Disney Trip Planning: The Search for a Countdown Calendar

Last time we took a big family trip was January/February 2011. My daughter and I plunked down in late December to make up a quick countdown calendar out of construction paper and yarn, which we strung up along her window in her room. It was very simple: she (just shy of 5 at the time) drew circles on the paper by tracing around a glass, and then I cut them out. Then she wrote numbers on them, 1-30, and punched a hole at the top of each, and I wrote a message or activity on the back and strung them onto a piece of yarn.
Every morning, she’d pull down a number – counting down to 1 – and read what was on the back of it. They were simple things like “do a Goofy laugh!” or “in 14 days we’ll be at Epcot!” or things.  I also got a fun surprise out of it – knowing that she would hardly sleep from excitement the night before we left, I made one extra circle. On the day marked “2”, the instruction on the back was “Take down the last number” and that one said “WE’RE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD!”

So yes – simple, and fun. This trip, I have two kids who are both older than four, and I’m also dying to be creative (I’ll admit it, I live in jealousy of some of the people who have crafty skills). So, because I lack design and idea skills of my own, I’m turning to Pinterest to show me what to do… as so many of us do in our darkest hours. 🙂

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2013 Trip Report: Day 3, part 2: Off to Epcot!

I love how she looks like she's about to fall backwards into the fountain

I love how she looks like she’s about to fall backwards into the fountain

All right!  So Epcot! I’d wanted to get there before the park opened, but the tent slowed us down some, and so did my reminding myself not to rush D. Nobody has fun if we’re nailed to a schedule.  Meanwhile, I was pretty excited for the Food & Wine Festival, but I knew not to assume D would want to eat much from it.

D and the Food & Wine signage

D and the Food & Wine signage

I OWN THIS PLACE! (I can dream.)

I OWN THIS PLACE! (I can dream.)

D’s favourite ride from before was Test Track; I had FastPass+ selections for Test Track, Soarin’, and the Maelstrom for the evening, so we decided to do whatever we could in the morning and just have fun. 🙂  I also had a (somewhat rough) itinerary in hand, with our FP+ times on them as well as a schedule for the earlier part of the day.  I’ll be honest: most of the times on the schedule did get shuffled around. And I honestly think that’s how it should be. 🙂  FLEXIBILITY!

But our first priority for the first ride of the day was still: New Test Track!

A quick side note to mention that one of my favourite things about this trip was running, hand in hand, with D to get to our destination.  Except for the times we skipped. That was awesome too. 😀

Test Track’s new ride is very, very streamlined.  It was weird to be in there and try to remember what the queue used to look like!  It’s a completely different experience now.  The interactivity is neat: getting to design your own car is a fun way to pass the time while you’re waiting to board.  Low light levels made it very hard to get a good set of pics on this ride’s queue, but just remember, I was trying FOR YOU. 😛

Uggggh, I really can't believe I'm letting you guys see this awful pic.

Uggggh, I really can’t believe I’m letting you guys see this awful pic.

It's the lighting making the pics look like this. REALLY.

It’s the lighting making the pics look like this. REALLY.

TOUCHSCREEN TECHNOLOGY!  Is there a child alive who doesn't love this?

TOUCHSCREEN TECHNOLOGY! Is there a child alive who doesn’t love this?

Here is the car that we designed. (Mostly D but I love touchscreen technology too.)

Here is the car that we designed. (Mostly D but I love touchscreen technology too.)

Once we’d designed our cars and we were allowed into the next queue area, it wasn’t a long wait to board our ride simulator whatsit, whatever they called it.  Simulator was in there somewhere (unless it wasn’t).  There was a little boy who was very, VERY sad that the car he designed was not the car he got to ride in.  He was crying and we heard him shout “I HATE this ride!” as that family departed… poor baby!  I wonder how much disappointment that ride can create. XD

The ride was certainly fun, and D *loved* it, so I was glad I already had FastPasses to ride it again in the evening; however, speaking for myself, I have to be honest that I preferred the old version.  As clunky and unattractive as it was in parts, you knew what was going on in each test.  I found this version hard to follow, especially because we didn’t properly load our car’s data on the first time we went through, so it took me a while to figure out that they were ranking the specs of the cars.

Tell me this is not one ugly car. And I will call you a liar. :)

Tell me this is not one ugly car. And I will call you a liar. 🙂

What they do is, as you design your car the computers rate that design on certain areas of performance.  Then when you go through the ride, as you’re having fun being bumped around on the track, they run your car’s data with the cars from the other riders, and rank them in each area.  Then at the end they rank each car overall.

Personally, I miss the heat, cold, and corrosive acid rooms.  But, that’s me. 🙂  I mean hey! Tron is fun too. ;P  No, but seriously, it’s still a fun ride and other than missing what’s not there anymore, I don’t think there’s much to complain about.  Plus that fast loop at the end is still there. XD

The cheap way of getting your ride photo!

The cheap way of getting your ride photo!

Having finished the necessary step 1 for the day, we moved onto my second one on the itinerary: Ellen’s Energy Adventure. I was a little bit on the fence about it, since it’s VERY long, but I had a couple of reasons for choosing it: one, I was honestly trying to do the science-type stuff while we were there so that D would pick up some information.  (In fact, I made her write a tiny little report about this ride later.) Two, D loves dinosaurs but I knew “Dinosaur” would be beyond her – too much scary things jumping out at you in that ride.  And three, I hadn’t done it since 2005 and it really does deserve SOME attention.

It's a pavilion of ENERGY!

It’s a pavilion of ENERGY!

On the walk, I explained to D that the lady starring in it was the voice of Dory in Finding Nemo (D: “Oh. Wow.”), and also that the animatronic dinosaurs were only in one part and that they kind of snort at you but not much else.  We got to the theatre just about five minutes before the next pre-show started, and we’d just gone inside when D asked more about the dinosaurs.  Somehow she got it into her head that it was a movie only, and that the animatronics would come *into* the room and like, sit near her and mess with her or something. I’m not clear on this. 😀

She nearly kiboshed the whole thing and in fact got herself into a slight panic so we had to leave the building, but outside I explained to her that it’s not scary, it’s no worse than the Great Movie Ride, and I’d be there with her the whole time.  She finally relented and we’re both glad she did!  The movie is fun, it honestly is – though largely because Ellen DeGeneres is such a delight. 🙂  And Bill Nye the Science Guy was just cute in the 90s. 😉 She did indeed write the report on the attraction.  I’ll look for it later and see if I can put up a picture.

For what it’s worth, as a frequent Disney-goer, I don’t recommend going on Energy Adventure every trip.  If you’ve never done it, DO IT.  If you have, but you’re on a long trip and will be spending at least 2-3 days at Epcot, do it.  If you’ve done it and you’re only going to be at Epcot for one day, skip it.  It doesn’t change.  It may or may not be there next time you come, but at least you’ve done it in the past.  I say this with love, but it’s just so LONG, and there are other things at Epcot to discover if you’re limited on time.  But DO make an effort to see it if you haven’t before; D and I sacrificed nearly an hour of our single Epcot day for it and neither of us regret it. 🙂

A Few Disney News Bites

Hello everyone!  There are a number of little Junior News stories about Disney from the past week or two, so I’m going to toss them at you and ask: what are you most excited for?

1: The Jingle Cruise!

Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom will both be giving a holiday makeover to the classic Adventureland attraction, The Jungle Cruise. The holiday theming will begin “in early November”, so presumably sometime in the next week or two?  From Disney’s description:

In this new seasonal storyline of the attraction, the Skippers have grown homesick for the holidays, so they’ve added holiday cheer to the Jungle Cruise queue and boathouse with decorations that have been mailed to them from home (plus a few they’ve created themselves). The Skippers have also added a slew of new jokes to their tours that are the perfect way to get guests in the holiday spirit. Additionally, Jungle Cruise boats have been renamed with the holidays in mind, and if you listen carefully, you may hear a holiday-themed radio broadcast playing in the background.

My thoughts: I love the idea of a Jingle Cruise – I’m not sure why, I just do – but I’ve always been struck by how the Skippers on the Jungle Cruise are such smartasses. ;D  Somehow it seems weird to me that they’d be so sentimental as to get “homesick” and decorate for the holidays!  But that’s just me.  I’d still love to see this!  What do you think, are you for or against this makeover?

2: New Lounge at Hollywood Studios’s Brown Derby restaurant!

One of the nicer restaurants at Hollywood Studios, the Hollywood Brown Derby is now opening an outdoor patio lounge area for guests.  The area is shaded with umbrellas and menu offerings include beverages (alcohol included), small bites – that’s “fine dining” for appetizers – and some really luscious desserts:

Small bites are on the menu and include artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, duck confit tacos, steamed Prince Edward Island mussels, Derby Cocktail with jumbo lump blue crab, black tiger shrimp, avocado and a horseradish-tomato juice, and two Derby Sliders – a Wagyu beef slider with cognac mustard aïoli, smoked gouda cheese, bacon and avocado; and a house-made chorizo slider with chipotle mayo, manchego cheese, pickles and crispy onions.

You can also just stop for dessert, with Chocolate Three Ways (praline milk chocolate cream, crunchy ganache and orange-chocolate mousse), a banana-white chocolate toffee tower on a cocoa-almond cookie and bananas Foster, or strawberry Champagne cheesecake.

Reservations are not accepted and the lounge won’t take the Disney Dining Plan – this is important to know.  The Brown Derby is on the DDP for *meals*, but not lounge.  However, if you have Tables In Wonderland, it applies!

My thoughts: I’m boring and I don’t go to lounges. I should! but I don’t.  I’m a park commando most of the time, because I need to fill up on Disney experiences while I’m there. Then I think of all the things I missed once I’m back home. 😉

3: Reimagined Disney Magic!

Image (c) The Walt Disney Co./Disney Cruise LInes

Image (c) The Walt Disney Co./Disney Cruise Line

The Disney Magic has been relaunched (cautiously!) with new sailings out of Miami, Florida.  The ship has not been just refurbished, but reimagined, with new spaces and activities and experiences all over the place.  Among the most exciting are the AquaDunk, a water ride that begins with a VERY sudden drop – the floor opens beneath you! – and the Avengers Experience, a kids’ section of the boat with activities and Marvel Comics characters such as a Captain America meet & greet!

My thoughts: They had me at “Cruise ship”. 🙂

So?  What are you most excited about?  Are there any that inspire a yawn and a pass?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Will Free Disney Dining be extended to Fall? –Yeppers.

A month or so ago I posted about whether or not the Free Dining at Disney World offer would be extended past September.  As of yesterday we know the answer is yes!

And there was much rejoicing. 😀

'Raaaaay!

‘Raaaaay!

However, it’s not that straightforward. The offer is not just “Come in the Fall and get Free Dining!” as it often is.  Some resorts are excluded, many dates are excluded… And with ticket price and package increases, in some cases, you will save more money by keep the reservation you have.  Plus, availability is limited.  All in all, it’s a bit of a headache!

Are you not sure how this is going to work out for your trip?  Is it a little overwhelming?  You are NOT alone. 😀

So let me try to break it down for you!

"I am the Wondrous Wizard of the Disney Dining Plan!"

“I am the Wondrous Wizard of the Disney Dining Plan!”

The basics are thus: book a trip at a Walt Disney World resort during the valid dates, and your package will include a free dining plan.  If you book at a participating Value resort, you get a free Quick Service plan (entitles each person on the reservation to 2 counter-service meals and one snack per night of the stay, plus a refillable mug); if you book at a Moderate, Deluxe, or Deluxe Villa you get a base Dining Plan (entitles each person to 1 counter service meal, 1 table service meal, and one snack per night, plus a refillable mug).

But you gotta know your details.

Everything tastes better when it's shaped like Mickey.

Everything tastes better when it’s shaped like Mickey.

First of all, there are blackout dates.  And there are a lot of them.  The offer is valid “for arrivals most nights Sep. 29 – Oct. 2, Oct. 18 – Nov. 2, Nov. 11-23 and Dec. 12-22, 2013.”  But wait!  What does “for arrivals” mean??  It means that if you arrived on October 2 and you spend a week there, you get the free dining because you arrived on a night included in the plan.  But if you arrive October 3 and stay two weeks, you are outta luck!  (Don’t worry, though. There is a room-only promo that covers a lot of the blackout dates!  You can buy your own dining plan with the money you save!)

That is a lot of holes, though.  That is a swiss-cheesy schedule.  But as long as you’re arriving on one of those nights, you get the free dining plan, right?

Well.

If you want to stay here you pay for your OWN food!

If you want to stay here you pay for your OWN food!

Point two: there are some resorts that aren’t included in the offer. From the fine print: “Excludes Disney’s All Star Movies Resort, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter, The Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, 3-Bedroom Villas and campsites.”  If you are travelling with a family of 5, for instance, you’ll have to stay either at All Star Music’s Family Suites or Port Orleans Riverside (they have trundlebeds in certain rooms), or stay at Art of Animation without a free dining plan. (Again, there is a room-only discount available for certain dates at AoA!  Not all, but some!  So you can still save 15% on the suites depending on when you go, and put the savings towards your meals.)  You could also get two adjoining rooms – and in my experience, there are times when this is a cheaper option than getting a family suite.

“Okay,” you say, “this is all fine.  I am already booked to arrive on October 19, I’m staying in the Caribbean Beach Resort, bring on my dining plan!”  Unfortunately, even this is not that simple.  See, here’s the thing: Disney is not just opening every room that is not yet booked to this plan.  They have allocated a specific number of available rooms for the free dining offer, and various resorts are already booked through their promo availability.  Yes, full, 36 hours after the promo dropped. (Actually, 12, if what I was hearing yesterday was right.  There were numerous places with no availability yesterday afternoon.)  You may need to switch resorts to get the dining plan.  You may need to go to a higher, or a lower, resort category.  And you may just plain not save any money by making the switch.

I’ve said before that the free dining plan offer is always the best offer you can get – and now I’m taking that back.  Sometimes, it’s not.  Sometimes, under certain circumstances, you will get a better value if you book under a promotion and pay for the DP, or even if you just stick with the rate you got.  Remember, the room/ticket package is non-discounted; you’re just not paying extra for the DP.  So if you booked months ago, before the ticket prices went up, rebooking now with the free DP will actually drive your total up – and depending on your length of stay, it could be close to the price you would pay if you paid for the DP.  It’s a matter of context.

Having said all that, do you still want to get free dining?  I’m sure you probably do!  Because even if it’s not saving you hundreds of dollars, that dining plan is convenient and it’s FREE.  Can you get it?  Well, try!  I hope the above clarified things for you as to what to expect!  Oh, and the last question: is there a minimum length of stay to get the dining plan?  Well, most of the marketing says you must book a non-discounted 6-night/7-day stay, and “ask about shorter stay lengths”.  I have heard that you can get the free DP offer for stays of 3 nights or more, with a minimum of 2-day tickets.

Seriously. Mickey-shaped = delicious.

Seriously. Mickey-shaped = delicious.

 

If all of this is still confusing and overwhelming, and that’s before you get on the phone and try to book this stuff, guess what?  You can get someone to do it for you!  Me! 😀  If you’ve already booked a WDW vacation within the last 30 days and you want to add this promo – not to mention get your dining reservations in while you still can – you can transfer your reservation to me and get a free gift card as thanks! Once that’s done, I can get on the phone for you and sit there on hold for hours (I’m not exaggerating) and take care of any changes you need to make.  If you want to book a new trip and get the free dining, I am beyond ready to help you with that.  We’ll get you set up and ready to go this weekend, or sooner!

Leave me a comment here, or email me at rebeccak@fairytalejourneys.com, or visit me at http://www.facebook.com/fairytalejourneysbyrebeccakelly/, OR *deep breath* get a quote from my website at http://fairytalejourneysbyrebecca.weebly.com.  Or there’s also Twitter, which you can get to from the module lower on my main page. 🙂  Anything!

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Limited Trolley Magic!

To kick off the first month of Spring – even though it actually doesn’t start officially until the end of March – Disney World has not just one but TWO Limited Time Magic events taking up …. pretty much all of March.  I’m not sure yet if this is going to mean that there won’t be other weekly events, or just that they will be added on top of the ones they’re announcing today.

 

In any case, the first – beginning today, March 1, and running through March 31 – is a kickoff for Disney’s new beauty products line, Beautifully Disney.

Mirror, mirror, something or other

Mirror, mirror, something or other… logo (c) Disney

I’m kind of on the fence about that logo, it’s very dramatic, but… aren’t we supposed to side AGAINST the Evil Queen?  What, it’s okay to emulate her if you’re into makeup because she’s really beautiful?  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great LOOK, but it kind of ignores how they’ve branded the whole Evil Stepmother Thing all these years.  I’m digressing, though.  The celebration of the makeup launch will include a special event tomorrow on either coast – it’s at Tren-D in Downtown Disney FL, and Vault28 in Downtown Disney California – where you can get a complimentary makeover.   I would want to look like Ariel, thank you!

Because she's gorgeous, is why.

Because she’s gorgeous, is why.

More enticing to me, beginning on Sunday March 3 Walt Disney World will be celebrating SPRING! with a Main Street Trolley show!

The citizens of Main Street, U.S.A. in Magic Kingdom park are bursting with excitement now that spring is in the air. Dressed to the nines in bright pastels and with a few new songs in their hearts, they arrive in town on a horse-drawn trolley adorned with colorful bouquets of flowers and ribbons. Put a little spring in your step and join in the celebration—another part of Limited Time Magic at Walt Disney World Resort.

Every time I’ve been on Main Street, the times when the performers come out and sing are always among my favourite moments.  I have to say because of that, I don’t consider this “Special” – it’s just an update to their show – but it’s nice, regardless, to know they still care. 🙂

 

Disneyland this week, in addition to being Beautifully Disney, is showcasing an Oz Exhibit in Downtown Disney:

Follow the yellow brick road to WonderGround Gallery in the Downtown Disney District for a limited-time event celebrating the release of the Walt Disney Studios fantastical adventure Oz The Great And Powerful. The gallery will showcase Oz-themed artwork—as well as costumes and props from the film, like Glinda’s gown and accessories.

I think it’s really interesting that the Oz promotions have been so thick over in CA, and much less so in FL.  It is because of the proximity to Hollywood?  You’d really expect that Hollywood Studios would be hyping that movie a bit more, but nope.  Too American, maybe?  WDW’s promotions seem to be trying for a wider, non-US-centric audience base.  Who knows?