Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Staying In Style - Deluxe Resorts

Disney's Deluxe Resorts are the Contemporary Resort, Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Polynesian Resort, Wilderness Lodge, Boardwalk Inn, Yacht Club Resort, Beach Club Resort, and Animal Kingdom Lodge. For the sake of consolidation, we'll also include the Villa Resorts in this post, which are part of Disney's timeshare program called the Disney Vacation Club. Villas offer larger accomodations that can include up to three bedrooms, three bathrooms, and a full kitchen. These resorts are Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort, Disney's Boardwalk Villas, The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, Disney's Beach Club Villas, Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas (Jambo House or Kidani Village), Disney's Old Key West, and Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa. The latter three are resorts that are exclusively villas while the others are sort of extensions of Deluxe Resorts. All of these are Disney's highest priced resorts and you will find that they are highly themed and designed with luxury in mind. They boast extra amenities that range from prime locations (some are on the monorail line), fantastic pools (Yacht and Beach Club have a water park with a sandy-bottom pool and a tremendous slide), and two even have full-service spas.

As in our previous posts on the Value Resorts and Moderate Resorts, I will not cover basic amenities and room sizes for you. The official Disney site will give you a basic overview, and then AllEars.net can give you the finer details. If you prefer print, the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and the Passporter guide both have excellent resort overviews. Instead, let's once again look at the pros and cons of these resorts for families. Your "pro" may be my "con," so take them as the opinions they are and hopefully they will still help you decide if a Deluxe Resort is best for you.

Pros To Staying At A Deluxe Resort

  • Location, Location, Location! - If you want a resort within walking distance of a park, it will be a Deluxe Resort. The Grand Floridian, Polynesian and Contemporary are all on the monorail providing easy access to both Magic Kingdom and Epcot. The Contemporary (and Bay Lake Towers) are within a fairly easy walk to Magic Kingdom as well and all the monorail resorts have rooms with views of the Magic Kingdom. Boardwalk, Beach Club, and Yacht Club are all an easy walk from World Showcase at Epcot. They are also a longer, but doable walk from Disney's Hollywood Studios and they have an active nightlife integrated into the area, including restaurants, nightclubs, and shops. The Animal Kingdom isn't so much close to the Animal Kingdom Park (although it's not far), but it also incorporates that park into it's theming, with wild animals literally strolling through your backyard.
  • Room Size - These are the biggest rooms on property, and even in the standard room (as opposed to a Villa), you have ample space for storage, sleeping, and hanging out. They have balconies, which are often a lovely feature to have after the kids are asleep and you want to actually hold a conversation with your significant other.
  • Bed Size - Queen-size beds are standard in the Deluxe resorts (as opposed to double beds in the Value Resorts). There are also rooms with King beds if you have an infant in a Pack and Play or if you decide to leave the kids with grandma and take a grown-ups only trip.
  • Refrigerators and Kitchen Facilities - Mini-fridges are standard in Deluxe Resorts. Villas that are one, two, or three-bedroom have full kitchens and a washer/dryer set, while studio villas have a microwave and mini-fridge only.
  • Architecture - I wasn't sure what else to call this, but basically, these resorts are the top-of-the-line in the design and theming end. The lobby at Wilderness Lodge will take your breath away. The opulence of the Grand Floridian is stunning. And walking into the Polynesian is just like you've left the beautiful state of Florida and stepped right into Hawaii. If you are going to Disney World to lose yourself in the fantasy and forget about the real world, a Deluxe Resort is a perfect place for that. Mind you, to be fair, the Moderates and Values also have an "other-worldly" quality that provide fabulous escape as well.
  • Amazing Pools - So amazing, in fact, that some of them are marketed as water parks, and not without reason. Slides, freestyle shapes, zero-entry, and other gimmicks make these places worth your time outside the parks. If you decide to stay in a Deluxe Resort, make a strong effort to set aside some time to enjoy the pools.
  • Interior Entrances - The Deluxe Resorts are the only level of resort that has a main entrance with interior access to all rooms. This is, in my opinion, the safest way to go. Although the main doors are by no means completely secure, they are visible to staff at all times and there are no dark corners for potential criminals to lurk in.
  • Food Choices - The Deluxe Resorts have some of the best dining options on property and offer all types of choices, from snacks to quick service to upscale dining. Although all properties afford some dining choices that will ensure you won't starve, the Deluxe resorts offer restaurants that are unique enough to draw people to them from all over the Walt Disney World property. In fact, if you decide that a Deluxe resort is not in your budget, I highly recommend eating at one or two of their restaurants. The food and service will be excellent, and you will get a chance to poke around the lobby and grounds of these luxurious resorts.

Cons To Staying At A Deluxe Resort
  • Cost - Standard room rates for these resorts can start as low as $240 and go up from there. Way up. At Christmas, the regular rate for a room at the Polynesian can soar to just under $900 a night. Old Key West is generally considered the least expensive Villa Resort, and those rooms (standard rate) range from a Studio for $295 in the least expensive season to almost $1700 per night for a three-bedroom during the holiday. Of course, there are often discounts and other specials that could save you some money on these rates, but this at least gives you an idea of where to place them in cost.
  • Formality - Although the grand architecture and luxurious setting may please your adult sensibilities, your children might really prefer the whimsy of the Value Resorts. They are far more playful in tone than the stately Grand Floridian, which may remind them more of Aunt Nancy's house where they aren't allowed to sit on the furniture or touch anything.
So there are my pros and cons to the Deluxe resorts. What are yours? We love to hear from you in our comments!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Silly Shot: Choose Your Own Adventure

Jen H. enjoying a thrilling time on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority

This week's Silly Shot is a little bit different from the rest because it really doesn't focus on one location or even one park. Instead it features a way to turn normal attractions into thrilling ones. Just simply act like you are on a roller coaster! The pose works great for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, the Monorail, any of the transportation boats, even the parking trams!

Just have fun creating your own thrills!

Do you have a photo of you and your family creating your own adventure? Post them on Scrapping the Magic or on our Facebook page page!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Getting An "A" In Imagineering

One of the most hotly contested questions about traveling with school-age children is "When is it okay or appropriate to take your child out of school for travel?" Sometimes this question is pretty easy to answer. Are you going to Athens to see the Parthenon? That's pretty educational! Are you going to Aunt Suzie's wedding? That's pretty important! Are you taking the kids to Disney World? um... well... um...

So before I go any further into this topic, I'd like to start by saying that ultimately, I do believe the decision to take a child or children out of school for a family vacation is entirely up to the parent. Each child is different and has different abilities to recuperate from a period of missed work. But before I alienate all the teachers in the room, and as someone with a little (very little) classroom teaching experience, it is also sometimes unreasonable to expect the teacher to be able to prepare a week's worth of work in advance for that child to take with him. Sometimes it can be done and sometimes it can't. It really depends on the level of learning and the topic(s) being covered. The key to all of that will be communication. This is not something to pop on a teacher at the last minute.

Backing up a little, why would you even want to take your kids out of school to go to Disney World? There are several reasons, actually. The most common is that Disney costs less when most schools in America are in session. The parks are also most crowded at times that most kids in America are out of school (Christmas, Easter, and summer vacation). Special events might draw you to the parks at other times of the year as well, such as Marathon Weekend, ESPN The Weekend, Night of Joy, or the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, not to mention a family reunion or wedding being held at the resorts.

So what are the things you should consider when deciding whether or not to take your child out of school? Here are a number of factors for you to keep in mind:
  • Is it really necessary for you to go when school is in session? - There are lots of ways to avoid crowds while still working with the school calendar. Compare your summer break to those of other school systems. Maybe you get out a week earlier, or maybe you stay out past Labor Day. Labor Day is one of the least busy holiday weekends for Disney, probably because it's hurricane season but also because many schools start just before the weekend begins. Or maybe your spring break is not over Easter, which is by far the busiest week of the spring.

  • What is the school's policy? - I have a friend who submitted forms asking both his children to be excused for a Disney trip. The older child's school approved the trip as educational, the younger child's school did not. Know before you complete the form what the climate is in your school.

  • How old is your child? - The further along in school they are, the harder it will be for them to leave and come back caught up. It will also be harder for them to find enough time while on vacation to sit and do homework in order to stay caught up. This is, after all, a vacation. Maybe you don't mind checking your work email every four minutes on your Blackberry while on vacation (although I recommend you not do that), but your kids are not going to want to do homework at any point.

  • What are your child's abilities? - If your son or daughter is already struggling in school, it's not a good idea to pull them out for a vacation. That is simply complicating something for them that is already pretty tough.

If you consider all these factors and still decide pulling your child out of school is best for your family, plan carefully so that the impact of the missed days is minimal. Talk to your child's teacher and give them as much notice as possible. Try to encourage your child to work ahead, so that on the trip, he is not so much pressured to keep up. If he does have homework to do on the trip, carve out times during the trip that are meant for that purpose.

Again, it's a very personal decision. You know your child best. Your teacher should also have a voice in this decision, as she is the one who will need to accommodate and adjust her plans for this family trip. Her cooperation will be key in your child's successful return to the classroom. And don't leave your child out of the discussion. Many children get anxious about missing school. Be sure your child is on board with your plans as well and is ready to do the extra work to ensure he can get right back in the swim of things.

In the end, no matter what you decide, you can have a fabulous family vacation. Going in the summer or over a holiday will mean higher rates and bigger crowds, but if all of that is accounted for in your planning, you will be fine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Kid Scale - Future World

There are many who argue that there is nothing for small children at Epcot. This is a statement that I cannot agree with, but can't completely refute, either. This second installment of our Kid Scale feature is devoted to the front half of Epcot, called Future World. Yes, there are several things your kids can and will want to do here, but there are also a couple of attractions that I must caution strongly against. Fortunately, because Future World is so large and signage is actually sometimes a bit harder to notice, your kids might be easily steered around the less appropriate attractions without even being aware they are there.

Epcot is focused more on education (or "edutainment," as Disney calls it) and less on fantasy, so it's worth visiting whether your kids will ride anything or not. Disney still provides street entertainment, exhibitions, and other diversions everyone in the family can appreciate.

Please remember in our Kid Scale posts, my goal is not to describe the ride, but rather I will assume you already know what the ride entails and will provide instead some details about age-appropriateness. Some attractions do have height requirements, so be sure to check those as well. I offer age suggestions based on developmental milestones, so you will want to adjust those to your own children’s development and special needs. We’ll also point out difficulties you might encounter or highlights that may be especially important to your individual tyke. Every six weeks or so, we’ll post another land or area in the Walt Disney World resort until we’ve covered them all.

And remember, I’m just a parent with my own experiences and those of other parents like me, so your comments and feedback are more than welcome as they will help others whose children are more like yours than mine or those of my interviewees.

  • The Seas With Nemo And Friends – All ages – I'll just say it right now. This is the best ride for small kids in all of Future World. Best. The queue alone is reason enough to see it, but then to have real fish swimming with Nemo and Dory and the gang... it's fabulous. Bruce the shark makes an appearance, so be sure they are ready, but for the most part, this ride is just magical. Do not miss it if you have children under 10.

  • Turtle Talk With Crush – Age four and up – Thanks to what I think is the coolest new technology Disney has put out in recent years, your child can interact with Crush from Finding Nemo. It is, by far, the most realistic and fun character meet I know of. If your child is well-spoken and brave enough, help him come up with a question for Crush. He will call on several kids during your visit and the Q&A with the children is probably the most memorable part of the attraction.

  • Soarin'™– Age 4 and up (assuming height requirement of 40 inches is met) – I have to admit a major bias here, as this is my absolute favorite attraction at Walt Disney World. Even my mother, who is afraid of heights, agreed to ride it because of my enthusiasm and she loved it. Just let the kids know that they will feel like they are flying, but they are safely buckled in and won't fall and Mommy and Daddy will be right there. Even the 4D effects don't get frightening. And they'll love the orange grove smell. Well, I love it, anyway.

  • Living with the Land – All ages – This is not a thrilling ride for your younger ones. Looking at plants is not something that they will really appreciate much, although there are fun moments for them--like pumpkins molded to look like Mickey Mouse--scattered throughout the attraction. It's a slow boat ride, though, and it's going to be interesting to the gardeners and healthy folk in your party. Lines are usually short and it's a great way to pass twenty minutes or so while you wait for your Soarin'™ Fast Pass time to come up if you are a tad early.

  • Circle Of Life – Age 7 and up – If you really feel you must see this attraction, by all means, try it. But it's quite dull, and I doubt many kids want to sit through it. It's a pretty National Geographic-esque movie (think Disney Earth) with a really strong, preachy message. Not that it's a bad lesson to hear, but will your kids really absorb it? It is true that Timon, Pumba, and Simba are in it, but their appearance will probably not be enough to hold them.

  • Journey Into Imagination With Figment – All ages – Figment is a purple cartoon dragon. 'Nuff said? In addition to Figment, this slow ride carries you through some colorful and (dare I say it?) imaginative scenes. Mom and Dad can laugh at the silliness, the kids can enjoy the scenery. There are a few 4D elements such as puffs of air and smells that may surprise young children plus it gets loud at the end. Figment practically has a cult following, so it's a worthwhile stop. That said, it's also not an extremely popular attraction anymore, so lines are often short.

  • ImageWorks: The Kodak "What If" Labs – All ages – This is a free play area and is great for recharging. Not every station here will be good for your smallest children, but there is certainly something for everyone. And the water spouts outside are not to be missed.

  • Honey, I Shrunk The Audience – Ages 10 and up – You will see a common theme through my Kid Scale posts about 4D movies. Even the cartoony and fun Philharmagic in Magic Kingdom will scare the bejeezus out of some young children. While the 4D effects might seem cool, wicked and way out to your tween, your eight-year-old might not ever be able to trust you again for taking him into this movie. It's long and the 4D tricks include snakes, lions, and mice... all on a huge scale since you, as the audience, have been shrunk down to teeny tiny. Actually, you might not want to take grandma into this one either. Only for the brave and not easily skeeved out by creepy crawlies and rodents.

  • Test Track – Age five and up – This is sort of a thrill ride, but much of it is story and show. Oddly, I found it wasn't the speed of the last part of the ride that scared my preschooler, but rather it was the "heat lamps" we passed through on our way to said speed test. They put you into a car and do some pretty scary driving with you inside, so it's a fine time to remind your youngsters about car safety and also reinforce that this car is pretend and so these tricks are safe. The bottom line here is to be ready for anything, but it certainly is a good way to introduce younger kids to thrill rides.

  • Mission: SPACE® – Ages 10 and up – When it first opened, this ride made many a guest quite ill. Anyone who has trouble with spinny rides seemed to have at least a little trouble with it. I know one person in my party (an adult) was ill for more than two hours after riding. It was a long walk back to Boardwalk for him... but we were lucky we were in a resort that was walking distance. I can't imagine what would have happened if we had needed to take a bus or car somewhere. Because of the troubles many guests had, Disney kept scaling back the intensity, and finally created a tame version (green)and a wilder version (orange). Guests can select the one they want at the door. That said, I still feel that thrills of this nature are better suited for bodies that are a bit more developed. And take the cautions seriously. If you have any sort of medical issue (especially vertigo, sinus troubles or known heart problems), do not ride the orange version and think twice about the green. However, for your older kids (and kids at heart), the ride is really very cool and unique. Your youngsters can wait with an adult in the Advanced Training Lab free play area until others in the party are finished riding.

  • Mission: SPACE® Advanced Training LabAll Ages – If you must go near Mission: SPACE® with youngsters (and you will need to if you have thrill-loving teens and adults in your party), the Advanced Training Lab will keep them busy and happy. It's the exit area of Mission: SPACE® and it includes a play area called Space Base for the smallest visitors plus lots of interactive areas for older kids and adults. Space Base has gerbil tubes and climbing nets similar to playgrounds found at fast food establishments around the country. The free play is great for recharging your engines. Parents can sit and supervise and kids can roam fairly freely.

  • Ellen's Energy Adventure – All ages – I rate this as "All Ages" because truly, anyone can ride it. However, there is a lot that will be missed by anyone under age 12 or so. It's possible many kids know Ellen from her daytime talk show. And they might even know Jamie Lee Curtis from the children's books she's written and possibly from Freaky Friday. Sadly, not many children know Bill Nye, a tragedy that I would certainly do something about if I could. However, Ellen and Bill's personalities will probably get your kids through it, and with the cool dinosaurs plus the quiet, slow, air-conditioned tram ride, it's a great resting ride. It is also cited as a ride on which moms like to breastfeed, should you need to do so, as the 40-minute ride takes you from the Big Bang through evolution and into modernish times. For your more skittish kids, the darkness, high volume and even the dinos may be too much for them. Oh, and be sure to take a potty break before the adventure begins.

  • InnoventionsAge three and up – This is a huge attraction. There are 14 different stations for you to explore. They range in age-appropriateness and with the variety, it's an attraction that will merit its own post in the future. It does change from time to time, so it's worth a walk through no matter what. A highlight for kids is The Great Piggy Bank Adventure, designed to expose your children to money management. We've seen someone as young as four enjoy this. Many of the attractions are meant for your whole family to play together. There are some louder attractions and simulators that will not be appropriate for the younger members of your party.

  • Spaceship Earth – All ages – Anyone under age 8 may not really get the whole history lecture Dame Judi Dench provides on this journey through communication, but it's still visually interesting and the interactive elements will interest them. The main caution is that it can get quite dark, and some guests are bothered when they reach the apex of the track. This is the point where the car turns around backwards so you can comfortably ride back down to Earth (kind of literally). But it's a fairly slow descent and actually, a good time for a toddler or younger child to curl up in Mommy's lap and go to sleep.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Disney Pin Frames

Have you ever been at Disney and bought a few of the fabulous pins they were selling only to find yourself wondering what to do with them when you got home? If so, this is just the project for you! A Disney Pin Frame!

Pin frames are super quick & easy and are a great way to showcase some mementos of your vacation! They are also great for kids because they encourage a hobby and a way to relive their trip. In a future post we will talk all about pin collection and trading if you are not familiar with it, but for now we will just show you how to make the frames.


- 12 x 12 Scrapbook Frame - These can be purchased at any craft store and come in two styles, standard frame or shadow box. I prefer to use the standard style, but either one will work. The only difference in the two is in most cases you would remove the glass from the standard style if you have really thick pins. I prefer to leave the glass off regardless of pin thickness to make it easier to add new pins when I get them. Some stores will carry frames that say Record/LP & Scrapbook frame, but you want to avoid using them because they are larger than 12 x 12.
- 12 x 12 Cork Tile- The cork tiles come in a 4-pack and can be found at most retailers that stock cork bulletin boards. I get my tiles at Target because they tend to be a bit cheaper than the craft stores.
- 12 x 12 Sheet of Scrapbook Paper - Here is where the project gets fun! There are thousands and thousands of choices on the market when it comes to scrapbook paper... solid, patterned, texture, you name it they make it. The one tip I would suggest is to pick a paper that is fairly simple in pattern or in a more muted color palette to avoid the pins getting lost in the background. This helps you to customize your project. For me, I only collect Stitch pins, so I went with a nice tropical background to fit my theme. The only limit you will have is the stock your local craft or scrapbook store carries. For a wider variety you could always try MouseMemories, an online store that specializes in Disney and vacation supplies. They will be more expensive than your local store, but if you really want a custom background they may be the better option.

  1. Place the paper on top of the cork title. The paper will be a little bit larger than the title, so make sure you have it centered.
  2. Remove the backs from the pins. I do recommend saving these in case you ever want to remove the pin to wear at a later date.
  3. Push the pins through the paper into the cork title. Make sure you have the pin in the correct place because once you push it through the paper it will leave holes.
  4. Place the paper and tile into the frame, put the back on the frame and you are finished! If you notice the pins are pushing oddly on the glass, it's best to remove the glass for a cleaner look and to avoid the glass cracking from the pressure.
Now, if you don't want to get fancy with a pin frame or if you have pins that you want to display but also wear, another options is to get a standard cork bulletin board and place your pins on that. With nothing covering the board you can easily take pins off to wear and put them back on the board when your trip is over without leaving holes in the paper.

To see other examples of Disney Pin Frames or to share your own, please visit our thread on Scrapping the Magic! We look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Silly Shots: A Queen is Named

Jen L. and Elizabeth cheer on Jen H. as she tries to
remove the sword from the stone.
Once upon a time there used to be a lovely little Sword in the Stone ceremony at the Magic Kingdom. While the sword pulling ceremony has gone the way of Mr. Toad, the stone has been left behind for some great photo ops.

Located in Fantasyland near Cinderella's Golden Carrousel, the sword sits buried in its stone waiting for the next great king or queen to pull it free. While the sword never will come out, the photos of people making attempts are always good for a smile.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Yes, You Can Enjoy Good Food And Entertain The Kids At The Same Time!

Walt Disney World offers up many top-quality restaurants for you to sample. With the advent of the Disney Dining Plan and Free Dining offers, more and more people are taking advantage of these renowned restaurants on their vacations when they might have normally opted for less-expensive meals. But just because these restaurants are more accessible than before doesn't mean your kids are completely ready and willing to experience them. With a little foresight and some consideration for others, you too can enjoy these grown-up meals with your whole family... and maybe even broaden your children's taste at the same time.

Children are permitted in all Walt Disney World Table Service restaurants except the very high-end, very expensive Victoria and Albert's. Even the most well-mannered of children would probably not gain much from the menu there, which really does cater to a mature palette. As much as I love and advocate for children, I agree with the policy here. If you wish to experience it, arrange for babysitting (a big topic for a future post!) and by all means, enjoy it.

In a previous post on the basics of dining at Disney, I listed my choices for the most kid-friendly table service restaurants at Disney and some of our readers listed theirs in the comments. But you don't have to stick to those suggestions. Do you want to try Citricos with your kids? It's in the Grand Floridian, which is shi-shi enough all by itself. The fare is Southern European. My kids have recently proven to me that they are just not into risotto, but I sure am and I have found the food at Citricos to be very well-prepared and delicious. So can I bring the kids?!

Well, of course you can. And Disney will let pretty much anything fly. We've seen people in their shorts and flops, kids running around playing tag, chairs being rocked back and forth until they fall... you can do it all at a Disney restaurant. But we prefer to take the opportunity to teach our children how to behave in a nicer restaurant. I have these flash-forwards of my daughter on her first date when she is 25 and completely graduated from medical school (*ahem*) and she doesn't know why the waiter drops the napkin in her lap. Then, in the middle of the meal, she says, "Wait everyone! Quiet!" And then belches loudly and laughs. Nononononoooo... this is not what we do in nice restaurants.

To ensure cooperation from our offspring, we do limit the number of times per trip we take our kids to the nicest of the restaurants Disney has to offer. And we set some expectations with them. Sitting still is first and foremost, and then practicing their best manners is just after that. We also use it as a chance to dress up a bit. My daughter will wear a ball gown and tiara anywhere if given the opportunity, so she's not so tough to convince. For my reluctant son, I don't attempt anything as rash as a tie (although he'd look totally SMASHING in one), but I do go with a collared shirt. I might even add a sweater vest if he is less surly that particular evening. My husband and I dress up a bit as well. Sure, theme parks are about vacation, but by fussing a little over clothing and distancing ourselves from our theme park wear, we send a message to the kids that the evening is special and different and their little inner-adult sometimes comes out. (Sometimes... but not always).

We try to bring some small toys to entertain the kids at the table. Sure, it's not great manners to have Ironman and Wolverine fighting on the white tablecloth (hey... in my son's world, it happens). But it does tend to keep him seated at the table and helps pass the time until food arrives. Disney restaurants are also completely prepared in case your own props don't do the trick. They have crayons and coloring sheets and they will bring the kids' food before yours is ready instead of holding all food for the table. Don't be hesitant to ask for them to do this. We try to order for the kids immediately upon arrival. Then with that done, we can peruse the menu for ourselves a bit more leisurely. Their food sometimes arrives shortly after we've placed our order.

Speaking of food, get what you know your kids will eat. Don't fret that you are at a nice restaurant and all little Suzie wants is a hot dog. If it's not on the children's menu at that restaurant, ask anyway. Chances are, if it's typical kidfood, they can get it for you. That said, these are great opportunities for kids to try new things. But let them sample from your plate rather than ordering something that they may turn their nose up to. You never know what sorts of new, grand things they will enjoy, and being at Disney always seems to put my kids in a better frame of mind for branching out. My daughter tried a tomato-based soup at Marrakesh when she was three years old. She had been pretty against the "red" food group up until then. Especially the subset of "liquid." She really enjoyed it!

So brave those nicer restaurants with your kids. Just be smart about it and don't overdo it. A fancy restaurant every night will eventually wear on them. And of course, that will wear on you.

Do you have other suggestions for preparing your kids to enjoy a white-linen restaurant? Leave them in the comments! We love to hear from you.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Surviving A Day In The Parks With A Baby: Equipment List

When I became a mom, I discovered that the tiny little purse I had downsized to was going to have to go back into the closet for a while. Or at least into the much roomier diaper bag. Trips to the store suddenly required a shoulder-bag worth of accouterments and careful planning to ensure I was ready for any sort of meltdown (mine or my daughter's).

Of course, if a trip to the store requires significant equipment, you can imagine what a day in a Disney Park requires. However, it's very easy to overpack or underpack, and neither is very pleasant. It's very important to be organized so you are sure you have all you need and a little bit of what you might need. I love to tell the story of when I accidentally left our diaper pad (along with diapers and wipes) in the car when we spent a day at SeaWorld with a five-month-old. We didn't mean to do it, but we did because we were not organized and simply didn't grab all the stuff we intended to bring into the parks with us. Without going into detail, let's just say that a diaper blow-out in a restaurant while the baby is eating her lunch in your lap is a mighty unpleasant experience... ESPECIALLY when one member of your party has to run all the way back to the car to get clean-up supplies.

So here is our strategy. It should be noted that we use strollers instead of carriers, so you may need to adopt this if you are opting to go without a stroller or with a stroller that does not have a basket for storage. We are also a two-parent family that stays together at all times. If you are a single parent or have more than one infant, there may be more need to adapt. As your children get older, the need to carry tons of stuff does decrease. Our plan is for when you have at least one member of your party that is not toilet-trained.

We take two bags into the parks. One is a medium-sized backpack (ours came from R.E.I.) and the other is a J.J. Cole Logic Bag. Neither bag is huge, but the reason we take two is because one stays in the stroller at all times with supplies that are less urgent, but still important. Both bags are carried in a backpack style, and this is important for loading and unloading onto buses and monorails. Because really, you can carry as much stuff as you'd like, but in the end, you have to be able to effectively use your method of transportation without ticking off everyone else in line. And even if you drive your own car, there is a good chance you will have to take a tram to your car, which means folding your stroller.

The reason I recommend the Logic Bag specifically is because of all its very nifty compartments coupled with its ergonomic design. It keeps you very organized and distributes the weight of what you are carrying evenly across your back. The water bottle holder even keeps you a little cool at first. (If you have an infant, you may choose to use this for bottles instead of water).
So what's in each bag? Glad you asked. The lists are below. Remember, the backpack stays in the stroller, even when we park the stroller to visit attractions. The Logic Bag comes with us into every venue.

  • Prepacked snacks or snacks in small ziplock bags or small 1-cup Tupperware-type containers. (the number you take depends on how many kids and how long you will be in the parks... but we always have at least two).
  • Change of clothes for Mom and Dad (for water rides or a particularly nasty diaper blow-out).
  • Plastic bag to hold wet or dirty clothes
  • Burp cloths if you have an infant
  • Extra receiving blanket or two if you have an infant
  • Formula and water if you have an infant and are not breastfeeding. I don't recommend bringing in pre-made formula, even in a small cooler. It's hot in Florida. I just don't trust it.
  • Ponchos (in case of rain)
  • Sippy cup (empty... you can fill it at the parks)
  • Your favorite analgesic for aches and pains
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug repellent or wipes
  • Bandages and antibacterial ointment for the unlikely boo-boo or likely blister
  • Extra camera batteries, memory cards, and a tripod.
Logic Bag
  • Diapers (enough for one day - don't pack too many. Diapers are available at really high prices in the gift shops if you happen to run out. Ask at the counter. But generally, you won't run out.)
  • Wipes in a travel container
  • Hand Sanitizer (or antibacterial wipes if you don't feel comfortable with the ingredients of hand sanitizers)
  • Extra Pacifier (if the child is young enough)
  • Camera
  • Change of clothes for child (specifically for food issues and diaper blow-outs. I recommend two shirts and one pair of shorts per child)
  • Money
  • Tickets
  • Mobile phone
  • Pen and small notepad to jot down memories/track expenses/note photographs
So that's it! Pack your bags and enjoy your day. Rest assured that anything else you need is available in the parks. Cast members will go out of their way to help you. But this should cover you for most situations. Did we leave anything important off our list? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, September 14, 2009

A DiVine Discovery!

Disney has a way of introducing you and your family to fine arts without you realizing what's happening. I'm not just talking about the animation we've come to expect from both Disney and Pixar. Attractions like it's a small world are like stepping into a painting, much like Mary Poppins and crew do in the famous sidewalk chalk segment of the movie.

However, Disney also brings you performance art in many forms. Whether it's living statuary at Epcot or a full-scale production like Cirque de Soleil's La Nouba at Downtown Disney, there are many opportunities to let your children experience living art in many forms.

One of my personal favorite examples of this is the elusive DiVine at Disney's Animal Kingdom. She's usually around Africa at various times between 10 and 2, and although she's up to 16 feet tall, she's sometimes pretty hard to spot. Truthfully, the only way I noticed her the first time I saw her was the crowd of people who had gathered to watch her fluid movements. Disguised as -- wait for it -- a huge vine, she remains stationary for a good portion of her performance, tricking you into thinking you are looking at a really large vine. Or more often, tricking you into simply walking right by the huge vine.

But then she comes to life, and she swings and glides through the area, moving to interact with the crowd or the other nature around her. Some children, especially the under-four set, can be pretty frightened by her, as she doesn't fit into what they understand to be reality. A little encouragement can set this to right.

My daughter was four when she saw DiVine the first time and she was mesmerized. She did have some questions, though, as she didn't quite understand what she was seeing. She hasn't seen many people on stilts, and especially the way DiVine uses them. I encouraged her to just watch as much as possible, and then once DiVine started gliding away, we talked about her questions.

To prepare for writing this post, I shared some videos of her and other performance artists in this company (The Living Garden) with my five-year-old and three-year-old. Both were completely entranced. My daughter said, "She's so beautiful!"

And she really is.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mickey Flower Pins

When I posted this project on Scrapping the Magic in early August, I never expected the response I would get about it. It has gone over so well I'm going to share it with you, the lovely readers of Take The Monorail.


- Silk Flowers - Small, medium, and Large, the flatter the better. Mix and match the colors to coordinate with any outfit.
- Mickey Buttons by EK Success - These items can be found in most craft stores in the scrapbooking section.
- Mickey Rhinestones Stickers by EK Success - These can also be found in the scrapbooking section. You can also use loose rhinestones and glue them on.
- Pin
- Needle & Thread

  1. Remove flowers from their stems
  2. Stack the different sized flowers on top of each other starting with large at the bottom and working your way up to the smallest flower. You can use as many layers as you wish, just keep in mind you are going to want to sew through all the layers.
  3. Take the buttons out of the package and remove the adhesive from the back and cut the thread from the button holes.
  4. Sew the button on to the flower making sure to go through all the flowers.
  5. Sew the pin onto the back of the flower.
  6. Attach rhinestone sticker to the front of the button. If using loose rhinestone attach with a strong glue.

What's nice about this project is you can mix and match the colors. You can also making them smaller or larger based on what you like. Use a barrette instead of a pin to make a cute little hair accessory, or skip step number 5 and sew the flower directly on to a tote bag.

You'd be surprised how useful these cute flowers can be. Make identical flowers in bright colors for every female in the family. Then put them in hair or at the top of their shirts as a pin. Now you have a fabulous way to skim the crowd and ensure you have all members of your party in sight.

And if your children are old enough to work with a needle, use this craft to introduce them to sewing. Boys and girls alike need to know how to sew a button on, right? Here's a great way to teach them on something fun and colorful.

Check out our Mickey Flower pin thread on Scrapping the Magic to see some of the beautiful flowers that people have made and share your own!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Silly Shot: License And Registration, Please

This week's Silly Shot was sent in by a friend of Take The Monorail, Sandy Ezzell. This photo was taken at Mr. Toad's Wild Ride in Disneyland. While you can no longer find Mr. Toad or any of his cars in Walt Disney World, the concept of the shot is easy to duplicate at any photo location that involves a vehicle. We'll be featuring two of those spots in the coming weeks.

Do you have a photo of you and your family driving one of Mr. Toad's cars? Post them on Scrapping the Magic or on our Facebook page page!

For last week's Spot the Shot: Road Trip!, the correct answer was The Boneyard in Animal Kingdom! Great job in Spotting the Shot!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Kicking It Up A Notch: Moderate Resorts

Disney's Moderate Resorts are Port Orleans French Quarter, Port Orleans Riverside, Coronado Springs , and Caribbean Beach. These are priced in Disney's midrange, generally between $150 and $200 per night and up to $250 during high seasons. Discounts on these rooms can get as low as $110 or so. These prices are comparable to hotel rates in large cities around the country and you should find the amenities and grounds to meet your expectations for this price range.

As in our previous post on the Value Resorts (and in our future post on Deluxe Resorts) I will not cover basic amenities and room sizes for you. The official Disney site will give you a basic overview, and then AllEars.net can give you the finer details. If you prefer print, the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and the Passporter guide both have excellent resort overviews. Instead, let's once again look at the pros and cons of these resorts for families. Your "pro" may be my "con," so take them as the opinions they are and hopefully they will still help you decide if a Moderate Resort is best for you.

Pros To Staying At A Moderate Resort
  • Cost - The Value Resorts are cheaper, but the Moderates give you a good amount of bang for your buck. Whether or not it's $50-$100 worth is a question only you can really answer, but the cost is reasonable for a resort of this caliber.

  • Room Size - The rooms are spacious (though not over-sized by any stretch) and some have a trundle bed that allows you to sleep five in the room. The trundle is more of a cot and is designed for folks under five feet tall, so if your family of five include at least one smaller kid, this can be a huge benefit to these resorts. It's far cheaper to stay in one of these rooms than to have to get two rooms at the Value Resorts (with the exception of the Family Suites at All-Star Music).

  • Bed Size - Queen-size beds are standard in the Moderates (as opposed to double beds in the Value Resorts). This is simply more comfortable when you are sharing a bed and gives siblings less reason to jab and kick each other during the evening. Not that it will deter them completely, of course...

  • Refrigerators - Mini-fridges are standard in Moderate Resorts. If you don't use it for anything else, you will appreciate being able to use it for water. If you have an infant with you, it's a savior for your formula and you can also stash some milk and cheese in it for cereal and sandwiches respectively.

  • Sprawling Landscapes - All of these resorts are pretty large and spread out. It is easy to find yourself in a building quite some distance from the main building and/or the main pool. Prepare to walk. At Coronado Springs, we were directly across the lake from the main pool. But you have to walk AROUND the lake... there is no bridge. Which reminds me... don't forget to bring your diaper bag when you walk all the way around the lake to the pool. It's a long walk back... trust me.

  • Hot Tubs - Okay, maybe this isn't important to you, but it is to me. We really appreciate being able to soak in a hot tub after a day in the parks. One of us stays in the room with the sleeping kids while the other goes out to soak, and then we switch places. This is an amenity you will also get in the Deluxe resorts, but not in the Value category, so the Moderates are the cheapest way for you to have access to this feature.
Cons To Staying At A Moderate Resort
  • Outside Hallways - Just like the Value Resorts, Moderates have you enter rooms from exterior hallways. This feels less secure to me and I'm not wild about people passing by the window to my room constantly. With napping children, add the noise factor of that in.

  • Centrally Located Elevators - Here, I shall repeat exactly what I said about the Value Resorts: The elevators for each building are in the center. Your room, however, might not be. It might be just up from a stairwell, but if you have strollers... ugh. No fun. And if you request a room right by the elevator, you're going to get lots of foot traffic going right by your room. So add on even more walking around than you had before we started.

  • Food Choice - The food in these resorts is hit or miss. Coronado Springs has a great food court, but reviews of their Table Service restaurant are lukewarm. I'm not crazy about the food court at Port Orleans French Quarter. Generally, none of the choices at these resorts are widely regarded as excellent experiences.
It should be noted that the cabins at Fort Wilderness Campground are also considered Moderates. They accommodate six people and start at $265 in low season. I tend to consider them more in the Deluxe category due to cost and the fact they include an equipped kitchen. They are really more of a category unto themselves, as their amenities and features are so different from the other Moderates. The pros and cons above do not necessarily relate to them.

As for which Moderate is the best, that point is widely contested. There are many fans of Port Orleans French Quarter because of it's intimate size and great pool. Some like Port Orleans Riverside for it's sprawling mansions and nifty piano bar. Others prefer the Caribbean Beach Resort's tropical feel. Personally, Coronado Springs is my favorite. The pool is fantastic and the grounds are gorgeous. I'm a big fan of the hammocks around the lake as well.

The pool at Port Orleans Riverside

Which Moderate Resort is your favorite? Do you have pros or cons to these resorts that I haven't mentioned? Please share them with us as a comment!

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Art Of Resting

When you go to Disney World as adults with no children, you don't often think about going back to the room in the middle of the day. Especially to do something crazy like... *gasp*... take a nap. Kids, however, will find a way to let you know that napping isn't only a good idea, it is sometimes imperative.

Generally, kids about age six and under (maybe older than that) need a bit of a rest in the middle of the day if you want them to be coherent, cooperative children by about 6pm. Certainly, if you expect to see fireworks with them, a nap is really a must-do. Many families try to skip this because they are paying a whole lot of money for this trip and don't want to hear the meter ticking as they sleep away an hour or two. But I really must assure you it's money well-spent, and the return on investment can yield you a great deal of sanity. Besides, most kids, when asked what their favorite part of the trip was, will name the hotel and the pool at the top of their list.

Napping for infants and early walkers is a bit different than napping for older children. From about age two to six, children will need one rest about mid-day. Ideally, they will sleep, then maybe go to the pool for an hour or so (or video arcade or lobby television or something like that) and then will be ready to get back to the parks. This isn't very difficult to do. My favorite strategy even helps make the trip a bit cheaper for you by saving money on food if you have a fridge in the room:
  • Eat breakfast in the room or at the resort and get to the park before it opens.
  • Hit the park hard until about 11:30, eating snacks around 10am. You can bring the snacks with you to save money, or buy them as an extra treat/convenience.
  • Leave the park around 11:30am and head back to the resort. You can eat in the park quickly before leaving (eat at 11 or so) or make sandwiches in the room. If you prefer, grab something at your resort's food service area before retreating to your room.
  • Try to nap or at least relax to some television or soothing music.
  • After the nap or quiet activity, do some sort of simple activity like pool time, video games, or something that doesn't require lots of lines and walking. It can be active (like the pool), but "cool and refreshing" is the idea here.
  • Get back to the parks around 4 or 5pm.
  • Stay as late as you can handle, treating yourself to dinner somewhere in the park.

This is a general strategy and can be tailored to your different plans for the day. For instance, if you are eating a character breakfast, try to schedule it early (before the park opens) or at around 10:30 so you can go from there directly back for rest time.

Some parents recognize the need to nap, but choose to allow kids to nap in the stroller instead of heading back. This works best for infants who are really able to lie back in a stroller and rest, and even then, it isn't ideal. Kids under two, especially infants under twelve months, often need more than one nap a day making it really difficult to get back to the room for those periods of time. You may plan to either stay around your resort until after morning nap, then take afternoon nap in the stroller, or reverse it, depending on your children and how they will best fare. We prefer to get to the park early to help beat the crowds and the heat of mid-day. Regardless, prepare for stroller naps by bringing shade for the stroller and maybe a favorite stuffed animal or blanket. Anything that will make baby more comfortable will help ensure as restful a nap as possible.

It's important to also plan something to do yourself while baby naps in the stroller. Most attractions require you to remove the child from the stroller, which might wake him or otherwise disturb him. It's a good time to eat at a counter service restaurant. If you can pick your child up without waking him and he will like sleeping in your arms, you can attend a stage show like Beauty and the Beast or Finding Nemo: The Musical or you can take in the Hall of Presidents. I don't recommend the stunt shows or the 4-D movies, as they are loud in general with explosions and other things that are likely to wake a baby. Walking the trails at Animal Kingdom is also a nice way to pass the time, although if your stroller is large, you might have some trouble maneuvering through some areas. Check with a cast member.

So what are your strategies for napping and resting at Disney World? Do you have suggestions for places to enjoy while your youngster takes a snooze in the stroller? Please leave us comments with your thoughts!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Spot the Shot: Road Trip!

It's time for another Spot the Shot! This photo was sent in by Ryan Wilson of the Main Street Gazette. Here his lovely wife Aileen is just waiting to leave on another great road trip!

Where in Walt Disney World is this jeep just waiting to leave on a new adventure? Leave your answer as a comment!

Do you have a photo of you and your family hanging out on the jeep? Post them on Scrapping the Magic or on our Facebook page page!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Kid Scale - Fantasyland

When planning a trip to Disney with a young one (or even a not-so-young one), it becomes apparent rather quickly that you will not be able to experience every attraction in one trip. So in choosing, it helps to know in advance which rides your child will be most interested in and conversely , which ones he or she will reject due to fears, smells, or other sensations. Many a child has been traumatized by riding something his parents expected to be innocuous or just “not that bad.”

To help you with the task of choosing which attractions to put on the “must-do” list and which ones to skip altogether, we will be providing posts called The Kid Scale. These posts are not meant to describe the ride, but rather will assume you already know what the ride entails and will provide instead some details about age-appropriateness. I offered age suggestions based on developmental milestones, so you will want to adjust those to your own children’s development and special needs. We’ll also point out difficulties you might encounter or highlights that may be especially important to your individual tyke. Every six weeks or so, we’ll post another land or area in the Walt Disney World resort until we’ve covered them all. We’re starting with Fantasyland, as it is arguably the most popular land for parents with small children.

And remember, I’m just a parent with my own experiences and those of other parents like me, so your comments and feedback are more than welcome as they will help others whose children are more like yours than mine or those of my interviewees.

  • Cinderella's Golden Carrousel – Ages 18 months and up – There are figures on the carousel that don’t move up and down, which might help a child who is a bit more motion-sensitive enjoy this ride. Between ages 18 months and four years or so, you will want to ride alongside your tot, ensuring there is no tumble from the horse (which is MUCH taller than you thought it was). Be careful when holding your child, though. You might tend to look out for your significant other who is holding the camera and photographing the event, but this can cause a pretty mighty bout of nausea if you’re not careful. That carousel spins faster than you think and few things are more humiliating for an adult as getting off the carousel only to lose your lunch in the closest trash bin.
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant – All ages – This is the quintessential ride for a young child to experience. The smallest ones can sit on your lap to see out. The young preschoolers love knowing they are controlling an aspect of Dumbo’s flight. Be aware that he may fly higher than your child likes. Even if you keep the elephant hovering inches off the platform to mollify your child, the end of the ride sends all pachyderms up to their highest flight path for a few seconds before coming back down to Earth. Be ready to help your child through that moment; it may make her a bit braver for the next go round. If you intend to ride Dumbo, it should be your very first ride of the day. It’s a great intro to what Disney is all about and the lines get long quickly.

  • "it’s a small world" – All ages – Sure, the song sticks in your head and can be mildly annoying, but the ride itself is a living piece of history and deeper than that, a living piece of art. There are so many things to look at and your senses are blasted with color, light, and sound. Infants will see this ride as one huge mobile. It’s also a great final ride as the park is about to close… relaxing and peaceful after a noisy day in the park.

  • Mad Tea Party – Age three and up – you can take children under three on this ride, but don’t spin your teacup. The forces this ride can put on you, especially when you add in the extra spinning of your individual cup, can really send a little one slipping around on the seat. One of you should hold on to the kiddo while the other one spins if you go that route. Otherwise, someone may get a sharp head bonk on the ride, and that generally isn’t considered the fun part of the trip.

  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the PoohAll ages – This is another ride where an infant can ride on your lap. But hold tight! That bouncy area Tigger takes you through is a bit more intense than your glider at home. This ride has it all: whimsy, catchy music, and those fabulous characters from the Hundred Acre Wood.

  • Mickey’s Philharmagic – Age two and up – You can take the zero-to-two set into this theater, but they can’t deal well with the 3-D glasses. One word of caution to parents of a noise-sensitive child… this is a loud attraction with no volume control. Between the noise and the 4-D effects like puffs of air and light mists of water, a sensitive child can be over-stimulated rather quickly.

  • Peter Pan’s Flight – All Ages – Your infant can ride on your lap, and small children may want to crawl into your lap as well. Between the time your child can speak to about age three or four, you may find your child especially frightened on this ride. The neon paint and black lights are a little odd to children and there are pirates and other scary moments. At 18 months, my daughter was frightened when the ship we were in suddenly seemed to be flying and was inconsolable for the rest of the flight. She requested to ride again when she was three and it was a totally different experience. She loved it, although she admitted later that the pirates still scared her a little.

  • Snow White's Scary AdventuresAges eight and up – I know it seems odd to recommend a ride in Fantasyland be avoided until your children are around 8 or so, but this ride has some terribly scary moments, as the name of the ride indicates. It uses neon paint and black light to help add to the fear factor. The Wicked Witch pops out from behind trees and you seem to crash through walls. To an adult, or even an older child who has been immersed in today’s movies and video games, the effects seem primitive and almost laughable. But to a preschooler or young school-age child who still believes in magic and fairy tales, this ride is all too real. Save it for when he’s older.

Monday, August 31, 2009

No Reservations

In general, you can take a trip down to Disney with very little advanced planning. There are those who would argue that your experience is better with planning, and that may be true, but it CAN be done. Last-minute trips happen all the time and are quite successful. However, the main issue you will most likely run into with a last-minute or casually planned trip is dining. Specifically, I'm referring to Table Service meals where you sit down, order food from a waitperson, and leave a tip at the end of the experience. And it's worth it to experience at least one of these restaurants while you are there. Disney knows how to do food. Some restaurants are quite exquisite and even the worst of the lot are still a worthwhile experience.

Disney does not take official "reservations." What I mean is they don't hold a specific table for you at a specific time. What they do instead is take a "Priority Seating" call, where you are essentially holding your place in line for a restaurant at a given time. This process is very similar in appearance to a reservation, but you do usually have to wait 5-10 minutes between the time you check in at the podium and when you are seated. This is similar to when you call Outback at home before you leave, holding your place in line so that by the time you get there, you only have a short wait for the next available table.

The catch here is that you make your call to hold your spot 90 days in advance. And on October 27, 2009, that window becomes even larger. You will be able to call 180 days before your checkin date. If you are "math-challenged" like myself, that's about six months in advance. If you are "planning-challenged" like myself, you will find this more than frustrating. While it's true that you are not REQUIRED to call 180 days in advance, you will find that thanks to offers of free dining and other incentives through the year, you will have trouble holding a spot in line at your top restaurant choices if you do not.

The Disney slang term for these "reservations that are not reservations" is ADR -- short for Advanced Dining Reservation. (See? They even call it a "reservation" just to confuse you.) The suggested strategy to ensure you get to eat where you want is to call exactly 90 days (or 180 starting on October 27) at 7am when the phone lines open with your list ready. This means that you are expected to have thought out which parks you will be in on which days of your trip and what food you might like to ingest on those days.

If you sense that I am biased against the large time frame that reservations are open, you are right. Personally, I am more of a spur-of-the-moment traveler. But I do understand not everyone is like that and I certainly can plan ahead when called upon to do it. If you feel strongly about where you'd like to eat and (most importantly) what time, here is how to prepare:

  • Plan your days in general. - Where will you be on which day and which restaurants will be closest to you? You can also reverse this... choosing your restaurants, then planning where you will be around that. You need to take park hours into consideration when you do this, especially if you like to dine late and travel in the cooler months, as the parks close earlier. We'll discuss how to map out your days in a future post, if you are at a loss as to where to begin.
  • Choose your restaurants and dining times, along with second choices. - Keep your plan open. When I call, I have a general time in mind such as "We'd like to get the earliest reservation available for lunch" or "We want to eat as close to 7:30 pm as possible." And if the only lunch reservation is at 2pm, know if you are willing to take it. The younger your kids, the less flexibility you might have. But remember, there are plenty of snacks around the World, so a late lunch is doable and frees you up to visit attractions while most people are eating a meal.
  • Call Disney Dining (407-WDW-DINE) at 7am exactly 90 (or 180) days before your checkin date. - There is an online reservation system now, but I don't recommend using it; especially if this is your first or second trip. Talking to a person is far more flexible and they can "poke around" to look for times better than the online system. If you wish to explore online ADRs, the website is http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/restaurants/.

    Disney's online registration system - ©2009 Disney

  • Remain flexible. - You can change your ADRs as time goes by, but it will be harder and harder to get exactly what you want. With Disney's frequent offers for free dining plans, more people are crowding into restaurants they normally wouldn't try, making it harder to come by exactly the time and place you want.

For those like me who really dislike planning so far in advance, TouringPlans.com has created a fabulous chart that tells you which restaurants book faster than others and which ones are likely to have priority seating available right up to when you are ready to eat. This way you can easily see that if you REALLY want to eat at Le Cellier in the Canada pavilion in Epcot (which I highly recommend doing), you want to plan that out. But maybe you can wait another month or so before mapping out the rest of your food experiences. I am hopeful they will update this chart once the 180-day window has been implemented for long enough to capture good data, but I still expect it will give you a generally accurate idea of where you need to book early even after they move to the 180-day window.

Table Service restaurants have always been a very special part of our trips to Disney. Although the ADR system can seem a bit much for a new traveler, the payoff is worth it. The ADR system has its flaws, but overall, it will help ensure you spend your time eating your meal and enjoying the restaurant rather than waiting in a lobby outside for your table. Bon appetite!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Silly Shots: You Say Potato, I Say Cute Kids

The 3rd vote getter in the Scrapping the Magic contest and the final in this series was a photo submitted by Brian MacGowen (bjmacgowan) illustrates the fun of posing with (and like) the figures found at the value resorts.

Posing with the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head figures at the Pop Century resort is a favorite thing by most of the guests. Brian and his family even upped the silliness of this shot by having the girls pose with the toys that inspired the oversized figures.

Have any photos of you or someone in your family posing with Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head? Share them with us on Scrapping the Magic or on our Facebook page page! Even if they are wearing their angry eyes, though I hope they will have on their smiley mouths instead!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wake Up, Tinker Bell!

NOTE: This article was published based on information gathered before Tinker Bell's Treasures was renovated. The experience is still there, but now you no longer need to be there first thing in the morning. You can wake Tink any time of day. Just ask a cast member about it.

Disney offers a young child many opportunities to live in a magical world. The parks are an immersive experience and children often believe that they are in Mickey's world... where he lives, walks, sleeps.

So like many websites or games today, Disney has built in a few surprises or "Easter Eggs," as they are called in the online world. These are special treats that aren't advertised, but happen anyway, sometimes spontaneously, sometimes only if you know the secret password. Some are more secret than others. This is one you will find described all over the web, but I assure you, it's still very special and even a little bit cool.

Your child can wake up Tinker Bell first thing in the morning at the Magic Kingdom.

To do this, your child (or children) must enter Tinker Bell's Treasures--a gift shop within Fantasyland--and be the first person to ask the cast member if he or she can wake up Tinker Bell. I don't want to spoil the magic of what will happen exactly, but let's just say that a convincing special effect will make anyone believe in fairies for just a little bit at least.

The hardest part about this is getting there first. We've tried three times and failed twice. It will take some serious dedication, and I'd suggest you not tell your child too much about it to pump them up for it, just in case they end up watching someone else do it. I would also suggest that you do NOT do this the first time you go to the Magic Kingdom. It is better to enjoy the magic of that first entrance into the park. This one is more for the experienced visitor.

Here's the strategy we used when we succeeded:
  • Have your child in a stroller or carrier. - Unless your little one is a major track star, you will not get there in time if you rely on leg power alone. Rentals won't work for this because you will need to have it from the moment you get into the park. There is no time to pick it up.
  • Get to the Magic Kingdom thirty minutes or so before opening. - You don't need to be right up front here, but I would recommend standing by one of the arches under the train station so you will get in before those standing more front and center. You can still see the opening show just fine from here.
  • When you are allowed into the park, proceed quickly (but don't run... be safe) to the hub. - Bear left so that you are standing at the rope located at about 10 o'clock on the circle. This is the bridge into Liberty Square. Get to the very front so that there is nothing between your stroller and the rope. Stay right.
  • When that rope drops, power walk (or run, but don't say we told you to). - Stay on the right side of the path, and at your first opportunity (at the Sleepy Hollow snack hut), turn right to veer into Fantasyland.
  • Find the store. It's located on the left up the path from Sleepy Hollow close to the castle. There IS a back door in from the direction you are coming. You do not need to go around front. Go in and go directly toward the back counter, stopping at the first cast member you see.
  • YOUR CHILD must ask the cast member if she can wake up Tinker Bell. It cannot be an adult, it has to be your child. So you will want to coach your child before you get there, and be sure he or she isn't shy about asking a stranger for something.
  • Watch the magic!
Some folks recommend getting to the store through the castle. The problem we've run into with this plan is that the castle is not always open for you to walk through first thing in the morning. So rather than walk up there and risk being turned away, we recommend heading in via the left path. It's actually pretty equidistant.

It is possible that you succeed in your quest, but when faced with the pressure of actually waking up Tink with so many people watching, your child may chicken out. It's okay. There are other kids there who will be more than happy to do it. Sometimes, having another child do it with them is helpful. See what your child wants and adjust.

And don't worry... if you miss your chance or you're just a late riser, go to the store when you can and ask a cast member about seeing Tinker Bell. Once she's awake, she flits about all day.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Here To There And There To Here

The transportation system at Walt Disney World is vast and complex. When facing the daunting task of providing an overview that is simplistic and yet informative, it's hard to know where to begin and where to end. Therefore, please consider this post as an introduction to transportaion available at Disney. There are many, many, MANY details that will be covered in future posts. Some aspects of transportation are most relevant to resorts, some to parks, and some to off-site guests. Here, I'll merely introduce you to how you can get around and offer a few pointers on how NOT to get around.

At the center of the Walt Disney World Transportation is the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). You can think of this place as Disney's Grand Central Station. You can get almost anywhere from here, and its parking lot is actually the parking lot for The Magic Kingdom. You must take a monorail or ferry boat from here to get to the park itself. It is worth a mention that the TTC is not listed on the road signs as "Transportation and Ticket Center." Instead, it is posted as "Magic Kingdom Parking." April learned this the hard way trying to drive to the TTC one day.

As a guest, you have several options for getting around the Walt Disney World resort property. There are advantages and disadvantages to using any given mode at any given time. Definitions and general guidelines of each mode of conveyance are as follows:

  • The Monorail - (You knew we had to start here, didn't you?!) The monorail is the easiest system to figure out because it really has very few stops. Monorails can only take you to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, the Contemporary Resort (connected to Bay Lake Towers), Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and the Transportation and Ticket Center. There are two routes for the monorail: one to Epcot and one to the Magic Kingdom. The second route with a stop at Magic Kingdom has two options: an Express that only stops at the TTC and the Magic Kingdom, and a Resort line that stops at Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Magic Kingdom, and Contemporary/Bay Lake Towers. This is a favorite for children. Many kids have told their parents after a week at Disney that the monorail was their favorite ride!

  • Boats - There are waterways all throughout the resort and various boats can carry you various places. Not all waterways are connected though, so don't assume that because you see water you can get to another place where you've seen water. Detailing routes at this point would be a bit mind-boggling, but in general, every park except Animal Kingdom and (oddly enough) the water parks has a boat option to get there (but not from just anywhere in the park... see previous comment about waterways not connected). You can also get from some locations to Downtown Disney by boat. If you are prone to motion sickness or just don't like boats, choose your resort carefully. Sometimes, it's your only option for a particular park if you don't have a car with you.

  • Buses - The fleet of buses that Disney operates daily is nothing short of spectacular in scope. They dart in and out of everywhere and there is no posted schedule because they adjust routes on the fly to send buses to deal with the largest crowds. For the most part, the bus system runs very well. A typical bus journey should take between 15 and 45 minutes depending on season, time of day, and distance between destinations. The note of caution I would extend is to avoid taking a bus to or from Downtown Disney if at all possible. Consistently, over the last three years, I have had a very long wait, ride, or both related to going to or coming from Downtown Disney. And when you are traveling with a young one, a 45 minute wait for a bus is not welcome at all. Nor are the long delays once on board.

  • Cars (personal or rental) - Parking is free if you stay on site. Off site guests currently pay $12 a day for parking. All parks have a lot, although as I mentioned before, the Magic Kingdom lot is actually across a body of water. So if you park here, you have to ride a ferry over or (...wait for it...) take the monorail! The biggest advantage to driving a car is control... this gives you the most control over your schedule for coming and going. That said, there are accidents and traffic jams on Disney property as well, so nothing is a sure bet when it comes to travel time at Disney.

  • Hoofing It - It's true you will do a lot of walking at Disney, but sometimes the extra walk is still worth it. You can walk from the Contemporary to the Magic Kingdom very easily. You can also walk from the Polynesian to the TTC. Most people don't realize that Disney's Hollywood Studios is within a reasonable walk from the Epcot resorts. It's a great way to avoid the crowded buses just after Fantasmic lets out. Just be sure that you are wearing good walking shoes that you have worn before.
All these options can be interchanged on a trip to maximize your time. Unfortunately, sometimes it is very difficult to know the best choice at the time you need to make it. The good news is, all choices will usually get you there. Don't hesitate to ask Cast Members to help you make the best decision about how to get from here to there or from there to here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Silly Shots: But I Don't Wanna Leave!

The 2nd vote getter in the Scrapping the Magic contest was a photo submitted by Lori Burke (LoriLovesTigger) and is one of my personal favorites. In the photo pulling on Lori's leg is Mike Newell of WDW Today and MouseWorld Radio fame.

What's really nice about this photo op is that it an be done in any park, in any spot as long as there is an object attached to the ground. Just grab hold and have someone give you a tug! Congratulations Lori on winning 2nd place!

Have any photos of you or someone in your family having to be dragged out of the parks? Post your pictures of the mild tantrum on Scrapping the Magic or on our Facebook page page!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Eeeeeek! Big, Scary Characters

Everyone wants to meet Mickey Mouse, right?!


Character Meet and Greets can be a huge part of your Disney vacation. Disney and Pixar characters are EVERYWHERE and will sign autographs, pose for pictures, and generally clown around with you and your children. That said, many families head to the park without any preparation for what the characters actually are. When you tell your four-year-old he is going to meet Mickey Mouse at Disney World, his mind takes him to that tiny little cartoon character that is smaller than his whole 3.5 feet of being. What he will get at the park, however, is a costumed person who is not only taller than Mommy and Daddy, but also has a bit of girth to speak of. To him, Mickey Mouse becomes something akin to Bigfoot. And it can be quite scary.

To alleviate your child's fears... or at least lessen them... here are some tips from Ryan over at The Main Street Gazette (who also happens to be a preschool teacher) and me:
  • Take them to local sporting events that have a team mascot. This will get them used to the concept of a full-grown person hidden underneath a big furry suit. Most teams have them, including minor league baseball teams, and they are quite approachable. Don't force them to approach the mascot... let them hang back and get comfortable with the idea, watching other kids interact so they know what is expected in this type of meeting.
  • Another good source for determining how your children like costumed characters is holiday time at the mall. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny... all of them will help you see what your child's fears are ahead of time (if they have any, that is).
  • Get the free Vacation Planning Video from Disney. This DVD includes many shots of characters with kids, so your little ones will get a good idea of exactly how big they are compared to themselves. Don't be shy about pointing that out to them. Saying things like "Look at how TALL Mickey is! I had no idea! He looks so much smaller on TV!" will set your young ones at ease about their own surprise. And it will ensure they actually pay attention to that fact.
  • When you arrive at the parks, try to take advantage of some shows that have characters in them before walking your child up to a costumed Cast Member. An ideal way to do this is to catch the show done at Park Opening for the Magic Kingdom. The characters appear with adult dancers, but they are above your head on the train platform... far enough away to be much less intimidating.
  • The next step to easing children into meeting characters is to start with the "face" characters like Cinderella, Jasmine, Aladdin, Mary Poppins... these are characters that are in costume, but you can see their real, albeit heavily made-up, faces and they can speak to your child and interact at a more real level. (As a side note, neither the boys nor the men in my party have ever complained when dragged into a Princess Character meal. Not once. No idea why.)
The key to all of this is to be ready for your children to NOT meet the characters. Although they are all over the Disney World resort, it is absolutely possible to have a completely successful vacation without seeing a single one of them up close. Your child will not hold it against you that you didn't force him to meet Tigger. If you really want pictures of your kids with characters, there are great opportunities to take photos with "fake" characters like statues, models and cutouts.

Pushing your child into a photo with a character may not really bring about the result you are looking for. Tears and screaming don't make for pretty pictures. Incidentally, the characters will sign autographs for anyone who asks... you don't have to be a kid. So you can be the one to approach them for the first couple of times to see if your child warms up to the idea. It may also meet your goal of using that autograph book you made at home or the one you bought in the resort gift store when your child begged for it, insisting he really wanted Mickey to sign it for him.

Please share your tips for preparing young children for character interactions in our comments.