Merry Christmas!

May the Lord bless you this year---and may you experience some Disney magic along the way!


Tips for Baby Mouseketeers

Recently, I received a comment on my main blog from a mom who recently took her 18-month-old to Disney World:

I wish I would have known about your blog before we went to Disney World. We went over Thanksgiving and although we did make some good memories we were really at a loss for our son's age group (16 months). He was NOT a happy camper and in turn, mom and dad were not happy campers! I want to go back but not for a very long time!

Disney can be challenging with a child that's too big to sleep in the stroller all day, but too small to really enjoy everything to its fullest. Here are some tips that might make it a little easier.

-Pack your own snacks. At this time, Disney is lenient on their food policy. If you know that Penelope is obsessed with Goldfish crackers, guess what you need to pack? Obviously, don't weigh down your backpack with pounds of food, but pack individual little snack baggies and a sippy cup that you can fill with water.

-Know that you can always return to Disney in the future. Plan the trip around what is easiest and most engaging for a toddler. Research Disney's website, and really, really detailed reports at Allears and make a list. List MUST-SEE attractions, MAYBE attractions, and then forget the rest. Seriously. Prepare your mind ahead of time.

-It will be pretty easy to determine which rides a toddler can't go on. Basically, it will have a height requirement. But at this age, toddlers are really interested in just the experience, sights, and sounds of a ride/attraction. Don't be worried if they don't "get" the premise of the ride.

-If you and your spouse want to go on a certain ride that Baby can't go on, Disney has a wonderful system called the Rider-Switch or Baby-Swap. Each ride handles this a little differently, but all you need to do is check in with the Cast Member greeter at the ride. They will usually give you a pass that clearly indicates the situation: Rider Switch. The first parent can get in line (or get in the Fastpass line if you have a legitimate one to use), while the other waits with Baby. Then after the ride, the parents switch and the other parent gets to go through the Fastpass line and take his/her turn. Isn't that great?!

-Sometimes you'll need a relax and regroup ride or attraction. Here are some ideas:
  • Tomorrowland Transit Authority (MK): Get on and off as you please. It's a smooth tram-like ride above Tomorrowland that goes at the perfect pace. Wonderful for resting your feet. Another idea: if your toddler sleeps well while "moving," such as in a car, this simulates that experience. The scenery is varied enough to where the adults can chill, talk and relax while Wee Children take a power nap.
  • Hall of Presidents (MK): Climate controlled, auditorium-type situation. The lighting is dark, and it's rarely full, so this is also a good nursing opportunity if need be.
  • The Walt Disney World Railroad (MK) makes a big giant loop and is great for outdoor scenery and a nice breeze when the weather is right. Great resting for your feet!
  • The Liberty Belle Riverboat (MK) is just that: a slow boat ride within Magic Kingdom. When you hit it right, it's not crowded, and there are relatively good seating options.
  • Impressions de France (E): Theater-type seating with an IMAX-like film. Good for resting your feet, but unless you're sitting in the very back corner and it's not crowded, this probably wouldn't be the best place to nurse. The screen produces a lot of light from the film.
  • The American Adventure (E): Similar to the Hall of Presidents, this is a dark-theater situation. Good for resting/nursing!
Here are some exciting and engaging rides/attractions for toddlers:
  • Small World (MK)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (MK): You might need to shield the eyes in the first portion of the ride
  • Jungle Cruise (MK)
  • Country Bear Jamboree (MK)
  • Peter Pan's Flight (MK)
  • Dumbo (MK)
  • Disney's Philharmagic (MK): A personal favorite of mine! This does require 3-D glasses. However, if you just can't make your toddler wear them, it's okay. The screen will be fuzzy-looking to them, but they should still enjoy the experience. You will too!
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • Cinderella's Golden Carousel
  • Mickey and Minnie's Houses (MK): Be aware that you walk through these attractions. However, they are stroller friendly, and touching things is encouraged!
  • Carousel of Progress (MK): Only if your toddler is fascinated by audio-animatronic people, etc. This isn't child-geared, but the changing scenes and AA people/dog could keep their attention. When in doubt, skip it. You can't exit easily because the theater rotates.
  • Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (MK)
  • Spaceship Earth (E): Again, be advised this is about the history of communication/technology and there is no easy exit. Audio-animatronics are used and there are some neat lighting effects every now in then, but if in doubt, skip it.
  • The Seas with Nemo and Friends (E)
  • Turtle Talk with Crush (E): Not a ride; you sit on the floor. If you have an active toddler, skip it!
  • Journey Into Imagination (E): I'd call this a "Maybe"/If You Have Time ride.
  • El Rio de Tiempo (E): Boat ride in the Mexico Pavilion.
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid (DHS)
  • Playhouse Disney--Live (DHS)
  • Kilamanjaro Safari (AK)
  • Finding Nemo the Musical (AK)

-Disney offers Baby Stations that are a great place to recharge and regroup. There is an adult restroom, sinks, changing areas, high chairs for feeding, nursing rooms, etc. For a charge, you can purchase items you might have forgotten.

Here are the locations of the Baby Stations (from Allears):
Magic Kingdom -- At the end of Main Street, behind the Crystal Palace Restaurant on you way to Adventureland. It is tucked away in a small courtyard near the first aid station.

Epcot -- On the backside of the Odyssey Restaurant on the walkway from Test Track to Mexico. This is a very neat station as many times the workers from the Mexican Pavilion come over to relieve the cast members. It is great to talk to them about their travels and country while you are taking a break.

Disney's Hollywood Studios -- Just inside the entrance near guest services on the left as you enter.

Animal Kingdom -- Near the Creature Comforts gift shop on the left side of The Tree of Life.

-A lot of people like the Take a Break and Nap approach. They will go back to their hotel mid-day and really recharge. You know your kids best. If you will have meltdowns if they don't get that solid 2-hour nap, then it's worth taking the break. You don't want to ruin your vacation! However, if you think your kids can nap in their stroller(s) while you continue to browse, eat, etc., I say keep going. You know your kids best!

-Don't force a character meeting unless you really think your child can handle it. Start talking about Disney World early and discuss maybe meeting some characters (try not promise specific characters--you never know who you will run into!). Watch the Disney Planning DVD that you can get FREE!

-Dining arrangements will be different with very small children. I would plan on mostly quick-service meals, since you never know what state you'll be in at any given point in the day. If your child is nice and predictable about mealtimes, then maybe make one Advanced Dining Reservation a day, maximum. (Call 1-407-WDW-DINE or you can now reserve online!)

-Do not bother with Character Meals unless your child is really old enough to be excited about it and has shown an interest in Disney movies, characters, etc. Again, you know your child best!

As long as you do some preparing and planning, you really can manage a Disney vacation with a very small child. Just try to stick to your normal schedule as far as eating, napping, snacking, etc. the best you can. Breathe and realize that memories (for you as adults) is why you're doing this. Seeing Disney through Evy's eyes is something I literally can't wait for. I'm counting the hours until we take her for the first time!


Disney Series, featuring....ME!

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!

How long have you been going to Disney World?
My earliest memories are at Disney World. My dad was the college pastor at First Baptist Church Orlando, so we had access to it all the time. My mom has a funny story about taking me with her friend who also had a little girl. By the time they got all of the paraphernalia into the park and got settled, it was time for me and the other little girl to nurse, so one of my very first Disney experiences was in the nursing room, Magic Kingdom!

How often do you go?
Now that Kurt, Evy, and I are a family, we're going to aim to go every 12-18 months.

What is your favorite ride? Why?
There are too many to name, but I LOVE PhilharMagic in Magic Kingdom. Besides the practical (inside, climate controlled, sitting down, no long waits), it's a GREAT attraction.

My favorite new ride is Toy Story Midway Mania. I'm usually not into video-game types of things, but I LOVE this! Kurt and I got good at it!

As far as classics, Small World has a special place in my heart, as does Peter Pan. But then there's Pirates of the Caribbean. See? I can't choose.

As someone who has been to the World many times, what tips do you have to make the park experience easier?
Well, obviously the theme of this blog is researching, planning, and making the most out of your vacation, so my tip is to DO YOUR RESEARCH. Buy the Unofficial Guide (my favorite), devour it, and familiarize yourself with the maps and rides in each area. Pick your must-see attractions that you absolutely have to see. When you first get to the park, make a BEELINE for your top-priority ride. Either get a Fastpass and watch the first morning show with a front-row view (which my family has done) or just go ahead and ride the ride (which is probably what you should do in most instances). Disney takes planning. But it is WORTH IT!

What is your favorite time of year to be at DW?
For holiday cheer, right after the New Year. You can still get a glimpse of the Christmas decorations. The fall has beautiful weather and low crowds. Avoid summer and most of spring like the plague.

Are there any websites, etc. that people should utilize in planning?
See my sidebar!

The great debate: staying on Disney property or off?
I've done both, and I did a post about it (see my labels in the sidebar). Personally, I love staying on property, but sometimes staying off property works well for people. Let's put it this way: you WILL experience magic, wherever you stay, but Disney just ups the ante.

Do you use a "touring plan" in the parks or do you just go with the flow and wing it?
Please tell me you know the answer to this question.

Sorry to burst the bubble, but you just can't go to Disney without a touring plan. At the very least, pick a place to start and plan to go clockwise. Or counterclockwise. Not that I recommend this, but at least plan something.

Most touring plans are based on attractions and how crowded they tend to be. Why would you not utilize this information? Also, it helps to schedule in your meals. That way, there's no stress about when to eat and where. It's already planned.

That being said, flexibility is key. You can't burst into tears if you show up at a ride and the wait is (gasp!) 40 minutes instead of the 5 minutes you thought it would be. This is Disney. Look around, breathe, and continue.

Your tips for clothing and gear to wear in the parks:
Tennis shoes are definitely recommended, but I've had good experiences in flip flops. Just test them out before you go! This is NOT the time to break a pair in. Take layers. Pack a backpack with ponchos, light snacks (at this time, Disney is lenient on their food policy) and refillable, filtered water bottles. I typed out our plan, which included all dining info, and had that in the backpack too. Oh, and as cute as dressing your kids up in Disney costumes is, be aware that you MUST have a change of comfy clothes in that backpack. The Belle costume will start to itch about 30 minutes into the day.

Name your favorite restaurants in:

Magic Kingdom: Cinderella’s Royal Table is excellent and magical--worth the splurge! Pinocchio Village Haus (great view of Small World!) or Pecos Bill’s for counter service. Tony's is good, hearty Italian food and I love the Lady and the Tramp theme.
Disney Hollywood Studios: 50’s Prime Time CafĂ© for table service. The Backlot Express for counter service (free refills on drinks). The Brown Derby has a fabulous atmosphere for adults. My family really loved Sci Fi Drive In for its theming.
Epcot: San Angel Inn in Mexico is my dad's favorite Mexican food of all time. I don't think you know what a big deal that is.
Animal Kingdom: I honestly have never eaten in Animal Kingdom, so I have no clue.

Do you have any tips for stretching your dollar on meals?
We share from time to time. You really get more food that you can eat, even in counter service meals, so we split sometimes. If you are on the dining plan, you cannot share at table service meals, but its okay to do so at a counter service. Also, do the dining plan when it’s free. Disney has extended the dates this year and it is well worth it. [I agree with Junebug's answer here!]

How many days do you recommend staying for a good Disney vacation?
At least 5, because that way you can do a park per day and then a recap day. My family personally skips Animal Kingdom (just our preference) and repeats a lot at DHS and Magic Kingdom. But I would love a looonnngg vacation just to really slow down and not feel pressure to max out the day.

Character meals/breakfasts: worth it?
If meeting characters and taking pictures is important to you, then definitely do a character meal! You're guaranteed pictures and individual times with the characters, and you're not waiting in a line a mile long. For kids, it's so fun. 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian hotel has a great character meal and is a great way to experience the glamour of that hotel without paying the price to stay there.

Fly or drive (if both were an option)?
With air travel being so difficult now, we currently drive. You're free to stop when you need to, and you can split the drive into two days if need be. However, flying gives you more time in the parks if you're on a time crunch. I would say to research both options for each trip you take; the result could be different each time.

Do you use or have you used the Disney Dining Plan? Your thoughts?
I've never used it, but I think we'll try it if it's free. I've heard it's a LOT of food, which is why I wouldn't pay for it. But if Disney and "free" are in the same sentence, I'd be really really tempted to take advantage.

Do you try to split time between time in the parks and time at the hotel/swimming pool/Downtown Disney?
No. We only do Downtown Disney on our first day in Orlando, usually in the evening when we arrive. I honestly can't imagine coming back to my hotel to rest or swim. I would feel like I was missing out on park time! You can swim and nap anywhere. You're at Disney World!

Tips or favorites in Downtown Disney:
I always buy something in the Christmas store (my favorite!), and browsing World of Disney is a must. Really, I just like to wander in and out of the shops. I never do any hardcore shopping. My Christmas purchase is enough :)

Best place to see/meet characters?
I don't have very much experience with this, but I will say: don't stand in line for a character unless it's one you really care about. It's not worth it if you're not even excited about the Mad Hatter. He's weird, anyway.

Do you think souvenirs are a waste of money?
Not necessarily. Just make sure it's something you absolutely can't get anywhere else and it's something that will last. Mouse Ear hats are always fun. My number one souvenir buy is a Christmas ornament or something from the Christmas store at Downtown Disney. You know you have a tree to hang it on, right?!

Do you use the Photopass service, do you solely take your own pictures, or both?
I only take my own pictures. However, I utilize the Photopass people to take group pictures. That's what they're there for. They're so nice about it, and they've seen every kind of camera you can imagine.

Any tips for money-saving in general?
Stay at a value resort, pack light snacks in your backpack, and if you have young children, set boundaries in souvenir buying ahead of time. They will be experiencing overload, so prepare them ahead of time. That way, you don't end up with 5 Mickey balloons, 3 Goofy hats, and neon necklaces.

Do you use the Fastpass system? How do you best utilize it?
YES! We always have a Fastpass ready to use. While we're waiting for our time zone, we'll find a ride that historically doesn't have a long wait, or that loads up lots of people at a time. Always have a Fastpass in your hand. It's too easy not to use!

Is there a ride that should be especially avoided with children, people with motion sickness, etc.?
In my opinion, Snow White's Scary Adventures is creepo and scarring. I still won't go on it. The witch pops out of NOWHERE, and there's hardly anything pertaining to Snow herself (because the ride is supposed to be from her point of view). Avoid it. Mission Space is a no-go if you get sick. Some people think the Teacups are sickness waiting to happen, but you can control your individual teacup (but I still don't go, just in case!).

Is there are ride that's overrated (in your opinion)? Stitch's Great Escape. A ride that is totally UNDERRATED is the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. It's so relaxing to get off your feet, ride high above Tomorrowland, and breathe. There's no wait, and you don't have to get off until you want to.

Best parade watching spots in each park?
I've found that in MK, near Liberty Tree Tavern in a good spot with lots of seating options.

Do you own Mouse Ears? I had some when I was a baby, but I definitely need a new pair.

One of your favorite memories from Disney World:
Going with my family in 2005. We went to all of the parks for the first time together, and had an absolute blast. Cinderella sat down and talked to Will and Andrea for a good while when we were waiting to eat at the Royal Table, and we just had so much fun. I will always appreciate my parents for making that trip happen.

What is your favorite Disney movie?
Beauty and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty. For live action, The Happiest Millionaire and One and Only Genuine Original Family Band.

Anything else that you have to say about the Happiest Place on Earth:
Disney combines all that is good in the world: Childhood, make believe, the nostalgia of earlier time periods, the gallantry of medieval times, the glamour of an old Hollywood that really never was, the fun 50's, the charm of a turn-of-the-century Main Street USA, and even exciting prospects for the future. It encompasses all that is happy. Families are celebrated and encourage to have quality time together. Disney's standard of excellence and detail is unparalleled, and there will never be anything like it. Every Cast Member that I've ever spoken to in my 24 years of visiting has always been charming, pleasant, and enthusiastic, because they love working there. Disney isn't just a group of theme parks or resorts. It's a World, and I love it with all of my heart.


Did You Know?

Christmas is probably THE busiest time of the year at Disney World, and the crowds are insane. However, it's one of the best times to go to see Disney magic and detail at its finest. Here's a tip: it takes Disney 10 or so days to take down all of the Christmas decorations, so you can go right after the holiday rush/peak season and still see the Christmas cheer!