Friday, July 31, 2009

Silly Shots: Character Cutouts

Photo by Virginia Rother

Tucked away in the back of the Town Square Exposition Center located on Main St. U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom is an often-forgotten area where you can watch some classic cartoons or become a part of the scene with some pretty nifty character cutouts! You can help steer the steamboat with Mickey, star in the 101 Dalmatians' favorite cartoon, dance with the Seven Dwarfs, or avoid the claw with some little green aliens! This area is also great for a little break since it tends to be fairly quite from the lack of crowds. This is especially nice if you have a little one that wants to crawl around.

See more photos from the Expo Center and post some of your own on Scrapping the Magic or on our Facebook page! Or have an idea for a location to be featured as a Silly Shot? Email your photo to and we might just use it in a future post!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Where Can I Hang My Ears?

In the spirit of getting the basics out of the way so I can move on to more individual experiences and lessons learned, here's generally what I think about where to stay at Disney.

First, to share relevant information, I am currently a Disney Vacation Club member, which dictates my choices to a certain degree now. However, there are exceptions to my rules... so...

I've stayed offsite four times. All experiences were fine. The first was when I was looking for employment (had my car). The second was with a large group (had a charter bus). The third and fourth were at a friend's timeshare (rented a car, then had my own car respectively). You must have your own transportation when you stay offsite. Ignore the "we have a shuttle" line and rent a car or take your own. In many cases, the cost of the hotel and car will not equal what you would have paid onsite anyway, and the convenience and ease of having a car to drive will be well worth it. When budgeting this, do remember Disney charges for you to park there if you are not an onsite guest, and it's not cheap. At the time I am writing this article, the going rate is $12 per day.

Tip for parking: If you buy your theme park tickets (or at least one of them) from AAA, you can get their Diamond Parking pass. This pass doesn't give you any sort of discount on parking, but it does get you into a reserved section that is easily walkable to the gates. You can avoid the parking tram and get to the gates that much faster. This benefit is best if you plan to arrive at the parks early in the morning, before park opening

Staying offsite is totally feasible and will not ruin your vacation. It's also very affordable, and in some cases (such as a vacation home rental) can be more luxury for less money than onsite. But I do still feel strongly about staying onsite. Disney is an immersive experience, and personally, I prefer to stay immersed.

So, if staying onsite... I've heard our friends over at WDWToday talk about how important it is to have your own car even when onsite. I do see some advantages, yes, but don't freak out about it. If you want to spend the extra money to stay onsite, but then want to cut corners other ways, don't stress over the car. The Disney buses aren't private shuttles, but they'll get you there and back... and you're on vacation! When I'm alone, I read a book while waiting. When I have the kids, we sing songs and play games. It's fine.

So then, as far as actual living quarters... I have experienced two of the Value resorts (that is to say, the cheap ones). Those are Pop Century and All Star Music. I enjoyed my stay both times and was pleasantly surprised at the size of the rooms. Although the rooms are smaller than other rooms in more expensive resorts, space is used to its maximum potential. If you cannot rent or bring a car, I would choose Pop Century. But if you have a car with you, the All Star Resorts will do just fine.

So why would you spend more money to stay at one of the nicer resorts? I've upgraded to moderate for romantic vacations and for trips with small children. The rooms are bigger and they have a small fridge provided for milk, water, and sodas. Plus, the value resorts don't have some of the nicer resort facilities. King size beds are rare and spas (hot tubs) at the pool are completely missing--two things you might really want if you are two adults traveling for a romantic getaway. Moderates offer these amenities.

Moderates are really very nice. If you have five in your family, you almost have to start with one of these, as value rooms only sleep four (unless you want two rooms or one of the suites that All-Star Music now offers). I wasn't wild about the French Quarter at Port Orleans or Riverside (although I experienced it long ago when it was called Dixie Landings). They were okay... but nothing to write home about. However, we recently stayed at Coronado Springs and the place was just lovely. You have to be wiling to walk, but you're walking anyway. It's so quiet and serene... we just loved it. (Walking is to be expected at the value resorts as well, and even in the deluxes in some cases). Caribbean Beach is also nice. It's very similar to Coronado Springs, but I didn't like the ambiance there as much.

Deluxe resorts are my favorite. I love to indulge... I admit it, and these resorts are indulgent. Part of why we invested in the Disney Vacation Club is so that we could stay at these resorts often. I've stayed at the Polynesian loooooooooooooong ago, and friends just recently stayed there and invited us to hang out for a few hours. It's fabulous. We've also done the Boardwalk (Inn and Villas) and we've now enjoyed the lobby of the Yacht Club. We've stayed at the Wilderness Lodge Villas and we've eaten at the Grand Floridian many times, in addition to experiencing the spas there and at Saratoga Springs. The Contemporary Magic Kingdom view rooms are absolute paradise for someone like me who loves to wake up to see the castle. I could lie in bed and watch the fireworks. Talk about magic.

So if you really want to immerse yourself in luxury, go deluxe. Even (and especially) with kids... as you will spend more time in your room when you have young children than when they are older. It's the preteens who can stay at the Value resorts... where they will pound the park all day into the night, then collapse in the evening to do it all again tomorrow. My advice... look at your wallet, then pick the resort based on how much relaxing v. how much Theme Parking you plan to do.

So share with us your thoughts about the pros and cons of the deluxe, moderate, and value resorts. What questions do you have?

Monday, July 27, 2009

So When Can We Pack Up And Get To The FUN?!

We're a new blog, so we'll start at the very beginning. (We hear it's a good place to start). The first two questions anyone planning a trip asks is "When should I go?" and "Where should I stay?" This post will tackle the first, and our next post will be devoted to the second.

This is a topic that is widely covered on the Interwebs and in travel guides, so we'll talk pure practicality and actual experience.

I have done my best to avoid the busy seasons at Disney. The only times I have NOT done so were when the trip was planned by someone else or for some other (higher?) purpose. In 1992, I went in August because Disney Casting told me that was the best time to come down to find work (LIES!). In 1994, I went in August because I was performing with a group for Magic Music Days, and our director chose the dates per our normal annual tour time. In 2007, I took a trip in late June. The trip was paid for by the owner of the company my husband works for. Beggars are not choosers, and I am not turning down a free trip to Disney for anything. Besides, it gave me a chance to see first-hand what it is really like down there in June.

If you have preschoolers, you are pretty much free to travel whenever you'd like. If at all possible, choose a less busy season... generally January, early February, May, September, October, and the early part of December. If you pay attention to that list, you'll notice that the times I've left out--the busy times--all correspond with a couple of key events... summer and holidays.

Many families find they really have to go in the summer because of school schedules. My family is fortunate enough to live in an area that has year-round schooling, so we are not forced into traveling during this time of year, which is a very high season for Disney crowd-wise. It's also terribly, uncomfortably hot. However, I've found that if you avoid the hottest part of the day by taking naps or enjoying the pool at the resort, this time of year is actually quite pleasant. Park hours are longer and you can take full advantage of the water parks. Not to mention, getting wet on Splash Mountain is a lot more enjoyable.

If your kids are not in school yet or are homeschooled, try to avoid June, July and August. Take advantage of not having your vacation schedule dictated to you by your school schedule. There's time enough for that. That said, the topic of whether or not to take children out of school for a trip to Disney will be one better devoted to its own post.

So when do I normally go? Generally, October or November. Food and wine are my sirens, and this is when Epcot hosts the International Food and Wine Festival. There are all sorts of extra food and beverage choices around World Showcase and the nightly entertainment is kicked up a notch with regular concerts by once-famous bands or musicians.

I also like early May. Even though I'm not really a gardener (I have a black thumb), The Flower and Garden Festival in the spring is a real treat. This is an especially good time to take your preschoolers, as there is usually a temporary playground/jungle gym of remarkable coolness and there are other exhibits that appeal to your littlest ones. These include a series of fairy houses, beautiful topiaries, and a butterfly garden.

I've been in January and in February, and although it's nice to have the parks practically to yourself, it's too chilly to swim. I like my vacations warm, thank you very much. But if you are from points north of the Mason Dixon Line, it may still be warm enough for you in Florida. And you will have the lowest crowds possible (save Presidents' Day week, which is especially busy).

If you love Christmastime, going between Thanksgiving and Christmas allows you to enjoy the parks in full, festive regalia. There are many special events during this time to keep you busy, and if you are lucky, it will be quite warm still. You can also go a little earlier in November, and if you time it right, you can catch the end of the Food and Wine Festival and the beginning of the Christmas decorations.

Going Thanksgiving week, Christmas week, or Easter week is something I have to recommend strongly you do not do whether you are with kids or without unless you have a high tolerance for crowds. And I mean high. Perhaps this year with the downturn in the economy, it will be better, but if it's your first trip, going over a big holiday week will give you many headaches and much disappointment. So far, Disney has been keeping their crowd levels up by offering excellent discounts and deals, so if you can, choose the summer before choosing a holiday.

So, if you have found us yet, tell us... when do you like to go? Leave a comment here or in our thread at Scrapping the Magic!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Silly Shots: Singin' in the Studios

As we stated in our welcome, every Friday we will be featuring a Silly Shot photo. This feature will give you some locations and/or props around the Walt Disney World resort where you can create and capture some unique memories. The shots can lead to some funny moments and really add some laughs to your vacation memories! For our first shot we are going to head over to Hollywood Studios for my favorite photo op!

The Singin' in the Rain umbrella might be familiar to experienced Disney travelers, but tends to be overlooked by newcomers. It is located on the Streets of America and is just another little touch that lets you be a part of a movie! When properly working, it even has a little magic of its own, so watch out!

Have any photos of you and your family Singin' in the Studios? Share with us on Scrapping the Magic or post them on our Facebook page! Or have an idea for a location to be featured as a Silly Shot? Email your photo to and we might just use it in a future post!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

So You've Decided To Take the Little Ones To Disney...

This post was updated on September 25, 2012

Many of us in the "Disney Diehard" category have gone through this... we have gone to The World so many times as adults without kids that when the little guys come along, we don't know what to do. I sure felt clueless. Children add a whole new factor to a trip, and honestly, a trip to Disney with older kids, teens, and/or adults is a totally different ballgame from one with the younger set.

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (online at is my favorite prep material for taking young children to Disney. You can either read the chapter in the "big" full guide, or you can get the "with Kids" edition, which contains much of the same material. Read the whole section about taking kids. Then extract one major thing from it that should become your mantra:

The younger your kids are, the more likely this trip is for you, and NOT for them.

Learn it. Understand it. Live it.

And take a deep, cleansing breath...

Now, the people I see at the World who are most miserable are the ones who have high, well-planned expectations about how everyone will LOVE the parks and will instantly be transformed into good fairies from the moment they step in the gates. It ain't gonna happen. Disney is good, but not THAT good. A phrase I have heard uttered so many times that now I use it myself: "This is the Happiest Place on Earth for heaven's sake. What do you have to cry about?!" (Sometimes there are harsher words than that, of course... but this is a family show).

If the child could talk (and sometimes they can) their reply would include quite a laundry list: heat, lack of sleep, foot pain, back pain, hair pain, sticky fingers, hunger, loud noise, crowds... the list goes on and on. Does this mean you shouldn't take them? Not at all. On the contrary, Disney is all about kids, and it's hard to find a vacation with so much variety aimed directly at them. It's instant entertainment with little effort on your part. Do it!

But remember that this trip is for you, not for them, and you have to respect their needs while you are enjoying your vacation. Sure, they have fun and they laugh, but the great part for you is you get to witness it. Here are some things you need to consider when planning to take the younger generation (up to about age six):

Prepare to take naps (yes, even you) - If your gut reaction is, "My kids don't TAKE naps anymore," consider this... they will be emotionally and physically charged in a more extreme manner than they are used to at home. They may surprise you. Regardless, plan to get to the park before it opens, hit it hard until 11 or 11:30 (we would sometimes need to stop for lunch as early as 10:30 because of the energy we burn), go back to the room and nap, rest, or swim if they really won't nap or rest. Then you can return to a park between 3 and 5, depending on your proximity and your rest quality, and stay as late as the tyke(s) can handle it. Which brings us to...

Prepare to turn in early - The 8pm bedtime works fine for you at home... you get some quiet time to yourself and can do fun things like dishes, blogging, video games, etc. But at Disney, who wants to go to sleep at 8pm?! Your kids do, that's who. Very young children do not care at all about fireworks. Many kids are scared of them at this age. They need sleep. Sure, they may sleep in the stroller, but letting them get quality rest will make them quality kids the next day. Don't sacrifice your tomorrow for today. Bring things on the trip with you that are quiet and easy to do in a darkened hotel room (or in a deluxe room, you will have a balcony to enjoy). My husband and I read with little book lights, play or watch movies on our laptops, or even play cards by flashlight. On one trip, I was able to use our post-bedtime quiet time to make movies of each day's memories right there, music and all, with a laptop and a pair of earbuds.

Prepare to get up early... or sleep late, as your child(ren) may dictate - My kids are early risers, especially when they get a good night's sleep. This is especially true when we're somewhere other than home. I use this as a huge advantage, giving them something to eat and heading out before the parks open so we can be there for "rope drop" (the opening show). Getting to a park early allows you to get a lot done very quickly, with short lines... something you really appreciate when you have preschoolers who haven't quite grasped that sometimes you have to wait for a good thing. If your children really must sleep late, let them. But try to let their internal clocks drive your vacation, so they will stay in better moods. The happier the kids are, the happier you will be, and you will be energized by seeing them enjoy themselves.

Photo by Jeff Smith

Prepare to miss attractions--especially thrill rides. - The bigger, faster rides come with height requirements. Sure, there are kid swaps and ways to enjoy the attractions you REALLY want to ride. But I'd recommend choosing only a few that are really important to you. Otherwise, your child will remember the parks as a place he or she stood in lots of lines so that Mommy and/or Daddy could do something he or she could not. In our experience, having one parent ride while the other parent takes the kids for ice cream or to play in a play area is the most successful choice. Trade this off through the trip. One person rides Space Mountain, the other rides Splash Mountain. If the thrill rides are very important to both of you and you really only intend to visit Walt Disney World once or twice in your lives, consider waiting until the kids are a bit older and can ride those rides with you.

Plan to eat casually and plan to snack often - Don't bog yourself down with lots of full service meals. Kids can do sit-down restaurants, but after a week, they will be very grouchy about all the sitting and behaving. Don't plan on more than one of these Table Service meals a day, and if your trip is a week or more, maybe go for every other day. Character meals count for these, by the way. Those can be some of your longest dining experiences while you wait for characters to come to your table. Better yet, save them for Parents' Nights Out, which will be covered in a future post. (At length. We love Parents' Night Out.) Oh... and bring snacks into the park with you to save a little money and some sanity. Small zipper bags of Goldfish crackers, nuts, dried fruit... anything to keep their little tummies from rumbling and forcing you to buy a huge portion of popcorn for their little bellies.

But most of all... plan to experience magic. Because children at Disney, especially when you have been so many times without them, is the most amazing, refreshing experience. The kid inside you... the one that's been running the place all these years, gives way to the child you nurture and love.
And it's way cooler, trust me.

Photo by Jeff Smith

So there's some of what I've learned as a new mom taking kids to Disney. What about you? Any other tips to share? Please leave a comment!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Welcome To All!

(This post was last updated on September 24, 2012)

Hi, curious onlookers. Thank you for stopping by Take The Monorail!

As a frequent visitor to Walt Disney World, I've had to make the transition from "adult traveler" to "parent traveling with small children," and I found myself seeking lots of advice before I took that first step with my children. There are many sites out there with bits of information on it, but none suited my style very well, so I ended up learning a lot on my own.

So, I give you a place to discuss the real ins and outs of taking a trip to Disney. What do you really need to pack? How valuable is a stroller? Where should we eat? Should we drive a car, catch a bus, or Take The Monorail?! My posts will focus on planning trips for children and families a great deal. But I won't limit it to that. Sure, we'll cover the basics, but hopefully we can branch out into the minutia that those of us who are seasoned Disney travelers have already learned the hard way.

This blog was started in 2009. It was designed by April Baker of the Land of Melted Clocks blog, and although she is a huge Disney fan, I recommend you check out her other blogs devoted to toys and crafts as well. 

You will see us update and republish our previously published material and then add new content regularly. We are partnering with Spins The World to bring you some insider tips on the parks from folks who live there. We also will invite guest bloggers to post from time to time on areas of their expertise. 

We'll use labels to identify age groups for our various posts (Toddlers, Young Preschoolers, Early Readers, etc.). We'll also try to delineate the basics from more advanced, detailed ideas that may be less important for those taking that first or second trip and more relevant for those who travel regularly and are looking for new ways to make their trips special. Those just starting to plan or working on their first trip, might want to stick with the "First-Time Wand Wavers" posts. These will be devoted to early planning tips and essentials for anyone's basic trip. To then add some special, simple extras to your trip, check out the "Amping Up The Pixie Dust" posts. Finally, for the more advanced planners in the room who have experienced Disney Vacations several times now, the "Ultimate Magic" should give you some even lesser known secrets to enhance your next trip.

Our index in the sidebar should help you locate exactly what you need.

And this is intended to be interactive. We are hoping some of our veteran Disney Community fans as well as anyone just stopping by for the first time will comment and participate in posts so that we can all benefit from many points of view. Leave your comments and questions freely... they may inspire future posts!

And just who am I?

I am a traveler who is also a wife and mother. I enjoy all kinds of travel, but Disney Destinations are a particular favorite of mine. I have been to Disneyland in California twice, Disneyland Paris once (many years ago), Hong Kong Disneyland once (recently), and the Walt Disney Resort in Florida more than twenty times. I have been a passenger aboard Disney Cruise Lines four times and have also visited Disney's Hilton Head resort a number of times. After working in libraries and library management for twenty years, I hung up my hair bun and comfortable shoes to open my own travel agency called Outlander Travel. I am not employed by the Walt Disney Company or its affiliates. The opinions and advice in this blog are mine and those of my guests and readers.

Let's just see where this leads us, shall we? Grab a seat, Por favor mantengase alejado de las puertas, and join us as we Take The Monorail to a wonderful Walt Disney World vacation! We look forward to riding the monorail with you...