Thursday, October 30, 2014

How to link Memory Maker to your Magic Band

by: Jenna

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Whether you choose to stay onsite or offsite, you now have the option to get a Magic Band. If you're staying at a Disney resort, one will be included with your stay, but if you're staying offsite, like we did last year, you can now purchase a band in the park (it wasn't an option last year!).

One of the biggest perks of a Magic Band is being able to load tons of information to the band which keeps you from having to carry loads of cards and paperwork with you.

If you make the decision to purchase Memory Maker, you'll be sent a card in the mail that looks like this:


When you are at the parks, you hand this card to any Disney photographer before they take your photos. But what if you don't want to carry the card, or you are afraid that you will lose the card?

That's why it's a great idea to link your Memory Maker to your Magic Band. Here's how you do it:

  • Log in to My Disney Experience
  • Go to My Reservations and Tickets in the drop down menu
  • Scroll all the way down to the Memory Maker section
  • Click Link Memory Maker
  • Enter the number on your card
That's it! It's so simple and it will make for an even more carefree trip, since you won't have one more thing to keep up with!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Real Mom's Top Picks for FastPass+

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Today we're going to talk about one of our favorite new features at Disney Parks - the brand new FastPass+ system!

At each park (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios) you'll be able to choose three rides or attractions and select the date and time you want to ride them up to 60 days in advance. If you're not staying onsite, then you can still link your park tickets and make your ride selections 30 days in advance.

Once you've ridden or visited all three rides or attractions, you can make more FP+ selections, one at a time. FP+ isn't just for rides. You can select meet and greets with characters, parade seating and even use it at Be Our Guest restaurant for lunch.

So, what would the Real Mom's select as their priorities for FP+? Let's find out!



Magic Kingdom:

Melissa: This is a new feature for me! The last time we were at Disney, Magic Bands were in the process of being rolled out. Things change quickly! I'm looking forward to our next trip though, so my selections will be: Elsa & Anna, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and either Haunted Mansion or one of the other roller coasters. We'll likely spend 2 or more days at MK, so I'll have to heavily consider what my kids are interested in at the time, and what we think we'll want to do. I'm not quite sure how tall my youngest will be, so I'll try to get something she'll definitely be able to ride with us.

Lindsey: I just made our FP+ selections for our upcoming trip this week. We are spending three days at Magic Kingdom this time. I had nine total selections. That seems like a lot, but there are so many great rides to choose from. If I had to pick only three, it would be Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (since it's new and we've never ridden it), Enchanted Tales with Belle (one of Anniston's very favorite things to do), and Haunted Mansion. Haunted Mansion will be closed for refurbishment for the upcoming trip, so since I had to replace that one, I would pick the Meet & Greet with Anna and Elsa. That would make Anniston's year!

Jenna: This is a great post for me because I made our FP+ selections for our November 2014 trip just recently! We are spending three days at Magic Kingdom so I was able to make 9 selections. My top picks are the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Peter Pan's Flight. Why? Well, Seven Dwarfs is brand new and I couldn't even get a FP until the very last day of our trip. Peter Pan was by far and away our longest wait when we were there last December and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was my kids favorite ride! If your kids love Anna and Elsa, I'd highly recommend the meet and greet with them! Another busy ride is Under the Sea, Voyage of the Little Mermaid.

Animal Kingdom:

Melissa: We already know we love Expedition Everest, so that one will probably go on the list. As will Kilimanjaro Safari and possibly Dinosaur.

Lindsey: My favorite things about Animal Kingdom are the shows. My number one FP+ for Animal Kingdom is Festival of the Lion King. It's my favorite show at WDW. We also got a FP+ for Kilimanjaro Safari and Primawhirl. Primeval Whirl isn't a favorite attraction for most, but Anniston adores it. 

Jenna:  For this park, we went with Kilimanjaro Safari (the wait is notoriously long), Expedition Everest and DINOSAUR!


Epcot:

Melissa: We skipped Epcot last time, so this will be our first time in this park! I would love do Soarin, and we'll have to see if the new Malestrom ride is open when we are planning to go. I really hope so! They're making several changes in this park that will take effect before our next trip, so I will have to wait until closer to time to make a decision for us - especially since it will be our first time!

Lindsey: Epcot is one of the two parks that have the tier system on FP+. You can choose one FP+ from Group 1 and two from Group 2. We rode Test Track last trip and loved it. We had to choose between Test Track and Soarin, so we ended up choosing Test Track. We also went with Nemo and Spaceship Earth. I absolutely hate Spaceship Earth. I'm terrified of heights and, yes, I know it's indoors, but I know how high I am and I get so nervous. But my people like this ride, therefore, I ride.

Jenna: Our favorite ride here is Nemo, so I had to get one for that. Additionally, I choose Mission Space and Soarin, neither of which we did last time, but if Soarin is anything like the ride in California, it will be good.


Hollywood Studios:

Melissa: My kids LOVE Toy Story, so Toy Story Mania is a must for us. I'm hoping Caedmon is tall enough to ride Rockin' Roller Coaster next time, so we'll have to play that one by ear (see Jenna's explanation below). Star Tours will also be a must-ride for us, as we are total Star Wars nerds. There, I said it. Nerds. I don't know what else we'll be choosing since our trip is still several months away and there are several permanent ride closures scheduled between now and then. Hopefully, something new and exciting will be waiting for us!

Lindsey: Hollywood Studios is the other park that has the tier system. We choose Toy Story Mania out of tier one. Out of tier two, we chose For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration and Indiana Jones. Frozen is a favorite in our house, and in case you haven't noticed, we love shows. I wanted to get a Beauty and The Beast FP+, but it was in tier one. So we went with Toy Story Mania. Indiana Jones is going away, and Nick has never seen it, so it was a must-do for us this time.

Jenna: Toy Story Mania is a MUST for Hollywood Studios. This park also has the tiered ride system and you have to pick between Toy Story Mania and Rockin' Roller Coaster. Once you've used up your FP selections for the day, I'd highly recommend switching to that ride. The good thing is that Rockin' Roller Coaster has a single rider line that is usually just as fast at the FP line and since Chris and I are the only two that can ride it, that's probably what we will do. We also choose Star Tours because it had a decent wait last time and Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular because they are getting rid of it and we anticipate a wait.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Scheduling FastPass+ Experiences


By: Lindsey

Scheduling FastPass+ Experiences

Did you know that there are TONS of controversial Disney topics? Until I started planning Disney trips, I had no idea. Disney’s new FastPass+ (FP+) system is one of those topics.

FP+ is very similar to the old FASTPASS system. The new system is digital and links to your Magic Band. You can log into My Disney Experience (either using their website or the app) to select new FP+ or to change existing ones. You can make FP+ reservations when you are staying on property 60 days in advance. If you have purchased tickets, you can make your selections 30 days in advance. If you have an annual pass, read about that here.

You get to select up to three FP+ per day for one park. After you use your initial three selections, you can make other FP+ selections, one at a time (you must use that one before booking the next), at any park. Additional reservations can be made at the kiosks located in the parks. If you need to modify or update a FP+, you can do that from a kiosk, the app, or at your Disney resort concierge.

Another great feature of the FP+ is not all of your party has to book the same FP+ attractions. When you set up your My Disney Experience and book your trip, you can add people that are traveling with you. When you go to book your FP+ selections, you get select the people that will be riding with you.

For example, Anniston loves the tea cups. Nick hates the tea cups. So Anniston and I can reserve a FP+ for the tea cups while Nick can reserve a FP+ for Space Mountain. During the selection process, which I’ll show you down below, I would just select that I was make a FP+ selection for Anniston and I. Once that selection was made, I could go back and make a selection just for Nick. That’s a nice option to have if your party likes to ride different rides.

They started rolling out tests of the system in 2013. We were lucky and got to be a part of the test on our last trip. I didn’t think we were going to be able to use the new system and I was disappointed. Then, at the last minute, our resort was added to the test. We were able to try it out and we LOVED it.

When we went, you only got the three FP+ per day. There were no additional ones. Plus, the system was new and it wasn’t difficult to use, but it most definitely wasn’t the easiest to use either. When we decided to go again this year, December 2014, we were excited to read about all of the changes to the FP+ system and the scheduling system.

Many people do not like the new system. They feel you have to plan too much too far out in advance which leaves no room for spontaneity. I’m a planner by nature and I would have to disagree with them. Yes, I have to plan certain rides out 60 days in advance. But you know what? I pick the rides I know we want to ride, the rides we can’t miss. I don’t have to worry about running for a paper FASTPASS and hoping I get one.

I also know that each FP+ window is an hour long. So if I have a reservation at Splash Mountain from 1:30-2:30 and I show up right at 1:30, mostly likely I’ll be off the ride by 2. If my next FP+ ride isn’t scheduled until the window of 3:00-4:00, I still have an hour to ride additional rides or see a show. That leaves enough room for me to be spontaneous but still be able to make sure I get reservations on rides that I know I for sure want. That makes this planner’s heart a very happy heart.

I used the My Disney Experience website to book our FP+ for this trip. I went through and did my research on what rides we wanted. I also knew that I wanted to book them for earlier in the day so that we would have the potential to grab a few more later in the day after we used our initial selections.

I created an excel spreadsheet to keep up with my choices, the days we wanted them, and our current dining reservations. That way we wouldn’t have any overlapping times. Here is how the system works when using the online My Disney Experience to select a new FP+.

Log into your My Disney Experience account. Click on FastPass+.



You’ll land on this screen. Click New FastPass+.



You need to select the People in your party that you are making selections for. In our case, we are going to pick one for all three of us. If you were going to do only part of the party, just select those people. Click Next.



Pick your park and the day you want to make the selections for and the date you want the reservations on. (Ignore the little warning boxes. I’ve already made my selections before I took these screenshots so it’s warning me about that.)



From this point on, it wouldn’t let me move on to take screen shots without canceling my current FP+ selections. I love y’all but not enough to cancel my selections. ;)

After you’ve picked your park, you’ll come to a screen with a list of rides that have the FP+ availability. You can select one ride at a time (which you’ll need to do if you are booking different rides for different party members) or you can select all three you want at once. Once you’ve picked the rides you want, click next.

This takes you to the screen with four different time options. Look at each option and decide what would work best for your schedule. Keep in mind dining reservations, parade times, etc when you are looking at these. Select the option that works best for your family. There may not be a perfect one, but select the one that works best. Click on done.

There you go! You’ve made FP+ selections for one day. Continue on and do the rest of the days of your stay. Now, if you selected an option that maybe one ride wasn’t at a good time, but it was the best option, then you can change it now.

Here is how I do that:

Go to My Disney Experience, My Itinerary.



Go to the day that you need to make the change. And click on View Details.



When this window opens, Click on Modify FastPass+.



You can Add or Remove people from this reservation or update the time from this screen. You can also change the experience (or ride). When you are finished, click update.





It’s pretty simple. If you plan ahead and know what you want before you begin the selection process, it doesn’t take very much time. The window for selecting your FP+ opens at 12:00am EST on the day of your selection. If you are in a different time zone, remember to adjust the time accordingly.

Have you used the FP+ system? Did you love it or hate it?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When You Don't Want To Go To Disney

The Real Mom's Disney team would like to welcome Ashley as our first guest contributor! We are so excited to have her on board! You'll be seeing some great posts from her every other week, so be sure to check in regularly! Check out her bio on our "About Us" page and leave her some comment love!

by: Ashley
So not everyone likes Disney. The movies, the "culture," the theme parks. . .or maybe they're okay with the movies and are totally fine with their kids being obsessed with "Let It Go," but the thought of going to Walt Disney World makes them want to run, hide, cry, or all of the above.

Recently, I came across an article where a mom wrote a tongue-in-cheek letter to her kids, telling them they aren't ever going to Disney World. Period. Granted, with those types of articles you never know how much is really serious (when the tone is that sarcastic). One of the analogies the author used was that she would "rather do a shot of Windex" than bunk with her kids in a hotel room (she also cited more Disney-specific complaints like waiting in long lines).

As you can imagine, the comments started hurling back and forth and people were LIVID that someone would be so snarky about Disney World. And I admit, I was kind of irritated at the tone of the article, because I felt like her complaints had more to do with personal issues than Disney itself, and I kind of felt like she insinuated that any of us who succumb to this "craziness" are total suckers. Again, I know it was written mostly for humor, but I just don't care for rudeness/sarcasm pervading an entire article like that. I did laugh at some of the wording and analogies she used - she's very witty and I know a lot of people related to what she was writing. In fact, I talked with a few friends about it because I know several moms who have ZERO desire to go and are kind of dreading it (but they know they want to give that experience to their kids - which I think is so sweet!).

My response? First, I sported my Small World t-shirt and matching phone case for the principle of the thing. :)


There are a LOT of people who absolutely love Disney and we AREN'T crazy or creepily stuck in our childhoods! :) For me personally, I've shared before that my earliest memories are at Disney World because we lived in Orlando. We knew a ton of people that worked there and they would sign us in, so we were there a LOT. My mom also loved Disney, so we were raised with the movies and music. It's REALLY sentimental and special to me for a lot of reasons. But I do recognize that's not the case for everyone, and some people just aren't into the whole Disney thing. And that's totally fine!! Clearly a happy childhood is NOT defined by things like going to Disney World! But I DO think that it's an opportunity to make really special memories as a family.

So next I got to thinking. . .what would I tell people that don't like Disney and don't really want to go, but are considering taking their kids anyway? Kurt and I actually talked about it (yes, we discuss things like this), and since we've done Disney with kids several times now, I wanted to share what we came up with!

TIMING, TIMING, TIMING. I'm going to break this down into two categories, but TIMING IS EVERYTHING with Disney! This applies to the time of year you go, and also the ages of your kids!

Choose the right time to go! Kurt's only point of reference for Disney were memories of temps being hotter than you-know-where and waiting in 3 hour lines. They went a couple of times during his childhood and went during the summer (and of course this was before FastPass, etc.!). Disney has evolved so much over the years, but one thing that hasn't changed is Orlando weather. I highly, HIGHLY recommend going during the late fall and winter months!! August and September are also considered low season, but the weather is still really hot and it's also hurricane season. I know people who have had really successful vacations during those months, but we definitely prioritize cooler temperatures!! I've said many times that your first line of defense against crowds and heat is to go during a lower season. We've always had really good experiences in January and February (but we always try to avoid Marathon weekend and MLK weekend if we can because there's kind of an influx of people). I use the EasyWDW website to figure out when to go. Josh does an incredible job of putting these calendars together!

Choose the right ages for your kids. The very youngest age I would take my own kids would be around 2 years old (Lynley will be 20 months when we go next time). However, if you don't foresee yourself doing Disney more than once, or if you know you'll only go maybe twice, WAIT. I think you get the most out of Disney at two different times: when your kids are old enough to be sort of self-sufficient but still love the magical part of Disney (about 4-6ish years old) and then when they're old enough to enjoy the "thrills" or more mature rides/experiences (depending on height, maybe 9-12 years old?). I personally think the 4-7 year age bracket is the best because you get the most out of what Disney is offering ("magic," characters, traditional dark rides, they're still probably into "pretending" etc.). If you're going only once, make sure your kids are no younger than 4 years old. You want them to remember!

Any behavioral problems you have at home will be magnified at Disney World, so work on that first. This is a big one. I noticed in the article I mentioned earlier, the author kept referencing the stress of traveling with kids, them whining about souvenirs, saying it was "paying to be tortured," etc. I totally  understand that traveling with kids can be STRESSFUL. It just has really overwhelming moments. However, here's an example: If you KNOW your kids struggle with restaurants - like they make you want to pull your hair out right now - either put off your Disney trip or just understand that you can't do any sit-down Table Service or Character meals. If you're okay with doing quick Counter Service (fast food) meals the whole time, you're probably in good shape! Otherwise just wait until that's a skill you feel like you've mastered at home. Do your kids have major problems with obeying and consistently throw tantrums all the time? If you're in a difficult stage at home, DO NOT think that it will just go away at Disney World. In fact, it will be magnified in a major way because Disney CAN be overload for most kids. Unless you pace yourself and really watch your kids' cues, they WILL melt down. How do your kids respond when you're in Target and you pass the toy aisle? Do they whine, cry and sass when they don't get to take home a toy? Disney will be like that on steroids. Stuff is everywhere, and with the right strategy in place, it is COMPLETELY doable! But you have to take into account that you'll need to train your kids at home FIRST. Again, if you're in a difficult behavioral phase, wait until it's easier at home and it will be easier at Disney. Like I said above, age is such an important factor here.  Do your homework and prepare them at home.

Identify what you're stressed about and find the solutions. Is it money? Being overwhelmed with planning? Crowds? Long lines? Believe it or not, all of these fears and stressors have solutions. For example, if money is a concern, start reading blogs like Couponing to Disney or use Pinterest to find articles about the MANY ways people save for their Disney trips. You can also save money by going during Value Season and staying at a Value resort or even off Disney property (I've found that very often it IS cheaper to stay at a Disney resort, though!). Consider going when Disney offers Free Dining, and also consider bringing your own food for breakfast and snacks. Buy Dollar Store souvenirs that you can surprise your kids with at the end of each day (instead of spending on souvenirs in the parks). Break down what is worrying you and seek out ways to minimize the stress. Most of the time it's not Disney itself that's the "enemy" - it's the variables that can be overwhelming and make you want to run, and you can tackle them.

Disney WANTS to give you a great experience! Really, they do! Do they want you to spend money there? Of course. It would be stupid to think otherwise. Disney is a business. Businesses want to make money. Kurt and I have never ONCE complained about the costs at Disney because their excellence and customer service is unparalleled. Seriously, it's amazing. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Have we had uncharacteristic moments there? Of course. No vacation or company is perfect! But the overarching theme at Disney is excellence. They are always responding to what families want. From easy planning tools online, to being able to schedule things in advance, to the free transportation and the millions of little "touches" they add, we truly believe that Disney wants you to have a wonderful time with your family. Take advantage of all that they offer and enjoy the excellence!

Your attitude is EVERYTHING. Don't view Disney as the Big Bad Wolf that wants to take your money and eat your wallet for lunch. Don't complain about how they're the Corporate Bad Guy and anyone who drinks the Magical Kool-Aid is dumb. No one denies that it can be expensive to take a Disney trip, and it's definitely an investment - I'm not making light of that at all! It's just about your attitude. When you're there in the parks and spending time with your family, your attitude COMPLETELY sets the tone. A trip or so ago, I had a really weird "off" day where our schedule wasn't going right and it was hard to navigate. I regret how I acted that day, because it's unlike me to not fully enjoy Disney, and my irritation was rubbing off on everyone. Focus on the memories being made, and remember the whole reason your came. Even if YOU don't like Disney World, you probably decided to make the trip anyway for the sake of your kids. So focus on their excitement and enjoyment! See it from their eyes and don't be the snarky "Disney is dumb" person. If you roll your eyes at every adult wearing Mickey ears or families wearing matching shirts, you will wear yourself out and be miserable because you will see that EVERYWHERE! People are just acting like kids again. Embrace it! If crowds are starting to get to you, go back to your hotel for a break. Just keep a positive attitude!

Look at other options in Orlando to break up your trip. There's Legoland, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and more! Split up your trip so that you're able to see Harry Potter and ride all the thrill rides at Universal, if that's your thing. Or spend a day at one of the Disney water parks! If you think 5 days straight of Disney will make you fall down a black hole, you have other options!

Utilize the help of friends, the internet, and Disney travel agents! If you don't enjoy Disney or the planning process, BELIEVE ME - there are tons of people who do! :) Ask advice from friends who have recently been, look at Pinterest to read tips and find blogs (like this one!) that highlight what other families have done. Or, if you really don't want to hear/read anything about it (like the author of the article-ha!), there are Disney planners that will help you with everything. Their services are FREE. You really can be hands-off if you want to be, but honestly I think that when you're invested in the planning stage, you can appreciate the payoff. When you booked the Princess meal for your daughter and she squeals with excitement when Cinderella comes in, it's a great feeling. Is it eternal, life-changing stuff? No. But it's just a really happy and satisfying feeling when you know you've helped create a lifelong memory. There is so much out there and so many people who truly enjoy it - utilize all of it!

If you really, REALLY don't want to go to Disney World - don't. No one is making you, and like I said - a rich, happy childhood isn't defined by how many visits to the Magic Kingdom you make. It's a personal choice! We're Disney people, and we will continue going year after year, because every single experience is different and fun. But your family might be "beach people" or "skiing people" or "mountains people." Or you might be "local water park people" or "we stay home people." However you choose to spend time with your family is up to you!

But REALLY consider giving Disney a chance! People make fun of the hyperbole that can surround a Disney vacation, but in all honesty, for a lot of people it really does live up to the hype. It's all in how you look at it, and making wise decisions along the way!

So consider planning that trip and have a really magical time at Walt Disney World - and have a shot of Windex on me! :)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Disney Planning: Road Trips with Kids

By: Melissa

As awesome as being at Disney is, you have to get there somehow. And that part can be…less than awesome. Especially if you have a long road trip and little people who are usually only still (and quiet) when they’re asleep. But you can make the trip and keep your sanity, too. Here’s how we do it!

Road Trip Title

We make several long road trips each year, so my kids are road trip champs and we usually make pretty good time. But we have lots of trips under our belt and I’ve learned (the hard way) that good road trips don’t just happen. The way to make a road trip successful is in three phases: planning, preparation, and execution.

Planning

1. Map out your trip and determine some good places to stop. Depending on the ages of your kids, decide how often you need to stop. On a long trip, we typically stop every 2-3 hours to stretch our legs and use the potty.

2. Plan your stops strategically. Our kids don’t sleep well in the car, so our rule is that if we stop, we gas up. That way, if the kids do happen to fall asleep, we won’t be low on gas and have to stop and wake them up. Decide beforehand which stops you’re going to just stop at a gas station for a potty/fuel break, and which stops you’ll eat somewhere or stop a little longer. And if you’re going to eat, decide if you’re going to go in or drive-thru and eat on the road. We typically try to keep a quick/longer/quick pattern with our breaks.

Our favorite places to stop are big gas stations/truck stops, Starbucks, and Chick-fil-A. At a big gas station/truck stop, you’re more likely to have clean facilities and they’re typically well-lit and well-staffed. And if you need something random, they probably have it. Starbucks usually has clean bathrooms that are easier to manage with kids (and coffee and cake pops, of course). And Chick-fil-A…I probably don’t even need to explain that one. We’ve been known to let the kids play while we eat, then take their food to go. On a route we’re familiar with, we will occasionally stop at rest stops/state welcome centers. They’re not always our first choice, but they do usually provide a place for the kids to work the kinks out of their legs.

3. Use your time wisely. Double-up whenever you can. And what I mean by that is, on a quick stop while Dad fuels the car, Mom can take the kids to potty and do 15 jumping jacks. Dad can then run in for his potty break while Mom gets everyone settled and ready to go again.

On a longer stop, Dad can drop everyone off at the restaurant and go fuel the car while Mom and the kids order. The kids can play on the Chick-fil-A playground while Mom & Dad eat, then everybody goes potty and loads up. The kids can eat in the car after they’ve had time to play and get their wiggles out.

Don’t…wander around at the gas station or waste time. Because you prepared your car (next up!), you don’t need that stuff! Don’t…decide on a whim to stop at a sit-down restaurant. The kids are likely to be wiggly and your restaurant experience is not likely to be the best – and it’s a major time killer.

Preparation

1. Know what your kids like to do/what might keep them happy, and start stocking up on road trip surprises early. I love the $1 Spot at Target for these. I keep a road trip bag with hidden surprises to give out while we’re driving. I’m very strategic with these – Grab and Go PlayPacks (quiet activity), a new movie (lasts about an hour and a half – more when they want to watch it again!), and occasionally a special snack. (More on how to use these later.) I don’t spend a ton, but you’d be surprised how much mileage you can get out of an older movie from the $5 bin and several items from the $1 Spot. Keep your return trip in mind and don’t give away everything on the trip down!

Our trip to Disney was a little special – I did a few extra things I wouldn’t for a normal road trip. First, they each had a new “friend” that greeted them when they got in the car. Honor got a small plush Stuffy the Dragon, and Caedmon got a small plush Mike Wazowski. I also bought a Play Set from the Disney Store for each of them, and gave the figures out one at a time during the trip. Honor got Mickey Mouse characters, and Caedmon got Planes.

2. Let your kids choose some things from home. My kids have baskets between their seats that contain our “regular” car stuff – toys, etc. that they haul into the car to play with while we’re running errands. Before a road trip, we bring those in the house and clean them out. Then, I let the kids choose some different toys to take on the trip with them. Popular things for these baskets are action figures (or princess dolls), travel size Magna Doodles, books, and sunglasses. My kids also like to have their special blanket/sleeping buddy on road trips, so we make plans to include those. I also let them choose some DVDs to watch on the trip. They usually surprise me with some of their choices!

3. Consider audio books. My kids have fallen in love with audio books. We even listen to them while driving around town. Our library has a great selection, but you can also download them from places like Amazon or Audible.com. We’ve listened to classics like Little House on the Prairie, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Charlotte’s Web, and newer things like the How to Train Your Dragon series.

4. Buy snacks. I don’t like to appease my kids with food any more than the next Mom, but let’s face it. Sometimes, a good snack will go a long way to making an otherwise fussy kid happy. I allow certain snacks in the car that we don’t normally buy. My kids love fruit pouches, but they’re not a regular item at our house. They know they’re going to get them on road trips, and they love them. I also pack gummy snacks, cheese/peanut butter crackers, trail mix, granola bars, cereal bars, and anything else I can think of that the kids might eat (and that aren’t full of sugar or make a GIANT mess). I will occasionally buy pre-packaged individual portions for trips, but most of the time, I just use snack baggies and portion my own. I also keep some small bowls with lids in my car, preferably ones that fit into cup holders. Our snack box is a large supply box – like a pencil box, but bigger. It keeps things from getting smashed and can be easily stacked and handed back and forth as needed.

Execution

1. Clean your car out before you pack it. I know, you’re just going to get it all messy again with cracker crumbs and the paper from fast food straws (Don’t act like I don’t know!). But starting out with a clean car will make everyone feel better about the trip and you’ll have the chance to get rid of a bunch of stuff you won’t need. You might also find a missing toy. Or shoe. Not that I would know about that.

2. Pack your stuff before you load it in the car. I know that sounds kind of like a “duh” thing, but what I mean by that is to find a way to pack the stuff you need to get your hands on so that you can actually get your hands on it and it won’t roll around the floor. Make sense? I actually use a collapsible organizer to hold audio book cases, DVDs, our snack box, a couple of grocery sacks for trash, and any paperwork we might need. That way, all that stuff can sit in the floor and not get stepped on, tossed around, and otherwise mangled by getting in and out of the car. Also, consolidate things where you can. I use an old multi-disc case that holds 10 DVDs instead of trying to pack 10 individual cases.

3. Make sure your kids will be able to reach the things you need them to reach…and can’t reach the things you don’t want them to have. I make sure my kids can reach their toys, blanket, pillow, sleeping friend, and DVD controller/headphones.

4. Stick to the plan. Well, as much as you can. Hand out snacks as you need to, but keep your stop schedule in mind. Wait until things get almost desperate (or maybe just after you’ve gotten back in the car after a stop) to hand out a surprise. Don’t be afraid to declare a “quiet time” while you listen to an audio book or watch a movie. And make sure everyone grabs their trash every time you get out of the car.

And remember…you’re on your way to somewhere FUN!

I hope these tips help you have a better trip. What are your favorite road trip strategies?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

15 FREE Things At Disney

by: Jenna


  • Celebrating something? Disney has free buttons (birthday, anniversary, first trip, newly engaged, newly married...) for you to wear. Bonus? You might score free treats at the table service restaurants when you're wearing one!
  • Pick up a free license, especially for kids at Tomorrowland Speedway! You have to ask for it!
  • Photos! The paid photos for mem maker will use your camera
  • Some resorts offer s'mores nights outside in a campfire setting.
  • Club Cool at Epcot offers free soda samples. For info on these unique offerings, click here.
  • While some guests choose to bring in coolers with water (which is totally allowed, but coolers have to meet Disney's size/type requirements!) you can get free ice water at any counter service restaurant.
  • While at Epcot, visit the Kidcot Fun Stop and get a free cardboard Duffy the Disney Bear for your child to decorate at each international pavilion. Cast Members will be on hand to offer stamps from their country for Duffy as well as other art supplies. For a list of participating pavilions, check this link.
  • Want to learn how to draw a Disney character for free? When visiting Hollywood Studios, check the times for the Animation Academy!
  • Did you purchase a refillable mug, or get one free with your dining plan? Fill them up for free at your Disney resort!
  • Visit the Harmony Barber Shop at Magic Kingdom and get a free sprinkle of pixie dust for your child's hair!
  • Visiting Downtown Disney? Then stop by the Lego store. They have a large outdoor free play area filled to the brim with legos. Last time we were there, my boys played for a least 30 minutes while my husband and I sipped our coffees and relaxed.
  • Are you a Disney Visa Card member? Then get a free printed photo at Epcot!
  • Most Disney resorts have free movie nights, with movies shown on large blow up screens.
  • Visit the Main Street Confectionery and you just might get a free cookie...or rice krispie treat, or cotton candy. They often give out (good sized!) samples! 
  • Last but not least, is something you can do before you even leave. Have your kids write a letter to their favorite character (Walt Disney Company, Attn: Fan Mail Department, 500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91521) and they'll send back an autographed picture!

Monday, October 13, 2014

My Disney Dining Bucket List

By: Lindsey



Food, dining, and restaurants are some of my favorite Disney topics. My family loves to eat. We also love to try new restaurants.

Here is my Disney Dining Bucket List:

1. My Disney Girl’s Perfectly Princess Tea Party

It’s located at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort in the Garden View Tea Room. I’ve heard wonderful, wonderful things about it. It has a tea party (of course!), princess parade, storytelling, and sing-alongs. You also get to meet Princess Aurora, one of Anniston’s very favorites – mainly because she’s pink. Each little girl goes home with a My Disney Girl doll, a ribbon tiara, a silver princess link bracelet, rose, and a scrapbook “Best Friend” certificate for their new doll.

If you have a boy, they also have activities and gifts for the boys!

Anniston was too young last time we went and we weren’t able to get reservations this December on our next trip. I’m determined to go at some point. It’s a bit pricey, but I think it would be so much fun.



2. Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue

Located at The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. It’s a dinner show has dancing, singing, and comedy. It has fried chicken, smoked ribs, and other yummy food. As you’ll see as you read my list, I’m a sucker for dinner shows. If they have them, I want to go.

As of 2014, they do accept dining credits. For the Disney Dining Plan and Disney Deluxe Dining Plan, it takes two table service credits. For the Premium and Platinum Plans, it is one credit.



3. Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show

Located at the Polynesian Village Resort. It’s a dinner show that contains hula dancing, fire dancing, drummers, and all other kinds of entertainment. The Disney website describes it as, “all-you-care-to-enjoy, tropical feast.” Who wouldn’t want to watch people doing all kinds of cool stuff and yummy food?

As of 2014, they do accept dining credits. For the Disney Dining Plan and Disney Deluxe Dining Plan, it takes two table service credits. For the Premium and Platinum Dining Plan, it only takes one.



4. Victoria and Albert’s

Located at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. From what I understand, this is a restaurant to try without the kiddos. Maybe someday Nick and I can take an adults only trip and try it out. The menu sounds amazing. I’d even try the fish dishes. That’s saying a lot. It’s served in courses.

Honestly, before I made this list, I didn’t know much about this restaurant. I added to the list because EVERYONE talks about it. Any time I read anything about Disney Dining, this restaurant always mentioned.

The only Disney Dining Plan accepted here is the Disney Platinum Plan.



5. Flying Fish

Located at Disney’s BoardWalk. I’m not a huge seafood fan, but my family is. I’ve hear this restaurant is amazing and so I’m willing to try it. If nothing else, I know I’ll love dessert. I always do. They also serve breakfast.

As of 2014, they do accept dining credits. For the Disney Dining Plan and Disney Deluxe Dining Plan, it takes two table service credits. For the Premium and Platinum Dining Plan, it only takes one.



6. Beaches and Cream Soda Shop

Located at Disney’s Beach Club Resort. It’s in the theme of a boardwalk ice cream shop. It’s adorable! They even have a jukebox. I’m sold.

Good news! We have reservations to eat dessert here on our next trip. I’m so excited. What makes this special? Um, for one they sell ice cream. Other than that, they have this thing called The Kitchen Sink, eight scoops of ice cream and every topping they have. Google it. Your life will never be the same.

As of 2014, they do accept dining plans (minus the Quick-Service). It is one table service credit for each plan.



7. Jiko – The Cooking Place

Located at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. This would be one that we would do sans-kid. She’s great, but I view this more as an adult restaurant. Of course I’ve never been so I could be completely wrong.

It’s African cuisine (also blended with Indian and Mediterranean from what I hear) and seems to have pretty interesting dishes. It would definitely be a step outside my comfort zone, for sure, but that is one of the fun things about trying new restaurants, right?!

As of 2014, they do accept dining credits. For the Disney Dining Plan and Disney Deluxe Dining Plan, it takes two table service credits. For the Premium and Platinum Plans, it is one credit.



8. Le Cellier Steakhouse

Located at Epcot in Canada in the World Showcase. This one I didn’t pick for me. This one I picked for Nick. He absolutely loves steak. Me? Not at all. I’m weird, I know. It is what its name says it is - a steakhouse. They do have things on the menu that are not steak. Those are probably what I would order.

As of 2014, they do accept dining credits. For the Disney Dining Plan and Disney Deluxe Dining Plan, it takes two table service credits. For the Premium and Platinum Plans, it is one credit.



9. Mickey’s Backyard BBQ

Located at The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. An all-you-care-to-enjoy (I love how they use that phrase instead of “all-you-can-eat.”) BBQ with singing in an open-air pavilion with Disney Characters? Sign me up. We were planning to go this upcoming trip, but I wasn’t sure how warm it would be in December. Yes, I’m from Arkansas but I’m a weenie in anything below 50s. Actually below 60s.

As of 2014, they do accept dining credits. For the Disney Dining Plan and Disney Deluxe Dining Plan, it takes two table service credits. For the Premium and Platinum Plans, it is one credit.



10. Eat at every World Showcase Restaurant

I, honestly, probably wouldn’t like everything. But I think it would be very cool to say I did this. I need the extra coolness points. ;)


What would be on your Disney Dining Bucket List?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Saving Money at Disney with Gift Cards, Part 2

By: Melissa

Last week, I explained how we can save 5% on most things Disney by purchasing Disney Gift Cards at Target. This week, we’ll get a little crazy and talk about discount double-dipping.

What’s discount double-dipping? Since I totally just made that up, I’m glad you asked. Discount double-dipping is when you use a credit card that gives you rewards (dollars, points, miles, etc.) and still get a discount on Disney Gift Cards. It does take an extra step or two, but if you’re looking to use your rewards to help pay for your Disney trip, it can help get you there faster!

Hang with me – we have a couple of different ways to do this!

These Target scenarios require two things: You must have a Target RED card and you must have a Target.com account with your RED card set as your default payment method. (That last part is very important!)

Ready? Let’s go!

GiftCard5

So what you would do is use your rewards credit card to purchase gift cards, then use the gift cards online to purchase Disney Gift Cards. This scenario only works online, and only when a RED card is set as your default payment. Target had taken these entertainment cards off their website for a short time, but they’ve reappeared. I’m not sure if it was an availability issue or if they were trying to take away the option. But they’re back as of right now, and I know people are having success with ordering them.

Another option for those without Target: Forget everything we just talked about. Ok, don’t quite. But if you’re a member of Sam’s Club, you can order discounted Disney Gift Cards from their website! As I write this, they’re offering single $50 cards and a package of 3 $50 cards ($150) and FREE shipping. Here’s how it works:

GiftCard3

The single gift card is offered at 2.24% discount, and the 3-pack of $50 cards ($150) is offered at a 4.68% discount. The discounts aren’t as deep as the Target discount (5%), but if you don’t have a RED card or a Target nearby, this is still a good option.

A couple of helpful hints for after your gift cards arrive:

  1. Check your balance. Make sure the cards were activated before you throw away your receipt/packing slip. (I’d personally keep these anyway – at least until after the trip.) Most of the time, there is no issue, but it never hurts to check. And if there’s a problem, it will be much easier to fix now!
  2. Some experienced Disney Gift Card orderers on the DIS Boards recommend ordering in small batches. It seems that in their experience, problems are less likely to happen in small batches. And with free shipping, there’s no reason to worry about multiple orders.
  3. If you use Disney Gift Cards to pay part of your vacation balance, keep the cards. Use a Sharpie to write the date & amount used on each, and file them away until after your trip. If you need to change your trip (especially if it requires a refund), you might need the card numbers. Once you return from your trip, you can toss the cards or let the kids play with them.
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment or contact us via email, Facebook, or Twitter.

Have you purchased Disney Gift Cards? Will you try this to save on your trip?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Where To Find Your Favorite Characters at Magic Kingdom

By: Jenna
For more great info, be sure to follow us on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook

One of the most asked questions we hear is "Where can we find _____ at Magic Kingdom?"

This post features an alphabetical list of character locations for you. These locations are subject to change. Be sure to check with Guest Relations when you arrive at the park for specific meet and greet times as most characters are only out for short windows of time and those fluctuate. Not all characters will always be in the park.



This list does not include characters located at restaurants/hotels. Additional lists for other parks/locations will be forthcoming!


Aladdin: Magic Carpets of Aladdin
Alice: The Mad Tea Party
Anastasia: Behind Cinderella's Castle
Ariel: Ariel's Grotto
Aurora: Princess Fairytale Hall
Anna and Elsa: Princess Fairytale Hall

Belle: Enchanted Tales with Belle
Buzz Lightyear: Outside of Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin/Carousel of Progress

Captain Jack Sparrow: At Captain Jack's Tutorial in Adventureland
Chip and Dale: Across from the Golden Horseshoe
Cinderella: Princess Fairytale Hall

Daisy: Pete's Silly Sideshow in Storybrook Circus
Drizella: Behind Cinderella's Castle
Donald: Pete's Silly Sideshow in Storybrook Circus

Gaston: Outside of Gaston's Tavern

Goofy: Pete's Silly Sideshow in Storybrook Circus

Fairy Godmother: Cinderella's Fountain

Jasmine: Princess Fairytale Hall, Magic Carpets of Aladdin
Jessie: Splash Mountain area


Lady Tremaine: Behind Cinderella's Castle

Marie: Town Sqaure by the Flag Pole
Mary Poppins: Around Le Chapeau
Merida: Fairytale Garden
Mickey: Town Square Theatre
Minnie: Exposition Hall, at the Flag Pole, in front of City Hall, Pete's Silly Sideshow in Storybrook Circus
Mulan: Princess Fairytale Hall

Naveen: Occasionally with Tiana at Liberty Square

Peter Pan: Outside of Peter Pan's Flight
Pluto: Exposition Hall, at the Flag Pole and in front of City Hall
Pooh: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Rapunzel: Princess Fairytale Hall
 
Snow White: Town Square Theater (on the porch)
Stitch: No set location at this time

Tiana: Princess Fairytale Hall, Liberty Square, behind the Christmas Shop
Tigger: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Tinker Bell: Tinker Bell's Magical Nook at the Town Square Theatre

Wendy: Outside of Peter Pan's Flight
White Rabbit: The Mad Tea Party
Woody: Splash Mountain area

Monday, October 6, 2014

Steps for Planning Our Disney Trip

By: Lindsey


Planning a Disney trip can be overwhelming, especially if you've never planned one before. There are so many resources out there. There are acronyms to learn (What the heck does ADR mean?). There are so many decisions to make. Planning a Disney trip can be time-consuming, but it doesn't have to be hard.

Here is my “to-do list” when planning a Disney trip.

1. Decide on dates, set a budget,

This is my first step in planning my trip. I look at our calendar, crowd calendars, potential Disney offers, and our budget. I try to choose a week that works best for us considering all of the above. We've each written a post about setting budgets. You can read those here, here, and here.

This also involves deciding whether to stay on-site or off-site, researching resorts, base tickets or park hopper tickets, number of days in the park, whether you are going to drive or fly, whether Memory Maker is right for you, and looking at dining options (if you are staying on property).

2. Start saving for our trip.

Some of you might have already saved for your trip. If so, that’s great! Keep going. If you are like me, and you wait until you know more about the trip specifics, now is a good time to start saving. Melissa has a great post on Saving Money at Disney with Gift Cards.

3. Book our trip!

Once we’ve set our dates, decided on our budget, and have started saving for our trip, now comes the fun part. We get to book our trip!

You can also book your airline tickets at this point if you’ve decided to fly. I have several friends that suggest waiting until your trip is closer to book flights; however, I’m not that kind of a gal. I need the assurance and the plan in place so I typically book them right after we book our trip.

4. Calculate dates.

You can make dining reservations (ADRs) 180 days out from your trip. You can book FastPass+ selections 60 days prior to check-in. Here is a great page that helps you figure out what you can book when and calculating those dates. We mark these dates on our calendar so we don’t forget them.

5. Do our research.

If you plan on eating at Disney restaurants, we highly suggest making Advanced Dining Reservations (ADRs). I absolutely love researching restaurants and deciding where we want to eat. Eating is an important part of our trip. It may not be something that is important to you and if that’s the case, that’s okay!

Remember: when you are using base tickets, take that into consideration while you are looking at restaurants. If the restaurant is in a park, it will need to be in the park that you are visiting that day.

Start reviewing rides and see which rides or shows you may want your FastPass+ reservations for. You can watch YouTube videos to see what rides are like. We do this before every trip and it’s very helpful for our family.

6. Decide whether or not you are going to use touring plans.

Touring plans are not something that my family and I choose to use, but they are a great resource if you feel they are right for your family.

7. Make ADRs.

Once our date has arrived, we make our reservations! I love this part, too. Call me a nerd if you want, but it makes the trip seem so much closer when you have actual plans in the work.

8. Make FastPass+ selections

I love this part, too. I should have mentioned this in the step above, but I make an excel spreadsheet to help me keep up with this. It has about 100 tabs (just kidding, mostly). I have it ready when I go to book our FP+ (and also our ADRs) and it really helps me stay on task and not get confused.

9. Gather info.

This is another favorite of mine. We gather everything we’ll need as far as travel documents, itinerary cards (I love making our daily cards!), packing lists, etc.



10. Trip countdown.

This was something we did for our last trip. Melissa gave us the great idea to do a Disney movie countdown. Every Friday, we’d watch a different Disney movie and do an activity that went with the movie. We had so much fun! Jenna also has a post for you with a FREE!! printable countdown.


11. Have fun!

Obviously there is packing your bags and small things like that, but that’s a part of every vacation. Seriously, that would probably be my biggest piece of advice: have fun. If something goes wrong, it’s okay. If plans don’t go exactly as you planned, it’s okay. You are at Disney. Just enjoy it and have fun!


Do you have any special steps you do to plan your Disney trip? We’d love to hear from you!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Saving Money at Disney With Gift Cards

By: Melissa

I don’t know about you, but I’m all about saving money, especially on vacation. Stretching our dollars means more fun! You might be familiar with a way to save money on Disney Gift Cards at Target. But if not, let me see if I can explain it without our heads swimming.

Saving Money1

If you shop at Target very much, I’m sure you’ve been asked if you want one of their RED debit cards. I resisted for a long time, and then realized that if I set up a RED debit card (so the funds would come out of my existing checking account) I could save 5% on all my purchases without having to do anything. I was in.

Then, I found out the 5% applies to what Target calls “entertainment cards.” Those are the pre-loaded gift cards (for Starbucks, iTunes, etc.) you can find at most registers or in the Electronics department. This does not apply to Target gift cards. Target is one of the few places that sell Disney Gift Cards. They’re in $50 denominations. These are not Disney Store Gift Cards – those are just for the store. The Disney Gift Cards are for all things Disney.

Why would you want Disney Gift Cards? You can use Disney Gift Cards at: the Disney Store in person or online, most souvenir shops at Disney, most dining locations at Disney, and even to pay your Disney vacation balance!

So let’s think about this for a second. If I walk into Target and purchase a $50 gift card with my RED card, it will actually cost $47.50. That’s a savings of 5%, or $2.50. That’s not a lot when you’re buying one gift card. But if you use Disney Gift Cards to pay a large portion of your vacation balance, or for all your souvenir purchases, you could save quite a bit.

Let’s say, for instance, that I’m going to budget $100 for souvenirs for each person in my family. That’s $400 total. If I purchase Disney Gift Cards from Target to cover the souvenir purchases, here’s how it works out:

GiftCard1

I could still charge things to my account with a MagicBand, and then use the Gift Cards at the resort Concierge desk to pay the balance before check-out. Saving $20 isn’t a ton, but it’s enough for a fast food meal for my family while we’re driving to Disney. Actually, I could think of several fun ways to spend an extra $20 at Disney, can’t you? How many cappuccino cupcakes is that? I digress.

Now, let’s talk about paying a vacation balance with Disney Gift Cards. After you’ve booked your vacation, you can access your account details via My Disney Experience through the app or the Disney World website. You can check your vacation balance and make payments, among many other things. You can use Disney Gift Cards to make payments toward your vacation balance here, or you can call and speak with a Cast Member.

Let’s say you’ve already paid your $200 deposit, and you have a $2,500 balance. If you purchase $2,500 in Disney Gift Cards from Target using your RED card, here’s what it would look like:

GiftCard2

On a $2,500 balance, you would save $125. True, it’s not a lot of money on the overall total, but small savings can add up, and every little bit helps.

A side note: most Target stores are not going to have $2,500 in Disney Gift Cards (50) available for purchase at once. You would likely have to purchase in batches or from a couple of different stores if you wanted to purchase them in the same day. They can also be ordered from Target’s website, but we’ll talk more about that next week.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to comment or contact us via email, Facebook, or Twitter. Next week, we’ll talk about ordering online and “double dipping” to earn credit card points/rewards.

What’s your favorite way to save on your Disney trip?
 
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