Sep 212016
 

By Roye Ann Morris

 

As I was getting ready to plan our next trip to Disney World, my mind wandered to previous trips and some of my favorite things that are no more.  I began to dig through scrapbooks and photo albums, searching for pictures of long-gone attractions and shows that my family and I had enjoyed through the years. Here are a few of my favorites!

Disney Dollars

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We loved collecting these as we waited for our next Disney trip. Although they are no longer available, Disney will still honor any you might have. I think I’ll keep these, though; the memory is worth more than anything the dollars might buy!

River Country and Discovery Island

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This is a pamphlet dated 1983. A one-day pass to Magic Kingdom or Epcot was $15 for adults, $14 for juniors, and $12 for children. We never made it to River Country, but Discovery Island was amazing! I still remember my mom posing for this picture, and shortly after it was taken being bitten by an emu she was trying to feed. Being an animal lover, the day we spent here was pure joy for me. I was very sad to see Discovery Island close, but I take every chance I can to visit Animal Kingdom!

Dreamfinder and Figment

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This is from the newspaper Disney used to print for guests, dated March 4-17, 1983. As I’ve said before, these two characters and the original Journey into Imagination were my absolute favorite things about Epcot. We always set aside time to play in the pavilion after the ride, and I was thrilled when my kids were able to get a picture with Figment on one of our trips. I really believe that if the original ride came back, people would fall in love with it again!

Epcot Restaurants

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This little folded pamphlet included tips on planning your visit and a list of Epcot Center counter service restaurants. Some of the tips inside it were: “Visit Magic Kingdom in the morning and Epcot Center in the afternoon. Take in the wonders of Future World later in the day. Make your dinner reservations at Earth Station before 10 A.M. World Showcase dinner reservations may also be made at City Hall in the Magic Kingdom.” My, how things have changed! Can you imagine Le Cellier as a counter service spot?

 

The Waterfalls in the Polynesian Lobby

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My family took a picture in this spot every time we were in the Polynesian. It was truly one of my favorite places in the World; beautiful, serene, a kind of oasis in the middle of busyness. Although the new lobby is also beautiful with its wide-open spaces and bright colors, this may be the thing I miss the most.

Random Character Photo Ops

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While I realize that having a schedule for character appearances makes it easier to plan your day, happening upon a character as he (she? it?) walked through the park was always a fun surprise. We always felt like we had won a prize if we were the first or second in line when a character appeared.  Even if you didn’t necessarily know exactly who it was…. Does anybody know who this is??

Maelstrom in Norway

Of our favorite rides, although more recent than the other memories. I do love “Frozen”, but I am sad that people will not get to ride through the beauty that was Maelstrom, and was very sorry to see it “Disappear, Disappear”! Although I am definitely looking forward to the new “Frozen” attraction on our upcoming trip!

Well, enough reminiscing for one article. I’m still looking for pictures of other favorites: Orange Bird, Horizons, World of Motion, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride….what are your favorite bygone attractions at Disney?

Aug 242016
 

Ann Dunnington

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Fall is in the air.  Can you feel it?  Ok, maybe it’s still technically summer, but school is back in session and pretty soon, pumpkin-spiced EVERYTHING will be everywhere you turn.   If you’re planning on visiting the Walt Disney World resort in September or October, you will undoubtedly be there during a special ticketed event at the Magic Kingdom known as “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party”, or MNSSHP for short.  This event is full of special parades, shows, fireworks, trick-or-treating, character meet and greets, party-specific merchandise and treats, and little to no wait time for select attractions. This event is always a hit, and is a fabulous way to get into the Halloween spirit!  We are attending one of the parties this year, so here are my top 5 tips for getting the most out of your MNSSHP experience!

 

  • Save time, money, and potential sell-outs by purchasing your ticket in advance

Depending on the date you choose, adult ticket prices can range from $72 to $105 if purchased in advance ($67 to $100 for children), or $79 to $105 if purchased on the event day ($74 to $100 for children).  So save yourself a few dollars and purchase your tickets in advance on the Walt Disney World website.  This will also save you time by being able to skip the ticket counter at the Magic Kingdom, and prevent the potential disappointment of the party being sold out when you arrive.  There are only a select number of tickets available for each party, which helps keep the crowd levels low.  BONUS TIP:  Even though the party begins at 7:00 p.m., Cast Members have historically allowed entrance to the party as early as 4:00 p.m.!   If you purchase your ticket in advance, add it to your My Disney Experience account, and you can add up to three FastPass+ selections to use before the party starts!  Your FastPass+ selections can be between 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., 4:45 p.m. – 5:45 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., with no additional admission ticket required!  Of course, this is historical information, so it’s all subject to change at any time.  But, this allows you to have a nice restful day swimming and relaxing at the hotel, and then a full 7 hours at the Magic Kingdom starting at 4:00 p.m.!

  • Dress Up… carefully

Children are allowed to wear full costumes of their choice, as long as the costume isn’t long enough for them to trip on, doesn’t have a mask that they can’t see through, and doesn’t have any weapons.  Adults have a few more restrictions now due to safety concerns.  The new adult policy states: “Guests ages 14 and older are strongly discouraged from wearing layered costumes or costume props that surround the entire body as they may be subject to additional security screening. Additionally, costumes may not contain any weapons that resemble or could easily be mistaken for an actual weapon.”

Because of how hot and humid Florida can be in the fall, and of course there’s always the potential for rain, choose a costume that is comfortable and can be covered with a poncho if necessary.  Disney bounding, aka dressing in normal clothes that are inspired by a Disney character, is a popular choice, as are family-themed costumes (like the whole cast of Finding Dory).  But don’t feel like you HAVE to dress in costume- you don’t!  My husband and I will be Disney bounding this year, dressing up as the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels… because we’re completely normal…  Ha.

  • Trick-or-Treating with a special diet? No problem!

Disney is known as being the ultimate destination for guests with special needs of all kinds.  If you’re attending MNSSHP and have food allergies, but still want to participate in the Trick-or-Treating fun, bring the bag of candy back up to City Hall and exchange it for some special diets treats!  Or if you don’t want to Trick-or-Treat at all, head straight to City Hall upon arrival and pick up your goodies!  These treats are generally “Big 8 Allergen” friendly, and sometimes aren’t even edible at all (think pencils, stickers, small toys, etc.).  To make sure that special diet treats are available during the party you will be attending, you can email Special.Diets@DisneyWorld.com.  They always have these available at every party, but they can sometimes run out if there’s a lot of demand.  Stop by early in the party, just in case!

  • Catch the 2nd shows/parades of the night for smaller crowds

The most popular parades and shows are the first ones of the night.  If you want to meet characters that are only out during the party, like Jack and Sally or all Seven of the Dwarves, get in line for THEM early (I suggest 6:00 p.m.), rather than getting a spot for the first parade or castle show.  You’ll be able to meet the character you want to meet, and have fewer crowds around you when the later show or parade rolls around.

In regards to the best places to stand for the parade, I prefer Frontierland or Liberty Square over Main Street.  These areas seem to be less crowded.

  • Not all attractions are open during the party, so plan accordingly

Of course, riding rides at MNSSHP is not high on everyone’s to-do list, but for those that prefer taking advantage of the more popular attractions with little to no wait time (like us), this is something to keep in mind.  A few of the popular attractions, like the Jungle Cruise are not open during the party, so these would be great attractions to use those FastPass+ selections on before the party starts.  This year’s MNSSHP map is not yet available, but you can see last year’s map here.

So there we have it!  What are your tips for making the most out of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party?  Are you planning on attending this year?  Let us know!

Jul 132016
 

By Teresa Pittman

 

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Years ago, when my oldest grandchildren were about five and two, we decided to surprise them with a trip to Disney World.

At the time, Disney was running a great series of TV commercials. In each scene, someone would notice a balloon with Mickey Mouse ears floating past. A little card was attached to the balloon’s string. When he or she caught the balloon, the card turned out to be an invitation to travel to WDW.

Was there a more perfect idea? I got in touch with some Disney friends, who provided us with some of the balloons and cards. The night before our trip, my son and his wife put the kids to bed and packed all the suitcases. Early in the morning, they inflated and released the balloons in their rooms.

When the kids woke up, it was just like in the commercial: balloons floating near their beds with cards attached. They were so excited! The family had a quick breakfast, picked me up, and we drove to the airport. Breakfast in Ontario, lunch in Florida.

At the end of the trip, the oldest grandchild said “ALWAYS surprise me. I love it.”

Well, we haven’t quite managed to always surprise them – sometimes the planning process means we need to let them know. But we do try.

Right now, we have a trip planned for mid-August for the families of two of my children, plus me. That’s a total of five adults and six children. Baby Isla will only be 10 months old, so she’ll be surprised no matter what we do, but the other kids are 14, 11, 9, 6 and 4, so we figured there was plenty of scope for making this a big surprise.

Here’s what we’re doing:

Starting nine weeks before our day of departure (we’re driving down), a mysterious package has been delivered to the home of the older five kids each week. Inside is a letter inviting them to join in the activity (signed by Aseret, which is simply my name backwards) and a set of envelopes with linked puzzles that they have to solve. I’ve had a lot of fun creating the puzzles and tried to have enough variety that even the youngest can take part (some are designated just for them).

The puzzles all have a running theme of creativity and imagination, and many refer to some of the creators mentioned or quoted in that circle on the ground in Epcot. For example, I did one puzzle where they had to work out a code to read a quote by educator John Dewey: “Education is not preparation for life, it is life itself.” (Especially fitting for these kids because they are homeschooled.) The next puzzle was about another Dewey who created something important – Melvil Dewey who invented the Dewey Decimal System. A jigsaw puzzle for the youngest two had to be put together to find the name of the System. And where might they see the Dewey Decimal System in action today? That’s right, the library – so they headed off to the branch near their home and found, on the “HOLD” shelf, two books (purchased for them) being held under the name Aseret, with an envelope with yet another clue tucked in between them.

Once they have all the puzzles worked out each week, they get a final envelope with a letter of the alphabet in it. On the back of each of those letters is another puzzle – the answer to each of those puzzles will be a number, and the numbers help the kids put the letters in order.

They’re not supposed to open the letters until the very last day, which will be our day of departure. The kids have been told that we are going to Great Wolf Lodge (giving mom and dad an excuse to pack!), but when they put the letters together, they will spell MARCELINE.

Okay, readers, do you know what that is?

Give up? The kids will get a chance to research this online, and what we hope they’ll quickly find is that Marceline, Missouri, is Walt Disney’s home town (and the basis for Magic Kingdom’s Main Street). Then the adults will say “let’s go visit the world he created!”

And off we’ll go.

Recently in one of the online Disney discussion groups I belong to, people were talking about whether or not it’s a good idea to surprise kids with Disney trips. Some said definitely not. It’s true, sometimes the surprises go wrong. We’ve all seen the videos where the child just dissolves in tears when the surprise is announced – and not happy tears either! And some parents said they didn’t want to lose the fun of planning with their children and everyone sharing in the anticipation.

We feel confident that the surprise will go over well because my grandchildren have been to WDW before and know that we will go again at some point. They just don’t know when. We’ve been able to plan in a sneaky way by asking things like “next time we go to WDW, where would you like to eat? What rides do you most want to go on?” Or we show them videos of other people’s trips and watch what seems to capture their interest.

But every family knows their own situations best, and these kind of surprises may not work for you.

You don’t need something as elaborate as my puzzle packages, of course, if you DO decide to surprise someone with a Disney vacation. A little online research will reveal hundreds of ways that people have made the announcement, and you can personalize them to fit your family. And for people who like the unexpected, any surprise adds to the fun!

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!