Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reader Email: When is the best time to go in the Fall?

Hi Chris,

My name is N. G. and I'm from Houston, TX. Wanted to see if you could share some helpful info with me in regards to Disney World. My husband and I went with our two kids for the first time the week of Thanksgiving. It seemed like the first 2 days that we were there were fine but then it got very crowded very quickly. We had a great time. Loved it! It was MAGICAL! My only regret was not going sooner. My son turned 13 at the Magic Kingdom and I would of loved it if we had taken him when he was younger. Oh well, we've always been restrained by funds and time but we finally did it and I can't wait to do it again. So my question is when do you think would be a better time to visit Sept, Oct, or early Nov? I've read your blog and gather that maybe Oct because Sept has the weather threat. Like I said we went Nov 20th 2009 (Friday) and left the 26th (Thanksgiving Day). I thought the weather was really nice, it rained on us really bad one day but we decided to take the kids to Disneyquest in Downtown Disney so it worked out great. So I like this time of the month but don't want to run into the Thanksgiving crowds again. So would you suggest Sept, Oct or early Nov?

Thanks in advance for your time and sorry about the long email.

Hi. Thanks for your question--I love getting questions from people who read my blog.

Crowds are really low that entire time, so you can't really go wrong. It will be a big change from your experience last year. The bigger issue, I think, is the weather and what you want to do during that time. I would avoid September if I had the choice, just because I don't want to worry about hurricanes. It's true that Orlando mainly gets the outer bands, if anything, but that can still make for a pretty unpleasant vacation, as you know from living in Houston. It's also still pretty hot, but usually by mid-October, it starts to cool down (this is a relative term in Central Florida) and the weather can be beautiful. November should also be nice.

Do you know about the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot? That usually starts right around the last week in September and ends the first week in November. I probably wouldn't want to attend the first or last weekend, just because they tend to be a bit more crowded. I've also heard from those who've been going to F&W for years that it can take a while for the vendors to get their act together, so the first week isn't your best choice. During this time there's also Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, which is very popular. It starts in early September and goes until Halloween. The closer you get to Halloween, the more crowded the party. Since you have a teenager, you might want to look into Universal's Halloween party. It's generally considered "scarier" than Disney's party and is popular with teens. It might be a good time to visit Universal anyway, since the Harry Potter attraction will have opened; you can get really good deals on tickets, some of which will include transportation to and from your Disney resort to Universal.

Barring something unusual happening, the only week during this time that will be crowded is Jersey week, which is when public school teachers in New Jersey attend a teacher's convention. Since the kids are out, a lot of parents trek down to Orlando to take advantage of the great weather. This year the convention starts on November 4th and goes through that weekend. Otherwise, there may be odd days here and there where the crowds are heavier, but for the most part this is just a great time of year for crowds.

I think if I was going, I'd go in mid-October. The weather should be great and you can go to Food and Wine, which is a really fun grown-up activity (although your kids won't hate it either). You can also take in a Halloween party. Of course if you love the Christmas decorations and want to see them again this year, they are up within days of Halloween being over, so you could try the second week in November as well (again, avoiding Jersey week the first week of November). Food and Wine will be over, but you'll be there in time for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

You can make your reservation now and always change it if your plans change or if any discounts come out between now and then. Disney is very good about honoring later discounts if your reservation fits their criteria, so use a site like Mousesavers to keep up with the latest discounts. If you're thinking of going during Food and Wine and want to stay at an Epcot resort (one that will allow you to walk to Epcot), make your reservations ASAP, as those resorts will fill up quickly.

If you're having terrible Disney withdrawals and you have a MP3 player (or if you just want to listen on your computer), there are a lot of good podcasts out there. I like the DisUnplugged and WDW Today. Both are informative and funny.  If you search back to the fall, you'll find a number of podcasts about Food and Wine and the halloween parties. You might also like Lou Mongello's podcast, WDW Radio. Lou is a one-man encyclopedia of Disney knowledge and he tends to get really good interviews. All of these podcasts are a good way to keep up with the latest discounts, by the way.

Let me know what you decide! Hope this helps.

Take care,


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Monday Morning Distraction.

It's never a slow news week when it comes to the Mouse. 

News of a bus crash at Disney World this Sunday.  Some worry that this is part of a pattern.

Disney fined $7000 for monorail accident last July.

The cast members are ultimately what makes Disney what it is:  Disneyland employee recognized for spreading Disney cheer.

An anonymous veteran kindly gave a serviceman and his bride a free honeymoon at Disney after a blizzard caused the groom to miss his own wedding.

In case you missed it, Disney announced the dates for the 2010 Star Wars Weekends.

The Disney Chick made Twinkie Tiramisu so  you don't have to.   I'm just a little scared.

Studios Central has some great pictures of Hollywood Studios on Christmas day.

Chip and Co. goes retro (well, back to 2001) with a look at Disney's now closed River Country Waterpark.

Finally, if you missed the Disney parks parade on Christmas day, you can still catch Disney's tilt-shift version of the parade:

Saturday, December 26, 2009

More Thoughts on Walt Disney World with Young Children.

Every time I go to Disney World with my children, I learn something new about how to travel with them.   This year's December trip was incredible, but it still took us a couple of days to get a routine together.  Here's a few thoughts on what I learned this time.

1)  Don't be afraid to try different parks.  While the Magic Kingdom is the obvious draw for parents with young children, it can be so crowded at times that it's downright impossible to manuever with a stroller.  While the other three parks may have fewer attractions for little kids, your kids will love the play areas and shows at Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.  Particularly at Epcot, there's a ton of space to run around in.  My younger two loved running around in Epcot in the morning while their older brother rode the attractions with my husband.  The park wasn't crowded and there was so much to see; they absolutely loved the fountains.  Plus, Epcot may be the most babyproofed place in America!  You don't notice it because it's so beautifully landscaped, but Epcot has fences everywhere, so your child can only "stretch his legs" so much.  When we got tired of the crowds in the Magic Kingdom, we headed to Epcot, rode Nemo (their favorite) and then let the kids run around.

2)  Go out by yourself at night, especially if you're all staying in one hotel room.  There's nothing worse than staying in the same hotel room with the whole family, sitting in the dark at 7:30 p.m. because all the kids have gone to sleep.  The great thing about Disney is that you don't have to do that.  The parks are safe, have great transportation, and are beautiful at night.  Take advantage of the park with later hours and go enjoy yourself.  You'll be surprised at how easy it is to get around a park by yourself and how fun it is to do exactly what you want to do.  The next night, your partner can do the same thing while you watch the children.

3)  Don't assume buffets are the easiest dining options.  I spent so much time running back and forth from the buffet to the table that I barely ate anything.  Disney's buffet restaurants are large--you'll get more of a workout than you will a meal.

4)  Go out with your partner!  We went out one evening in the middle of our trip, hired a babysitter service (two sitters, because of the twins), and went to a nice dinner and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party later that night.  You're spending 24/7 with your children; you don't need to feel guilty for spending a little bit of couple time.  It's a good example to your children that you two actually want to spend time together.  Besides, the kids will be asleep for most of it.  Our night out was energizing and fun.  Plus, we both finally got to ride Splash Mountain.   Next time, a babysitter will be built right into the trip planning budget.

5)  One thing this trip showed us is that a longer trip is a better option with small children.  While I generally prefer shorter trips for myself, as I said above, it took us a couple of days to get into a routine.  On shorter trips with the kids, that's been our entire trip and while we enjoyed it, it was no way relaxing nor did we do everything we wanted to do. I think a week is a perfect amount of time to figure out how to do things and to see what you want to see.  You don't feel as rushed and you can give yourself permission to skip the parks one day and spend it by the pool.

6) While conventional wisdom is that you should keep your kids on the same schedule as they are on at home, this can severely limit your time in the parks.  The best days we had were the ones where we threw their regular schedule out the window and didn't follow any rules.  In part, we did this out of necessity:  There was no way we could get three kids into the parks by rope drop.  Instead, we got up a bit late and went to the parks a couple of hours after rope drop (we based our park choice on wait times posted on Lines, which I'll talk more about later), let them nap in their stroller when they wanted to (I walked around and enjoyed the sights while my husband had some alone time with our older child, riding the "bigger kid" rides), and then stayed late in the parks. We didn't have one tantrum.  The kids came back to the room exhausted and went right to bed, which was an added bonus for us since they were too tired to goof around and keep each other awake.  This won't work for every kid and it certainly isn't something I'd suggest doing every day, but if your kids seem to be handling the parks well and you are at  Disney World during a less busy time of year (which gives you more flexibility with crowds and when you arrive each day), you might give it a try.

7)  A Disney park is not the place for kid who's almost potty trained.  I'll admit it:  My boy twin has been ready to potty train for a month or so; the girl twin, not so much.  I put off potty training them until after the trip because I didn't want accidents in the parks.   Park bathrooms can be crowded and if you don't know your way around the parks, they can be difficult to find.   I'm not advocating lazy parenting (okay, I might just be) but if your little one is close but not there yet, a pull-up or a diaper might be in order.

8)  A Disney vacation with small children is magical. It's everything you thought it would be.  It's also a lot of work and some of that work is physical.   Throw vanity out the window and wear your most comfortable shoes.  I'm not a huge fan of the running shoes with jeans combo, but at Disney, that's what I wear.  If you're not used to doing a lot of physical activity, consider trying to walk more starting a few months before your trip.

9)  Know when to take a deep breath and walk away.  I saw a few unfortunate incidents in the parks last week involving parents yelling at their children and one hysterical woman practically breaking a stroller while trying to get a little girl, about 4-years old, into it while the child had a tantrum.  If we're honest, we all know the feeling of being frustrated with our kids and at Disney, there's the added problem of crowds, possibly heat, and the expectation that since you paid a lot of money for this vacation, everyone better enjoy it, darn it!  A wise person knows when to hoist the white flag and walk away, knowing that you want your kid to remember Goofy and Mickey, not mommy having a screaming fit because the line for Dumbo was too long.  Head back to the resort and cool off. 

10)  Don't underestimate your kids.  Give them opportunities to try new things.  My boy twin is generally more shy than his sister, so I initially thought he would dislike meeting the characters and didn't try.  It turned out she was completely disinterested while he loved them.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Back from WDW.

I'm back after a wonderful vacation.  Didn't make it to the DisUnplugged party because my oldest child was too tired, but did everything and more that we wanted to do.  Gained a new appreciation for Epcot with younger children, rode a few attractions I'd never been on, used Lines for wait times, and absolutely fell in love with the Villas at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Back later with the details.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Second Star to the Right, Straight on 'till Morning.

I won't be around for the next couple of weeks because I'm going on vacation and I actually need to pack.  And clean my house.  And brief the housesitter on all the details involved in keeping my pets happy (i.e., fill bowls, pet frequently).   I'll let you guess where I'm going. 

I'll be back with tales of travelling with three small children, childproofing a hotel room, toddler twin wrangling, dining plan adventures, standing in awe during the lighting of Cinderella Castle, and an after-hours party at Toy Story Mania generously sponsored by the DisUnplugged, one of my favorite Disney podcasts.  The ten-day forecast is not looking great, but it's Florida, so that's probably going to change about 100 times between now and then.

In the meantime, here's some lovely holiday magic:

Be safe.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Epcot in Miniature.

Newest tilt-shift video from Disney, this one in Epcot:

How fun!