9.09.2009

Disney Series, featuring Ashley S.


The premise of the series: For every installment, I will interview a fellow Disney fanatic (like myself). I've composed a list of questions that cover a lot of bases when it comes to Disney World, planning your vacation, making the most of it, etc. I hope this will be a great tool for some people out there to learn more about the World, plan their vacation, or will just be fun to read for others!

For this installment, I interviewed Ashley S. I know Ashley from going to the same church a few years back, and we recently reconnected when I was planning my latest Disney vacation in October. Out of the five people that I am interviewing for this series, Ashley is one of two that has had the experience of working at Disney World (JEALOUS!!!). I think this will give her interview an interesting perspective, and I'm excited to share it with you!

How long have you been going to Disney World?

I went to Disney World for the first time when I was 6 years old. I have
good snippets of memories, but nothing too big aside from remembering that it snowed (yes, snowed in Florida). The next time I went to Disney World was for my honeymoon in March of 2008. My husband, Trevor and I both fell in love with WDW and decided to go back
to work the summer and fall semesters with the Disney College Program.

How often do you go to Disney and/or how long did you
work there?

We were at Disney for 6 days in March 2008 for our honeymoon. We moved onto
Disney property May 27th, 2008 and lived there until January 2, 2009. We
have not gotten to go back since we have been busy with school and work,
but we hope to go back as soon as we can financially. :)

What is your favorite ride? Why?

Oh, that is a hard one. I think I might be able to narrow it down to one or
two per park. My favorite ride at Magic Kingdom is probably Big Thunder
Mountain. My favorite interactive ride at Hollywood Studios is Toy Story
Midway Mania but The Great Movie Ride also holds a special place in my
heart. :) My favorite rides at Animal Kingdom are Expedition Everest and
Primeval Whirl (only because it jostles you around and makes you feel like
a little kid again. Strange, I know). I love Epcot more for its theming
than anything else but if I had to pick one ride to do there it would
probably be Test Track.

As someone who has been to the World many times, what tips do you have to
make park experience easier?

Utilize the FastPass system. Don’t wear yourself out in an effort to fit everything in.
Take advantage of Extra Magic Hours if you are staying on property. EMH isn’t only at night, it is also includes morning hours for some parks. This is great at Animal Kingdom so you can come even earlier in the morning before the heat of the day. Animal Kingdom is climate controlled because of the animals, so no matter what time of year you go it will be warmer than
the other parks. If there are things that you would like to do at the parks that have
specific times (shows, parades, etc) make sure you plan it out so that you can fit it all in.

What is your favorite time of year to be at DW?

My favorite time of year for visiting and being in the parks is during the fall. Mid-September through the first week of November, there are fewer people in the parks and the weather is (usually) nice. You get to avoid waiting in really long lines and get away from the heat and rain of the late spring/summer. This is also value season, so you get access to better discounts.

Are there any websites, etc. that people should utilize in planning?
wdwinfo.com, mousesavers.com and allears.net

The great debate: staying on Disney property or off?

I am all for staying on Disney property. While it can be pricier than an off-site hotel, the advantages make up for it. Off-site hotels usually offer shuttle service to the parks but from what I have seen and discovered is that they offer limited shuttles. It isn't very flexible and limits what you can do on Disney property. Disney shuttles run constantly throughout
the day. Other advantages include use of the Disney Dining Plan and Extra Magic Hours which help you make the most out of your day(s) in the parks. Disney hotels offer the added benefit of the Disney Magic, nowhere else in Orlando is going to have the same effect as a Disney Resort.

What is your favorite place to stay?

The Grand Floridian is my favorite resort overall, but the price is the highest and I would not recommend it for someone with small children. Animal Kingdom Lodge is very well themed and great for kids while staying in the moderate resort range. What kid doesn't like looking out of their hotel window to see giraffes and rhinos? :) I personally have stayed in 2 value resorts: Pop Century and All-Star Music. Both were well themed and had good service. Whether you are working on a budget or not, don't rule out the value resorts. They are just as nice, if not nicer, than most off-site hotels in the vicinity of WDW and you still get the added benefits of staying on property.

Do you use a "touring plan" in the parks or do you just go with the flow and wing it?

Since we lived and worked at Disney, we never really had to worry about needing a touring plan. For vacations and in the future I will definitely have things planned out to an extent. Work around your meal reservations, show and parade times and the ride and activities on your “must” list for each park.

Your tips for clothing and gear to wear in the parks:

I suppose the answer to this question depends on the season in which you
visit. If you come during the summer, definitely bring your own ponchos and carry them around at all times. The showers don't last long. It is better to be prepared than to get soaking wet or pay extra for a poncho in-park. For winter months, it is all according to what temperatures you feel comfortable with. If you are used to cold weather, you will probably still be comfortable in shorts. :) Bring sunscreen, fans, etc. Whatever you think will make you more comfortable as you go through the parks. Tennis shoes are almost always the best footwear choice. If you are cold natured, you might like to bring a light jacket. Some areas are colder than others (monorails, buses, restaurants).

Name your favorite restaurants in:

I am going to list both Quick Service(QS) and Table Service(TS) because I know that few people can afford all table service meals on their magical vacation. :)

Magic Kingdom: QS - Pinocchio's Village Haus (great theming, variety of food for any tastes), TS - Liberty Tree Tavern or Chrystal Palace (amazing buffet!)
Disney Hollywood Studios: QS - Sunset Market Ranch (ok, I might be slightly biased since I worked here part of the time I was at WDW - but it has a nice variety of food) or ABC Commissary (indoor quick service), TS - 50's Prime Time Cafe (I adore the theming here and the food was always delicious!)
Epcot: QS – Sunshine Seasons (great alternative to typical QS fair such as salads, rotisserie chicken, salmon and pork chops as well as vegetable sides), TS - Teppan Edo (marvelous Japanese food served hibachi style and sushi)
Animal Kingdom: QS - Flame Tree Barbeque, QS and TS - Yak and Yeti (this restaurant is divided into 2 parts, outdoor QS and indoor TS. Delicious Asian food)

Do you have any tips for stretching your dollar on meals?

Drinking water is always a better choice, free and keeps you hydrated. Most proportions are large, especially at Table Service restaurants. Don’t let your let your eyes be bigger than your stomach (or wallet). :) When my family was here, we made a trip to a grocery store and bought breakfast foods. That way everyone can eat when they are ready and it cuts down on costs.

How many days do you recommend staying for a good Disney vacation?

I would recommend at least 4-5 days. Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios easily take a day a piece. It is possible to squeeze Epcot and Animal Kingdom into a day together but I wouldn't recommend it, especially if you have children. I personally like 5 (or more) days - 1 day in each park and a day to recap anything you really enjoyed or anything you missed.

Your best tips for going to Disney with kids:

Take time to rest and do relaxing things, as well as all of the rides and other activities. When they kids are miserable, so are the parents. Take lots of pictures because, depending on the age of the child, those will be the foundation of their memories. I do not have a whole lot of tips for
traveling with children since we don’t have any yet.

Your best tips for going to Disney without kids:

When we were on our honeymoon we went to the parks first thing in the morning, ate lunch at a park or resort, took a nap or had some down time, then hit the parks back up in the evening. Enjoy yourself, be a kid, and enjoy the freedom of not having children with you. ;) You get to skip out on most of the longer lines for the children's rides. If you have never done them before, you might want to ride them but don’t feel like you have to wait in line forever for It’s a Small World.


Character meals/breakfasts: worth it?

I have only done one character dinner. When my family came for vacation we went to the Crystal Palace for their buffet style dinner. The food was great and the characters were entertaining. My 13 year old sister, Winnie, finally came out of her shell at this dinner. Up until that point, she thought it "wasn't cool" to take pictures with the characters. That completely changed when she saw we were eating dinner in the company of Winnie the Pooh and friends. :o) Great pictures and great memories!

Fly or drive (if both were an option)?

I think I would prefer flying, though we drove when we went for our honeymoon and, of course, when we moved down there. Depending on the distance, flying will save you time and money. The sooner you get to Orlando, the more time you have for vacations and relaxing! Disney’s
Magical Express makes travel from the airport to your resort very easy and convenient. You don’t have to worry about having a rental car if you stay on Disney property because of the Disney buses, monorail and boats.

Do you use or have you used the Disney Dining Plan? Your thoughts?

When we went to Disney World on our honeymoon, we did not use the Disney Dining Plan. When my family was here, we used the Disney Dining Plan (regular) and we loved it! Since we bought our own breakfast foods, used the quick service and table service meals for our lunches and dinners, and used the snack whenever we wanted a drink or snack. When I worked in a QSR [Quick Service Restaurant] at Hollywood Studios, I cannot tell you how many times I had people rushing around trying to use up all of the meals they have left on the Deluxe plans. I have never used the Deluxe Dining Plan but it seemed like it was almost too much food. Comparing with or without the Disney Dining Plan, it was a lot less expensive to use the Dining Plan.

Do you try to split time between time in the parks and time at the hotel/swimming pool/Downtown Disney?

We always saved Downtown Disney for the first day and last day, when you are not in town for a full day and don’t want to use a full day park pass for only a few hours. Time at the hotel and swimming pool are good for breaks from the upbeat pace of the parks.

Tips or favorites in Downtown Disney:

Wolfgang Puck and Earl of Sandwich are my favorite dining choices for Downtown Disney. Do not miss out on Ghirardelli’s Soda Fountain and Ice Cream shop – it is a definite must for dessert one night!

Best place to see/meet characters?

We never sought out any characters for pictures. If we were passing by an area where a character was present, we would decide whether we wanted a picture by the length of the line and the specific character.

Best age to take a child for the first time (in your opinion, if applicable)?

It might seem too obvious, but take them when they will actually remember it. I would suggest when they are 5-6. They will have better memories of the vacation and it will be easier on the child and the parents. Bringing infants and babies to the park makes things a little bit more difficult –the child will have no memory of the trip and the parent’s memories are
less likely to be good ones. :o)

For those of you who have worked at Disney, what was it like? Did it "spoil" the magic for you or not? Are there any insider tips?

I LOVED working at Disney World and would go back in a heartbeat. I worked in Merchandise in Tomorrowland at Magic Kingdom and Quick Service Food and Beverage on Sunset Ranch in Hollywood Studios. It did not spoil the magic for me at all! I loved being on the inside and knowing all of the secrets… and the discounts make it easier to go back again and again! Insider tips? Hmmm, I think I am supposed to be sworn to secrecy on thatone. I don’t want to ruin anyone else’s magic! :o)

Do you think souvenirs are a waste of money?

That depends on the type of souvenirs. Anything that creates or enhanced a memory is not a waste of money in my eyes.

Do you use the Photopass service, do you solely take your own pictures, or
both?

It does not hurt to use Photopass. You are not committed to buying any pictures but you can go back and look at them either way (though only for a limited period of time). We always took our own pictures but kept a Photopass card with us for certain times and places.

Any tips for money-saving in general?

You CAN bring your own food and drinks into the park. If you feel comfortable with this (and having to carry extra baggage around), go for it! If you are staying at a Disney resort, DEFINITELY invest in a resort mug. This is refillable (though ONLY at the resorts) but also doubles as a souvenir – great money saver! Go the parks during value season and look for
“package deals”. You can often get the Disney Dining Plan for free depending on how long you stay and if you buy your room and tickets as a package.

Do you use the Fastpass system? How do you best utilize it?

As soon as you get in the park, go straight to get a Fastpass for a ride you want to do that has a long wait. There are two sets of times on the card, though most only pay attention to one of those times. The first set of times is the time you can return during. The second time is when you can
get your next Fastpass. Often times you can get another Fastpass before you can actually use your first Fastpass. So keep them rolling and get a new one as soon as you can. :)

Is there a ride that should be especially avoided with children, people withmotion sickness, etc.?

Most of the rides are very well labeled as to whether they are good for people with motion sickness. I wouldn’t suggest any roller coasters, Mission Space, Soarin, etc for someone with motion sickness. Though it is meant to be a children’s attraction, I can honestly say from my experience working in Tomorrowland Merchandise that more children came out crying than smiling when they exited Stitch’s Great Escape. It is very scary to small children. If your child is afraid of the dark, loud noises,or weird smells – avoid this attraction.

Is there are ride that's overrated (in your opinion)?

Everyone needs to (at some point in their life) do each ride once. Some you will never want to do again but it is all about the experience. I love/hate the Carousel of Progress and I do not ever want to go on It’s a Small World again – the songs will be stuck in your head for a long time. =)

Best parade watching spots in each park?

I never watched the parade at Animal Kingdom. I would suggest Frontierland for the parades at Magic Kingdom and anywhere within the vicinity of the Sorcerer’s Hat for Hollywood Studios. Keep in mind that it is ALWAYS going to be crowded watching the parade.

Do you own Mouse Ears?

My husband and I both have Mouse Ears. They are ears that cannot be purchased in the park that we received for our graduation from the Disney College Program.

One of your favorite memories from Disney World:

My honeymoon in general was amazing. There is no way I can sum up the memories that I made in the 7+ months of living, working and playing at Disney. I also treasure the friendships I made while there and the people I met.

What is your favorite Disney movie?

Oh goodness – I am a Disney movie fanatic!
Disney Princess movie – Beauty and the Beast
Disney/Pixar movie – Cars
Honestly, I am an old soul. My favorites are all of the classic, older Disney movies, especially the live action movies (One and Only Genuine Original Family Band, Summer Magic, Candle Shoe, Parent Trap, etc).

Anything else that you have to say about the Happiest Place on Earth:

Disney is my happy place, my favorite place in the world. One of my favorite things to do in the Disney parks are the 3-D shows. If you can, go to them! Most people want to get in front of the castle for Wishes, but you can see the fireworks without as much of a crowd in Tomorrowland.
Don’t be afraid to resort hop. I have never had anyone say anything to me about going to resorts that are not your own and visiting, eating, swimming. Beaches and Cream at the Yacht and Beach Club resorts is an absolute must – ask for “the kitchen sink”! ;o)

One of my ABSOLUTE favorite Disney memories ever was going with my family to the Hoop-De-Doo Revue. It was great, hilarious family entertainment and the food was delicious!





Thank you, Ashley, for contributing to my Disney Series! May all your dreams come true :o)


Have a magical day!----



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