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

    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, 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.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cheaper Is Good! An Overview Of The Value Resorts

Pop Century and the All-Star Resorts are members of the category of resorts Disney defines as "Value Resorts." These are the least expensive of the Disney Resorts and their standard room rate is just around $80-100 per night. However, many times of the year, these rooms are discounted quite nicely and can be found for between $60 and $70 per night. This is a fabulous price for a Disney room and the resorts should not disappoint you as far as atmosphere, cleanliness and service.

There are many sites out there that describe the resorts for you in detail, so I will not endeavor to do so for you here. The official Disney site will give you a basic overview, and then sites like can help with even more honest details that don't have to toe the company line. If you prefer print, the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and the Passporter guide both have excellent resort overviews. Rather than repeat the information easily found in these fine sources, we'll break down some pros and cons for families. Because each family is different, your "pro" may be my "con," so feel free to shuffle them around. Regardless, this list should help you narrow down your choices.

Pros To Staying At A Value Resort
  • Cost - These resorts are the cheapest on property.
  • Fun Factor - Value resorts are packed with whimsy and fun. Younger kids will love the oversized objects that adorn the resorts. Older kids and adults will enjoy seeing familiar objects from their everyday worlds (past and present) blown up to a disproportionate size and the bright colors could cheer any mood.
  • Sense of Community - Again, this depends on your style, but these resorts are often packed with families so it isn't hard to make new friends at the pool any given day. Great for the more social folks in the room.
Cons To Staying At A Value Resort
  • No Refrigerators - This may not seem like a big deal, but mini-fridges are extra at these resorts. $10 a day. So if you want to save money by keeping your own water, milk, and string cheese in the room, you are doing it the old fashioned way... a cooler with ice, which will obviously need to be changed out often. Of course, there are ways around the cost of the fridge. Medical conditions get a pass for obvious reasons.
  • Outside Hallways - I don't know about you, but I always feel more secure in a hotel where I enter my room from inside the building. It means there are more controlled entrances and exits to the whole facility. You might feel safer if you request a room up a floor (or two), but the issue then becomes dealing with the next "con" on our list...
  • Centrally Located Elevators - 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.
  • Smaller Beds - The Value resorts have double beds. For a family of four, this can be a bit cozy. There are some rooms with King beds, but these won't be of much interest to families of three or more, unless the third is an infant and you cosleep.
  • Food Choices - All you have is a food court at each of these resorts. No table service meals at all. This may not matter to you, and the food courts are large with a lot of variety. You will not be lacking choices for food... rest assured.
  • No Hot Tubs - You probably won't miss it too much, but it's really nice to be able to get a soak in after a long day of walking. This is one thing we liked to do after the kids were asleep in a moderate or deluxe... take turns going out for a swim/soak. The Value resorts do still have pools, however, so all is not lost.
  • Buses - Pop Century buses are fine. They can get crowded, like all resort buses can. The issue with the All-Star buses is they serve all three resorts. I found this very tedious and time-consuming. Having a car would overcome this rather easily though. Parking is free for resort guests. If you know a car is not an option and you want to stay at the All-Star Resorts, I would throw my recommendation in with that of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World... choose Sports. It's the first to pick up (better chance of getting a seat) and first to drop off. (YAY, you're home!)
You'll notice that although I list more cons, in reality, those cons are minimal. And the single pro of low cost is often enough to overide those. Because the rooms are smaller, I think these resorts are more suited to families of three or families with older children who will spend more time in the parks. The Value choices are not geared as much for spending hours of lazing about the resort, although there is plenty to do should you choose to do so.
TIP: There are two prices for rooms at Value resorts: Standard and Preferred. To the best of my ability, I can only determine one difference between the two, and that is location of the rooms in relation to the main building. These are really large resorts, and if you expect to use the main building a great deal (food court, shopping, and bus stop), you may wish to pay the higher rate for Preferred. If you don't mind a little walking and/or you have a car on property, save your pennies and go with Standard.
Each room has the essentials, including a small table and two chairs. Pack and Plays are available upon request. The space in the room is used to its maximum potential, and we've always had enough room to unpack and feel at home. So although you won't get the luxury and scenery of the Moderate and Deluxe resorts, you can still expect a clean, comfortable stay. You also get all the perks of being onsite at Disney, including Extra Magic Hours allowing you to enjoy the parks a bit longer and package delivery to your resort for any souvenirs you may purchase.

It should be noted that All Star Music now offers Family Suites as well, and there are rumors of more of these being created at other Value resorts. They consist essentially of two rooms blended into one with a kitchenette added... a nice feature. The master suite has a flat screen tv. The price for these is a little more than double a standard room rate, and availability is very limited. They only sleep six, though, so unless the kitchenette is important to you, two adjoining rooms might do the trick for you instead.

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

Friday, August 14, 2009

Silly Shots: People Are Food, Not Friends

For July, Scrapping the Magic ran a photo contest asking people to submit their best Silly Shots. The top three shots will be featured on Take The Monorail during the month of August. I'd like to present you now with the number one vote getter, submitted by Beth Joyner (TeachluvsDisney)!

Located in The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epoct is this gem of a photo op. While fish may be friends, not food to Bruce, it doesn't look that same rule applies to humans. Congratulations Beth on winning the best Photo Op contest! Look for the 2nd place photo to be featured next week!

Have you or has someone in your family been a meal for Bruce? Post your pictures documenting the meal on Scrapping the Magic or on our Facebook page page!

As for last week's Spot the Shot: Pooh and Friends, the correct location is Downtown Disney near the Pooh Corner store.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Judge Me By My Size, Do You?

One of the most terrible mistakes you can make when planning a Disney vacation is talking up a ride to your young one... telling her how totally super-awesome it will be to ride Soarin', only to find when you get there that Suzie isn't tall enough to ride. Tragic. No, I mean it... I speak from experience. Biggest. Meltdown. Ever.

So how do we avoid this? Check height requirements ahead of time, and then if your child is close (within two inches), don't set any expectations for riding the attraction in question. The only measurement accepted is the one taken at the ride itself. And although we were sure our daughter was tall enough when we measured at home, she did not measure up when we got to Soarin'. Did I mention the meltdown? I did? It's worth mentioning again. Big. Huge. Meltdown.

I'm sure it's not necessary for me to point out that these height restrictions are based on safety. I've heard stories of parents putting lifts in their kids' shoes or teaching them to sneak a tippy-toe in. Remember, this is their personal safety your dealing with. The measurements are based on where safety belts reach among other things. I don't believe it's worth the risk to sneak a kid who is not tall enough onto a ride.

Rumor Alert! I have heard that if a child is not tall enough to ride (but is very close), you can ask for a certificate from the cast member there that will entitle them to "instant Fast Pass rights" when they return on their next trip and ARE tall enough. I've not been able to confirm this though. Anyone know if this is truth or mere urban legend? - UPDATE! Ryan over at Main Street Gazette has not only been able to confirm this as truth, but now has pictures to prove it! Check it out!

Here is a handy guide to check the height requirement of attractions before you go, just to get an idea of what will and won't work for your child. I should add that the guide was assembled by Beth from North Carolina (TeachLuvsDisney on Scrapping the Magic) and touched up by yours truly. And by "touched up," I mean "snarking added." Future posts will detail these rides more completely in regards to appeal and fright factors, but this gives you a fine starting point.

Animal Kingdom
  • Dinosaur: Height minimum is 40 inches (102 cm). (This ride is too intense for some 30-somethings I know. The effects are realistic and alarming. Grown men have been known to need an underwear change. I'm just sayin'....)
  • Expedition Everest: Must be at least 44 inches (112 cm) tall to ride. (You might want to pre-warn your children that they will meet a yeti and travel backwards for part of the journey. Unless you want your child to detest you for the next 24 hours, of course. In which case, feel free to remain silent.)
  • Kali River Rapids: Must be at least 38 inches (97 cm) tall to ride. (You will get wet. Icy cold water will pour down all over you. My preschoolers did not understand that until it happened.)
  • Primeval Whirl: Must Be at least 48 inches (122cm) tall.
  • Maelstrom: (Norway) Minimum age 3 to ride. (Isn't that weird?)
  • Mission: SPACE: Must be at least 44 inches (112 cm) tall to ride. (Folks, this one is intense. Save it for the older kids. It's easy enough to walk right past it. Oh, the stories I can tell of the after-effects of this ride...)
  • Soarin': Must be at least 40 inches (102 cm) tall to ride.
  • Test Track: Must be at least 40 inches (102 cm) tall to ride. (This ride may surprise you and your preschooler. My daughter freaked out under the heat lamps. Be prepared for anything.)
Magic Kingdom
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: Must be at least 40 inches (102 cm) tall to ride. (Great first "real" roller coaster)
  • Goofy's Barnstormer: 35 inch (89 cm) height requirement (Great test to see how well your child will like thrill rides.)
  • Space Mountain: Must be at least 44 inches (112 cm) tall to ride.
  • Splash Mountain: Must be at least 40 inches (102 cm) tall to ride. (This drop is really scary for younger kids. They can see it before they ride, so chat with them about it before hand. I don't recommend tricking them into it.)
  • Stitch's Great Escape: Must be at least 40 inches (102 cm) tall to ride. (This is completely inappropriate for young children. Their imaginations will totally buy this concept and the nightmares will be terrible. Adults and even older kids find it a joke, but small kids will not be laughing.)
  • Tomorrowland Speedway: Minimum 32 inches (81cm) to ride. Must be at least 54 inches (137 cm) to drive solo, but if an adult is in the car, that requirement is lower.
Disney's Hollywood Studios
  • Rock N Roller Coaster: High Speed (3 inverts) Coaster; Must be 48" tall (122 cm).
  • Star Tours: Must be at least 40 inches (102 cm) tall to ride. (Talk your youngster through this one before boarding. It's immersive, and they will be tricked completely by the motion simulator.)
  • Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: Must be at least 40 inches (102 cm) tall to ride. (Another one to talk them through first. It's not just the drop... there are "ghosts" on this ride. Don't let that be a surprise!)
Blizzard Beach
It goes without saying, since Blizzard Beach is a water park, be sure you are comfortable with your child's swimming skills before going.
  • Chair Lift: Must be at least 32 (81 cm) inches tall to ride.
  • Downhill Double Dipper (mat slide): Must be at least 48" (122 cm) tall to ride.
  • Slush Gusher - speed slide: Must be at least 48" (122 cm) tall to ride.
  • Summit Plummet - speed slide: Must be at least 48" (122 cm) tall to ride.
  • Tike's Peak (children's area): Must be UNDER 48" (122 cm) tall to visit.
Typhoon Lagoon
Another water park. Again, be sure your child is comfortable in water.
  • Crush 'n' Gusher: Must be at least 48" tall (122 cm) to ride
  • Bay Slide: Must be UNDER 60" (152 cm)
  • Humunga Kowabunga (speed slide): Must be at least 48" (122 cm) tall to ride
  • Ketchakiddee Creek (children's area): Must be UNDER 48" tall (122 cm) to experience; especially for children ages 2-5 and their parents.
  • Shark Reef (saltwater reef environment): Guests under age 10 must be accompanied by an adult.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Learning To Eat: The Basics Of Disney Dining

Disney takes the art of complicating your dining experience to a level you really cannot imagine if you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants traveler. But to be fair, they also manage to cause even the most prepared planner a certain amount of stress. The key to Disney Dining as an experience is to sort of close your eyes and leap. The good news is... the food at Disney is generally good, with a few notable exceptions. The bad news is... it can be rather expensive and you may be a little frustrated with their pseudo-reservation system.

In this post, I don't wish to really inundate you with the ins and outs of making reservations and how to find deals while dining at Disney. Instead, this post is meant to provide you with some ideas of what types of meals to seek out for your family, depending on their ages and needs. In future posts, we'll look at Advanced Dining Reservations and individual dining experiences and break it down even further.

There are three types of experiences as far as food goes. The simplest way I know to see it is to break it down as "snacks," "counter service," and "table service."

Snacks - Various single-item foods you can get at stands and kiosks around the park, as well as resort gift shops and snack bars. Examples of snacks offered include popcorn, turkey legs, ice cream bars, and various pieces of fruit. These are designed to be eaten "on the go" and stands like this rarely provide seating for you.

Counter Service - These restaurants are similar to fast food restaurants. You walk up to a cashier or, in some cases, a computer screen; place your order; and pay. Then you step up to another counter to collect your food on a tray and carry it off to a table to eat. In some of my favorite counter service restaurants, there is a fixin's bar along the way to add all sorts of tasty items to your burger or chicken sandwich.

Table Service - A real table with real waitstaff and a real bill at the end. Some are casual, some are comedic, some are more formal, and some are a combination. Some have buffets, some have menus, and some even have characters come out to wave and pose in pictures with you and your loved ones.

TIP: Touring Plans (@TouringPlans) recently Tweeted a great tip I've found very useful. Based on your eating habits and those of your child, you can probably split an adult counter service meal with your child. This will save you some money and should still be satisfying. Especially if you are also partaking in several of the snacks around The World as well during the day!

You will always find kids' selections at the Counter Service and Table Service establishments, and snacks are, by nature, very kid-friendly. Items like chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, and the trusty PB&J are often part of the menu, and if you are in a Table Service restaurant, they all CAN be if you just ask. Kids' meals come with drink and two "sides" which include items like grapes, apple slices, fries, carrot sticks, etc. You can double up, so if your kid is a future wine-drinker like mine and cannot possibly get enough grapes on his plate, you can ask for two sides of grapes rather than seeking out any sort of healthy, interesting variety.

So as you begin to plot your meals out and compare your hopes and desires to your budget and your length of stay, pay close attention to what your kids will be able to handle. When we went to Disney on our honeymoon, we ate nothing but sit down meals for four days. This was fine until about day four, when we thought we might actually have to roll back to our room at the Boardwalk from the restaurant in Mexico. We were so terribly miserable that we swore off eating for the rest of our stay at Disney. (And we stuck to it since we boarded the Disney Magic cruise ship the next day... which technically is no longer Disney!)

However, kids might not do as many Table Service restaurants as the adults in your party may want to. I wouldn't plan on more than one a day at the MOST. And remember, character meals count as Table Service. These meals are longer, require some patience on the part of your children, and keep you out of the parks where they quite possibly would rather be. That said, the downtime can be quite welcome and you do know your children's capabilities.

Here's a quick rundown of MY favorite Table Service restaurants in each park for kid-friendliness. This does not mean they have the best food, but they are fun for kids and therefore will be more fun for you.

Magic Kingdom - Crystal Palace (character meal with Tigger and Pooh, buffet)

Epcot - Chefs de France (casual French cafe setting where a little extra noise is hardly noticed)

Hollywood Studios - 50s Prime Time Cafe (great atmosphere and your kids might get the chance to laugh at you)

Animal Kingdom - Tusker House (character breakfast with the classic characters featuring Donald Duck. Buffet.)

So those are my favorites for Table Service with kids. What are yours and why?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Vacation Saving Jars

Welcome to our first Crafting Some Magic post! This month we have a super easy and super fun project that you can do with your kids... Vacation Savings Jars!

Savings Jars are a great way to encourage kids to save their pennies for a rainy day, not that getting them to save for Disney trips should be very hard! These jars are very simple to make and with so many supply choices out there the design possibilities are endless!

- Clean glass or plastic jar - I like to use Balls Smooth Mason jars because they are, well smooth all the way around and the mason jar style allows for the top to be open so there is no cutting for a way to deposit money.

- Strong adhesive - Permanent glue dots work really well on the jars

- Assortment of paper, stickers, ribbon or rub-ons - I recommend avoiding any stickers that are 3-D, puffy, or too large as they are hard to work with on a curved surface.

Have fun decorating! Use as much or as little decoration as you'd like and let your kids run the show! Consider having a jar for each person in the family so you can be a good role model.

After you finish your creation, show us your work on our Facebook page or on Scrapping the Magic!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Spot the Shot: Pooh and Friends

The first Friday of every month we will be bringing you a Spot the Shot photo. It's the same thing as a Silly Shot, except YOU tell us where it is!

Where in Walt Disney World can you find this fun little place where you can sit on a log with Pooh and the gang? Leave your answer as a comment!

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

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Great Stroller Debate

One of the most widely discussed topics about taking kids to Disney is deciding what to put them in. (The second most popular might be which diaper bag to use, which I will tackle in a future post.) It is my humble opinion that, unless you have a true superstar kid who regularly walks several miles a day, you will need some sort of stroller or carrier for kids 0-2(ish) and a stroller for kids 2(ish) to 5--perhaps up to ages 6 or 7. You may be able to go without one for a morning or an evening, but we find that it's good to have them with you for any trip longer than one day. Of course, you may wish you had a stroller for yourself... but you don't get one. Sorry.

So for the youngest set, stroller or carrier? Which is better?

In my opinion, this depends entirely on who is carrying the child and how large the child actually is. For those of you in good shape (runners, athletes, body builders, etc.), a carrier can be fabulous. You don't have to deal with parking a stroller and avoiding taking out innocent bystanders who cut you off without any consideration to the fact that you are desperately trying to be a polite driver. Nor do you have to be the recipient of dirty looks from those same innocent bystanders as you remove their feet from the ankles with the wheels of your bulldozer stroller. (Oh, and yes... there is a "stroller etiquette" post in our future.)

If you choose a carrier, here are a few tips:
  • Choose a back carrier, not a front pack. A hip carrier is also fine, and one that can do a switcheroo is even better. One that I have seen a lot at the parks is the ERGO Baby Carrier. It falls into the "switcheroo" category, and seems to be the most comfortable carrier on the market for both you and baby. I put forth this assertion based on reviews and personal interviews with people using them. I should disclose that I have not worn one myself.

  • Be sure more than one person in your party is willing to wear the baby for any length of time. I hearken back to a statement made here not so long ago... Don't sacrifice your tomorrow for today. Trade off so everyone's back gets a little baby time.

  • Don't forget you will still need a bag of some sort, and without the stroller, you will be carrying it. So even when you aren't toting a baby, you will very likely be toting baby's stuff. Diapers, bottles or sippy cups, wipes, extra clothes, snacks... it adds up. All stuff you didn't need before you had kids.
I encourage comments on these carrier tips, as I have only used one myself for short, around-town excursions. Both of us were way too out of shape to use one at Disney. That said, we chose to go the stroller route. We debated and shopped and observed and reached the following determination:

If you have enough adults in your party to allow it, bring one stroller per child.
So... two kids? With two parents? Two strollers.

Here's how we reached that decision:

There are plenty of lightweight, easy-ish strollers to pack on the market. You only need one stroller to have a basket of some kind, so get a Combi stroller like this one (or a more expensive brand if you can swing it) for one kid, and cheap umbrella strollers for the others. The Combi can be found for $99 and it folds twice, so it's easier to pack. Our umbrella stroller was free with purchase of a booster seat at Babies R Us. Check the store flyers... they frequently give them away. Both strollers fold easily and both weigh less than 12 pounds. The Combi has a small basket and a couple of pockets. If you have a cup holder on one... all the better. Mine don't, however, and we didn't miss them much. Water bottles go almost anywhere.

Many try to get one stroller thinking the kids will share. I've seen this fail far more often than I've seen it work. Most kids will not take turns in the stroller. In fact, they will most likely get a bit violent about NOT sharing. Just guessing, of course. You know your kids. But Murphy's Law will dictate that they will both be tired at the same time. You want to have space for all your individual children if possible, even if they aren't in the stroller the whole time. (Maybe they'll let you get in the stroller and push for a while... probably not).

Rental strollers are also available, both in the parks and from outside vendors. The ones in the park are expensive and a little awkward. They also look like all the other rental strollers, making them easy to lose. I've heard several people say they would rather rent the strollers because they are sturdier (trust me... they tip just as easily as any other stroller... maybe even more so) and because they don't want to be bothered with them on the plane/in the car/etc. The car argument may be more valid, as they do take up precious cargo space driving to and from Florida, but once you are there... no problems. AND if they fold easily, they aren't a bother on planes either. At my airport, we get to skip ahead in the security line when we have the stroller because the machines are upstairs and we have to take the elevator rather than the escalator. It's practically a perk! Then you gate-check them (the strollers, not the kids)... ba-da-bing... ba-da-boom... done!

I am not familiar with outside vendors for stroller rental at Disney so I'm not really comfortable talking about it here. Again, I welcome comments from those who have used these services and can offer advice.

I find that double strollers (two seats or even one seat with one "stand/sit" platform) are too heavy to push around the park all day. Especially when they contain two 30+ lb. children. We tried our double stroller at the zoo when my son was 7 months and my daughter was 3 1/2 years. By the end of the day, my back was killing me and my hands had blisters. Granted, our zoo has more hills than WDW, but still... We also have friends with the same kind of stroller we have and they took it to Disney when we all traveled together. We found no advantages to having the double stroller there. Having two was just as easy or difficult, and the larger the stroller, the harder it is to transport in a folded position. Our double stroller was taller than me when folded, and I qualify for runway modeling (height-wise anyway).

If you don't have a stroller or carrier, your child will tire quicker, and although you don't need to go from dawn til dusk with a wee one, you also don't want to barely get to the park before you are turning around to head back to the room because little Joey can't possibly take another step on his own. Keep the kid comfortable or else it won't seem like the Happiest Place on Earth to you for long.

So there's what I've found works in the parks. Now it's your turn. Leave us your comments and advice on strollers and carriers in the parks!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lowering Your Ears At The Magic Kingdom

Main Street, U.S.A. boasts many storefronts and little touches that make it look like a small town in early 20th century America. And many details are easy to miss. When you enter the park and pass under the train station, stick to the left a bit. Just to the left of them Emporium, you'll see a little door tucked away a bit with the unmistakable candy stripe barber pole outside. But this is no mock-up or false front... it's a real barbershop complete with talented folk to cut your hair (or even all your hairs!)

Although they will cut the hair of any park patron, young or old... one of the most special things they do is a child's first haircut. Taking advantage of this requires some foresight and planning on your part, but it is well worth it. The cut is less than $20 with tip, and it includes stickers, the haircut, a lock of your child's hair saved for you, a certificate, and coolest of all... a pair of classic Mickey Ears with "First Haircut" stitched on the back.

Before and After. This young man was 15 months old.

Both of our children had the opportunity to do this. The cast members there are fabulous and patient with young children. They are careful and meticulous, yet they don't keep you there forever. Generally, it takes about twenty minutes per head and there are two chairs. So if you end up in the line that stretches out the door, you can count customers ahead of you as approximately ten minutes each. A few more tips:
  • Try to go first thing in the morning. Go straight to the shop and wait for them to open the doors.

  • If you are late arriving and there is a line, go ahead and wait in it. We made the mistake of wandering off and coming back to see if the line got shorter... it never really did. You may have different luck, but we've done this three times now (our two kids, plus a friend's kid). Only once did we luck upon no line at all.

  • Don't put your sleepy or irritable child in the chair. Although these guys are good, try to give them something other than a mass of grumpiness to work with. And yes, this is from personal experience.

  • BRING A CAMERA and roll film! You won't want to forget this.

Before and After. She was 18 months old.

If you are new parent and are like me... clueless about when your infant will end up needing that first cut, well... who knows? You might have a little Suri Cruise who needs a trim about two hours after birth, or you may have a little Lex Luthor who doesn't even grow any hair until he's well past eighteen months old. Best guesses are about the only way to go on this. One year seems to be the trend among my friends' babies, give or take a month or six. I chose to err on the side of caution with my first child and set the trip for just after she turned eighteen months. We used a lot of barrettes for about six months!

If you have an older child (or you sit in the chair yourself), they will conclude the cut with a dash of pixie dust. Unfortunately, they can't do this for a first cut because it's a bit of a choking hazard. If you ask nicely, they might pixie you instead!

Do you have experiences with the Main Street Barber Shop to share? Please leave us your experience in the comments!