Monday, June 30, 2014

Restaurant Review: Dinner at San Angel Inn at Epcot

By: Lindsey

We visited San Angel Inn at Epcot in May 2011. Anniston wasn't quite two. Our main focus with picking restaurants was looking at places that could have potential entertainment value if we needed it, along with good food.


San Angel Inn is located in the Mexico Pavilion in Epcot. It’s themed as an Aztec Temple. It has a courtyard that is set up like a cute, little village. A few steps below that, there is the dining area that is surrounded by perfect scenery. There is another Aztec Temple “in the distance” with an active volcano behind it. It had a very quiet, relaxing atmosphere.


We arrived right at our reservation time, 4:30 p.m. Did I mention that I was traveling through Disney with an almost two year old? We ate dinner early. When we arrived, we were told we would have  a short wait. It ended up only being about ten minutes. Thankfully, San Angel Inn has that great courtyard area. It’s complete with a little shopping area. During our short wait, we were were able to walk around and look at all the different vendors. Very cute!



We were called to our table. One thing we noticed is that there didn't seem to be that many children around and it’s definitely more adult themed than other Disney restaurants. The table was set. One of the downsides to this restaurant is that all of the tables are very close together. It makes for close contact with your neighbors. However, with the quiet atmosphere, we never felt like we were loud or that others around us were loud.

The food was very good. You can view a menu here. They had chips and two types of salsa on the table. I ordered the Mole Poblano. It was very good. My dessert was the Pastel de Queso con Cajeta (don’t ask me to say that out loud, please.). It was also pretty yummy. Sadly, I didn't write down what Nick ordered and I’ve looked at the menu again and again and I just can’t remember.


The entire meal took about an hour once were seated. The wait time for our food wasn’t that long and Anniston stayed entertained the entire time. She enjoyed looking around, especially watching the volcano. And guess what? They have a ride. And guess what else? We had no idea until we got back and I read about it. So we didn't get to ride it. Boo. Next time!

All in all, it was a very enjoyable experience. Is it my favorite restaurant? No. Is it on my must eat list? No. But if we had an opening in our schedule and they had an opening in theirs, we would eat there again. Please keep in mind that we ate there in 2011. Before making a reservation, I would also check out other review sites. Here are a couple of good ones:

Yelp
Trip Advisor

If you decide to go, or have been in the past, leave me a comment and let me know what you thought about it!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Planning: Disney Dollars

By: Melissa
Disney Dollars Photo2

You’ve decided on your souvenir budget and let the kids know how you’ll be spending it. So how do you actually go about tracking how much the kids are spending?

It’s not likely that you’ll want to carry much cash with you at Disney, especially if you stay on-site and have a Magic Band. For older kids (or you), keeping a running total in your head during the day and entering it into a spreadsheet (if you’re a nerd like me) or just writing it down when you get back to the resort might work just fine. You could even track it on a note in your phone. But if your kids are younger and/or you’d like a more concrete way for them to understand their expenses, there is another way.

When our six year-old saved $75 to spend during our Disney trip, I knew that I wouldn’t have a hard time tracking his expenses on my budget sheet, but he might struggle with understanding how much he had spent and had left. He’s accustomed to spending his allowance in a very tangible way – cash. I actually mulled over this little dilemma for a while. Part of me thought, it’s vacation! Just tell him how much he has left each day and be done with it. But after considering it for a while, I knew that he would do much better if we followed a plan that he was already accustomed to. Because who wants to teach completely new concepts or invite a shopping meltdown on vacation? Not me.

After searching trusty Pinterest, I came up with a plan. I decided to print out Disney Dollars and let our son “pay” for his purchases at the end of each day. I considered carrying the Disney Dollars with us in the parks and let him pay me at the time of purchase, but I didn’t want to carry one more thing. I explained how it would work (and then explained it again), and he was ready. When we made his first purchase, he said, “Mom! I won’t forget to give you my Dollars when we get back to the room.” It provided a tangible way for him to understand how much he’d spent and how much he had left.

This concept can also work if your kids are earning extra money for Disney or even if you have a gift card you’ll be using for souvenirs. Go ahead and pay them for those extra chores with Disney Dollars, just make sure you are ready to back it up with actual money. (My little entrepreneurial guy always earns more money than I thought he would!) If you’re going to be using a gift card (either at the time of purchase or to pay toward your account at check-out), you can give your kids Disney Dollars in the amount equal to the gift card.

For older kids and teens, especially if you’re going to be breaking up into groups, you can certainly authorize charges on their Magic Bands if you choose. But another option is to give them a Disney gift card in the amount they’re allowed to spend for the trip, and let them manage their own souvenir expenditures without the risk of overspending.

You can download our FREE Disney Dollars printable here. Print it on the color paper of your choice (you can even use different colors for each kid) and have fun!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Getting Started: Saving for Disney

Most of you have probably realized by now that there are three different authors contributing posts. We thought it would be fun to write a couple of joint posts every now and then. While we share a love of Disney, we all budget differently, plan a little differently and tour a little differently. So it’s no surprise that we all even save a little differently. Hopefully this post will give you a few different, maybe even creative, ways to save up for your Disney trip!



When you decide it’s time to go to WDW, what’s the first thing you do to begin saving?

Jenna: First, we look at when we want to go. That has a big impact on the way we save. For example, we planned our first trip in three months, so it was done very inexpensively. Our second trip, which is coming up in November 2014 was planned much further in advance. We make a spreadsheet (because we are total spreadsheet nerds) and list out what money we can put towards a trip. Next, we get a blank envelope and any cash we save goes into that. We also figure out other ways to save (like cutting out restaurant meals and putting that money into our envelope).

Melissa: Our first trip, we took two years+ to save. Not because it was ridiculously expensive, but because we didn’t have a lot of extra we could put toward it, and honestly, we didn’t know when we would be going. We were just saving. Once we decided it was time to get serious about picking a date, we looked at what we had set aside, and how much more we needed to make the trip happen. We chose a value season and dates we expected Free Dining to be offered in order to save on the trip where we could. We mostly used tax refunds, any extra income we had, and some gift money. For our next trip, we have estimated what it will cost and are using a variety of ways to save. I’ve done cost estimates for a “budget” trip, a “moderate” trip, and a “dream” trip. Because we aren’t ready to book yet, we can see how much we think we’re reasonably going to be able to save by the time we book. Basically, any way we can stash some cash for Disney, we’re doing it.

Lindsey: If you didn’t already know this about me, I’m a HUGE budgeter. Do we always stick to our budget exactly? No. But we always have it there as a guideline. When we decide it’s time to start saving for a Disney trip, we sit down, look at our budget and decide how much we can afford to spend. Then we look to see where we can start cutting back. There is usually somewhere that can save us a great amount of money, most of the time that is in our out to eat and grocery budget. The two areas I’m not the most diligent about staying within budget. Let’s say our grocery budget is $400 per month. I know that I can shave some of that cost off by buying in bulk, meal planning, etc. Whatever money we would save from that for the month, would go straight into the Disney vacation fund. Same thing with our budgeted “out to eat” money; we can cut back and stick those savings straight into the fund

Do you use any type of credit card rebates to save money?

Jenna: YES!!! Let me preface by saying that we do not believe in credit card debt. Anything we put on a card is paid off before it’s due, in full. We use it for purchases that are set (groceries, gas, etc)...things we’d do with our debit card normally. We have three credit cards and we only have two of the three because of Disney. First, our main credit card that we’ve had for years: The Citi Thank You Rewards card from MasterCard. This is the best card ever. We can use our points towards almost anything, and if they don’t have it in their rewards guide you can call a concierge and they will try to get it for you. Second, the BarClayArrival card also from MasterCard. We got this for our upcoming Disney trip because there was a 40,000 mile bonus that we could earn. Third, the Disney Visa. We only got this because we each got a $200 Disney gift card for signing up and spending $500. Those gift cards were immediately put onto our vacation package and we saved a quick $400 from our total.

Melissa: Yes. Like many others, we pay our credit card off every month, and use it for fixed expenses and online ordering. We also have the Citi ThankYou Rewards card, and we’ve used the points for all kinds of things in the past. We’re currently saving all of our points to use for our next Disney trip. They don’t offer Disney gift cards, so I order WalMart gift cards, use the WalMart gift cards for groceries, and then put the cash equivalent in our Disney savings. It’s kind of a roundabout way to make it happen, but you get the most for your points when you redeem for gift cards that are available on the site. We also just signed up for a Disney Visa, with the $200 gift card promo. We’ll probably keep it for the cardholder perks.

Another way to save with rewards is to purchase Disney gift cards at Target using your RED debit or credit card. You’ll save 5% by using your RED card, and you can use the gift cards toward your vacation balance, souvenirs, etc. 5% doesn’t sound like much, but every little bit can help. Target only carries Disney gift cards in $50 increments, so applying them to your vacation balance can be a hassle, but to save 5%, it could be totally worth it.

Lindsey: We currently have a Disney Visa card. For every dollar you spend, you earn Disney reward points. Those points convert to gift cards (or Disney Dollars as I sometimes refer to them). The last couple of times we’ve gone to Disney, we’ve used the gift cards that we’ve accumulated to use for extra expenses and souvenirs while we are there. Although, I’ve recently learned from Jenna that you can take those gift cards and use them to make a payment on your Disney balance if you booked your trip, paid your deposit, and are paying the balance! She’ll have a post on that soon, along with using other cards to saving money on your trip. I look forward to using this method on our next trip. Let me end this by saying, like the other girls, we do not believe in credit card debt; only use credit cards if you are able to pay off the balance each month. Remember: you don’t want to go into debt for a vacation.

What are some other ways to save in small increments?

Jenna: This might sound funny because I’m a food blogger on my other site, but we stop eating out. I actually blogged this over there recently, but I make a two week meal plan and for two weeks we don’t go out at all...no quick trips through Chick-fil-a, no Starbucks in the morning and certainly no Red Robin for dinner. We stay home for all meals and that savings goes into the envelope I mentioned. Bonus? I’m also saving on gas because I don’t live super close to anything!

Melissa: We created a “Disney Fun(d)” jar that sat on the kitchen counter. Loose change, a stray $1 here and there, and you’ve saved more than you thought. Before our first trip, we all contributed to it, and in just a few months, we saved quite a bit. We had more than enough for tolls, coin rollers, and a few other fun extras. The jar now resides in our closet, so pocket change and treasures from the washer/dryer can go right into it. We also travel (road trip!) quite a bit because our families don’t live closeby. We budget for each upcoming trip (yes, I’m a super budget nerd). Whatever’s left in our trip budget when we return goes right into Disney savings. It varies - sometimes there will be nothing left, and other times we’ll spend way less than we thought. It encourages us not to overspend on regular trips and even little amounts add up.

Lindsey: I’ve already mentioned using small savings in your everyday budget. Other ways to save are similar. I’m addicted to sites such as jane.com and groopdealz.com. It’s a sickness really. When we have something that we are saving for, Disney or other, I cancel my subscriptions to those emails. I may only be spending $10 or $15 here or there, but those amounts can add up. I also try to stay away from online stores that I know I can’t resist. I also stop visiting stores on my lunch hour. I work outside the home and it’s easy to run here or there on my lunch hour and spend money. So, I just don’t let myself go into stores. At the end of the month, any extra money in the ole’ checking account goes straight to the Disney trip fund. This makes me sound like a serial shopper, I’m not really. I swear.

How can your kids help you save money?

Jenna: They don’t necessarily help me save, but they have their own savings envelopes. When they get birthday/holiday/just because money from relatives it goes in there until there is something they want to spend it on. They have the option of taking a portion of that money to Disney and buying some small souvenirs for themselves.

Melissa: I mentioned our “Disney Fun(d)” jar above. Caedmon helped contribute to that last time. And in my “Budgeting for Souvenirs without Breaking the Bank” post, I explained how we help him save for souvenirs. Basically, we let the kids know up front what we’re willing to buy/do, and if they want anything else, they can purchase it on their own. This keeps our souvenir budget pretty small. Caedmon gets an allowance, and after he takes out his give and save amounts, he can divide his spend money however he likes. Before our first trip, he saved $75 between allowance and birthday/gift money. Honor was too young to save on her own for our last trip (Don’t worry - we still bought her some stuff!), so we will be introducing this idea for our next trip. She will be four and a half, so I’m not sure how well she’ll grasp it, but if Caedmon is saving for Disney, she’ll be happy to do the same.

Lindsey: Anniston receives an allowance. We are teaching her the principal of tithe, save and spend. If we are saving for a Disney trip, she has the option to contribute to the Disney fund or create her own special savings for souvenir purchases. In the past years, it hasn’t really sunk in with her. By the time our next trip rolls around, I think she’ll have grasped the concept.

Any final tips or tricks on saving money for a Disney vacation?

Jenna: I cleaned my house (and attic!) from top to bottom and sold everything we didn’t use, from strollers to old cell phones, baby clothes and even a grill. Everything got listed on craigslist, ebay or sold to local resale shops. It made a BIG dent in what we needed to save for our trip!

Also, don’t be afraid to book two different rooms at Disney while you figure out your budget. You can do this online - just pick out what you want and put a $200 deposit down. It’s fully refundable up to 45 days out from your trip. For our upcoming trip I booked both a value (All Star Sports) and deluxe resort (Animal Kingdom Lodge), which were over $2,000 different (we’re going during free dining so it’s a package that includes our room, tickets and meals). Once we realized that we would be able to save enough to stay in the deluxe resort, I called Disney and got my $200 deposit back, but I had the other hotel to fall back on just in case it didn’t work out.

And lastly, if you're not doing a Disney package that includes hotel, tickets and/or dining, look at buying your tickets elsewhere. Undercover Tourist is an authorized Disney ticket broker and their prices are really great!

Melissa: I don’t know that this is about saving extra money, because Jenna and Lindsey have hit on some great ways to do that. The thing I would say that helped us save the most was being budget conscious before and during our entire trip. We weren’t Scrooge by any means - we had a blast and spent the money we planned to spend. But we didn’t buy every cool thing we saw or upgrade every chance we got. We also bought most of our extra surprises and fun things for the kids before we left home. You’d be surprised what you can find in the Target $1 Spot! A package of $1 glow toys will satisfy your kids during the fireworks (and help you keep track of them) just as well as an overpriced light-up toy from the park. Making sure you’re spending your money wisely and on the most important things will help you save more than you think.

Lindsey: We haven’t done this in the past but I want to in order to save for our next trip. It never fails, each year I get the urge to go through every nook and cranny of our house. And while I absolutely hate garage sales, I’m willing to try to save money for Disney. So we’re going to hold a garage sale or sell a few things on Craigslist. This is also another way to get kids involved. Have them go through their toys. Help them price them to sell and show them how they can help contribute to the fund.

Another thing we might try next time is couponing. I’m kind of at a disadvantage here because we don’t have any chain grocery stores other than Target and Walmart. Our other grocery stores are locally owned and while they have coupons, it’s not like what I’ve read about on couponing blogs. I’m willing to try though and see how much we can save to go towards the vacation fund.

What ways do you save for a Disney vacation?

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

Check out our other Saving For Disney posts!
Buying Souvenirs without Breaking the Bank
Ways to Save on Disney Tickets 
Saving Money with Disney Gift Cards
Saving Money with Disney Gift Cards PART 2
Applying a Discount to your Disney Vacation
Setting a Budget for your Disney Trip
Know Before You Go - Paperwork to bring to Disney

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ways to Save on Disney Tickets

By: Jenna


Woohoo! You’re headed to Disney World! You’ve picked out your dates and now you’re ready to buy those all-important tickets.


So, should you buy them direct from Disney? Maybe. Maybe not. Let's look at the pros and cons.






If you’re planning on taking advantage of a Disney discount, such as the Free Dining Plan (going on now!), then you may need to buy your tickets as part of a package deal. For example, I’m planning a trip for my family in November and taking advantage of the free dining, but am required to buy at least 2 days worth of park tickets for each person staying in the room. Since I’m already buying 2 days worth of base tickets and ticket prices get significantly cheaper by the day, I may as well buy the other 3 days of tickets as part of my package.


However, if you’re not staying onsite or if you’re only buying a hotel stay through Disney, you can find Disney tickets cheaper elsewhere.


Here are some great resources:


AAA: For our first Disney trip, my family stayed off-site and I purchased my tickets through AAA. The ticket prices were cheaper than Disney (contact them for a quote) and I scored a free Diamond Lot parking pass. The Diamond lots are as close (if not closer) than the handicap lots at each park.


Undercover Tourist: Undercover Tourist is an authorized ticket broker that is well-known on the Disney circuit for having great deals as well as a great reputation. Keep in mind while shopping that Undercover Tourist includes sales tax into their prices while Disney does not. They also ship your tickets to you for free. Click here for more information.


Other: I highly recommend calling Disney to see if other offers are available. For example, sometimes they offer a discount if you’re purchasing 6 or more tickets. Also, they offer military, Florida resident and field trip/youth group discounts among others. It’s always worth making that phone call!


Keep in mind that as long as you buy your tickets through Disney OR an authorized broker, you can make your FastPass+ reservations 60 days in advance.


You can also save by not doing a bunch of add-on’s to your ticket. When we visit, I buy base tickets which are less expensive than park hoppers. That’s another post for another day though!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

News from Around the World for the Week of 06-23-2014

Real Mom's Disney is excited to present our first News from Around the World feature! This edition includes links to sales, specials, and dining news.




The Disney Store is running their Twice Upon A Year sale with items up to 50% off and free shipping on orders over $75 (code SHIPMAGIC).

Free Dining is still going on for select trip dates between August and December 2014! Click here for details. You have until August 8 to book!

The Disney Visa Premier Card is currently offering a $100 statement credit after your first purchase. You can click here to learn more about that.

Get an additional free day (per ticket) when you buy 6 or more 4 day or longer Disney World tickets through Disney's site. Info for that is here.

If you're looking for a resort only reservation, Disney is currently offering 30% off at select hotels. Details here.

Your options for getting your Starbucks fix at Disney are growing! Check out the new Starbucks Reserve location that recently opened at Downtown Disney.

And lastly, for a limited time you can make a FREE Disney decal and while supplies lasts, they will mail it to you! Find out how here.




Monday, June 23, 2014

Getting Started: How many days should I spend in the parks?


By: Lindsey

Let me start this off by saying this: this will be different for each person. It’s affected by what time of year you decide to travel, how many vacation days you can realistically take, what your budget is, the ages of your children and so many other factors. In general, we stay seven nights.

We've come to realize that for our family, six park days are the perfect amount. Magic Kingdom is our favorite park with a little one. There is so much to do there you definitely need more than one day. Our next favorite park, or my husband’s favorite park, is Hollywood Studios. I know a lot of people don’t like Epcot, but I actually really enjoy it. There are a few rides for us so the little one stays entertained, but there is also a more laid back, almost relaxing feel about this park. Animal Kingdom is our least favorite.

Based on our park preferences, we know that we need at least two days at Magic Kingdom, one day for Animal Kingdom, one day for Epcot, and one day for Hollywood Studios. We use that extra sixth day for whatever park we want to re-visit. That’s how we decide on our six day stay. If we were to need to take a shorter trip, we’d still try to spend two days at Magic Kingdom and try to fit in Hollywood Studios and possibly Epcot if we were able.

If we had the option of a longer trip and were traveling in the warmer months, I would add a water park day or two in there. We've actually never been to one of the water parks and I’d love to go some time!

The Disney website is a great resource for looking at the park attractions and restaurants. YouTube has some excellent ride videos so you can check out what rides are like. Allears.net is a great place to start looking at restaurant menus, as well as the Disney website.

Sit down with your family, or whomever you are planning the trip with if you are keeping it a secret from the kids, and see what things you absolutely have to do and what things you wouldn't be disappointed to skip. Keep in mind that even with the best planned trip, you can’t do ALL of Disney in one trip.That’s what makes coming back so much fun!

 Go ahead, call me a nerd, but this part of the research is one of my favorite parts of planning. Right along with picking restaurants. Keep watching from some Disney Dining posts coming soon! Happy planning!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Trip Recap: Our First WDW Trip (With Toddlers!)

By: Jenna

I’m excited to share my very first trip recap with you all today! I love writing up informative posts that (hopefully!) help you plan your trip, but I remember planning our first trip and how much I enjoyed reading peoples recaps. Seeing how all of the little planning details came together to make for a great trip was really encouraging!

I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts here that I planned our first trip on short notice. Ever since my husband and I got married in 2005, I’ve been attempting to get him to go to Disney. In fact, I tried to convince him that it was the perfect honeymoon spot (he disagreed and we ended up in Hawaii instead). Once we had kids his excuse was that they were too young to enjoy it. I knew better; I grew up in California and my family took Disney trips from the time I was little! I think the fact that he had never been to any Disney park played a big factor in his lack of enthusiasm.

One day he showed a little bit of weakness towards the Disney subject and I pounced on it, like any good wife would. We began checking our credit card points and found that we could stay for free off-site. I consulted the crowd calendars to pick a good time for us to go. Then we looked up flights and found a direct flight into Sanford on sale. After that I found out about Priceline (where you pick the amount you’re willing to spend and the car rental company can choose to agree to those terms) and I booked an SUV for less than $200 for the whole week. And just like that we were headed to Disney in less than three months and spending a fraction of what we had thought it would cost.

I immediately contacted my friend and fellow Real Mom’s Disney blogger, Melissa. She had just been to Disney a couple of weeks prior to our decision to go and I knew she’d have some great advice for me. We emailed back and forth and she helped me make some decisions for our trip. Her kids are close in age to mine, who were just 3 (his birthday was right before we left) and 4 at the time of this trip.

After that I began visiting a plethora of Disney websites. I found the restaurants that we would like to eat at and made a spreadsheet with all of that information. Then I booked our ADR’s (which was a nightmare - most of the good times were taken!). I ended up having to check back every day hoping to snag someone’s cancellation. I ended up getting almost every reservation we wanted but it’s no lie when I say I stalked the reservations site every day, refreshing it up to 200 times a day to get them.

We flew into Sanford late on a Monday night and finally got to our hotel close to midnight. The next morning was our very first day at the park. We have always agreed that when we go to Disney our first and last day will be spent at Magic Kingdom, so we started there.

(Pardon the watermark on these pictures - I used them on my other blog as well).

MK1.jpg

For some reason, Brayden refused to take a smiling picture that morning. I think he forgot that we were at the happiest place on earth.

Anyway, that day was spent riding a ton of great rides that the kids loved, their favorites being Barnstormer, the teacups, Under the Sea and Pirates of the Caribbean. We ate lunch at Cosmic Rays (QS) and the food was very good. That night we ate dinner at Paradiso 37 which is located at Downtown Disney. It was not good and I wouldn’t recommend it. It was also the worst dining service we had.

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The next day we headed to Animal Kingdom. We stopped in for a photo op with Dug and Russell (from Up!) first and then headed off to get our Wilderness Explorers Field Guides. You can do activities and get stamps in your book/earn badges just like Russell. We found that most activities were too difficult for our kids so we gave up on it pretty quickly. We ate lunch at the Rainforest Cafe. We’ve been to several before, but it’s one of Brayden’s favorite places to go. The kids both enjoyed the Kilimanjaro Safari and Brayden rode Dinosaur! but it was a bit scary for him. There wasn’t a lot Brody could do at the time, but the one big positive was the character meet and greet spot at the back of the park. We were able to meet Donald and Chip & Dale.

The next day was spent at Hollywood Studios, which was actually the park we almost didn’t visit. When reading about it online it just didn’t seem like there was that much there but it ended up being our second favorite park (after MK). The kids met four of their favorite characters. We stood in line for an hour to meet these guys:

HS1.jpg

It was well worth it. The kids still talk about it!

We ate breakfast that morning at Disney Junior Play & Dine at Hollywood and Vine. The kids got to meet Jake, Agent Oso, June and Handy Manny. They had an absolute blast. Jake drew a sword under his name in the autograph book and they thought it was so cool (so did I - how does he do that in that costume?!).

We later ate a snack at Starring Rolls cafe. I’ll talk about this in another post (and update this one with a link) but Starring Rolls has the best cupcakes. They are huge - you can easily share one with a friend, and so good!

While there, we went to the Disney Junior show, the Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Lights, Camera, Action and The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow. We also rode Toy Story Mania (with a fastpass!) and Star Tours (except for Brody who wasn’t tall enough).

We ended the day on a high note and met Brody’s favorite Disney characters:

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He is staring at Mike with pure adoration. It was adorable!

The next day was a break day and we drove to Daytona Beach. That night we ate at T-Rex which is located in Downtown Disney. We are going back to T-Rex on our next trip and I’ve got a tip for you. All of their reservations were gone when I was booking our next trip (and I was 180 days out). I decided to call them to see if they will take phone reservations and it turned out they do! I was able to get the exact date/time that I wanted even though Disney’s website said nothing was available.

The following day was spent at Epcot. Epcot and Animal Kingdom were our least favorite of the parks, but I think as the kids get older we will all enjoy Epcot more. I definitely want to go back and taste my way around all of the countries!

For this trip, we dined at the Coral Reef restaurant and it was really good. The kids LOVED the Nemo ride and I loved visiting London. I had to get a picture in front of the Rose and Crown (Pride and Prejudice fans will understand this).

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That night we headed over to the Polynesian Resort so that we could eat dinner at ‘Ohana. It was our favorite meal of the entire trip! The food was SO good and we had a great time.

Our last day was spent back at the Magic Kingdom. We ate at Chef Mickey that morning (at the Contemporary Resort) and then headed to the park. We met the White Rabbit that day (a complete fluke - he was standing near the teacups with no line whatsoever).

We stumbled across Rapunzel’s tower so I had to get a picture. Tangled is my favorite Disney movie!

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We used that day to ride all of our favorites again and hit a few that we missed the first day, like Peter Pan’s Flight and the Winnie the Pooh ride. Our very last ride of the trip was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

And guess what? By the end of our trip Chris was already talking about going back. That’s how the Disney magic works, folks. ;-)

Phew, that was a really long recap and yet I feel like I left so much out! Be sure to check out our restaurant reviews and all of the other sections of the site for even more details about all of our trips!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Memory Maker: What is it, and is it worth it?

By Melissa

Disney’s Memory Maker has recently undergone some changes. Not only did they change the name (it used to be PhotoPass+), but they've incorporated the MagicBands instead of a separate tag.

At the time I’m writing this, the Memory Maker CD costs $149 to pre-purchase three or more days before your trip (or when you plan to begin using it). (*As of December 2014, pre-purchase price is $169.) Regular price is $199, and you can begin using your Memory Maker account immediately.


When you meet a Disney photographer in the street or at a character greet, they take your photo and scan the Magic Band that is linked to your Memory Maker account. Many attraction photos (Splash Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Pirates’ League, Bippity Boppity Boutique, etc.), are included as well. When you get off the ride, you find your photo on the screens, then go to the photo counter and give the Cast Member the photo number and scan your MagicBand in many cases, the magic of Disney now recognizes you via your Magic Band and they are automatically added. You can still go to the counter and add your photos manually. Many of the character meals that offer photos for purchase are also included in the Memory Maker package. Anyone linked to your account (via the My Disney Experience website) can add photos to your Memory Maker account by scanning their MagicBand. You can split into groups and simultaneously add photos to your Memory Maker account.

All of your photos will be stored on Disney’s Memory Maker website for 45 days from the date they are taken. You can edit the photos – do things like remove red eye, crop, and add “stickers.” They even have many character “autographs” available to add. You can then save the new versions of your photos on the site. When you’re finished editing everything, order your photos.

Ordering photos can be done one of two ways. Since you've pre-paid, you get a digital copy of every photo loaded to your Memory Maker account. You can download them directly from the website, or you can request a disc be mailed to you. The Memory Maker website allows you to purchase prints or gift items with your photos on them, but you also have the freedom to use other websites & services to create gift items and order prints after you download your photos. (I found it was way less expensive to take advantage of sales or special codes at Shutterfly than to order from the Memory Maker site.)


I know you’re thinking $150 $169 for pictures is a lot – especially since it’s just the digital files. And it is. But for our trip, it was completely worth it. We've never been ones to purchase ride photos. But with Memory Maker, we got them all. And since my son rode Splash Mountain seven times (yes…seven), we had a very fun progression of his first “real” ride experience. (My husband actually started doing funny poses for the photos after about his third ride. See above - back row!) We also got the photo from our Chef Mickey’s dining experience, which would've been about $35 if purchased alone.

Also, and I cannot stress this enough, I was actually in some of our photos. Usually, I’m the one behind the camera, capturing our family’s memories. But with Memory Maker, I was in a lot of pictures. And I didn't have to worry too much about if I got just the right picture during my daughter’s first time to meet Cinderella. I knew the Disney photographer was my back-up, and was probably getting a better shot than I was. Every photo we got from the Disney photographers was high quality, and set up well. The only issues we had, honestly, were our own. If your two year-old decides to scowl, nothing will change her mind.

You can ask the Disney photographers to use your own camera to take a photo. And they will happily oblige (I’m told the camera must have a strap on it). So that is an option if you decide $150 $169 just doesn't fit into your budget. But you won’t get any attraction photos or any of the dining experience photos included since those must be purchased separately or with Memory Maker. And at frequently $30 or more each, those add up quickly.

Overall, for us, it was definitely worth it. I personally took over 1,000 photos during our 5 days in the parks, and we had over 250 photos in our Memory Maker account.  It’s something we will continue to budget for future trips.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Planning: Budgeting for Souvenirs without Breaking the Bank

By: Melissa


You’re heading to Disney. You know that the kids are going to want every single thing they see. And you’re willing to purchase some things, but you don’t want to spend as much on toys as you spent on the rest of the trip. And you certainly don’t have the space to haul piles of stuff home. So, what do you do? Here are a few ideas that may help.
  • Decide how much you’re willing/able to spend for “stuff.” Depending on how you like to budget, this might just be souvenirs, or it might include fun things like Pirates’League or Bippity Boppity Boutique.
  • Once you’ve decided how much you’re going to spend, decide how you want to spend it. Are you going to give the kids a certain amount each, or go by item count? Do you want to divide it by the day or by park? Do you want to let the kids shop around during your trip and then buy their stuff on the last day? Decide a strategy.
  • To stretch your fun dollars, encourage your kids to save ahead of time for things they might want. They can save allowance, gift money, and do extra chores if they’d like to have extra to spend. I’ve found my son to be much more judicious in his purchases if he knows he’s spending his own heard-earned and long-saved money.
  • Consider a dollar-for-dollar matching strategy, especially if your kids are older. Older kids/teens might not want every glow toy, stuffed animal, or noise-making thing they see. But what they do want is likely to be more expensive. Think about matching the amount they save. That gives you both some help, and they’ll still have the appreciation of having saved for their own souvenirs.
  • Don’t forget to set aside a little money for a special family souvenir. A photo frame or Christmas ornament is a great way to remember your trip as a family!

Once you decide on your souvenir spending strategy, tell your kids what it is. Then tell them again. And again. Repeat yourself until they can repeat it back to you, probably while they roll their eyes and heavy sigh. But that’s ok. Because once you’re on your trip, they already know what to expect.

For our trip in 2013, our son had just turned six. Chris and I decided we would buy the kids their own (very first!) pair of mouse ears, a surprise gift (up to $50 each), and we would pay for a Jake and the Neverland Pirates package at The Pirates’ League for our son (our daughter was under 3, so she was too young). He would have to purchase anything else he wanted with his own money.

We began planning our trip about six months out. We talked with Caedmon and let him know what the plan was for buying “stuff.” I helped him create a Disney Trip savings envelope. Between his allowance, birthdays, and other gifts, he saved $75 to spend on the trip!

To keep from having to carry cash, but still let him “spend” his money, I created “Disney Dollars” (more on Disney Dollars and FREE download here) to take on the trip. That way, we could put purchases on our KTTW card (Magic Bands were still being tested), but he could still have the experience of paying for them. And it was easier to keep track of how much he’d spent.

Souvenirs don’t have to break the bank or become a fight. Make a budget and a plan, then tell the kids what it is. Help them save, and get ready to watch them figure out what is deserving of their heard-earned money. Enjoy your time at Disney, only coming home with what fits in your budget (and possibly your suitcase)!

Crowd Calendars: Who, What, When, Where & Why!

By: Jenna

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One of the very best pieces of information I can pass on to any Disney World newbie is this: Locate a great crowd calendar and plan out your trip accordingly.

And one of the most common questions I hear back from them is, “What in the heck is a crowd calendar!”

This is a crowd calendar (image courtesy of EasyWDW:



Look confusing? It really isn’t. Let me walk you through it.

Who: Instead of telling you to locate a great crowd calendar, I’ve done that for you. Josh over at EasyWDW.com has the very best calendars I’ve seen. Yes, there is a lot of information here, but once you understand what it means, you can sort through the pieces that matter the most to you easily.

What: What is a crowd calendar? This one gives you some vital information. First, it lets you know how busy the parks are on any given day by using a 1-10 rating. See the big blue number on the third line? That’s how busy the parks are expected to be. So, on November 24, the crowds will be surging in at a 9 on the calendar, whereas on the 17th, it’s only a 3.

This calendar also gives you the average temperature and humidity, as well as special park hours and events. In my opinion, the second most useful piece of information it gives you is a park by park rating. Let’s look at November 10th. See the green MK? That means that Josh is suggesting that the crowds at Magic Kingdom will probably be less busy that those at the other three parks and is expecting Hollywood Studios to be the busiest of the four.

When: When should you start consulting the calendars? Whenever I think that a Disney trip might be possible, the calendars are the first thing I look at. The dollar signs indicate what season you are in (Value, Regular, Season, Park or Holiday) and give an idea of what you might be looking at price wise for your stay. I usually have an idea of what season or a specific month that we will be looking at, so I start by looking at that (or those) calendars then narrowing it down based on price and expected crowds.

Where: Where can you find these awesome calendars? Just click here and then look on the right hand sidebar to locate your month.

Why: Our goal here at Real Mom’s Disney is to make your planning process a breeze and these calendars are one of the best tools in our arsenal! They’ve done a lot of the hard work for you which is one of our favorite tips -- let someone else do the heavy lifting!

Getting Started: Setting a Budget (Free Spreadsheet!)


You’ve decided to invest in a Disney vacation. Yes, I used the term invest. Some of our best family memories have been at Disney. In my opinion, that makes it an investment in my family, which is one of the most important investments of all. I sound like a commercial. Forgive me. While many people see a Disney vacation with nothing but dollar signs, believe it or not Disney can be affordable on almost any budget.

The first thing you need to do is sit down, take a look at your finances and come up with a total amount that you can afford to spend. Write that number down, or if you are like me, put it in a spreadsheet. Once you have that number, you’ll need to make some decisions. How many days do you plan to stay? What is most important to you? Are you more interested in staying closer to the parks? Are you a foodie that cares more about the restaurants you are eating at?  Do you plan to drive or fly? All of these things affect your budget. Talk about them and decide what experiences matter most to you.

Take me for instance. Disney is quite a drive from Arkansas. I hate long car rides. I’ll take a plane over a car any day. So to me, being able to fly is very important – more important than the proximity of the resort to the parks. If it means that I need to stay at a Value resort instead of a Moderate resort or a Moderate resort instead of a Deluxe resort in order to fly, then that’s what I’ll do. Know and understand what is important to you.

You’ve decided what’s important. Now what? Start dividing that number into categories. You’ll most likely have these types of expenditures: travel, resort, tickets, dining, and souvenirs. Obviously those are very broad categories. Check out the pricing of airline tickets. Calculate how much gas would cost to drive. Look at the difference between base tickets and base tickets with added options. Create a realistic budget based on that. You may come to realize that you can do more than you thought. Or it may be the opposite. You may find that you want to do more than you can afford. If this is the case, read this next paragraph and then read it again. Creating AND sticking to a budget is so important.

Here is my biggest piece of advice. If you don’t get anything else out of this post, please take this away with you. Do NOT go into debt to take a Disney vacation. Do what you can afford; go when you can afford it. If you sit down and let’s say you need $4000 to go and it’s going to take you two years to save that amount of money: plan your trip for two years from now. Disney memories are important. You don’t want those memories to have a black cloud over them because you constantly have to think and worry about money. Wait until you can afford it.

 Real Mom’s Disney has created a budget spreadsheet that you can download to help you in the budgeting process. And, as always, if you need help or have any questions, feel free to shoot us an email, tweet, or message us on Facebook!

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