Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday Morning Distraction.

I don't know about you, but our entire house has had Swine Flu, excuse me the H1N1Virus, and I could use a little Disney to brighten my morning.

On the October 21st DisUnplugged podcast, Walter and his friend Corine Frye talk about nature tours and riding the zipline at Florida EcoSafaries, a 4700 acre nature preserve an hour's drive from Disney World.  You can also check out the attraction's website at Florida EcoSafaris.

Jim Hill wonders if "Disney's A Christmas  Carol" is too scary for kids.

Speaking of scary, I really want these Crocs:

Stop laughing! I know they're ugly. They're also incredibly comfortable.  Unfortunately, they're also impossible to find.  This means they're super trendy, right?  Yeah . . . .

Have a hankering to be in the next Samatha Brown Disney special?  Information at AllEars.   Casting is open to residents of the Orlando area only.

The Daily Disney has information for those who want to be in the audience for the taping of Disney's 2009 Christmas parade. 

Finally, speaking of Swine flu:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

October 27th: The Day Disney Dining Crashed?

If you're planning a trip to Disney in the near future, you probably know that prior to October 27th, you could make advanced dining reservations (ADRs) 90-days in advance (plus 10 days for those staying on site). All of that changes on Tuesday, when the window for ADRs opens up to 180 days.   Thise means that the usual crush of guests trying to make reservations first thing in the morning will be much greater.  To put it mildly, all predictions are that it will be a mess.

If your ADR window opens up on Tuesday, will you be calling first thing in the morning or will you cross your fingers and hope that most people don't plan that far in advance and give it a day or two?  It will be interesting to see how the system holds up.  So far, I've been really happy with the online reservation system. 

Good luck to all the cast members who are working that day!

Reservations can be made at 407-wdw-dine or at Disney online.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Grocery Stores around Disney World.

Some Disney trip planning is exciting: Picking a resort, planning where you'll go each day, making dinner reservations. Some planning is just, well, mundane. This is one of those topics.

If you're lucky enough to have a kitchen on your next Disney vacation or even if you just want to buy a few bottles of water and some breakfast supplies for eating in the room, you'll probably want to make a quick trip to the grocery store. Most likely, your hotel has a small gift shop where they sell a few food items, but these tend to be overpriced and the selection is limited. Unless your idea of breakfast is a Slim Jim and a can of Coke, you'll need to make a trip to an actual grocery store which will require you to drive around Disney World, a confusing enterprise even to those who travel there on a regular basis. Here are a few convenient, clean grocery stores as well as some specialty stores for those with special dietary needs.

I generally think of myself as someone who has a good sense of direction, but I've been lost more times than I can count around Disney World. A nice option for shoppers who don't want to bother going to the grocery store or who don't have a car is Garden Grocer. There's a $12 fee and a minimum order of $40, which you can easily spend just stocking a small room refrigerator on a short trip. They also sell toiletries and baby items such as formula, baby food, and diapers. The website is easy to use and in the last year they've really expanded their selection. Prices are generally better than Goodings and are competitive with Publix or Winn-Dixie, although slightly higher than Super Target or Walmart. The big exception seems to be milk; expect to pay around 50% more for a gallon of milk than you would in your local store.

If you're staying at a Disney resort and your order arrives before you do, the front desk will hold it and ensure that it's kept cold. Many off site hotels will do the same, although be sure to check ahead of time if you're arriving after your delivery. I rented a condo at Windsor Hills and notified the rental agency before I arrived that I was expecting a delivery. They let them in and allowed them to drop off my food before I even checked in. There's an option for leaving a tip when you fill out your order, by the way, so even if you're not going to be there, you can say thank you to your delivery person. For the best delivery times, place your order at least 30 days in advance. You can modify your order as you go. If you are unable to get your desired time, I've found they'll generally try work with you.

Goodings is practically iconic among park-goers for reasons that are beyond me. Sure, it's convenient from Downtown Disney, just off SR 535, and more importantly, it's location right off I-4 means it's really easy to find. It's also overpriced and a bit scruffy.  Unless you're going by cab, are walking from Downtown Disney or are the type who gets hopelessly lost after a couple of turns, there are better grocery stores nearby. Goodings is at SR 535 and I-4. Take Exit 68 off of I-4.  Goodings also boasts an inexplicably confusing website where you can order ahead of time, should you feel inclined to have the entire Gooding's experience.  Update, January 2010:  A recent trip two weeks ago found Goodings even more run-down than in the past.  Worse, the prices were appalling: A half-gallon of Horizon Organic 2% milk was $5.99, nearly double the price at Super Target.  The staff is super-friendly, so I hope the owners can get it together so these nice people don't lose their jobs.

Go about one mile north from Goodings and you'll find a Winn-Dixie at 11957 South Apopka Vineland Road. It's clean and the selection is adequate. More importantly, the prices are reasonable. If you use the pharmacy, be aware that they have a very slow turnaround, so if you need a prescription fast, try one of several phramacies nearby. If you're staying at a Bonnet Creek resort or at Ft. Wilderness or the Wilderness Lodge, take the shortcut on SR 535; you can ask at your resort for directions. There's also a location at 7840 W Irlo Bronson Highway (Highway 192), which is more convenient for Disney guests staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

My personal favorite for selection and savings is Super Target.  There are several within a few minutes of Disney property, the closest located at 3200 Rolling Oaks Boulevard, just right off 192 heading away from Disney World (you'll cross I-4 and go a couple of miles).  You'll know you're there when you see the brightly colored townhomes on your right; Target is right across the street.  If you pass the Waffle House, you've gone too far.  There's also one located near the Mall at Millenia off I-4 at Exit 78.  It's a good fifteen to twenty minutes from Disney property, but it is larger and has a better selection than the one near Disney.  It also gives you an excuse to engage in some heavy duty, non-Disney, shopping while you're over there.   In addition to having just about every retail chain you could want, there's also a Walmart and a Krispy Kreme; let the neon "hot now" sign be your guide.

None of these grocery stores have a great selection of foods for people with allergies or special dietary needs. You can find a few items like gluten-free pasta at Target and Publix, for example, but for real variety you'll need to go elsewhere. You really can't beat Whole Foods for the widest selection of organic produce, dairy, and free-range meats. They also have a wide selection of soy and gluten-free products. There's a new store in Orlando at 311 World Drive, Bay Lake, FL 32830. It's about 15 minutes from Disney property (and practically right next to Universal Studios), but well worth the drive for the selection and prices; if you can't find it there, you probably won't find it in Central Florida.  If you prefer a local natural foods market, you might want to look into Chamberlin's, which has several locations in and around Orlando.

This post is part of the Dismarks Inaugural Disney Blog Carnival. You'll find a variety of Disney related articles at Dismarks, where you can read, comment, and discuss Disney with other fans.  You can even submit articles from your own or ther sites.

Note:  This post gets a lot of hits so I try to keep it updated when I become aware of changes; email me if you find any inaccuracies. Thanks! 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday Morning Distraction.

Set your DVR and get your Disney TV fix. Listings graciously provided here. I check here about once a week. Who knew the TV show Roseanne went to Disney? Well now you can see it too.

George Kalogridis is the new president of Disneyland. Thirty-eight years ago, he was a busboy at the Contemporary Resort. Jim Hill has the story here.

Ever wanted to see what the most expensive suites in Walt Disney World look like? Head over to Suite Disney. It's not a night in the Royal Asante Suite at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but it is free!

Epcot's newest ride, The Sum of All Thrills, was unveiled Wednesday. The ride uses similar techonology that will be used in the Harry Potter attraction opening this spring at Universal Orlando. Disney Imagineers were heard yelling "First!" at the opening. Okay, I made that part up.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Monday Morning Distraction on Wednesday Night: The "I'm Sick" Edition.

I have some sort of vile cold and it's making me want to hide under the covers, which is sad, because I'm sure you would have enjoyed this little ditty sent to me by musician Keith Lubrant during the usual Monday morning distraction. Well, better late than never, I suppose.

And now, I need my pillow and favorite blankie. And some sleep.

Friday, October 9, 2009

When is the right age to take kids to Disney World for the first time?

I live in a very kid-centric neighborhood, so it shouldn't surprise you that it's also the type of neighborhood where someone is always planning a Disney vacation or going to Disney World. One topic that comes up a lot is the right age to take kids to Disney World for the first time. In fact, want to start a heated debate on a Disney message board? Ask this question. While there are definitely variables, I think the answer ultimately depends on how you personally feel about Disney World.

Conventional wisdom among the writers of travel guides is that the best time for a first-time visit is around seven or eight years of age, putting a child a few years past naps and little kid crankiness, old enough to ride most everything in the Magic Kingdom and elsewhere, but still young enough to believe in all the wonderful things that will surround him. From my experience, this is really good advice, although I have to admit that I didn't believe it until I experienced taking two toddlers to Disney myself. While I enjoyed our recent vacation, I have no problem admitting that the two-year olds got very little out of the parks. Yes, there were moments when they had a wonderful time and it was great watching their faces in It's a Small World, but they were also completely off schedule, cranky, cried a lot, and didn't sleep, the result of which is that none of us slept or really enjoyed the trip. Keep in mind I'm saying this as someone whose been to Disney World many times and knows the tricks; I probably should have known better.

So the question is, would I do it again? Well, yes. But there's a reason why and it's pretty simple: I'm a huge Disney World fan; the prospect of not going to Disney World for several years in a row is kind of . . . depressing. Plus, I have an older child whom I want to take and while we've gone with just the two of us, both of us missed his younger siblings and father. But for parents who aren't big fans, I'd say follow the conventional wisdom and wait until they are a little older, around four or five at the youngest. My twins would have honestly had a better time chasing around a cheap beach ball in the sandbox at our local park. You don't want to spend your entire vacation mentally calculating the cost of unused tickets and wasted meals. Um, not that I did that. Okay, maybe just a little.

Now, having said this, most of us have kids of different ages and really, togetherness is what a family vacation is all about, right? So since you're probably going to end up taking younger children, you'd better find a way to make the best of it and maybe even have a great time. Here are a few tips to make your stay a little easier.

1.If it's financially possible, stay on Disney property. I think the biggest mistake we made on our last trip was staying off-site. Even though our rental (Windsor Hills off 192) was very close to Disney property and was 15-20 minutes away from most Disney parking lots, since we spent most of our time in the Magic Kingdom, it took over an hour to get into the park. Dragging a tired toddler out of the Magic Kingdom, putting her on the ferry, waiting for a tram at the Ticket and Transportation Center, loading her and the stroller, and then taking your car back to the rental is exhausting. If you do stay off site, consider renting an additional car so that you aren't the only one chauffeuring others in your party from your hotel to the parks.

2.Try going during the slower, cooler months. No one wants to see a miserable, sweaty baby stuck in a stroller. You'll all be more comfortable, and the lines will be shorter, during the slower times of the year.

3.Take breaks and lower your expectations. You're not going commando this trip. You won't see every attraction. You may miss nightly fireworks displays because the kids need to sleep. Scale back your expectations and instead enjoy to the little moments that Disney does very well. One of the best parts of our trip with toddlers was spent in Mickey's Toon Town Fair while my daughter happily walked around and pointed out the various Mickey heads on the fence and buildings. True, it wasn't riding Buzz Lightyear over and over again, but it was nice.

4.Keep in mind that small children and infants may be frightened by attractions that wouldn't scare someone just a few years older. If you catch yourself pushing attractions and character experiences that your child doesn't seem to be enjoying, it's time to back off a little bit.

5.Try to stay on a schedule similar to the one they're on at home, even if it means not getting to the parks when they open. One advantage west coasters have is that they can stay on their usual schedule and take advantage of the three hour time difference by staying up “later” at night.

6.Don't overdo it on the character breakfasts and “special” activities. Here's the thing about a Disney vacation: Your park ticket gives you an extraordinary amount of activities, more than you could ever do on one vacation and rest assured, there will more than enough special moments that you don't need to purchase extras. Yes, it's nice to take your daughter to Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for a princess makeover, but she won't miss it if it doesn't happen and you'll definitely appreciate the $200 you saved. Same with the pirate cruises and and the nighttime parties that require you to buy an extra ticket. They're all wonderful, but if you're cutting money, this is the place to do it. You really don't have to dress your kid up everyday, meet every character, and have a special gift basket waiting in the room at the end of the day. There's a such thing as too much fun. After a while, it can all become a blur.

7.Take advantage of the baby care centers in each park. They're clean, generally quiet, and they sell supplies you may have forgotten. In addition to clean changing tables, there are highchairs where you can feed small children.

8.Remember to do a small amount of babyproofing in your room. Remove items that might be harmful or easily broken. Consider bringing a few doorknob covers to keep little ones out of bathrooms.

9.Don't schedule too many sit-down meals, particularly with kids who aren't used to dining out regularly. If you're on the dining plan, buffets are a good choice for kids. Some character meals and signature restaurants will use up two credits, which can give you a day off table service restaurants without the risk of not using your dining plan credits. A simple breakfast in your room of cereal and fruit can make up for the inevitable sugary snacks later in the day. Don't forget to pack a few healthy snacks in your bag. Disney doesn't object to you bringing them into the parks.

10.Consider separating. No, not the legal kind. I mean one parent taking the older child while the other takes the younger ones. Meet up after naps or when your older kid is done with the more adventurous rides. At night, one parent can take advantage of later park hours and have a bit of free time exploring the parks alone while the other parent watches the kids. Trading off parenting duties can give you a much needed break. This was, by far, the smartest thing we did on our last trip. If you're a single parent traveling alone, consider using a babysitting service to give yourself a little free time.

While I'm on the subject of babysitting services, if you feel comfortable with it, why not try a date night while you're in Disney World? There's a reason why Disney is such a popular honeymoon destination: Great restaurants and sights can make for a romantic night for two. Kids Nite Out and Fairy Godmothers come highly recommended. If you're not sure about using these services, you can ask other parents who've used these services on disney message boards like Disboards or Passporter.
I just want to close by saying you're not going to have a bad trip with smaller children. You're going to have a different trip than you would have with older kids. It will be, at times, work. But it can also be wonderful.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No doubt, the girl is quite peculiar.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Resort Hopping at Walt Disney World.

Ever wanted to see the inside of one of Disney's beautiful resorts but didn't go in because you weren't a guest? Well next time you're in the World, stop by and look around. Resort hopping, visiting different resorts during your stay, is so popular among Disney guests that some vacationers set an entire day aside to tour the various properties. Resort hopping is particularly popular during the Christmas holidays, when the resorts really shine with their holiday finery. Best of all, it's free! You don't have to be a Disney resort guest or even have a park ticket for that day to hop on the monorail or on a Disney bus and take a look around.

Disney resorts aren't your typical hotel. Each resort has a theme and everything you see was carefully chosen to best represent that theme. When you go to the Animal Kingdom Lodge, for example, you might be so drawn in by the breathtaking lobby or the view of the Savannah that you overlook all the artifacts and treasures on display; they represent years of research and collecting done by Disney Imagineers and African craftsmen, so make sure you check them out. There are also fun Disney touches at the resorts including the ever-popular hidden Mickeys.

The resorts are an excellent place to get a quick bite or a really luxurious meal away from the parks. The monorail hotels in particular are a great place to have lunch when you're visiting the Magic Kingdom. If you're looking for a reason to visit the Grand Floridian, think about having lunch at the Grand Floridian Cafe; the prices are good and the food is excellent, making it a hidden gem at Walt Disney World. Keep in mind that not all restaurants are open for lunch and some require advanced dining reservations.

Resort hopping is a great way to spend some downtime while visiting the World. Disney resorts provide beautiful backgrounds for photos, good food, and give guests an understanding of Disney World as more than just a place with four great parks. So go in, look around. A lot of work went into making these resorts a magical place and your interest is welcomed and appreciated.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Monday Morning Distraction.

Last week Disney announced its promotion for 2010, "Give a Day, Get a Disney Day," where guests can register to volunteer with selected organizations and receive a free Disney day (or a comparable gift). I think this is one of the most clever promotions Disney has come up with in years and it's a nice bridge between this year's "What Will You Celebrate?" promotion and next year's 40th anniversary at Disney World, which is bound to be a pretty big deal. Jentasmic at Studio Central has a few thoughts about it.

If you need to put a little extra happiness in your day, click on this. It's amazing:

Yet Another Fiscally Responsible Reason to Buy Disney Vacation Club!

Parking prices will increase at Disney parks on 10/4:

$14.00 - Car/Taxi/Shuttle/Limousine/Motorcycle
$15.00 - Camper/Trailer
$18.00 - Bus/Tractor Trailer
$5.00 - Premium spots at Wide World of Sports.

Sure, it's just a couple of dollars, but if you buy DVC, you can park for free!

Not buying it? Neither is my husband.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Reader Email: Do I need a car if I'm staying on site at Disney?

From a reader (yay!):

I noticed that you mention in your Ft. Wilderness post that you wouldn't stay there without a car. My husband and I are staying at the Wilderness Lodge over Christmas. Would you recommend renting a car? My husband says NO, I say YES!! We are taking Magical Express.



PL: Thanks for your email. If I was trying to save money on a trip (and I usually am), renting a car is the first thing I'd cut if I'm staying on Disney property. Magical Express is incredibly convenient. I know that some people have complained about long waits and there is the extremely rare luggage mishap, but from my perspective, the ability to walk from your gate to ME, get on the bus, check into your resort, and have your luggage delivered to your room later that day is priceless. As for Disney internal transporation, I've stayed at all resort levels and although there have been exceptions, I've generally not waited more than 15-20 minutes on what I would consider a heavy crowd day. Other times, I've waited only a few minutes.

Regardless of where you stay, you will be able to get anywhere you want on Disney property using Disney transportation. It is, particularly considering the vast amount of people Disney moves from place to place, remarkably efficient. Some resorts however, have less than stellar bus service. Saratoga Springs and Treehouse Villas come to mind, as does Ft. Wilderness. Other resorts are so far from dining options that staying there without a car can be difficult. If you stay at a more remote location, you may want to plan your dining options a little more carefully. Keep in mind that you generally can't go directly from one resort to another, so if you're dining at a resort different from your own, you'll have to go to a park or the Ticket and Transportation Center and then transfer to a bus or monorail that takes you to that resort As you can see, this is where staying at a monorail resort or at one of the Epcot resorts is very convenient.

Ask yourself how you intend to vacation. Are you comfortable buying everything you need on Disney property? If not, you still don't have to rent a car; look into grocery delivery services. Does your resort have adequate dining options? This can be a particulary difficult issue when staying at Ft. Wilderness, for example. Do you intend to visit other attractions in the Orlando area? If you choose to do so, some of them, such as Universal, provide shuttles to their parks and back from Disney property with certain ticket options. Ultimately, I think it's also important to be honest with yourself about how you feel about waiting for a bus. No one likes it, but for some it's a real hassle and cuts into precious vacation time. If you fall into the latter group, by all means, rent a car. It's worth it for your peace of mind. Finally, are you visiting during an especially busy time of the year? The busier the season, the more likely I am to rent my own car.

There are huge benefits to not dealing with a car rental. Besides saving money, you avoid a lot of hassle. No getting lost coming from the airport, no pressure to go off site, no parking issues. And in some cases, such as with the Magic Kingdom, it's almost always faster to take Disney transportation than to use your own car.

I would be very comfortable staying at the Wilderness Lodge without a car. I think there are adequate dining options on site or just a ferry ride away in the Magic Kingdom or at the Contemporary Resort. Keep in mind that some buses from the Wilderness Lodge pick up guests from other resorts; allow yourself a little extra time for those routes.

Good luck!