Sep 232015

By Tim Rogers

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A major part of any Walt Disney World vacation is food. We wake up early 180 days before our vacations to try to get that perfect reservation, plan trips around festivals dedicated to eating and drinking, and write love songs to Mickey Bars and Dole Whips. But even with all of that focus on food and even on dessert, a trip to Walt Disney World can still be healthy. Below are some tips for how you can have a great trip, but still keep your health in mind.

Tip One: Walk

This might seem obvious, but quantifying it can still be helpful. Trips to Walt Disney World involve a lot of walking. On a recent trip I walked over 130,000 steps, or about 60 miles, over the course of a week (if you want to see a couple rundown on how much you might walk, I wrote a blog for The Mouse for Less earlier this year: ).

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Some of that walking is unavoidable, but some of it is by choice and design. For example, when travelling between Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot, you can take one of the Friendship Boats, but you can also take a walking path behind the Boardwalk (you can also make this same walk vs. boat choice when staying at any of the hotels around Crescent Lake, including the Boardwalk, the Swan and Dolphin, and the Yacht and Beach Clubs). While we walk fairly quickly, we measured ourselves against the boats a few times and found that we were able to travel between the parks in about the same time, if not faster than the boats.

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While you will have to walk and be on your feet a lot on a trip in Walt Disney World, making small choices to walk when you have other options is one of the easiest healthy options you can take.

Tip Two: Take Time to Exercise

While I would not suggest trying to offset that Nutella Waffle by starting a brand new weight-training regime, if you already exercise you can definitely keep it up while at Disney World. Some of this will, naturally, depend on where you are staying. For the most part, the Deluxe Resorts, DVC Resorts, and Coronado Springs all have some sort of fitness center you can use.

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Judging simply by the name, I think Muscles and Bustles at the Boardwalk is the best (although Sturdy Branches at the Wilderness Lodge is a very close second). These centers will have the standard cardio and weight equipment, and are also a great place to fill up your water bottle.

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Depending on your temperament and location, another option is running or walking outside. While this can be a challenge at some resorts, two resort areas particularly stand out for their running accessibility. The first of these is Crescent Lake, where you’ll see signs like this showcasing a circle of just under a mile.

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You can also easily add on the walking path to Disney’s Hollywood Studios if you want some more distance. Another well traveled running path is the 1.38 mile route around Hourglass Lake, between Pop Century and the Art of Animation Resort.

Tip Three: Find Healthy Snacks

While you can find healthier options at many locations around Walt Disney World, a few locations are more focused on these types of options. Specifically, these include the Harambe Fruit Market in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Prince Eric’s Village Market in Fantasyland, and Anaheim Produce in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

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If you want to be sure you can find some fresh fruit for your snack, or really want a pickle, these types of locations can be a good and safe option for you.

Tip Four: Bring Your Own Snacks

Even though this is an option, a little planning can prevent you from having to worry about which locations have healthy snacks. Disney allows guests to bring food into the parks, and as such you can bring in your own fruit, vegetables, granola bars, or whatever else would help your hunger when you walk by the funnel cake stand. An added bonus, is that bringing your own snacks can save you a lot of money as well.

Tip Five: Eat at Columbia Harbor House

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This tip might seem incredibly specific, but after missing out on this location for several trips, I don’t want others to make the same mistake. Columbia Harbor House is a counter service location that is located in the Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square area. By the name you might gather that it offers a variety of seafood options, but that is just the beginning.

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As a vegetarian, the highlight of this restaurant, and one of my favorite counter service finds, has to be the Lighthouse Sandwich, which features Hummus, Tomato, and Broccoli Slaw on Toasted Multigrain Bread. Moreover, Columbia Harbor House is one of the restaurants that actively offers and encourages healthy sides, such as steamed broccoli. If you are looking for a fast, filling, and healthy meal in the Magic Kingdom, definitely give this place a try.

Tip Six: Eat at a Buffet

When you think of Disney Buffets you might have a mental image of plates overflowing with unlimited meat, bread, and dessert while your favorite characters come to visit you. You can definitely go that way, but the advantage of eating at a buffet while trying to be healthy is that you can have exactly what you want, and nothing else.

For example, you could have a filling and nutritious meal of salad, fruit and steamed vegetables and get as much of each of those things as you wanted, instead of being worried about portion size or composition somewhere else. The important thing to remember is that you are allowed to eat all that you can – but you are not required to.

Tip Seven: Try a Vegetarian Meal

For many, a good change of pace to lighten things up is a purposely vegetarian meal. While you can definitely order a salad or veggie burger and have a great meal, you can also take advantage of Disney’s attention to vegetarians and branch out a little bit. You might find something new you like, and then can bring back home to start your own “Meatless Monday” tradition.

An important note – just because something is vegetarian doesn’t mean that it is necessarily healthy, so make sure you pay attention to what is in your meal.

Tip Eight: Just Ask!

Disney is know for their accommodation and guest service, especially around food. However, you don’t have to have a food allergy or special situation in order to take advantage of Disney’s hospitality.

The easiest thing to ask about is holding off on sides, especially at counter service locations. Often, these meals will include chips, fries, or some other side dish. Most of the time, you can ask to not receive the side, and besides saving a few calories, you will usually be able to save a few dollars too.

Another thing that you should be able to ask about soon is nutritional information as a whole. On our last trip, my wife was just starting Weight Watchers so we were trying to figure out how to calculate the points of what we were eating. Our server checked with a chef about nutritional information, and they did not have it, but she told us that they were working on having resort-wide nutritional information made available. There was no definite timeline for this, but you should definitely ask your server if you are interested.

With anything at Disney, it won’t hurt to ask, and you might be able to trade out an extra sprinkle of salt for a sprinkle of pixie dust.

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.

Nov 272013

By Debbie Boehm


Gingerbread Men


I love Disney.  There, I said it.  It’s a confession and a proud statement at the same time.  It began when I was a little girl with Peter Pan decorations on my bedroom wall and it continues to this day when I watch “Once Upon A Time” on Sunday nights.  And I love making new Disney memories.

Where did this obsession actually begin?  Well, in my first picture with Santa in 1954 there are pictures of Mickey and Pluto on the walls behind Santa’s chair.  Then there was Sunday night television with Walt Disney.

As a child I can remember seeing all the Disney movies when they were released.  My most vivid memory was “Mary Poppins” at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.  To this day when I watch Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke in that movie I am thrown back to Radio City Music Hall with my parents, sisters, aunts and cousins.

This same phenomenon occurs every time I visit Walt Disney World.  Every time I arrive at the Walt Disney World Resort I remember my firsts – first trip in 1975 with co-workers, my first anniversary trip with my husband and our first family trip with our three children in 1993.  Call me crazy but I’m pretty sure this is why we return each year (sometimes more than once).

As I write this article, it is nine days until we head down to Walt Disney World.  This trip is our first time we’ll be there for all of the holiday festivities.  Although we have been to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, it was during the first week and decorations were put up the night before we were leaving.  I am very excited to be able to see the parks and resorts in all their holiday glitz.

I know for a fact that I’ll want to go back every year at the same time because I’m sure to make some fantastic memories with our niece and nephew.  We will stay at a Disney Vacation Club resort for the first time.  Also, for the first time, we’ll be attending the Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert Party and we’ll play both Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom and the Pirate Adventure in the Magic Kingdom.



Heading on over to Epcot for the Candlelight Processional and the holiday story tellers and you’ve got me in tears.  For those of you who’ve done the math, I am just shy of my 60th birthday and more of a kid than ever when it comes to anything Disney.

As a child, I lived in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York where Christmas lights were incredible.  Garland was strung across our main street where all of our favorite stores were located.  Main Street in the Magic Kingdom will certainly evoke all those memories.  A family we knew had an entire town in their garage and enough crystal lights to look like a movie set.  For the first time I expect that my memory will pale when I see the Osborne Family Lights at Hollywood Studios.  I’m fully prepared to cry like a baby standing there among the spectacle and be in awe of the beauty.



In addition to all of the decorations and the parties I’m looking forward to special desserts to be served during the holidays.  Gingerbread shingles, cupcakes that look like Santa Mickey, cookies decorated with characters.  Why, there’s even a five legged goat treat at The Contemporary!

(For a full look at Walt Disney World’s Holiday experiences, visit: )

Planning this particular trip was so much fun because we were able to plan to make the most of the special events.  There will also be filming in the Magic Kingdom on the last day of this vacation for the Christmas parade.  You honestly can’t pack any more into one trip and, honestly, I’m worried that we’ll miss something.  Then I remind myself that there’s always next year.  After all, I have more memories to make!

Jul 112012

by Ann Dunnington

Considering that I have 1 year, 2 months, 1 week, and 5 days until my next Walt Disney World Vacation (but who’s counting?), I have to spend my days with some sort of planning and Disney fun to fill the time.  To pay homage to Jeff Foxworthy, “You might be a(n obsessed) WDW fan if…”

  1. No one asks you where you’re going on vacation anymore.  They just assume…
  2. You see Hidden Mickey’severywhere…


  3. You say “nice work, pal” whenever your child does something correctly.
  4. You go shopping to buy, or at least take the time to smell, products that the MFL Boards posters say smell like Norway, The Swan and Dolphin, the Main Street Bakery, etc.  …and agree, and make your significant other or child smell it too.
  5. You pick mini-M&M’s containers out of the trash to save for your pennies and quarters. Continue reading »
Nov 022011

By: Lindsey Tullier

My family and I have always enjoyed dining at both the Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney Rainforest Café locations when we visit Walt Disney World. What’s not to love? There are animatronics, thunderstorms, enthusiastic servers and a large gift shop. However, I only recently discovered that the Animal Kingdom location serves breakfast. I have no idea how I managed to miss this, but I was determined to include a brunch at Rainforest Café on our next visit.

Our first morning was an extra magic hour for Animal Kingdom so we made plans to be in that park for 8 a.m. I normally don’t do morning Extra Magic Hours but since it was Labor Day and hot (an understatement), I figured the earlier we could get through Animal Kingdom the better. I made reservations for 9:30 a.m., which gave us plenty of time to ride Kilimanjaro Safari and explore some of the animal habitats before venturing back to the front of the park for our reservation. Continue reading »

Jan 262011

By Lisa McClure

Recently, my husband and I were able to take a short cruise on the Disney Dream. He is a Disney Cast Member and because of that, we were invited to have the opportunity to go on a short cruise to put the ship “through the ropes” before guests arrived, making sure everything ran smoothly. While there is much that can be said about the new ship, it’s probably best to actually show you some of the highlights.

Let me start by saying the Dream is HUGE! I was just on the Wonder over Thanksgiving and the difference between the size of the two ships is immediately recognizable.

When guests first step into the atrium, they see the enormous atrium and beautiful chandelier three floors up. It is a completely different type of centerpiece from those on the Wonder and Magic. The Dream has amazing chandeliers all over it, the attention to detail was incredible!

The sail away party is different than the one on the other Disney ships.

Continue reading »