Jun 012016
 

By Ann Dunnington

 

School’s out for summer! For many families, this means it’s time to head down to the Walt Disney World resort. Before you pack your bags and head to Florida, here are some tips to make the most of your summer vacation!

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1- Utilize Fastpass+

It’s no secret that summer is a very busy time at the Walt Disney World Resort. But that doesn’t mean you’ll have to wait in long lines if you plan your FastPass + reservations wisely! You can reserve 3 FastPasses at a time 60 days in advance (if staying onsite, or 30 days in advance if staying off-site), and when those have been used each day, you can use your phone while in the park to reserve one additional FastPass at a time! Be sure to download the My Disney Experience app before you leave home!

 

2- Consider the Mid-Day Break

In the summer, we always like to head back to the hotel room around noon for lunch and a break to cool off. Whether it’s a swim, a trip to the laundry room, a nap, or a shower, it’s just nice to get out of the heat for a while. Then, after we have freshened up a bit, we head back out for a sit down dinner at the park of our choice and end the day riding our favorite rides when it’s a bit less humid and the crowds have thinned out a bit.

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3- Take Advantage of Extra Magic Hours

Extra Magic Hours (available to onsite guests) can be a real lifesaver in terms of touring the parks out of the heat of the day (and those pesky 4pm rain showers). If utilizing the Evening Extra Magic Hours, consider not even arriving to the park after your mid-day break until 30-60 minutes past the start time! As crazy as it may seem arriving at the Magic Kingdom at 10pm, you really can get a TON of park touring done in a short amount of time. And there’s really nothing like touring the parks at night. There’s something so magical about it!

 

4- Stay Cool

It probably goes without saying that water is the most important thing you can drink when touring the parks. But, did you know that you can get a FREE ice water from any of the counter service restaurants that offer fountain drinks? Take advantage of this! Also, be sure to bring along a wide brim hat, sunglasses, sunscreen (don’t forget to reapply), and moisture-wicking clothing. We have used cooling towels in the past, but found that they got a bit cumbersome. Now, we grab a washcloth for each person from the hotel room and put it in a zip top bag with some ice, and use that to cool down with! A swipe across the wrists, inside of the elbows, back of the neck, and back of the knees really feels amazing. We also like to bring along an umbrella- not only is it good to keep the rain off, but it’s a great tool to keep the sun off as well (especially when waiting for a parade to start, or if you’re grabbing a quick snack mid-day!)

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5- Air Conditioning

Did you know that the gift shops along Main Street in the Magic Kingdom and heading toward the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios connect? Walk through them to stay out of the heat! Walking past a gift shop on the way to your next ride? They almost always have multiple exits, so walk through them to get a blast of cool air on the way to your next attraction! Also, attractions like The Hall of Presidents, Carousel of Progress, Spaceship Earth, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, Turtle Talk with Crush, Finding Nemo the Musical, and The Great Movie Ride are wonderful attractions to do mid-day, because they get you out of the sun for an extended period of time!

 

So what are your tips for surviving summer at Walt Disney World? Be sure to share them with us on our Facebook page! Happy travels!

May 182016
 

SafariPinnable

Kilimanjaro Safaris is one of the most popular rides at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but if you haven’t yet tried this attraction, here’s some information about why you shouldn’t miss it the next time you visit Walt Disney World.

Walt Disney was always interested in wildlife, and while he was still alive, wanted to create an attraction where guests could ride through the habitats of different animals. In fact, the original Jungle Cruise attraction was meant to be filled with real animals rather than the animatronics which eventually made their way into the scenes. However, at that time, there was no way the imagineers could find a way to safely create such a scenario.

Ultimately, the idea came to life when Kilimanjaro Safaris was built for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The ride takes guests on an eighteen to twenty minute jungle trek through a 110 acre wildlife preserve, which is filled with more than 30 species of African animals. In fact, the space consumed by Kilimanjaro Safaris is so large that the entire Magic Kingdom could fit within this one attraction. This space not only allows the animals to have a large habitat to roam within, it also creates a fully immersive experience for guests to feel as though they have been transported to Africa itself.

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Guests are loaded into a large open air safari truck with many rows of seats. Above each row of seating is a chart of animals that you may see along the way along with the name of each animal. Children may enjoy matching up the animals they see with their proper names. The driver of each vehicle provides guests with a running commentary as to what animals are visible throughout the attraction and where you can get the best view of them.

One of the best parts about Kilimanjaro Safaris is that you never have the same ride experience twice. Depending on the time of day, weather conditions and temperament of the animals, you may see different animals each time, or the same animals may be doing different activities or hanging out in different locations. I highly recommend riding this attraction in the beginning of the day, especially in the summer months, because some of the animals tend to get lazy once the Florida heat is in full force.

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There is no way I could mention all of the animals within this attraction, but some of the favorites include hippopotamus, rhinoceros, giraffe, okapi, alligators, lions, and ostrich. All of the animals are kept apart from potential predators/harm through invisible barriers, so the guests do not see things like gates or cages. It is an amazing feeling to seem so close to a lion, though in reality, the lion’s perch is surrounded by a large unseen mote.

Some animals, like the cheetahs, can be difficult to spot, but others are hard to miss. For instance, the flamingos roam in full visibility on their own island. They have their own surprise though- the flamingos island is shaped like a giant hidden mickey. Towards the end of the attraction, guests have the opportunity to see the elephant families, usually with a baby elephant or two in tow. This is always my favorite part to see. However, younger animals can be found in many areas of this attraction, and your driver/guide will usually point them out. Whether you want to spend the ride taking photos or just enjoying the scenery, you will not want to miss this unique ride experience.

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One of the nicest things about this attraction is that it’s safe for all ages to ride together. So it fits the quintessential Walt Disney principle that families should be able to enjoy things all together. The ride is wheelchair accessible as well. Kilimanjaro Safaris normally runs from park opening to sunset each day, though Disney World recently announced that evening safaris will begin soon. This new version of this attraction puts the savanna into an eternal sunset and Guests will be able to see animals unique to this safari. I look forward to the opportunity to see this attraction in a whole new light.

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What is your favorite part of Kilimanjaro Safaris?

May 042016
 

By: Jennifer Retzlaff

 

As school starts to wrap up and summer begins to approach, many of us are getting closer to our Walt Disney World Vacations.  It is an exciting time and there is so much to plan and look forward to, but sometimes we forget the different ways we can get our children (both old and young) ready for their Walt Disney Vacation.  It doesn’t matter if it is their first magical trip or 100th, there are different steps you can take to help them be more prepared when they arrive in Walt Disney World.

  1. Get ‘em walking

PreparingKids Walks

My first and maybe most important step is to get them walking.  If you have kids that will not be riding in a stroller, it is important to get them out and walking.  Each park is huge you are guaranteed to walk more that than each day.  Start by taking small walks and then build their stamina.  This will help kids and adults of all ages get those legs ready and shoes ready for all the walking they will be doing.

  1.  Maps

PreparingKids Maps

Another great way to get the kids ready for vacation is by studying the maps from the four Disney parks.  Our kids love to dive into these maps and find all the different rides, restaurants, and bathrooms.  You name it they like to find it on the maps.  We also use the maps to help them get familiar with where things are located at through not just Disney in general but within the parks themselves as well.  We like them to understand the different lands in Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, how Epcot is divided between Future World and World Showcase and how Hollywood Studios has specific streets.  This helps them start to understand the layout of the different parks before we are there, which we find extremely helpful once we are actually in the parks having fun.

  1. Crafts

PreparingKids Crafts

A fun way to get kids involved in by DIY crafts at home.  These can be creating things for the trip such as countdowns, mousekeeping envelopes, autographs books, and journals.  You can find so many creative and fun ideas that can keep your kids busy and engaged for hours.  Crafts can also be just easy Disney themed color pages, dot to dots or even word finds that bring in the Disney magic while keeping them busy at the same time.

  1.  Get Online

Preparing Kids online

The internet is a great source to help you get your kids ready for their Disney trip.  Our daughter discovered that google earth is a fun and interactive way to “travel” through Disney.  She likes walking through the streets and traveling between the parks like we were actually there.  We also use ride videos to help them better understand the rides and shows themselves.  Helping them know what to expect, in our opinion, helps them be less scared of rides such as Tower of Terror or Haunted Mansion.  Those rides that have a little more intense feel to them.  Although we don’t want to give away the magic of all the rides, we do spend some time looking at those specific rides to help prepare them.  There are also so many wonderful sites that have amazing information for adults and kids alike that we will get online and look at pictures of all things Disney to get in the mood.  From pictures of food at the restaurants we are eating at to the rides and resort, pictures are a fun way to start to imagine ourselves there.  We want to oversee what they are looking up so we always do this process together, but we have found it a fun experience.

  1.  Books

Although the internet is awesome and has an enormous amount of information, we also like to have good old books around for them to look through.  We like to give them time to flip through the pages, look at the pictures, read what other kids say and just take it all in.  We also pull down our scrapbooks of our previous trips to help bring back those memories.  Again this is a fun way to talk about the trip and start imagining ourselves there already.

  1.  Trivia

As I mentioned before, we like to go on walks with the kids to get those little legs ready for all the Disney miles they will be putting on.  To make this process more fun and interactive you could say we do Disney trivia.  Our game normally has someone thinking of a Disney character or ride and then giving the rest of us clues until we guess.  Somewhat like 20 questions in reverse.  We use it as a way to make the walk go faster, but also so the kids again start to process where different rides, shows, food and characters might be.  We are hoping knowing this information will help prevent meltdowns (well limit meltdowns) about wanting to do or see something that isn’t in the park we are currently in.  Trivia can be used in the car, waiting to check out at stores and really anywhere you want to add some Disney magic to their day.

  1.  Explain what to expect

The last thing we do is start to discuss what to expect while in Walt Disney World.  We start with the basics of how we are going to get there (airplane then a bus) and then start to get into more details about where we are going to be each day and which rides we know we are going to ride (FastPass+) and what restaurants we will be eating in that day if any.  Again slowly going over this information helps them start to understand what to expect each day.  The other important conversations we start to have are expectations around things like naps, bathroom breaks, souvenirs and snacks.  It seems so silly to talk about things like, “when we ask you to try to use the bathroom, you need to try no matter what”, but these conversations now will hopefully save us from some middle of the line meltdowns.  You know your kids; whatever topics you think might help them be less overwhelmed while at Disney I would suggest having those ahead of time.

From DIY projects and videos to trivia and bathroom talks, these are all ways that we start getting our kids ready for our Walt Disney Vacation ahead of time.  I hope that you can find some that will help you as you prepare for your magical adventure.  Happy planning!

 

Apr 202016
 

By Janine Pipe

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One thing is for certain – the Disney Dining Plans (DDP) are becoming extremely popular. Although people often tend to choose the full plan, many find that the counter service options provided in the Quick Service Dining Plan (QDSP) are more than sufficient to their needs.

So, what exactly is this plan if you decide to utilize it?

Well in a nutshell, the Quick Service Dining Plan includes 2 counter service (CS) meals and a snack, for each night of your trip. So, if you are staying for 5 nights, then you would have a total of 10 Counter Service meals and 5 snacks to use. You also get a Rapid Fill Resort refillable mug, which you can use at the self-service stations at any Walt Disney World (WDW) resort.

As with tickets, the Dining Plans are available for guests 10 and over, and for children aged 3-9 years. Children under 3 do not qualify for any of the Disney Dining Plans, but they may share with the adult, and often the meals are certainly large enough to do this without going hungry.

The plan is activated as soon as you check into your resort, and any leftover credits expire at the end. Now, it is up to you how you spread out those credits. For example, you may find that on one day, you chose to have a Counter Service meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, equally 3 credits. But the following day, you only use 1. This can easily happen if you book any table service meals which you pay for out of pocket (OOP) or if you chose to eat off-site.

Generally speaking, a Counter Service credit includes (for lunch and dinner) an entrée, a dessert and a non-alcoholic drink. So for example, if you were to eat at Columbia Harbour House (CHH) in the Magic Kingdom (MK) (one of my personal favorites), you could chose the Chicken Pot Pie (entrée), Seasonal Cobbler (desert) and a fountain beverage (drink). Breakfast however is just an entrée and drink, no dessert.

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So contrary to popular belief, quick theme park food does not have to be burgers and chicken nuggets, although there are plenty of those available too.

There have been some handy changes made to the ‘rules’ of the plan fairly recently too. You are no longer required to have the suggested dessert. Many Counter Service places offer the standard brownie or carrot cake, but now you can chose any other snack item available at that location. So you could swap your cupcake for a Magic Cookie Bar (go research this now – you’re welcome) or for an extra drink, which would be useful in the heat of summer! You can also exchange your drink for a different snack too.

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Another extra is that you can now exchange 1 of your Counter Service meal credits for 3 snacks instead. This could be particularly useful if you have a picky eater who would rather have 3 bags of chips than a meal, or if you have credits left to use up before you leave, as you can exchange them for things like cookies that you can take home with you. (Make sure to ask the Cast Member when attempting to make any substitutions.)

There are some great options when it comes to snacks too,; do not think that they are all cookies and chips! Some of my personal favourites are: jalapeno and cream cheese pretzel, carrot cake cookie, warm cinnamon roll, Norwegian school bread and a Butterfinger cupcake – mmmmmmmm. And don’t forget you can also get things like specialty coffees from Starbucks too as a snack credit. Awesome!

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So is the Quick Service Dining Plan a good deal? Obviously if it is free as part of a deal, then yes! But is it worth paying for?

The cost of the plan per adult per night is $44.13 including tax. So imagine I get a Warm Cinnamon Roll from Gaston’s Tavern in MK for breakfast ($4.49), the Chicken Pot Pie ($10.79), Seasonal Cobbler ($4.29) and a lemonade slushie ($4.69, total = $19.77) from CHH for lunch, and then dinner in the Lotus Blossom Café in EPCOT (Orange Chicken $9.99, large fountain beverage $3.29 and ice-cream $3.50 – total = $16.78). This would cost in total $41.04 BEFORE tax. And, you get the refillable resort mug to use too. Plus, I have picked average priced meals for this example, some of the CS entrees can be pretty pricey.

So in conclusion, I would say that you will at least make your money back on the plan, and it adds to the enjoyment of your vacation experience if things have already been paid for, and you just have to choose and scan your band, rather than searching for how much items cost and trying to find some cash.

The Quick Service Dining Plan can be a great way to enjoy the quick meals of Disney with little to no stress.

Apr 062016
 

By Roye Ann Morris

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In the 26 years since we took our first child to the parks, I have always been firmly in the camp of “Don’t take your child to Disney until they are old enough to enjoy and remember it!” Our son was barely two years old when he made his first visit to Disney World, and it wasn’t a pleasant trip for any of us. He was scared of most of the rides and the characters, refused to eat or sleep at regular times (partly our fault as first-time parents!), and really enjoyed the hotel room and pool much more than the parks. After that trip, my husband and I decided that any future children would have to wait until the age of five to go to Disney. And we stuck to that rule through the rest of our five kids!

Fast-forward to 2015. Our first grandchild was turning one, and we were planning a trip for the whole family. Disney World was, of course, our first choice as the place to go, but we had some serious doubts about whether taking a baby so young to the parks was wise. Visions of all the crying babies and toddlers (and sometimes parents) that we had always felt so sorry for in a hot, crowded park, danced before our eyes. We spent several weeks going over the pros and cons, both with each other and with our daughter and son-in-law. But because they were so positive it would work, we decided to give it a try. And in the end, although the trip was not perfect, we were so happy we did!

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We knew this would be a much different trip than we had become used to; our youngest child is now 16, so it had been quite a few years since we had taken someone still in need of naps to the parks! I am a planner by nature, so the first thing I did was to make a list of all the rides and attractions I thought our granddaughter might enjoy, those that might scare her, and the ones that would be a good place for napping. Then I tried to get used to the idea that we would not all be together all the time. With the age range of our group, I knew that we should plan to split up for part of our days, and possibly even be in different parks. The final plan was that we would stay together in the mornings, go our separate ways after an early lunch, then meet up again for dinner. For the most part, that’s what worked best for us.

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Magic Kingdom was the one park where we all wanted to be together. We all were excited to see our granddaughter’s reaction to the attractions there. We chose to take the ferry to the park from the Transportation and Ticket Center, and she loved it! Our first stop was The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, as that was her favorite movie. Right away we could tell that she was a little overwhelmed, even with something as familiar as Pooh. The dark places in the ride and the loud music was a little too much for her; she didn’t cry, but she wasn’t thrilled either.

After that, we decided that rider swap might be a better idea for most of the other rides. She did enjoy the carousel, It’s A Small World, and Peter Pan, and took a great short nap in Carousel of Progress. Her favorite thing was being able to get out of the stroller and crawl around in the waiting area of the Hall of Presidents. And the cast members everywhere were great, going out of their way to smile and talk to her. I know they do that for everyone, but it always makes you feel special!

The surprise of the day was our ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority! This has always been my go-to ride for a cool place to sit down and enjoy the view for a while; we head here when the kids need a break, and sometimes it works for a nap, too! Our granddaughter was in the car in front of us, and she laughed and waved to us the entire ride. Her mom held her close and talked to her during the dark portion through Space Mountain, and she came out on the other side still smiling and waving. They rode the TTA a couple more times that day, and her reaction was the same each time. I would never have picked that to be her favorite!

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I must say that my daughter and son-in-law were very wise about taking breaks and having down time back at our hotel. They went into the trip knowing that their time at the parks would be limited, and were very committed to making sure naps and bedtimes stayed pretty much on schedule. We all took turns entertaining the baby so everyone got a chance to ride most of what they wanted in Magic Kingdom, and spent one day in separate parks so that the older ones could ride the thrill rides in Disney’s Hollywood Studios while the rest of us visited the animals in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We didn’t plan any character meals as we weren’t sure whether the characters would scare her. We did get a picture with Mickey Mouse, but she was sound asleep!

All in all, it was a wonderful trip, and I would definitely do it again. I have switched to the camp of “Yes, you can take a baby to Disney and enjoy it!” With good planning and realistic expectations, you can make it work!

Mar 232016
 

By Tim Rogers

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So you’re taking a trip to Walt Disney World – great! One of the first things to think about is when you actually want to go. While for some people that is determined narrowly by work and school schedules, if you have more flexibility, the yearly calendar at Walt Disney World provides a wide range of special events and activities to make your trip special. While I won’t be discussing all of these (sorry marathon!), I will take you through some of the big times of year and why you should go then.

 

Spring

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There’s no time like the present – Spring has definitely sprung around the Walt Disney World resort. The biggest and most noticeable special occurrence during this time of year is the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival.

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As seems to be the case with several of these festivals, the Flower and Garden Festival seems to get a little longer every year. This year, the festival began on March 2nd and will run through May 30th. This will cover most spring breaks and even last past when some early schools get out for the summer, and includes some relatively “low crowd” times, and some of the busiest times of the entire year (the week before and after Easter).

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At the festival itself, there are plenty of things to explore and enjoy. The most noticeable might be the wonderful topiaries that populate all of Epcot.

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Beyond that, the festival center has special speakers and exhibits related to horticulture. Additionally, on weekends you can see the “Garden Rocks” Concert series. The bonus is that, for this festival, pretty much all of these speakers, concerts, and exhibits are included with normal park admission.

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Some of the most recent, and popular, additions to the festival are the Outdoor Kitchens. These booths have great treats from around the world, and have given the beauty and educational value of Flower and Garden some of the energy that the Food and Wine Festival has enjoyed for years.

 

Early Fall

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Fall at the Walt Disney World resort is when the special events really pick up. The first of these is usually Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. This party takes place in the Magic Kingdom, generally on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings, from early to mid-September through the day after Halloween.

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The party itself features special character meets, trick or treating, a great parade and fireworks, and more. You do need a special ticket to attend, and some of the nights do sell out in advance.

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Also in mid-September is the start of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Running this year from September 14th to November 14th, this festival is a huge draw and you will routinely see the Epcot Area Resorts completely full throughout the duration.

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You can expect a few things from this festival. First, the Eat to the Beat concert series, which happens pretty much every night throughout the festival and is included with your admission.

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At the festival center, you can explore and learn about all kinds of food related topics, but several of those will cost extra.

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The big draw for the festival, however, has to be the kiosks. Located generally around the World Showcase, and spreading a little bit into Future World last year, these kiosks provide an incredible range of international food and beverage offerings.

 

Late Fall/Winter

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The Food and Wine Festival ends up overlapping slightly the next big activity, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. In fact, some visitors try to plan a trip every year that will let them attend the last Halloween Party, the first Christmas Party, and the Food and Wine Festival, while only staying for about a week.

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Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party starts in early November and runs through just before Christmas. Its schedule is about the same as the Halloween Party schedule and also takes place in the Magic Kingdom. At the party you can expect special characters, shows, a parade and fireworks, all themed to the holidays.

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However, the holiday spirit at Disney World is not contained to the Christmas Party. Starting just after Thanksgiving, Epcot hosts the Candlelight Processional, a celebrity narrated telling of the story of Christmas, complete with choirs and an orchestra. Also in Epcot are special performers and storytellers to show and discuss holiday traditions from around the world.

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You can also get into the holiday spirit simply by visiting the hotels on Disney property, especially the deluxe ones. Here you will see beautiful trees and decorations, and some astounding gingerbread creations.

So what is the best time of year to go? As with anything, that is a personal question, and honestly there are no bad choices. I am a Christmas fanatic so it would be hard for me to not choose that first. The fall activities are more numerous than in Spring (if for no other reason than Halloween) and the parade and fireworks during the Halloween Party are thought by many to be the best that Disney does all year. However, it is hard to describe how beautiful and exciting the Flower and Garden Festival is. Really, what I am trying to say is no matter when you go, it will be great – just make sure you take advantage of all that is being offered!