Mar 082010
 

When you get in trouble and you don’t know right from wrong
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! — Jiminy Cricket

Do you have a Disney dilemma? Are you wondering about a certain attraction? Are you curious about a resort or a cruise? Give us a little whistle and we’ll help you sort out how to handle it. Questions should be sent to whistle@magically-speaking.com. If your dilemma is trip-related, please include when you will be traveling.

Q. Do you think that the week before Easter 2011, which is April 24, will be very busy next year? (Submitted by Margie)

A. Margie, the weeks before and after Easter are traditionally chock-o-block, second only to the week between Christmas and New Year, for the prize of “most crowded” at the Disney parks. The upside of the crowds is that Disney pulls out all the stops, scheduling lots of extra entertainment and super-long park hours. The downside is, clearly, the sheer number of people with whom you’ll have to contend. We have to say, though, that as much as we like a quiet day in January for visiting the parks, there’s something really exciting about being at Disney during the busy times, too. Everywhere you look, there’s something happening. But it’s not for the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants traveler.

If you’ve no flexibility as to dates, we’d highly recommend having a good plan. It’s very doable to have a great time at Disney and experience the highlights of Walt Disney World. But seriously, not if you are with a group that wants to wing it. We’d recommend thinking through your vacation, knowing when you’re going to each park, having all of your dining plans in place, etc. Resources we like are the knowledgeable folks at TheMouseForLess.com’s yahoogroup, the forums at TourGuideMiKE.com, and the touring advice at Touringplans.com (associated with the Unofficial Guide to WDW).

Q. I’ve been to the World four times and I’ve always been able to go around late September, or the beginning of October, with wonderful weather and minimal crowds. My husband is finally ready for his first trip, but the dilemma is he wants to go somewhere around the 18th of December till the 24-25th. I love the idea of seeing all the Christmas decorations and especially the castle lit up, but honestly, how bad are the crowds going to be? Also, I see that it is much more expensive to stay there at that time. I love the Fort Wilderness Cabins, peaceful, full kitchen, quiet, outdoorsy, but wow, the price is much more than I expected. What are your thoughts? (Submitted by Amy)

A. Amy, our advice to Margie counts for you too, as that week leading up to Christmas is very, very popular. Planning will be the name of the game, especially since we’re sure you want your husband’s first trip to be extra magical (and not only because it might translate to even more Disney trips in the future). The nice thing is that, if you plan, there’s not a more wonderful time to visit Disney World than the holiday season. The Osborne Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the Candlelight Processional at Epcot, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom – you just can’t beat this stuff.

As for the added expense, there’s no getting around it, unless perhaps you’re willing to stay off-site (and we get that this is a hard pill to swallow). If your husband has any flexibility on his dates, and can even move up your vacation by a week, you avoid the holiday season price hit. If there is no flexibility in your dates, you can console yourself that your dates aren’t as expensive as those the following week.

Q. We will be at Walt Disney World this summer for a week, first time. I’m trying to fit everything in, but I also don’t want to kill my family. Do you think Downtown Disney is worth visiting? Or could we skip it, without regrets? (Submitted by Elliot)

A. Elliot, you are a smart man. You’re recognizing that you just can’t do it all. Between us here at Magically Speaking, we’ve been to WDW an embarrassing number of times, and yet even we haven’t done everything. You just can’t!

So, you have a week, and you wonder about Downtown Disney. While we know we’ll receive e-mails from folks begging to differ, we’d say that yes, you can skip Downtown Disney without regrets. Especially if the tradeoff is getting to have a waterpark visit, for instance, or a second visit to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot. And a schedule that doesn’t have you going from sun-up to sun-down every day. That’ll suck the “magical” out of anyone’s Disney vacation.

Downtown Disney has some fun shops, no doubt about it. If you have a shopper in your group, we can’t say enough good things about Mouse Gears at Epcot. Mouse Gears isn’t as massive as The World of Disney at DtD, but it’s second best. And while you’re at Epcot, don’t miss the shops around the World Showcase!

Nov 022009
 

When you get in trouble and you don’t know right from wrong
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! — Jiminy Cricket

Do you have a Disney dilemma? Are you wondering about a certain attraction? Are you curious about a resort or a cruise? Give us a little whistle and we’ll help you sort out how to handle it. Questions should be sent to whistle@magically-speaking.com. If your dilemma is trip-related, please include when you will be traveling.

Q. I read in your newsletter that the Crystal Palace restaurant is going to be closed during our upcoming visit in January 2010. We were going to try to get an ADR for breakfast there with Winnie-the-Pooh, but it looks like we won’t be able to. Are they going to move the breakfast or replace it with another option? We didn’t want to do the Cinderella Castle because it would take two of our meals off the meal plan (we are going to Akershus instead), but we still wanted to have breakfast at Magic Kingdom. I would appreciate a heads up about any alternatives. (Submitted by Teresa)

A. Hi Teresa. It’s sad, isn’t it, when Disney goes and closes an attraction or restaurant that you’ve got inked into your plans? (Don’t even ask us how we feel about Splash Mountain being refurbed during our upcoming vacation.) Crystal Palace will indeed be closed from January 3 through February 13, 2010. You may have already picked your Advanced Dining Reservations for your trip, but we’re answering your question, on the off-chance you (or others) are still in a quandary about what to do instead of Crystal Palace.

Your first option is to book at the Liberty Tree Tavern. During the CP refurbishment, the Liberty Tree Tavern will have character meals — breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While some folks are claiming that the Crystal Palace characters are migrating to LTT, the best sources we have indicate that it’s going to be Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Chip and Dale plus perhaps Goofy, in colonial garb (just like the old days, no pun intended). So if someone in your party is itching to see Tigger or Pooh, you might consider having breakfast at the Grand Floridian’s 1900 Park Fare. Tigger and Pooh often put in an appearance (although it’s not guaranteed). While the GF isn’t in the Magic Kingdom, at least it’s an easy monorail ride away. Happy eating, Teresa!

Q. My daughter & I will be going to Walt Disney World in November of this year. My question is, will I be able to find Scrooge McDuck, the character or Scrooge McDuck merchandise?. My husband, who loves him, can’t come with us and doesn’t think we will find anything. Thank you for your time. (Submitted by Terri A.)

A. We have a question for you, Terri. How much is showing your husband that you know what’s what worth? We think it could cost you the price of a couple tickets to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and even then, a McDuck sighting isn’t a shoe-in. If you’re going during these hard-ticket party dates (between November 10 and December 18), you’ll have your best chance of meeting and greeting Mr. McDuck, in his holiday finery. The last couple years, he was seen in Fantasyland near Donald’s Tree Lot. Otherwise, it’s very, very rare to see Scrooge McDuck at Walt Disney World. On the off-chance, you should certainly ask a Cast Member if they know where he’ll be appearing. If they say they don’t know, ask them nicely if they can find out (and let them know you have a bet riding on it). Cast Members can call to find out locations of all the characters, but sometimes they need a little nudging.

Scrooge McDuck merchandise is equally rare, though easier to find around the holidays. We had this sneaky thought that you could buy your husband a shirt from Zazzle.com’s Disney store, but even they don’t have Scrooge M. as a choice (even though Zazzle has over 120 Disney and Pixar characters to choose from, including Cri-kee, Janice, and Tuck&Roll — not sure who’s making those choices). You should definitely be able to track down a Scrooge trading pin by going to one of the major pin stores at any of the parks, or at Downtown Disney. We also have it on good authority that the Van Eaton Galleries’ booth at the D23 Expo had some awesome original Scrooge sketches and cels for (relatively) cheap! You can check out the art here http://www.vegalleries.com/disopc6b.html#chr and maybe get your husband a really nice gift. If all else fails, Terri, we recommend a Google image search, and transfer paper.

Q. My wife has gluten allergies and when going to Walt Disney World, every Chef at the Disney restaurants are great. We are going to the World in November, at the end of the Food and Wine Festival. I emailed Disney asking about what is gluten-free at the stands around Epcot during the Festival. The answer was not very helpful. It looked like a standard letter to everyone that asks about a food allergy. Do you know, or can you point me in the right direction where we can obtain a list of gluten-free food at the festival? (Submitted by Rick G.)

A. Unfortunately, Rick, the Food and Wine Festival offerings do not have allergens listed. We’ve always applauded Disney for their fabulous response at table service locations to people with dietary restrictions. It’s only a matter of time before that responsiveness trickles down to these Food and Wine venues. Another email from you wouldn’t hurt, just to let them know that you would appreciate this kind of information in the future. If others want to join in Rick’s appeal, just zip off an email to wdw.guest.communications@disneyworld.com.

We did want to share a great resource on gluten-free dining at the World and beyond, from Laura on the TourGuideMiKE forums. Here’s that link: www.glutenanddairyfree.com.

May 042009
 

When you get in trouble and you don’t know right from wrong
Give a little whistle! Give a little whistle! — Jiminy Cricket

Do you have a Disney dilemma? Are you wondering about a certain attraction? Are you curious about a resort or a cruise? Give us a little whistle and we’ll help you sort out how to handle it. Questions should be sent to whistle@magically-speaking.com

Q. I’m currently planning our first trip to Walt Disney World. It will be myself, my husband, my oldest daughter will be almost nine, my younger daughter will be six and my son will turn two when we arrive. We have decided to stay at the Caribbean Beach Resort because of the sandy beaches and playground areas. I’m leaning toward the Jamaican area (possibly building number 44?) because there seems to be a playground area very close by. I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts or advice on this or could tell me which area and/or building they would recommend? Thank you so much! (Submitted by Jamie P.)

A. Ah, Caribbean Beach Resort — it’s the favorite moderate of at least one Magically Speaking editor. How can you resist the laid-back island feel? Granted, it’s a huge resort, but every inch of it is green, lush, and screams “I’m on vacation.” So, good choice!

Because of the size of CBR, location is important (click here for resort map). Jamaica is an excellent choice, as is Aruba, because they are the closest non-preferred islands to Old Port Royale, the hub of activity at CBR. Old Port Royale houses the food court, the gift shop, and the table service restaurant (Shutters), plus the feature pool is right outside its door. While there is an internal bus system that serves all six islands, it is nice to be close enough to walk to OPR (about a five-minute walk from Jamaica).

A word of caution about requests, however. They are just that, requests, and while Disney CMs do their level best to fill them, not everyone can stay in Jamaica. So, ensure that your request is properly noted on your reservation (something like, “Jamaica or Aruba, close to Old Port Royale”) and then resolve to enjoy your vacation no matter where Disney sticks you. It’s all good.

Q. I know that if anyone can help, it will be you guys! Here’s my “problem.” I have taken my three children (now ages five, seven and nine) to Disney in September, 2007 and September, 2008 (great time to go, especially with the free dining), and am now planning our trip for September, 2009. The first year we went with no pre-conceived notions of what to see and do, and had a fantastic time. Long story short, this may be our last trip for awhile, as I can’t really get away with taking them out of school every September. I’d really like to make sure that we do and see everything this time. I’m a great fan of type-A planning, so that’s not an issue, I just would like your recommendations of what not to miss! Any suggestions? (Submitted by Mary)

A. Mary, you don’t say how long your vacation will be, but unless it’s about a month long, it’ll be impossible to do and see everything (and even with 30 days, you might be pressed for time). So the name of the game will be to determine what is on your family’s “must see” list. The process will be easier for you than WDW newbies, as your children are all Disney veterans who surely have clear opinions about their favorite attractions.

We recommend setting aside time before your 90-day ADR window, so maybe in June, and having each child write down their top three choices for each park. They could also include more that they’d like to do, if time permits. All adults in your party should make a list as well — Disney theme parks are for us too!

The other factor to consider is whether there are any new attractions since your last visit. Since you were in Orlando last September, the only headliner attractions that Disney has added are at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: American Idol Experience and Toy Story Midway Mania. You should also include time for the new Kim Possible missions at Epcot’s World Showcase.

Once you have a list of attractions for each park, you have the beginnings of your touring plans. Now you’ll just have to put ’em all in order. We usually consult the Unofficial Guide or TourGuideMiKE for help with that. Decide if and where you’d like to make a couple Advanced Dining Reservations.

Another thing to consider, if budget allows, is to select something special to do on the trip. Consider a pirate cruise (which leaves from various resorts) or other special program geared toward children. They will have a magical experience to remember. Sometimes adding a very special treat to the trip will help eliminate sad feelings if someone realizes there was an attraction that you missed. You can book these experiences at 407-WDW-PLAY.

Also, be sure that you aren’t on the go all the time. Family vacations are times to just enjoy each others company. Build in some pool time, some smell-the-roses time. Then pull it all together, and you’ve got the makings of a fab vacation.

Q. I have been reading about the wonderful offer Disney is extending to active and retired military. The question that I can’t seem to find the answer to is: “Am I eligible?” I am the widow of a retired Air Force Chief. I have a military ID card and full benefits. Since I still have all the benefits that I had when my husband was alive, do I qualify for this offer? (Submitted by Barbara M)

A. Barbara, we knew right off that you wouldn’t be able to get the free ticket, as no spouses are eligible for that offer. But spouses are eligible to purchase the discounted companion tickets, so you should be “good to go.” Let’s see how it will work.

First the facts, for readers who aren’t familiar with this Disney offer. Through December 23, 2009, all active or retired members of the U.S. military can get a free five-day “Disney’s Armed Forces Salute” ticket for Walt Disney World, which includes the park hopper and Water Park Fun & More options. In addition, the military/retired member may buy up to five additional five-day companion tickets, at $99 plus tax a pop (these tickets do not include hopping or Water Park Fun & More, which may be added for $25 plus tax). At Disneyland, the military offer is valid through June 12, 2009, and is for a complimentary three-day park hopper. Three-day park-hopper companion tickets can be purchased for up to five family members or friends for the price of an adult 1-Day Park Hopper ticket. You can get the tickets at participating U.S. military base ticket offices, at Shades of Green (Walt Disney World), or at any theme park ticket window. Companion tickets purchased at a military base or at Shades of Green are tax-free. Tickets at Walt Disney World must be used by December 23, 2009. At Disneyland, tickets must be used by June 25, 2009.

Here are a couple good sources for additional information:

This is a wonderful offer from Disney, but it might not be the best option for all military families. If you are planning a vacation that includes more than five theme-park days, know that you cannot add days to these tickets. You will have to buy additional ticket media. The cost of buying a one- or two-day ticket to round off your vacation may negate the savings of the initial discounted five-day ticket. Just be sure you do the math before assuming this is the best deal for your family’s planned vacation. You might find you’re better off just taking advantage of Disney’s discounted resort rates for the military.

Thanks for your family’s service, Barbara, and enjoy your time at Disney World.

Mar 092009
 

By Erica Colmenares

In honor of TheMouseForLess.com’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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