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!


Jul 152015

By: Jennifer Retzlaff


Dos and Don'ts of a Disney vacation

Summer is prime time for families to head to Walt Disney World for their family vacation. With that in mind, I wanted to share a few dos and don’ts to help make your trip as magical as possible.

Do Go With a Plan; Don’t Try to Wing It

Magically Speaking Do and Dont June 2015  Be Prepared

Summer is one of the busiest times at Disney making crowds heavy most days. With that in mind, do go in with a plan for the day. Even if it is a light plan with lots of flex time, having a general idea of where you want to go and where you would like to start the day will lower your standing around time, whether that is in line or out on Main Street determining what you want to do. You can tell the families that are trying to wing it as they often can be seen standing around “discussing” the next ride, show, or food kiosk that they are going to visit. Please do not misunderstand me. I know that not everyone is like me and don’t need nor want a detailed plan for the day; that isn’t what I am suggesting. What I am strongly recommending is that you have a general idea if your group wants to hit up Adventureland or Tomorrowland. Knowing your general plan for the day will help your stress level.

Do take breaks; Don’t try to go for 12 hours straight

Magically Speaking Do and Dont June 2015 Breaks

It is extremely hot in Florida in the summer months making it extremely important to take breaks. Trust me I get it. You have spent thousands of dollars on this vacation and darn it you are getting your money worth. My question would be if everyone is burnt out by day three, will you get everything out of the remainder of your trip? I see the complaints online of teenagers not wanting to get up before noon even though they are in Disney. Again a break doesn’t have to mean leaving the park, although if you are able, I highly recommend those few hours away; a break means taking some time to relax and just be for a while. Grab a snack, a seat and settle in for a few minutes. Taking an hour or so every day will give your family that second wind they will need to see those evening shows.

Do be realistic; Don’t get blinded by the magic

I will admit that I struggle with this one. As I am planning our daily plans, I often get wrapped up in trying to do it all which isn’t possible in it the world that is Disney. When planning for your trip, be realistic with what you will be able to accomplish each day. Know up front that you won’t be able to get everything in while you are there. Also be realistic while actually at the parks. Realize that although Disney is full of magic sometimes rides breakdown, bathrooms are needed at the wrong time, and tantrums will happen. I know it is hard to keep this all in the back of your mind, but it will make your trip more magical.

Do be aware of others; Don’t think you are in a bubble

Summer, as mentioned before, is a busy time of the year making walkways, bathrooms, restaurants, buses and rides busy. With this in mind, as you are moving throughout the parks, buses, etc, make sure you are being aware of your surroundings. Try to be aware of where you stop to tie that shoe or have that conversation. Be considerate on the buses when others need to get on. Help that mom with the stroller, offer up your seat to Grandma who has been going all day with the grandchildren. These small things, if we all do it, will make all of our trips that much better.

Do use your snack credits early; Don’t feel like you have to save them

Magically Speaking Do and Dont June 2015 Snack Credits

We learned this when we first used the dining plan a few years ago. We kept holding onto our snack credits throughout our trip leaving us with more than enough to frantically use on our last day. Instead of getting items we would have liked, we spent them on random things we could find at the resort. Last summer when we went we used our snack credits when the desire came. We also used it to get some breakfast items and munchies to take into the park with us. We did end up spending an extra ten on our last day but we were happy to do that instead of trying to force ourselves to use them.

Do come prepared; Don’t be caught off guard

Doing just a little research before you arrive at Disney will greatly help you be more prepared once arriving. Knowing when the parades, fireworks, and other shows are each day helps you know where you want to be at night instead of finding yourself in Epcot when you wanted to see Fantasmic in Hollywood Studios. Be aware of the park hours, extra magic hours and other special events going on throughout the parks during your visit will again help you take advantage of these offers. You don’t want to think you are hitting extra magic hours only to realize that the park opened up early to everyone. Being prepared also relates to weather. If you are visiting in the summer months, know that it will be hot and there will be daily rainstorms. With that in mind, make sure you pack that extra pair of socks, umbrella, and rain poncho. It can be extremely frustrating to take time out of your vacation because you are caught off guard by something that could have been planned for ahead of time.

Do enjoy the magic; don’t forget to smell the roses or popcorn

Magically Speaking Do and Dont June 2015 smell roses

I had to remind myself of this a few times on previous vacations. I am a planner and sometimes during our vacation I find myself getting worked up in what our next step is instead of just enjoying where we are at the moment. As parents, it is easy to be so caught up in our kids that we forget to really stop and see our kids and the joy that they are radiating. One of my favorite moments from our family trip was watching my kids play with their bubble gun in front of the castle. This wasn’t plan, we weren’t riding any rides, but it was a magical moment as they were so happy to be together and enjoying the moment. You don’t want to miss these moments during your trip because you are so busying worrying or planning.

Walt Disney World vacations are for many a once in a lifetime experience and I hope these quick tips will help all of us enjoy the magic that Disney has to offer.

Mar 192014

By Ann Dunnington

After each trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, my husband and I reflect on what aspects of the trip worked well for us and what didn’t.  After a lot of vacations (research purposes only, of course…), we have narrowed down our favorites to create OUR perfect trip plan.  Today’s article is a brief synopsis on how WE do Disney in a way that is perfect for us.  Maybe these Disney tips will give you some things to think about when you’re planning your next trip. Because let’s be honest, when are we NOT planning our next trip?

558888_749633426989_1731899910_nWhen do we go?

For us, the perfect time of year to go is the full week before the Epcot Food and Wine Festival starts. Which generally runs from late September through mid-November.  (Editor’s Note:  This year’s festival runs from September 19 – November 10.)  “But Ann, why don’t you go DURING Food and Wine??  It’s so much FUN!”  I’m glad you asked. We actually don’t prefer to visit during the Food and Wine Festival because it makes EPCOT crowded during the evenings and it fills up the rooms at the EPCOT resorts (that where we like to stay) rather quickly.  So for us, September is the ideal time.  Low(er) crowds, fairly nice weather, and Value Season… it’s a win win…win.

Where do we prefer to stay?

558237_750219188119_1871396918_nMy husband and I have stayed at the Walt Disney World Swan, Pop Century, All Star Movies, All Star Music, Saratoga Springs, and The Boardwalk Villas. Of those hotels, our favorite thus far was The Boardwalk.  We loved the location and the restaurants around the resort.  With that said, we didn’t love that it felt like we were walking to the other side of the world just to get back to our room.  The hallways just kept going and going and going… The other downfall was that The Boardwalk itself was quite noisy for most of the evening.  With these reflections, my husband and I have decided to give the Beach Club Villas a try for our next trip.  The proximity to EPCOT can’t be beat, they have a sand bottom pool (wow!), and who doesn’t want to be by Beaches and Cream (the AMAZING old fashioned ice cream parlor)?!

How do we get there, and how do we get around?

There have been so many trips where we would arrive at the resort after taking the first flight out of the day, and our room wouldn’t be ready yet because of such an early arrival.  We like to get checked in, turn up the mini fridge, unpack, run to the grocery store, and get settled in before we ‘start the trip’, and by taking the first flight out in the morning, we were setting ourselves up for having to wait around.  So, this trip, we will take a direct flight that leaves mid-afternoon.  And then when we land, we’ll rent a car, check in at the hotel (after 4pm), grocery shop, etc.  No waiting around necessary.

What type of tickets do we get?

We like 5 or 6-day park hoppers, depending on how long the trip is.  The park hopper gives us flexibility, and we like to ‘wing’ our park touring days sometimes.

What about dining?

537972_749656615519_1004549269_nThe best dining plan for us is eating breakfast in the room (or taking one day to have allergy friendly Mickey waffles at Kouzzina), bringing a packed lunch with us into the park, and having an early (4:30pm / 4:45pm) dinner at one of our favorite restaurants.  Over the years, our favorite Table Service restaurants have become Yachtsman Steakhouse at the Yacht and Beach Club, il Mulino at the Swan, La Hacienda de San Angel at Mexico in EPCOT, and like I said before, breakfast at Kouzzina.  We also like to have ice cream sundaes at Beaches ‘n Cream- they made my hubby an amazing gluten free peanut butter chocolate sundae (the No Way Jose, for those of you Beaches and Cream enthusiasts), so it’s a new favorite on our list as well!

How do we tour the parks?

For so many trips, EPCOT has been the LAST park we toured.  Why on earth do we do that to ourselves- EPCOT is our favorite park!!  This trip, we will be starting with EPCOT, and then throughout the week visiting the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.  Animal Kingdom isn’t our favorite, and Avatar Land won’t be open yet, so I don’t envision us going there at all this trip.  If we get all of our favorites done, then maybe at the end of the week we’ll branch out if we have the time.  We like evening extra magic hours, and tend to participate in them as much as we can- there’s just nothing quite like walking through Adventureland at night and feeling like you have the park to yourself!

Anything else?

YES!  There are so many details in the parks, restaurants, and hotels, yet we always seem to rush right by them!  In this upcoming trip, we are going to walk slower and take time to stop and smell the Hidden Mickey’s.  Ok not literally, but you know what I mean!


Hopefully hearing what we prefer for our trips will get you thinking on how to make your trip just a little bit more magical for your family.  There is never a ‘one size fits all’ for Walt Disney World vacations, so every family needs to tour in a way that suits them.  I would love to hear how your family “does Disney”!



Feb 052014

By:  Jennifer Retzlaff

After visiting Disney multiple times in the last few years, I have come to learn that planning is essential. I realize that planning isn’t up everyone’s ally and many like to “wing it” when they are on vacation, but I have come to love the planning of the Disney trip just as much as the trip itself. When my daughter turned four, we took our family on the Disney vacation of her (okay really my) dreams and I truly believe that it turned out so well because of the planning I did. Two years later, I am busy once again planning another Disney vacation although this one will be a very different trip. My husband and I will be heading to Disney for our 10 year anniversary without kids. As you begin your Disney planning, I hope these five quick tips will help you start making your trip as magical as possible.

 Retzlaff Magically Speaking Article- Feb (Son Educating)21.  Educate Yourself

Educate Yourself

My first tip is educate yourself about Disney. Even if you don’t like to plan, being educated about the parks, rides, restaurants, shows, etc. will really help your trip be a lot less stressful. I am always surprised when I am waiting for a parade and there are people walking around with confused looks wondering why thousands of people are standing around. These confused people are unaware of the upcoming parade. Don’t spend all that money and potentially miss out on things because you’re clueless as to what’s happening around you.

There are many ways to educate yourself.  With all the advanced technology there are tons of Facebook pages, (Editors note:  we’d like to mention that Magically Speaking has a fun TheMouseForLess page) websites, and blogs (Editors note:  like The Mouse for Less) that will provide readers with a variety of up-to-date information.  Get on these sites and just read.  Engross yourself in all that is Disney so that when your four year old daughter wants to experience Stitch’s Great Escape you know that might not be the best idea, or when your husband just needs an ice cream sandwich you know where to go about finding one.  This isn’t about planning every detail out, but it is about knowing enough about Disney so you are prepared to make decisions and aren’t frustrated when the family starts asking you questions to which don’t know the answer.

 2.  What’s your purpose?

When heading to Disney you need to know what your purpose is for the trip.  What I mean by this is talking to those in your travel party and determine what you want to get out of the trip.  Is the goal to go and relax with a little Disney on the side, or is it to immerse yourself in all things Disney from sun up to sun down?  This is an important conversation to have as it can drastically impact the rest of the your planning.  Making sure everyone in your party is on the same page is also important.  You don’t want to plan five full days at the park and later find out Grandma really wanted to spend more time at the pool relaxing.  Figuring out the purpose of the trip is essential to the rest of your planning process.

Retzlaff Magically Speaking Photos Feb- CBR 3.  Where to stay?

Once you have determined the purpose of your trip, you can begin considering where you want to stay.  The first question here is to stay on-site (a Disney Resorts) or off-site (a non-Disney hotel).  Disney has a variety of amazing hotel options that will provide you with the full Disney experience.  There are many advantages of staying at a Disney resort and I have fully enjoyed our time at ours.  Disney resorts offer the advantage of Disney transportation and extra magic hours.  If your purpose is to immerse yourself in all things Disney but still have some down time, Disney resorts provide this option as you can come and go from the parks more easily.    Off site there are also a variety of wonderful hotels.  Although I haven’t stayed off site in a few years, I know that many have found this option to suit their purpose.  Those that want to be at the parks from sun up to sun down tend to like this option as they don’t need the close availability of the Disney resorts.

When determining at which resort to stay, make sure you look at your family needs.  Do kids need a separate room?   Do you need the bathroom and sink to be separate?  Are kids going to need a nap?  There are a lot of different factors when choosing a resort and it can be very overwhelming.  I also make a spreadsheet with our must haves and then start comparing them.  Once you have narrowed it down to a couple, refer back to idea number 1:  educate.  Research and read about the different resorts and what people have to say about them.  Realize that there are also positives and negatives about the hotels, but it does help to hear what people are saying.   Figuring out where to stay is a big decision and will help as you move on in your planning stages.

4.  Food

Everyone loves to eat and Disney is a great place to do this.  Disney has three different levels of food service:  table service (TS), quick service (QS) and snacks (S).  When discussing the purpose of your trip, food is an important thing to talk about.  Does your family want to have mainly sit down meals or do you want to be on the go?  Does your daughter just have to eat with the princesses?  Are character meals important?  Does your littlest one only eat chicken nuggets?  These are all conversations to have before booking your Disney vacation.

If you are staying on site, you also have the option of using the three main Disney Dining Plans.  These plans are prepaid that you can purchase before leaving on your trip.  They come in different levels from deluxe to the standard, to the quick service dining plan.  Each provides a variety of different combinations.  Again you have to decide what will work with your family.  If you are more of a snack on the go family then the deluxe meal plan won’t be for you.  Learn about what your options with each plan are and then look at the different restaurant menus to see what would appeal to your family.  Even though it is a top rated restaurant that doesn’t mean it will be right for your family dynamic.  It is a very stressful experience if people are hungry during your vacation, so make sure to educate yourself on all your options before heading out.

 Retzlaff Magically Speaking Article- Feb (HS at EMH) (6)5.  Which parks do we want to see?

Although it would seem this would be the first question, I actually have learned that determining which park I am going to comes later in my planning.  When deciding which park to go to, I use a variety of different resources.

A)  Extra magic hours:  These are bonus hours that Disney Resort guests can take advantage of either in the morning or late in the evening.  Again, know your family.  We are up early in the morning with our kids so we can take advantage of these bonus morning hours, but there was no way we could stay up until midnight so we didn’t use the benefit of evening magic hours on our last trip.  It is always a good rule of thumb that if you can’t take advantage of the extra magic hours, to avoid those parks if you can as the parks do get overly crowded due to these bonus hours.

B)  Crowd Calendars:  There are a variety of sites out there that have done the research to help give you the best and worst park to visit each day.  They can also give you the crowd level that is expected for those days.  Many of these sites don’t suggest parks with extra magic hours as they are assuming their readers aren’t going to use them.  Make sure you take that into consideration when planning for your family.  If you can make the morning extra magic hours work, then do so for your family and then use the crowd calendar to determine where you might go in the afternoon.

C)  Favorites:  This would seem like a no brainer, but make sure when planning you look at your family favorites.  We love a variety of rides at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, so we tend to spend more time there than other parks.  Our kids weren’t fans of Epcot, so we didn’t spend a lot of time there as a family.  On our adult’s only trip, my husband and I plan to spend more time there to enjoy what the park has to offer.  Again look at the purpose of your trip.  If it is to see everything at Disney (which is impossible by the way) you will need to spread out your park options, but if the purpose is to hit your favorites as many times as possible figure out your park schedule accordingly.

D)  Food:  Again everyone loves to eat and each park has their specialty restaurants.  Look at the options at each park to decide if there are specific things you just have to have.  If your daughter just has to eat at the castle, you are going to want to plan a day at Magic Kingdom to accommodate that dream.   Or do you have to see Fantasmic?  Then make sure you are at Disney’s Hollywood Studios one evening when it is being performed.  Although Disney does provide great transportation between parks, I have learned that park hopping for reservations can be somewhat stressful, so we now book our restaurants at the parks we are planning to be at already to avoid that stress.

Disney parks have so much to offer and it can be overwhelming determining which ones to be at and when but I have learned that knowing when the extra magic hours are, reviewing a few crowd calendars from different sites and knowing my family’s favorite rides and restaurants all make the decision of which park on which day a little easier.

Walt Disney World is truly a world within itself and planning a trip to the magic land can sometimes feel like anything but magical.  In my experience, if you take time to educate yourself on Disney it will help you make the best of your trip and will allow you to make decisions on your feet as well as help you better determine what resorts, restaurants and parks to visit.  I hope that these five quick tips help you get your Disney vacation off to a magical start.

Feb 082012

By:  Debbie Boehm

Is it really possible to be enthusiastic the umpteenth time you say those words?  The answer is yes!  Planning a trip to Walt Disney World is exciting and fun.

The beauty of Walt Disney World is that there is a resort to suit every budget and every desire. From the grandeur of the Grand Floridian to the fun of the Pop Century, it’s all there.  Four theme parks, two water parks, two miniature golf courses, a downtown shopping district, golf resorts, amazing restaurants and experiences are all there for the taking.

This is the story of my next trip with my husband. For this trip we have chosen to travel in April and stay at the Polynesian Resort.  The choice was easy – it has the ambiance of the islands with the sights, sounds and smells that remind us of our honeymoon.  Many of the rooms have balconies or a patio which we have been missing at the moderate level and the convenience of the monorail can’t be beat.  Within moments we can be at the Magic Kingdom or on our way to the Epcot monorail loop, a short ride away.  In addition, there is a boat launch which transports guests to the Magic Kingdom.

Continue reading »

Jan 112012

By: Dena Burkett

Today I am going to give you a glimpse inside my tactics for planning a Disney trip. I know that everyone plans for their Disney vacation differently, whether it is your first time or tenth time. I am hoping that some of the things I do can help make your future trip easier and more magical.

The first thing I do when I find out when I am taking my trip and where I am staying is to start making up my itinerary. It may seem like a lot of work or a waste of time (I get grief about it from family) but I love having it! It keeps everything in order and in one place. I put the park hours on it along with reservation confirmations, flight information, any other information I would like readily available, and of course, what we plan to do each day. Now, I will tell you that we sometimes stray from it, but for the most part, we follow it to a T. I also print out the hotel information, Magical Express information as well as any other documents I think I might need. I put everything in a red, Disney-decorated  folder that I use every time we go. That way everything is in one place and I can easily find it during the trip.  Doing something like this, whether it’s in an actual folder or perhaps saved on your phone in an app like Tripit, can really be a life-saver! Continue reading »