell, and shouting “da plane, da plane.” Maybe I was hallucinating, but it would have made complete sense as this was clearly a long-lost episode of Fantasy Island for a huge Disney fan like myself. Four days immersed in the Magic of Disney, with everything planned out for me, training about Disney from expert Cast Members, and no need to call for Advance Dining Reservations 180+10 days in advance. Surely Ricardo Montalban was going to be greeting me at the bottom of the stairs to baggage claim. Surely.

Well, he wasn’t, but I was impressed to find a VIP tour guide Cast Member waiting just for little ol’ me. She was dressed in the signature white dress shirt and plaid skirt, with a Cast Member name tag revealing she was Luiza from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Cool – I’ve been to Brazil many times for work and vacations, so we had no shortage of fun topics for conversation on the drive to Disney. Before I knew it, I arrived at the hotel for check-in.

Now, I decided to come the night before our training began, so I could have some extra time on property, meet up with a group of folks from TourGuideMiKE (including my sister, who was attending MouseFest) to watch Wishes from the Poly, and just enjoy my first experience ever at Disney World by myself. I’m ever so glad I decided to do this, as it gave me some time to see things I wouldn’t have otherwise, and the chance to stay for one evening at All-Star Sports. I picked it mostly because there were no rooms available at the Coronado, where our training was going to be. Also, I wanted another new experience – in this case, a new hotel. The lower price also helped sell the idea to my wife, but I’m definitely not sharing that conversation (I left her with the kids for four days to meet up with 11 women and I wanted to stay an extra day? You can fill in the blanks).

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Dec 312007

By Bret Caldwell

Once upon a time, a long, long while ago, a contest was launched. To be more specific, it was September 6 and Disney sent forth a press release…

    “Calling all moms…As part of ‘The Year of a Million Dreams,’ Disney announced today the launch of a nationwide search for moms who have mastered the art of planning a Walt Disney World vacation. Twelve finalists will be selected to serve on the first-ever online Walt Disney World Moms Panel. Those 12 parents who have a passion for the Walt Disney World vacation experience will have the opportunity to share their vast knowledge of the resort and personal secrets of success with other families who are considering this magical vacation experience. 

    ” ‘…Through our consumer research we know that there are aspects of a Walt Disney World vacation that can be challenging to the primary vacation planner, [and] most often that means mom,’ said Meg Crofton, President of Walt Disney World Resort. ‘We could not think of a better way to provide vacation planning advice than to create an online forum. This will assist guests who are looking for real and reliable vacation recommendations that fit their family’s travel needs.’ “

Some other guys might have noticed that the word “mom” appeared just a few times in this blurb, but not me. Instead I focused on the next statement:

    “Disney realizes that the person who serves the ‘mom’ role differs from family to family.”

Aha! They don’t mean the female adult member of the family…they mean the WDW planner in the family! So, I was off to the races, or more exactly off to provide 100 word responses to three topic areas.

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Jul 162007

By Erica Colmenares

Most people look back on the past year on the first of January. Since we’ve been parents, I tend to be more introspective in the summer. The kid’s passed another grade (whew!) and a new school year beckons. Recently, I had the opportunity to also look back on the mountain of writing we’ve done here at Magically Speaking over the last three plus years. Carol Garcia updated the Magically Speaking archives, and I took a trip down Memory Lane. In 88 issues, we’ve published over 176 articles. That’s a heck of a lot of Disney info!

Many of you may not have been around for all of these great articles. And you may be too busy to read all 176 articles today (gasp!). So, I’ve culled out a few highlights (although frankly, there isn’t a bad one in the bunch, and I’m definitely impartial).

A Couple I Wrote and Liked
The ones I wrote and didn’t like, well, I’m not linking to them. 😉

What are these babies, and how much do they cost?

A Sneak “Peak” at Expedition Everest
Woo-hoo, it’s finally opened, and I went to the AP Previews!

Beyond the Disney Dining Plan: Getting Groceries for a Walt Disney World Vacation
Hmmm, what about a little breakfast food and some soda for the room?

On-site or Off: The Perennial Question
I’m not biased. Nope, not me.

A Different Kind of Attraction: The Spa Massage
The Saratoga Springs Spa is NICE!

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