Friday, August 29, 2014

Trip Recap: First Family Disney Trip {With a Kindergartener and a Toddler}

By: Melissa

Our 2013 Disney trip was our first as a family of four. The kids had never been before, and Chris and I were excited to get to share the magic of Disney with them.

We chose the 2nd week of September – for a few reasons. First, it is a “value” season, so resort rates are among the lowest of the year. Second, we knew there was a good chance we would be able to get a free dining plan (we did!). And third, we knew the crowd would be low, which was important for us since we would have 2 ½ and 6 year-olds who wouldn’t do great standing in long lines. Who am I kidding? I don’t want to stand in long lines!

The cons of going in September were that it was hot. And I do mean hot. And humid. But since we spent most of the afternoon heat taking naps, it wasn’t bad. Except that Chris joked that my hair grew throughout the week. (Ok, so my hair and humidity don’t play nicely. Maybe we even joked that I looked a bit like a wookie, especially on our Animal Kingdom day.) September is also smack dab in the middle of hurricane season, but so is June and July, the busiest times of the year. You always take the chance of tropical weather that time of the year, but honestly, about half the year is hurricane season in Florida.

Our trip was six nights, with five days in the parks. We stayed in a preferred room at Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort. We requested a Toy Story room, and our request was fulfilled. At ASMo, all the rooms are the same. But the preferred rooms are in buildings located closer to the food court/guest services/gift shop and bus stop. We weren’t as worried about our location, but we wanted to be in a Toy Story themed building. The difference for the whole trip was about $100, so it was worth it for us.

2013 Trip recap Resort

We arrived on Sunday afternoon, about 2:00 p.m. We asked if our room was ready, and it was, so we were able to check in a little early. That was a great tip I got from the DIS Boards – just ask! After getting settled in our room, we ate dinner at T-REX at Downtown Disney and spent the evening there.

Day 1: Monday was our first park day. We also had Chef Mickey’s reservations for breakfast. We drove over to the Contemporary Resort because we weren’t yet familiar with Disney bus routes, and didn’t want to take a chance. We had a great time at Chef Mickey’s, and rode the monorail over to Magic Kingdom when we were finished there. We started in Tomorrowland and rode Buzz Lightyear (and met Buzz right afterward), rode the Astro Orbiter, saw the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor show, and rode the Tomorrowland Speedway. We had lunch at Cosmic Ray’s, then went over to Dumbo, The Barnstormer, and met Minnie and Daisy. Then, we hopped the train to the front of the park and went back to our resort for nap time. Because crowds were relatively low, we rode just about everything twice!

2013 Trip recap Day 1

After nap time, we ate dinner at our resort food court, then caught the bus back to MK. We spent the evening introducing Caedmon to “big” rides - Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. Honor met princesses, and we all rode Small World, the Carousel, and Teacups. Several of these, we rode multiple times in a row. In fact, the CMs at the Teacups just had us stay on if we wanted to ride again, as there was no line at all. After we’d had our fill of rides, it was time to check in for the Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party (my review is here). It was a late night and a very full day, but loads of fun!

Day 2: Day 2 was another Magic Kingdom day. We arrived early and had a front row…standing spot for the rope drop ceremony. The kids loved seeing the characters arriving on the train. We went straight to Enchanted Tales with Belle while Chris went to get FP for a couple of rides. At Enchanted Tales with Belle, Caedmon got to play the Beast and dance with Belle. He wouldn’t admit it at the time, but he loved it. Next up was meeting Ariel and riding the Little Mermaid ride. Then, it was off to Peter Pan, and we waited around a few minutes afterward for Peter and Wendy to arrive. Then, on to our appointment at The Pirates’ League for Caedmon to become Jake. That was a fun experience! We snacked, rode Aladdin, and toured the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House. Then, it was Pirates of the Caribbean and lunch at Pecos Bill’s. Next up, we met Woody and Jessie, then caught the afternoon parade as we bought the kids’ first set of mouse ears on our way out of the park. We skipped naps on this day, and once we got back to the resort about 3:30, we were all done. We rested for a while, then Chris and the kids played in the pool while I did a load of laundry, followed by late dinner and decently early bed times for everyone.

2013 Trip Recap Day 2

Day 3: Hollywood Studios day! I was so excited to go to this park! We love movies, so I couldn’t wait to soak up all the movie-ness of this park. For some reason, I cannot get the layout of this park in my head, and we spent way too much time trying to figure out where things were throughout the day. Next time, I’m going to study the map better!

We arrived early enough to be the second in line for rope drop. Compared to Magic Kingdom, everyone else’s “rope drop” is boring. They just…let you in. We headed straight for Toy Story Midway Mania, then off to Star Tours for the first of four times to ride. This is one I could do without. I love roller coasters, but for some reason, this ride made me sort of “car sick.” It was weird. Then, it was the Disney Junior LIVE show. It was lots of fun with interactive features – bubbles, snow, and gold dubloons (tissue paper) fell from the ceiling at different times. The kids loved it! Next, we visited Lightning & Mater, and had lunch at Pizza Planet, home of the infamous Cappuccino Cupcake. Then, we met Phineas & Ferb (and I got a photo with Ducky Momo). Indiana Jones was next, and that was really cool. The kids thoroughly enjoyed it, even though Honor declared it to be too loud. We saw Mike & Sulley, grabbed a snack, and finally found a Green Army Man. This was my favorite character photo. I have a special place in my heart for those guys. Then, inside for a little while to cool off and visit Frozone and Mr. Incredible, and we watched the MuppetVision 3D show while killing time before our 4:30 dinner reservation at the Sci-Fi Dine-In. it was a lot of fun and the food was good, but it’s awkward to eat as a family when it’s literally like sitting in a car – two in the front and two in the back. Following dinner, we headed back to the resort. After the heat and spending all day in the park with no naps, we were all ready for an early night.

2013 Trip recap Day 3

Day 4: The last time we were at Disney, Animal Kingdom was still being built, so this was completely new for us. We were waiting at the gate at park opening, and headed straight to Kilimanjaro Safaris. It was fun, and the kids loved getting to see the animals so close to our vehicle. The guys rode Dinosaur while Honor and I rode the “Dumbo Dinosaurs” (TriceraTop Spin) several times. The guys then rode Kali River Rapids four times, while Honor and I roamed the park and met lots of characters. We met back up to greet Dug and Russell, then rode Expedition Everest. We had lunch at Flame Tree BBQ (very good!), then headed back to the resort. While the Chris and the kids rested, I went over to Downtown Disney to do a little shopping. Then, it was dinner and bed time. We were all tired from the heat. Everyone had told me that AK is the most humid, and they weren’t kidding.

2013 Trip Recap Day 4

Day 5: We decided to skip Epcot this trip, and originally thought we’d spend two days at Hollywood Studios. But since the kids weren’t that into shows, we decided to spend our last day at MK. So back we were, in time for rope drop again. Once in the park, we headed straight for Space Mountain. Caedmon was unsure earlier in the week, but he was ready this time! While he and Chris rode that, Honor got some one-on-one time with Stitch. That was one of the highlights of her trip. We hit the Astro Orbiter again, and then split up. The guys went to ride Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain, while Honor and I went to have a Dole Whip and meet Tinkerbell. We spent the rest of the morning on things the kids wanted to do again from earlier in the week. After lunch at Pinocchio’s, we found the Step Family heading out for their (short!) greet time outside the castle. That was one of the most fun character interactions all week! After a few more rides and a little shopping, we went back to the resort. You can’t ever be “done,” but it was time to go. We packed up what we could that night in preparation for leaving early the next morning. Then, it was to bed for an early start home.

2013 Trip Recap Day 5

It was such a great week for us. All the late nights reading websites and message boards and all the planning that Chris had almost decided I was crazy over were well worth it. I don’t think that I would’ve done anything differently for our family’s first trip. Sure, we left a lot of things “undone,” but all the more reason to go back, right?

At Real Mom's Disney, it is our mission to help your family have as much fun as we do. We want to help you find the resources you need so you don't have to stay up late at night and go crazy over finding just the right information you need to make your trip awesome.

We love hearing from you! If you have any questions or topics you'd like us to cover, please leave a comment, send an email, tweet, or comment on a Facebook post. We'd love to help!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Know Before You Go - Paperwork to Bring With You!

By: Jenna

For more great info, be sure to follow us on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook!

When you're taking a trip as involved as a Disney trip, it's great to be ahead of the eight ball. One of the ways I like to be prepared for anything is by taking a travel folder with me. I purchased an inexpensive three compartment folder at Wal-Mart and kept everything that had a confirmation number in it, along with a few extras, in it. One section was for travel, the other for food and the last had extras like parade information in it.

Here's my list for what to keep in your Disney folder!

One thing I don't keep in my folder are park maps, and that is because I prefer the pretty, large ones that I can get right in the parks over printing something out at home.

I also made a schedule for every day of our trip, and it included a basic game plan for each day (what park we were going to, where we were eating, what rides we were going on etc). Those were also kept in the folder!

I hope you find this helpful!

This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, August 25, 2014

When should I go to Disney?

by: Lindsey

One of the very first things you decide when planning your Disney trip is when to go. There are several things that affect my family’s decisions. You have to look at several factors such as crowd calendars, seasonal rates, weather, school schedules, etc.

On our previous trips, seasonal rates and when a Disney offer would be released was our main deciding factor on when to go. We tried to plan our trips when we knew Disney would be offering discounts. The first time we went, we went when we knew we’d get a great room discount. Our second trip we went when we knew (or hoped) that the free dining would be offered. That was a huge savings for us.

Free Dining is typically the end of August through December with a couple of black-out days or a black-out week or two. Typically being the keyword in that sentence. You can always view current Disney offers here.

Disney also has a Value season. This could also affect your decision on when you should go. They have multiple seasons per year, Value, Regular, Summer, Fall, Peak, and Holiday. As you can imagine the prices change with each season. Going during a Value season can definitely save you and your family money. Here is a link to a list of resorts where you can view the seasons for each.

Our next trip will have an additional factor weighing in: school calendars. My daughter, Anniston, starts kindergarten this year. We’ll have to take into consideration her school calendar and whether or not we think she’ll be able to miss school. Our next trip is this December (shhh, don’t tell her; it’s a surprise!) and we took that into consideration when planning our dates.

If we work around school vacations, then we also need to consider weather. Other than available discounts, and now school calendars, weather is a big issue for me. While there are many people that the only time they can take a Disney vacation is summertime, which is one time of the year I hope to avoid completely. Which pretty much limits school holidays to Christmas or spring break. While I’d LOVE to go at Christmastime, I’m just not sure I’m willing to fight the crowds.

I’ve read in several places that the absolute busiest time the year to go is the week of Christmas through New Year’s. I’ve always heard early November was great and early December was also good. October was fantastic while we were there. It was warm enough to swim and the parks were not crowded at all. But since we’ll be taking into account school calendars, I’m not sure this will be the optimal time for us to go.

Crowd calendars are also important. I mentioned above that Christmas is busy. So is summer. And it’s hot. Crowds and heat do not go well with this girl. They aren’t my overall deciding factor but it is something that I rely on when I’m planning. Jenna has written a post all about crowd calendars and how to use them.

And last but not least, budget. Budget is a BIG deciding factor for us. If we can’t afford it, we don’t go that year. We take a realistic look at our budget and see when will be the best for us, what types of things we can afford, etc. For us, this typically helps us decide which year we are going to go. Let’s face it, sometimes saving up for a Disney trip can take a while.

So if you are like me and like step by step instructions, here is what we do:

1. Look at the budget. We determine how much we can spend on a vacation and how long it will take us to save that amount of money.

2. Once we know how much to spend, we’ll take a look at the school calendars. We’ll find a week, taking into consideration weather, which coincides with a Disney offer that we can use to help us save money.

3. We’ll start saving and working towards that vacation!

That is what we do. If staying in the Value season is important to you, you might work that in there during step number two. It’s all about what works for your family. These are just some factors to help you to begin to decide when the best time to go is.

When is your family’s favorite time to go?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Disney Experience: Introducing Kids to Roller Coasters

By: Melissa

“But what about the roller coasters?”

Let’s face it. As much as we want to experience Disney through the eyes and hearts of our kids, some of us are itching to ride the rides, too. My husband and I really enjoy roller coasters, so the idea of going to Disney and not riding any of the “big” rides wasn’t even an option. We just had to figure out how to make it work. And better yet, how to help our son enjoy the rides we both love so much.

Introducing Kids to Roller Coasters

Honestly, at Disney, there are a lot of rides that kids can go on, even if they don’t like “big” rides. It’s Disney, for crying out loud - it was made for families. But we knew we wanted to ride things like Space Mountain, too. And our son, having just turned six, was going to be tall enough for most of the coasters. We knew about Rider Switch, and planned to employ it when necessary, but we really wanted Caedmon to enjoy the rides too. We had to figure out how to introduce him to them in a way that would work for him. We’ve heard lots of stories from friends about introducing their kids to rides, both good and not so good. We desperately wanted to land on the good side.

(Honor was just two at the time, and as a little daredevil, we weren’t concerned about her on rides at all. Turns out that she loved everything we rode, and her favorite was the Prince Charming Regal Carrousel. Or, “the horsey ride,” as she will forever call it.)

You see, our son is a processor. A thinker. A detail-oriented guy. He wants to know exactly what to expect, good or bad. He can handle just about anything as long as it’s not a surprise to him. He’s kind of our own little Captain Cautious. But as long as he knows he’s safe, he will let loose and have fun. So, here’s what we did:

1. We talked about going on rides. We made sure that he understood that the rides were safe, even though they might be dark and/or loud. There are rules we have to follow (using the safety bars, staying seated, keeping our hands and feet in, etc.) that help make sure we’re all safe. And that all the “things” in the rides (pirates, space aliens, etc.) are pretend.

2. We promised we wouldn’t make him ride anything he didn’t want to ride. (And stuck to it.) But we explained that because Mom & Dad really enjoy big rides, one of us might go ride something without him, and that would be ok, too.

3. We watched YouTube videos and talked about specific rides. There are great YouTube channels that have point-of-view ride videos. Just go to YouTube and search “Disney World rides,” and you’ll have plenty to choose from. A few months before our trip, we started talking with Caedmon about the rides we wanted to try, and showed him videos (we’d pre-screened them to make sure they were kid-safe). Everything he watched, he said he wanted to try.

4. We started small. Our first park day was at Magic Kingdom. We hit Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin first, and both the kids loved it. We rode it twice, in fact. We continued to build up from there, riding things we could ride together, and they could (partially) control, like Astro Orbiter, the Tomorrowland Speedway, and Dumbo. After an awesome morning of fun rides, Caedmon’s first taste of a “real” roller coaster was The Barnstormer. He loved it. We got a Rider Switch pass, and he actually rode it twice – once with Chris, and once with me.

5. We gradually worked up. After Caedmon rode The Barnstormer twice and begged to ride it again, we knew he could handle Splash Mountain. He rode it a couple of times, and we moved on up to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We sprinkled the more calm rides in between, giving him a break from the bigger rides now and then. Rider Switch was awesome – Honor was too young to ride the big rides, so I could wait with her while the guys rode, then I could ride with Caedmon while Chris waited with Honor.

6. We gave him a second chance. The day we were at Animal Kingdom, we asked Caedmon if he wanted to ride Expedition Everest. He wasn’t sure about a ride that went backward, and said no. Later in the morning (after riding Kali River Rapids four times), he changed his mind. So we went. He wasn’t quite sure he liked it the first time, so he rode it again. That was enough for him, but he did it. And wants to ride it again next time. If we hadn’t given him the chance to change his mind, he wouldn’t have ridden it at all. That wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but I’m glad we were able to let him ride when he decided he wanted to.

Ultimately, you have to decide what’s best for your family and what you think your kids can handle. If you’re still trying to plan your rides or are wondering about height requirements, the Disney World website lists each ride, along with a brief description and minimum height. There are also numerous charts/lists floating around the internet. Here’s one that I like. (Basically anything not on that list doesn’t have a height restriction.)

Have your kids been introduced to “big” rides? How did you do it?

As always, please feel free to comment, email, tweet, or Facebook us with any questions! We love hearing from you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What To Keep In Your Disney Backpack

By: Jenna

Ever wondered what you should keep in your Disney backpack? Here's what I kept in mine!

Trip folder: I kept a three pocket folder in our bag that had printed copies of the following:
~ All ADR confirmation numbers
~ Hotel, car, stroller reservations showing payment and confirmation numbers
~ Flight info
~ Maps of each park
~ Parade routes
~ List of rides you want to make sure to go on
~ Stroller tags that I made to attach to our stroller
~ Copies of my payment for our tickets
~ This would also be a great place to keep character meet & greet times/locations

Keys/Magic bands
Water bottles
Plastic bags to store phones/money during water rides
Hair ties
Wet ones/baby wipes
Camera with an extra battery

Lightweight jackets

Keep in mind that each park inspects your backpack every time you enter!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Restaurant Review: Crystal Palace

by: Lindsey

When we were planning our 2011 trip, Disney restaurants were foreign to us. On a whim, we decided to get the dining plan and try it out, but we knew nothing about the restaurants. Nick had never been at all and this was my first trip without my parents. We felt a little blind going in.

Our daughter was not even two so our main focus when choosing was looking at kid-friendly restaurants. That’s how we landed on Crystal Palace. It was in Magic Kingdom and it had characters. It fit the criteria.

We made reservations for the dinner buffet. This was actually our first character meal we’d ever been to. When we arrived, we had to wait for a little bit, but it wasn’t bad since Anniston had fallen asleep. She woke up right when it was time to eat.

This meal features, Pooh, Tiger, Piglet, and Eeyore. The characters start on one side of the room and worth their way to the other. Each character stops by the table, takes pictures, and signs autographs. Keep in mind that masked characters (stuff?) do not talk, so don’t be disappointed when they just wave and use their body language.

I will say this. The food is not spectacular. The restaurant flows well. The characters are consistent and visit every table and don’t rush. There was a great selection of food. Just the taste of the food, to us, wasn’t anything to rave about. Here in the south we have a chain restaurant (I assume it’s still open) called Luby’s Café. It reminds me of that.

Would I recommend it to anyone? Only if your kids love the Winnie the Pooh characters. Otherwise, I’d skip and go to a place like Hollywood & Vine (reviews coming soon!).

Have you eaten here? If so, leave your experience in the comments below!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Getting Started: How to Set a Budget

By Melissa
Setting a Budget
So, you want to go to Disney.

That phrase just caused you to get a little bit giddy or start to freak out. Or both. Because this isn’t you:

It’s not me, either.

Take a deep breath. You can do this!

I think the first thing you need to do is ask yourself a few questions. It will determine what kind of trip you want to take, which will help you determine your budget, and just as importantly, where you want to spend your money. The great thing about Disney is that you can absolutely go all out and spend lots of money, but you can also have an awesome time while spending way less.

Do you plan to go back to Disney in a few years, or is this a “once in a lifetime” type of trip? How old are your kids? Do you like rides, or would you prefer to meet every single character? Or both? Do you prefer to be at the parks from open to close, or would you like a more relaxed approach, with more time at your resort? Do your kids (or you!) need afternoon naps? Would you like to have lots of character meals, or does having a few special meals and eating on the go the rest of the time sound more like your style? Do you plan to buy the kids a Disney mug and a set of mouse ears, or do you want to buy anything and everything their little hearts desire? How long can you stay, and how many days do you want to spend in the parks? What time of year do you want to go? (Check out Jenna’s post on crowd calendars if you need help with that.) And, are you a die-hard road tripper, or would you prefer to fly?

We landed somewhere in the middle, and a lot of you will too.

Start playing around on the Disney World website. Check out the resorts, and decide the best fit for your family. Our first family trip, we stayed in a Value Resort. Yes, the room was smaller and we didn’t have a ton of “extras,” but it was great for us since the kids were small and we spent lots of time at the parks. Our next trip, our plan is to stay at a Moderate Resort. The kids will be bigger and we’ll need a little more elbow room. We also plan to spend a little more time at the resort. Know your needs, and it will go a long way toward helping you set your budget and keeping your sanity.

Go ahead and throw a resort, ticket, and dining package in your cart on the Disney World website. Just do it. You can fiddle with it, changing dates, resorts, ticket options, and dining options, and see how that changes the trip price. (This doesn’t mean that you should purchase a dining plan, it just gives you an idea of what food will cost.) You might find that adjusting your trip dates by a few days will make a big price difference, but adding an extra day at the parks doesn’t cost as much as you thought. Play around until you find what you think will work for you.

Start an Excel spreadsheet (or download ours) or pull out your trusty pencil and paper. Be realistic about how much you think you’ll spend, keeping in mind your trip choices and your family’s style. Break it down in a way that makes sense for you, and include any and all expenses related to your trip. For instance, we kennel our dog when we travel, so that gets worked into the trip budget.

Our first trip, we had a budget of $3,200. That included two adults, a child, and one child under three (Disney doesn’t charge admission for kids under three). We stayed 6 nights, and had 5 days in the parks. We drove (12 hours each way – here’s a great fuel cost calculator), and were able to get a free Quick Service Dining Plan. We paid out of pocket for two Table Service meals in the parks, and ate at Downtown Disney one night. We had a small budget for souvenirs, and did a Jake and the Neverland Pirates package at The Pirates’ League for our son. We also purchased Memory Maker, which I highly recommend. That budget amount also included supplies we’d need for the parks (ponchos, etc.), breakfast, snacks, and bottled water to keep in our room, t-shirts for the family, autograph books and markers, and some surprises I purchased pre-trip to give to the kids during the drive/on the trip (more on that later). Oh, and the kennel for the dog. When we got home, I had enough left in the budget to order photo books from Shutterfly for each of the kids. We had a very full, very fun trip on a decently small budget.

Once you’ve decided how much you think you’ll spend, start saving. You read that right. Save. You can do it. Create a separate line item in your savings account, open a new account, or just start sticking cash in an envelope and hide it under your mattress. Find a way that works for you, and do it.
It took us over two years to save for our first trip. We used tax returns, extra income, and gifts to make it happen. Yes, it took a long time. Yes, sometimes it seemed like we’d never get to go. But I can tell you that when we got back home from our trip and everything was already paid for (and we had a little left over!), it was an awesome feeling. We firmly believe that no vacation is worth going into debt for. We’re planning on doing the same for our next trip, but including credit card rewards, and if possible, airline miles.

Real Mom’s Disney is committed to helping you plan the best Disney trip possible. Be sure to check out our other budgeting posts for ideas from Jenna and Lindsey, download our budget spreadsheet, and if you still have questions, feel free to email, Facebook, or tweet us!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Free Disney Countdown PRINTABLES!

 By: Jenna

If you have little kids like we do, explaining to them when you're headed to Disney can be tough for them to understand. At some point, I had heard "are we leaving TODAY?!?!" too many times to count and I decided to do something about it.

My solution was to create a countdown sheet. Every night, I let my kids mark a day off on the countdown. I actually hung ours up on our fridge right before the 30 day mark so that they could see that we weren't even to the point of marking days off yet.

This was such an effective tool for us! They could visually see when we were going to leave and know that, no, today is not the day! They also loved taking turns crossing the days off the calendar!

I created a sheet for both Disney World and Disneyland for your convenience. I actually made these before we started this blog so the watermark is from my other site. ;-)

For the free Disney World printable, click here to download.

 For the free Disneyland printable, click here to download.

I hope you'll use these and let me know what you and your kids think of them! Have fun counting down to Disney!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Doing Disney with Magic Bands

By: Lindsey

Have you gotten the chance to use the new Disney Magic bands? We did. While we had heard mixed reviews from others, we LOVED them.

The new Magic Bands replace the Key to the World cards. They are an adjustable bracelet that you wear around your wrist. They are your resort key, tickets to the parks, your FastPass+, connects your Memory Maker (also known as PhotoPass) to your account, and also your credit card to charge things to your room while you are on property. Those staying at a Disney resort and those that are annual passholders get to use Magic Bands.

When we went last October, they were still in their trial phase. Not everyone staying on property had one; it was only for certain resorts. Luckily, our resort was chosen and we got to try them out. We were able to choose our color and personalize them through the Disney website using My Disney Experience. They arrived a few weeks before we left!

If you are flying into Orlando and using the Magical Express to transport you to the resort, make sure to pack them in your carry on. You’ll need them in order to board. We packed ours and as soon as we got to the Magical Express area, we put them on and got our first use out of them!

After we checked into our resort, we walked to our room and got our second use out of them: scanning them to unlock the door. It was so nice to not have to dig around to find a key. Just a quick scan of the band on your wrist and, boom, we were in. Same thing with getting into the parks. After your bag is checked, walk to the kiosk, scan your band, and that’s it. Enjoy your day!

That's my mom and dad with their Magic Bands. Aren't they cute? Notice what's in their hands? It's one of our favorite snacks!

We were also able to test out the FastPass+ system (FP+), which I’ll write a post about soon. When it was time for our FP+, we walked into the FP+ queue, scanned our band, and got on the ride. Simple, simple, simple.

When you are using My Disney Experience, or when you check-in at your resort, you can connect a credit card to your Magic Band. We took advantage of this service. We were on the Disney Dining Plan, but since that doesn’t include gratuity, we needed to be able to charge our tips. We were also able to use it when we wanted to purchase souvenirs. You hold your band to the device, it is scanned, you sign your receipt, and it is added to your itemized bill.

At the 50's Prime Time Diner

At the end of your stay, you’ll receive and itemized bill that lists all of the charges. Look that over, make sure everything is correct, and then either charge it to your card (which we do to receive points) or pay your balance.

While we did use the Memory Maker service while we were there, at that time they were not connected to the Magic Bands. Now, you are able to connect those together as well. Instead of scanning your card, they scan your band. The photos are then automatically connected to your account.

We had a great experience with Magic Bands. Not one single hitch. We look forward to our next trip and getting to use the bands again.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Adding Magic: Photo Books of Your Disney Trip

By: Melissa

One of my favorite keepsakes from our first trip to Disney is the photo book I made for the kids after we returned. We had 250+ photos from our Memory Maker (then called PhotoPass+), and I took over 1,000 myself!
Photo Books Title

To make our photo books, I chose to use Shutterfly. I have always been pleased with their products and speed. I was able to take advantage of a sale, and got my photo books for 50% off with free shipping! It was a much better price than ordering from the PhotoPass website.

Photo Books 2

The hardest part was choosing which pictures to use! I created a folder and copied the photos I wanted for the book into it. I could add photos from MemoryMaker, my camera, my phone, and Chris’s phone, and sort them by date so I could order my book just like our trip. Then, I uploaded them all to Shutterfly. With their customizable templates, I was able to get the exact look I wanted. It took me a few pages to figure out all the options, but once I did, the rest was a breeze. I had to be sure to keep an eye on how many pages I was adding, because price is based on how many pages are added.

Photo Books 1

I decided to print three books – one for each of the kids, and one as a true keepsake for the family. Caedmon looks through his occasionally, but Honor “reads” hers almost daily. She refers to it as her “Disney Junior book,” and can tell you all about every photo, where we were, and what we were doing. I thought she might not remember the trip since she was just 2 ½, but she will randomly remember details we don’t normally discuss while we’re looking at the book!

Photo Books 3

This was definitely a great investment for us, and a super fun one, too!

What’s your favorite keepsake from your Disney trips?

**This post contains an affiliate link. However, this post was my idea, and all opinions are my own.**

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Coming Soon: Disney Springs

by: Jenna

I am a big fan of Downtown Disney. If you haven't been yet, it's a cool area in the center of the hustle and bustle. There are tons of fun shops including the new Marketplace Co-Op, as well as lots of great restaurants. You can even use your Disney dining credits at some of the restaurants there. 

In addition to all of that, there are some other really cool things to do there as well, such as the DisneyQuest indoor interactive theme park, the AMC theater, Splitsville Luxury Lanes and Cirque du Soleil. 

So, here is some exciting news! Disney is revamping Downtown Disney into Disney Springs. Disney Springs will consist of four unique neighborhoods and over 150 restaurants, entertainment areas and stores!

Disney Parks Blog has already released some great concept art!
The neighborhoods will consist of Town Center, the Landing, the Marketplace and the West Side.
There are currently around 75 total shops, restaurants and entertainment areas. This will double once Disney Springs is completed.
Construction began in March and is expected to finish up in 2016.

Town Center will offer a promenade where guests can stroll about as well as dining and shopping.

The Landing will feature gorgeous waterfront views and dining options.

The Marketplace is set to be a family friendly area, an expanded World of Disney store and an over-the-water pedestrian causeway.

The West Side will provide lively entertainment as well as elevated spaces where guests can take advantage of the shade and a place to relax and watch the activity below.

All concept art/images ©Disney.

What neighborhood are you most looking forward to visiting? Will you miss the old Downtown Disney?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What Haiti taught me...about Disney

By: Lindsey

I just got back from my third mission trip to Haiti. This year we had a team of 44; 9 adults, 5 college students, and 30 high school students. Each year has taught me something different. One thing that has amazed me each trip, especially the first one, is that I go there each year expecting to make a difference and to make a change, but the one that ends up changing is me. I learn so much from the people of Haiti. It’s a beautiful country full of beautiful people.

This trip was a totally different experience than my previous two. We got to spend more time with people in the community. I got to really observe the people and their culture. You want to know what I learned? Material things mean very little to them. What they value most is people and their relationships with those people.

We probably do Disney a little differently than most people. For us, a Disney trip isn’t about riding every ride or meeting every character. Sure, we have rides that we want to make sure we ride and experiences we want to make sure we have. Our main focus of our trip is spending time together. Very, very rarely do we ever split up just to fit more in.

We enjoy eating together whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Sitting down to eat together is an important part of our day at home and it’s an important part of our day at Disney. It’s nice to just sit, be still, and enjoy each other’s company, of course while eating yummy food.

Planning a Disney trip also gives us time together. We sit down together as a family (or for our upcoming trip, just Nick and I, since it will be a surprise for Anniston) and we plan together. We look at restaurants and decide where we want to eat. We talk about what our favorite parts of Disney are, what we don’t want to miss, what days are best to do what, and etc. We have fun planning together just as much as we have fun experiencing together.

While some might think that traveling to a third world country would make me feel guilty for spending time and money on a Disney trip. That it would make me want to bunker down, quit spending money, and be grateful for what I have. Yes, it does do those things. But, mainly, it just shows me what’s most important in my life.

That is my relationships and time spent with my family. When we are at Disney, or other vacations, we spend time together. We enjoy each other. Yes, the rides are fun, but they are fun because we get to see each other’s faces light up. Anniston’s favorite ride is the teacups. Why does she enjoy that ride so much? Because it’s fun. Why is it fun? Because we sit across from each other, we work together to spin the teacup, we make silly faces at each other, and we laugh. Those moments are building precious memories for my family and I cherish them.

So, what did Haiti teach my about Disney? It showed me that building strong relationships with my people is what I value, what I want to spend my time and money on. We as a family are shifting our thinking. We are going to spend more time together on a daily basis without any type of screens as a distraction.

We are also going to start making our vacation time intentional. Whether that’s a weekend trip somewhere, staying at home and doing a staycation, taking a Disney vacation or a vacation somewhere else, our time together is what is going to be most important. Loving each other, building memories, and just enjoying being together.

A trip to Disney is more than just a trip. At least to us it is. It’s about quality family time and building those memories that will last a lifetime.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Disney Planning: Adding the Park Hopper Option

By: Lindsey

One of the things that I love about this blog is that it is written by three different moms. While we all share a love for Disney, we all have different viewpoints, different aged (and genders!) children and different opinions. That means that you won’t get a one-sided view on anything Disney related! That’s especially true for the question of “Should we add the park hopper option to our tickets?”

My answer to this question, for our family, is “YES!” Honestly, we don’t do Disney without this option. BUT, the beauty of it, not everyone feels this same way. This post will tell you why we choose the Park Hopper option and how it benefits our family. First, let’s talk about what exactly the Park Hopper option is.

Base Disney park tickets is where you start. You select the number of days you want. The more days you select, the bigger the discount. The amount of money that you are spending to visit the parks for six days actually isn't that much more than choosing to visit the parks for five days. With the base tickets, you can visit one park per day per ticket. Each of your family members can go to a different park each day but they can only visit that park that day. So “Jane” can go to Hollywood Studios while “Mark” goes to Magic Kingdom, but you can’t both meet back at Magic Kingdom later in the day.

Park Hopper adds a little more freedom, at a little more cost. Let’s say you want to go to Magic Kingdom in the morning, but you have dinner reservations at Epcot that night. Plus you kind of wanted to see the Fantasmic show at Hollywood Studios that evening. You could do it! Well, theoretically. Whether or not the logistics of that many park switches would work out is all up to you, your planning and your mode of transportation, but the option would be there should you so choose to try.

Since the Park Hopper option was introduced, I’ve never been to Disney without it. When I began to plan my first trip as an adult, Anniston a couple of months away from being two. Naps were essential for her at that age. We also knew that the kid does not nap in a stroller (or car) ever. She likes a nice, comfy bed. Knowing that, we decided to come back to the room each day for nap time.

There are several rides at Disney that Nick knew for sure he wanted to ride. And they weren't rides that I was interested in riding with him. So, we decided once again to include the Park Hopper option to our tickets. On that trip, it gave Nick the flexibility to visit a different park to ride the rides he wanted while Anniston and I went back to the room to nap. He wasn't locked in to the same park we had been to that morning.

It came in handy again when we went to make our dining reservations. Being newbies at planning our own trip, we waited to book until we got an offer in the mail. Which means we booked our trip about two months out from when we left. Now we know the different options about applying discounts after you've booked or reserved your trip. There will be another post about Disney discounts later.

When we went to make our dining reservations, there were very few options left. Luckily, I was able to get the restaurants we wanted, but I was not able to get them on the days I had originally selected. Which was okay since we had added the Park Hopper option. It meant that if we were scheduled to visit Animal Kingdom that day, but our dinner reservation was at Magic Kingdom, no big deal. We just adjusted our evening activity to be in the park that our dinner was in. Now if we were making a lunch reservation, we tried to keep it in the same park that we were in that morning just for convenience sake. Especially if you are using the Disney transportation system to go from one place to another. Again, another topic for another day.

At Epcot in the morning

And at Magic Kingdom - Be Our Guest for dinner

When we booked our second trip. the Park Hopper had worked out so well the first time, we decided to just do it again. Then when we booked our dining reservation, this time 180 days out, I again didn't have to worry about days and times. I was just able to say, “I want this restaurant sometime during this date range.” And we got into every restaurant we wanted. It was nice to have that little bit of extra flexibility.

In the end, it all comes down to if the little bit extra (at the time of this post $60 per person for a six-day ticket) money is worth the extra flexibility. Take a look at your budget and see if you can consider it.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Disney Dining: How the Quick Service Dining Plan (QSDP) Worked for Us

By: Melissa

Once I figured out how the Quick Service Dining Plan works, I liked it. But we had to get there and actually use it before I really “got” it. The cashiers were patient and coached me through it – more than once!

QSDP, How it worked

Our resort had a “food court” style set-up, so we could get any number of entrée items at the different stations, then go to one central location to get desserts, sides, and drinks (or snack items). Then, we could all check out at once. The cashier would total the items and determine how many credits we needed to use. Then, we’d just scan our KTTW card (Magic Bands were still being rolled out), and that was it. The receipt would show the items we ordered and how many credits we used, and were left on our account. I do wish it showed what the items we’d ordered would total if we were not utilizing the dining plan. My little OCD heart would’ve loved to have a true cost comparison for the QSDP vs. out of pocket cost.

At a meal at the resort, you have the option of using your refillable mug or getting a bottled drink from the cooler. We chose to get bottled drinks with our meals and save them for later (when we might not be near the food court), because we could easily fill our mugs at the drink stations during meals.
Honor was under 3 during our trip, so she did not receive credits on our dining plan. We could’ve purchased food for her, but we didn’t need to. Between all of our meals, we had plenty to share with her. (More on how we made that work another time.)

We are not high-maintenance breakfast people, so I took cereal bars, granola bars, Pop Tarts, etc. to have for breakfast in our room each day. We also had three TS meals planned, so we knew we would have some flexibility with our QS credits and would be able to utilize a few for breakfast.

Here’s how we utilized our credits: Our stay was Sunday – Saturday. We received 18 snack credits and 36 QS meal credits.

Sunday: We checked in during the afternoon, and paid out of pocket to eat at T-REX at Downtown Disney.
4 Snack credits for dessert at Goofy’s Candy Co.

Monday: Breakfast at Chef Mickey’s (out of pocket) (Jenna’s review here)
3 QS Meal credits for lunch at Cosmic Ray’s
3 QS Meal credits for dinner at our resort
Tomorrowland Terrace Fireworks Dessert Party (See my review here)

Tuesday: Breakfast in our room (cereal bars, Pop Tarts, etc.)
3 QS Meal credits for lunch at Pecos Bill’s
3 Snack credits for ice cream bars
3 QS Meal credits for dinner at our resort food court

Wednesday: Breakfast in our room (cereal bars, Pop Tarts, etc.)
3 QS Meal credits for lunch at Pizza Planet Arcade
3 Snack credits for frozen lemonade/smoothies
TS Dinner at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater (out of pocket)

Thursday: Breakfast in our room (cereal bars, Pop Tarts, etc.); 1 QS Meal credit for pancakes & bacon, 1 Snack credit for chocolate croissant to share
4 QS Meal credits for lunch at Flame Tree Barbecue
2 Snack credits at our resort food court for cookie/Rice Krispy treat.
3 QS Meal credits for dinner at Earl of Sandwich

Friday: Breakfast in our room (cereal bars, Pop Tarts, etc.); 1 QS Meal credit for breakfast platter
3 Snack credits for smoothies and Dole Whip
4 QS Meal credits for lunch at Pinocchio’s
3 QS Meal credits for dinner at our resort food court

Saturday: 1 QS Meal credit for quick to-go breakfast items (we were driving home)

We used:

15 Snack credits for snacks during the week, and the remaining 3 to grab quick snacks for the trip home.

32 QS Meal credits for meals. We did leave with 4 meal credits remaining, but we honestly didn’t need the food. If we had paid for the QSDP, I might’ve been more adamant about planning extra breakfasts or something. But since it was free, we didn’t feel like it was a big deal if we didn’t use every single credit.

Something I will definitely do before our next trip is to plan our QS meals a little better. I had no idea how that would work for us since we’d never been and the kids were little. I didn’t know exactly when/where we’d need to eat. I had a list of QS restaurants I wanted to try, and knew what area we would be in, but that was as close as I got.

Also before our next trip, I will utilize this calculator at With completely customizable features, it will allow me to determine if a dining plan would be a better value than paying out of pocket for us. And should we decide against a dining plan, I can get a good cost estimate so there won’t be any surprises.

For more on the Quick Service Dining Plan, see more thoughts on it here. For more about the Disney Dining Plan (DDP), check out Lindsey’s recent posts here and here.

Have you used the QSDP? How did it work for you?
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