Merry Christmas from TMC Travel and The Mouse Connection!

So it is Christmas day. If you celebrate Christmas and are reading this blog either your family has driven you crazy, or you really should think about entering a twelve step program for Disney addicts. Either way the ladies at TMC Travel - Teri, Tracey, Lori and myself would like to wish you (and the family that has possibly driven you crazy) a very Merry Christmas!

Thanks for reading my labor of love.

May all of the joy and blessings of the holiday season be yours now and into the new year.



I'm ba-aack! Notes on the exhaustion and irritability factors.

Well, actually I have been back for a few days now.  I must finally face the facts.  I am getting older.  Disney World is exhausting.

We had a WONDERFUL time at Disney World, (in spite of the cold temperatures).  We were at Disney for a full week and I even managed to wear out my 4 year old - you know the one...the little one with the boundless energy.

We started every morning with "Rope Drop" as our goal.  About half the time, we missed it by a few minutes, but I was ok with that given the low crowds.  Most days we took an afternoon break, but there were a few that we just "pushed" through".  While it sounded like a good idea at the time, there was an irritability factor that was impossible to deny come sunset...and I am not talking about the children!  We also "paid the price" the next day.  I was so looking forward to really "digging into" Animal Kingdom this trip, but I was kind of too tired to really enjoy it.  I must remember to follow my own advice - afternoon breaks are important, very important!

I managed to get the kiddos and the husband into bed at a reasonable hour most nights.  I am an inveterate night owl and going to bed at 9 or 10 o'clock sounds like torture to me.  I foolishly headed back out into the parks by myself.  It was fun - a lot of strollers to wrangle, no agenda to follow, and no body's wish list to consider.  Such freedom!  Of course, the freedom came with a price - I did not get to bed  until after 2 am most days and with a 6:45-7:15 am wake up call there was not much time for sleep.  I would have been ok for a few days, but it was a grueling pace to keep for a week.

Every trip, it is not difficult to pick out the children that have been pushed to far and reached the "melt down" point.  They are easiest to spot in the afternoons due to a missed nap, or after dinner as they are begging to be put to bed.  This trip, however, I noticed more than a few couples had reached the breaking point.  I witnessed marital spat after spat.  It is quite possible that I may have even participated in one.  Fortunately, the better rested spouse of mine was able to pull back and give me some perspective.  I HATE bickering, and we were headed down that path.  I am thankful for the even temper of the wonderful man I married, and the gentle reminder that I was about to turn us into one of "those couples".  His advice is best here..."It's Disney World, and we can have a big argument about nothing because we are tired, or we can just get over it, be thankful that we are here.  Let's fix this now and enjoy the rest of our day."  Nicely said, husband.

And that is all from me for now.  It has taken me several days of going to bed before 11:00 - something I have not done since Jr High - and even a few afternoon naps to muster the energy to even get this quick post done.  I hope to return to a more regular schedule soon.  Now, if only those Christmas Cards would address themselves!

Busy Times Ahead - Prepare for Park Closures due to Capacity

Not a Disney Crowd,
but you get the idea!
If you are traveling to Walt Disney World during peak times, particularly over Christmas and Spring Breaks be prepared for the parks to close due to capacity.
Disney World closes in stages based on crowd conditions.  On busy days, you can expect the parks, particularly Magic Kingdom to close in stages as follows:
  • Stage 1 - Parking lot closures.  You can only access the parks if you use Disney Transportation.
  • Stage 2 - Ticket booths closures.  No new tickets will be sold, but previously issued tickets can be used.
  • Stage 3 -  Things start getting serious!  Only Disney resort guests can enter the park or those guests with an Annual Pass.
  • Stage 4 - Really serious!  The park is closed to new guests.
Turnstile counters are used to monitor traffic in the park, so Disney knows exactly how many people have entered each day. You can expect the staged closures to increase through the late morning and early afternoon.  The park will also re-open in stages as crowd levels drop.  It should be noted that each stage kicks in based on a specific head count, so once the park closes, the total head count has to fall below a certain number before it will re-open.  Do not expect to be allowed in the moment you see a family the same size as yours exit.

So what does this mean to you?
  • BEWARE OF DINING RESERVATIONS! If a park is closed and you have a dining reservation you will not get in!  No matter how much you beg...even if you have proof of your reservation.  Having to come up with alternate meal plans is no fun - being charged a no show fee because you failed to show up for you lunch reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table is really not fun.  If you have a dining reservations in a park that may close due to capacity, get there early and do not leave.
  • CONSIDER PARK HOPPING!  If you leave a park for a mid day break and it closes in your absence, you will not be able to re-enter.  If you only have a base ticket, then you are out of luck!  If you have a park hopper you can atleast cruise over to another park. 
  • GET THERE EARLY!  You won't get kicked out if you are already inside, so get there early and stay put!
  • BE SMART! - The Magic Kingdom will likely close first, so if you are park hopping make that your first stop.  Animal Kingdom is the least likely to close, so let that be your stand by or afternoon park.


I'm going to Disney World!

I am off to Disney World in just a few hours! And the coolest part?...My kids STILL don't know! Our plan is to wake them up feed them breakfast and the spring the news. It is my Dad's birthday (Happy Birthday, Papa Bear!) and I am going to give the girls a little something as well...some personalized mouse ears for the trip they think they are taking in February!

Then the big news... One will open a present saying that we will be staying at the Polynesian and the other ( my new little reader) will get to open the note announcing that we are leaving today!

ETD for airport...30 minutes after we spring the news!

I am so excited for them (and for me!). I am looking forward to getting lots more tips and tricks to share as well as lots of dining reviews. So stay tuned!!!


Tips on Tipping at Disney World

As we were going over our "pre-trip" checklist, my husband asked a great question... "How much cash to I need to have on hand, specifically for tips?"  Instead of answering him like a normal human being, I ran off to my computer to blog all of the ins and outs of tipping at Disney World.  (Don't worry, I will send him the link when I am done.)

Tipping is a very personal and touchy subject for a lot of people. What you choose to do is your decision, but if you are unsure of what is customary, read on!  These are general guidelines, but you should let service be your guide.  As former waitress who only got paid a wage of $2 per hour, I can testifiy that a dollar here or there can make a huge difference.  Even though my darling husband never had to work for tips, he is still a generous tipper - and it is one of the many reasons that I love him!  So be sure to budget for some hard working folks that make your trip great!

Luggage Handlers
  • Airport - If you check you bags with a skycap, you should tip at least $2 for the first bag and $1 for each additional bag. 
  • Bell Services - It is not customary to tip bell services when you arrive at Disney World, as you luggage is frequently delivered in your absence.  If you request Bell Services to collect your bags prior to your departure, the $2/$1 rule listed above applies.  If you are an over-packer (and you know who you are!) and your bag feels as if it has been stuffed with rocks, be generous.
  • Magic Express or Shuttle Service - A few dollars for an enjoyable ride is a nice thank you. If your driver helps stow and remove your luggage from under the bus, consider them luggage handlers and tip $2 for the first bag and $1 for each additional bag.
  • Taxi Service - You should tip atleast 15% for satisfactory service.  Again, luggage handling rules apply if they help load your bags. 
  • Town Car / Limo Service -  20% of total bill.  If you purchased a round trip fare, divide the fare in half and tip 20% on each leg.
  • Valet Service - $1-2 per car, but I tend to be more generous if it is raining or if there is some running involved.
  • Disney Bus Drivers (Parks) - No tip necessary.
  • Housekeeping (or "Mousekeeping")
    • For the general daily cleaning, consider leaving $2-5, more if you are a large family sharing a villa (and leaving a messy kitchen).
    • For special requests $1-2 per item, including forgotten items and turn down service.
    • Consider tipping your attendant daily, as your room may be serviced by different people during your stay.  Also, make sure the tip is clearly marked, tucked inside the "Room cleaned by " card, or left under a pillow.
  • Concierge - $5-10 per visit
  • Table Service Restaurants - 15-20%.  If you are a large party and gratuity has been added, feel free to leave something extra for superior service.
  • Buffet Restaurants - 10-15%
  • Counter Service Restaurants - No tip required.
  • Bartenders - $1-2 per drink
  • Room Service - 15% of total bill
The Fun Stuff
  • Spa Treatments  - 15-20%
  • Main Street Barbershop - 15-20%
  • Bippity Boppity Boutique - Tipping is appreciated
Keep in Mind...
  • Some employees are not permitted to take tips.  If you tip is politely declined, consider taking note of the Cast Member's name and writing a note to the manager praising their service.  Hopefully, their "tip" will come in the form of a nice raise. In fact, I would recommend a nice note for great service whether or not a tip is accepted.  The management staff does take the time to publicly acknowledge employees who recieve such notes.  If you happen to see a manager near by, grab them and let them know, they will be happy to hear it!
  • You should tip on the pre-tax amount of your bill, prior to any gift certificates or vouchers being applied.
  • At restaurants, tip your server based on their performance.  If the kitchen is slow, or your food is not good, do not take it out on your server.  If your server is attentive, polite and keeps your drink glass filled on a hot day, take care of him/her regardless of the food quality or speed.
  • Plan ahead!  The husband is in charge of keeping small bills on hand to take care of our tips.  We also set aside envelopes for tips so we do not fumble around at the last minute.  Tipping our Mousekeeper, Bell Services and our Magical Express Bus Driver is a given.  I stuff and pre-label envelopes for each tip.  I provide my children with lots of stickers and allow them to "decorate" the envelopes as they see fit.  It is a perfect time waster on the plane!
I hope this helps answer some of the murky questions about tipping at Disney.  Now if you will excuse me, I have an email to send to my husband!


Magical Express: One of the best Disney deals around!

I live just far enough away from Disney World to make driving a chore.  We like to save up our credit card points and cash them in for airline tickets as often as we can.  For others like me, who like to arrive via the friendly skies, Disney has a great option for their resort guests  - The Magical Express.  Essentially, the Magical Express is a shuttle service from the main Orlando airport (MCO) to your resort hotel at Disney World. 

So what makes the Magical Express magical?  Well for starters, you do not need to go to baggage claim upon arrival.  You simply deplane and follow the Magical Express signs.  Once you are checked in you hop on a bus to your resort - and leave the baggage claim to Disney!  They will collect your baggage for you and deliver it to your hotel a few hours later.  Genius!

So what else makes the Magical Express magical?  If baggage handling and delivery is not enough of a perk for you, how about the cost - it is FREE!  There is no charge for Disney to collect you (and your luggage) from the airport and take you to your Disney resort.  They will also take you (and your luggage) back to the airport at the end of your stay at no charge.  In fact, for certain airlines, you can check in from your resort and have your boarding passes printed and ready to go!

When you pack your luggage at home, be sure to pack a small carry on bag of items that you will need upon arrival as well as any medication and other important stuff.  If you are arriving from the frozen tundra and are hoping to start your Disney day poolside, be sure to stick a bathing suit and sunscreen in your bag!  Also, if you are arriving later in the evening, you may want to make sure you have your toothbrush, sleep wear and fresh clothes available for the next morning...just in case.

A few other need to know items:
  • You must make a reservation for this service.  I like to collect this from my clients at final payment time to make sure that there is plenty of time to get luggage tags ordered.
  • The time it takes to get from the airport to Disney can vary greatly based on the number of bodies being moved!  You can expect to arrive at your resort anywhere from 75 minutes to 3 hours from the time your plane lands, with the average commute time being 2 hours.  You can expedite the process by making sure your tags are properly attached to your bag and that you bring the voucher included in your booklet with you.
  • If you arrive after 10 pm or before 5 am, you will need to collect your own bags.
  • You luggage may not arrive to your room for 3 hours, so plan accordingly!
  • You will be notified of the time that the Magical Express will be returning to drag you away pick you up from your resort.  The pick up time is usually about 3 hours prior to your departure, 4 hours for international flights.
  • If you are scheduled to depart prior to 8am, you will need to check in a the airport.
  • Sorry, but unless Fido and Fluffy are service animals, they cannot board the Magical Express.
  • Although it is rare, mistakes happen!  Be sure to confirm you flight information and resort against your pre-printed baggage tags.  If one of your bags does not arrive, contact bell services and let them know of the problem.
  • Planners beware!  Don't make the mistake of over-scheduling your arrival day.  Scheduling a coveted reservation or pre-purchasing tickets for an event is inviting trouble.  Instead head straight to your favorite counter service spot, lounge by the pool, check out your resort, or knock of some of the less popular attractions on your to do list.
  • Finally, the Magical Express drivers are usually friendly and helpful.  If you are pleased with their service or if they help you with your carry on bags it would be nice to acknowledge their efforts with a few dollars.  At departure, it is also customary to tip bell services if they collect your bags from your room.
  • For anything else you wanted to know about Magical Express, check out this great post from Everything Walt Disney World
So sit back, relax, and enjoy the teaser are almost home!


Characters: Let the Hunt Begin!

I am counting down the final days to my next visit to the world (the kids STILL don't know!) and realized it  is time to do a little character recon.  Part of the fun of the trip is magically stumbling upon your favorite characters as you wander through the park.  For some, the character hunt is a full time obsession!  My crew falls under the minorly obsessed.  I know that meeting Belle would be on my oldest daughter's must do list (if only she knew she was going) ;)  Tiana and Minnie are must meets for my youngest princess.

There is a lot to know about meeting the characters.  You may remember my previous posts on that topic, if you missed it or need a quick refresher here it is!
Meeting the Big Cheese: The Basics
Meeting the Big Cheese: Autographs

So now you know all about meeting the characters, the big question is where can you find your favorite friend?  Believe it or not, character meet and greets change on a monthly basis.  And while you tend to find certain characters in the same area (Let's face it, Buzz is not going to be hanging out by Big Thunder Mountain!),  Disney does change things up a bit to keep it fresh.

There is a great Disney Blogger out there, who devotes her time to keeping up with this information.  You can find her at  Unofficial Disney Character Hunting Guide.  There is a wonderful checklist of the characters for each park and where to find them.  In addtion, you can check out the attire for the characters in each park in case you want to find them looking extra spiffy! 

If you are planning on a attending a hard ticket event like the Halloween or Christmas Party be sure to scope out the "guest list" in advance.  Mickey and on those smiles because I think you are going to be included on our Christmas card this year!



Disney has just announced some nice room discounts to get you through the spring!  Let TMC Travel - The Mouse Connection help you book your next magical vacation.  Just follow the link or click on the banner ad above for more information.  Remember, in addition to lots of great advice and helpful tip cards, TMC Travel offers a free gift with every 4 or more night stay!
January - April 2011 - Save up to 35%

Valid for select nights 2/6/11 - 4/16/11, must book by 12/31/10
  • Save up to 35% off the non-discounted price when booking a room at Walt Disney World for stays most nights 2/6/11 - 4/16/11.
  • Save 20% on Select Disney Value Resorts and Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Save 25% on Select Disney Moderate Resorts and Polynesian Resort
  • Save 35% on Select Disney Deluxe Resorts and Select Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts
Discounted rate is available most nights 2/6/11 - 4/16/11. All discounts are subject to availability, certain restrictions apply; including a minimum length of stay requirement for Friday or Saturday arrivals. The room inventory for this offer is limited. This offer excludes suites and 3-bedroom villas.


February - April 2011 - Save up to 30%

Valid for select nights 2/17/11 - 4/16/11. Must book from 1/1/10- 2/13/11 
  • Save up to 30% off the non-discounted price when booking a room at Walt Disney World for stays most nights 2/17/11 - 4/16/11.
  • Save 15% on Select Disney Value Resorts and Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Save 20% on Select Disney Moderate Resorts and Polynesian Resort
  • Save 25% on Select Disney Deluxe Resorts
  • Save 30% on Select Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts

Discounted rate is available most nights 2/17/11 - 4/16/11. All discounts are subject to availability, certain restrictions apply; including a minimum length of stay requirement for Friday or Saturday arrivals. The room inventory for this offer is limited. This offer excludes suites and 3-bedroom villas.


Military Room Only Discount October 2010 - October 2011

Valid for most nights 10/1/10 - 10/1/11 for Guests presenting a valid military ID when checking in at select Walt Disney World resorts.   
  • Select Disney Value Resorts 30% off
  • Select Disney Moderate Resorts and Cabins 35% off
  • Select Disney Deluxe Resorts 40% off

Discounted rate is available most nights excluding 11/24-11/26/10, 12/26-12/31/10, and 4/17-4/20 All discounts are subject to availability, certain restrictions apply. The room inventory for this offer may be limited.

Don't Forget...there are still a few weeks remaining on the super popular Free Dining Offer! 

October 2010 – September 2011
Free Dining Offer!
Valid for select nights 10/01/10 – 09/29/11, must book by 12/20/10
  • Book a Walt Disney World vacation package that includes a 4-night/5-day stay at a Walt Disney World resort and a 5-day Magic Your Way base ticket, and receive the dining plan for free.
    • Book a Disney Value Resort and get the Quick Service Dining free!
    • Book a Disney Moderate, Deluxe or Deluxe Villas Resort and get the Regular Dining free!

 Free dining available most nights 11/27 – 12/2/10, 12/10 – 12/21/10, 1/1 – 1/5/11, 1/9 – 1/13/11, 1/21 – 2/3/11, 2/11 – 2/17/11, 2/25 – 3/3/11, 5/27 – 6/2/11, 8/19 – 9/29/11. All discounts are subject to availability, certain restrictions apply. The room inventory for this offer is limited.
Please give me a call if I can help you take advantage of one of these great deals!  Thus concludes the self promotion part of this blog...but hey, a girl's gotta support her Disney habit however she can, right? ;)



Know Before You Go....Closures, Rehabs, and Refurbs

No matter what you call it, the result is the same.  You favorite attraction may be out of commission for your trip.  The only thing worse than finding out that you "must do" is undergoing a face lift before you leave home is finding out when head over to get in line.  If you have young children and said attraction is "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" then you may have a pint sized mutiny on your hands.

I highly recommend that you take a few minutes before you leave to read up on exactly which attractions may be closed during your stay.  And notice that I said "may".  It is not unheard of for a refurbishment to take longer than expected, so be sure to check out what may be scheduled to re-open just prior to your visit.  The good news is that you are more likely to luck out and find an attraction is open earlier than expected.  Sometimes Disney has a "soft open" after a major refurbishment (or before a major launch) to iron out any wrinkles before an official opening day.  These soft openings may be sporadic and only last for a few hours at the time, so if you see a favorite open unexpectedly, hop in line..don't double back later, as you may be out of luck.

While there are no absolute rules set in stone, there are some closures that you can predict...most of them water related.  Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park typically closes for it's annual spiff up in November and re-opens in early January.  As soon as Typhoon Lagoon re-opens, it is usually Blizzard Beach's turn.  Splash Mountain is often off line in January as is Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom.  And it is likely no surprise that most work done to resort pools is done during the winter months.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Spring Break are super busy times at Disney World.  Disney seems to really try to have as much open as possible during these times.  And while I am a total "value season" kinda girl, the downside is that you are more likely to find ride closures and buildings behind beautifully painted scrims.  For our upcoming trip, I may have found the perfect balance...the little pocket of value season between Thanksgiving and Christmas...a low crowd time nestled in between major holidays.  Too much going on around the parks and too little time to bring too much offline!

So now you know...before you go, be sure to check for closure, rehabs and refurbs.  I really like to head over to Stitch Kingdom for the latest.  They also have a great feature that will email you if a closure is announced that may affect your trip.  For warned is for armed!


Netflix Fun - The Mickey Mouse Club

Recently, I spent some time on Netflix building up my queue for the kiddos.  As I was looking for some Disney fare, I came across the Mickey Mouse Club.  They of course had the "Justin, Britney and Christina" series, but I was most drawn to the "old school" club from the 50's.  As a child of the 80's (or 70's if you are foolish enough to believe my driver's license) I remember tuning in to watch these old black and white gems.  I remember I would frequently crawl up into my Dad's lap and watch.  During the commercials he would tell stories about watching the Mickey Mouse Club when he was a child.  Apparently, the show made quite an impression, because even though my Dad has never been to Disney World, he has sported a Mickey Mouse watch off an on for as long as I can remember.

I was really excited to see the red Netflix envelope appear in my mailbox, because it had been YEARS since I had last seen the show.  As soon as the girls got home from school, I grabbed us a snack and popped it in.  In spite of the lack of color, the low production value, and the old fashioned feel of the show, my kids were enchanted.  I guess some things really are timeless!

And what is it with the theme song?  When I hear the first few bars on the bus to the Magic Kingdom, I always get excited.  All it takes is hearing the song once, and it will stay in your had for days...and  not in a bad way like an 80's pop song.  My girls also sing it all the time.  One will spontaneously shout Mickey Mouse!  and the other will reply with Donald Duck! It makes me smile every time.

The DVD is a collection of five half hour episodes.  The episodes are spread over several years, but there is an episode for everyday of the week. Personally, I think the title is a bit of a misnomer - I would not say it is "The Best of" - but it is still a lot of fun to watch.

So head over to Netflix and add The Best of the Mickey Mouse Club to your Netflix queue.  If you would like to add it to your Christmas shopping list, you can find it for less than $12 at Amazon.  In the mean time, enjoy the theme song:

Hope you enjoyed a Mickey Mouse blast from the past, but now it time to say goodbye to all our company.  M-I-C  See you real soon!  K-E-Y  Why?  Because we like you!  M--O--U--S----E.  (Sorry, couldn't resist!)


A Dozen Great Uses for a Ziplock Bag at Disney World

As I was reviewing some recent posts, I noticed something odd....I seem to have a growing addiction to Ziploc bags.  If you look in my pantry, I have them in all sizes.  No joke - I love me some Ziploc! 

I was going to do a top ten list in honor of David Letterman, but I could not stop at 10. are a dozen great uses for a Ziploc bag at Disney World:
  1. Autographs - Keep you pen and book together and dry.  As soon as you get in line, grab your autograph bag and you are all set!
  2. Daily Plans - Soggy touring plans, tip cards, and dining confirmation numbers do you no good!
  3. Bringing in Snacks - It is more economical to keep a big of pretzels or other snack and put them into snack size bags to bring into the parks.  (Diet tip - I do this at home to help me keep my portion sizes reasonable!)
  4. Dividing Up Snacks - Bought a box of popcorn on Main Street?  Avoid arguments and grubby little kid hands in the box by using the extra baggies that you were smart enough to store in your park bag to break the big box into individual servings.
  5. Avoid Dripping Toiletries - At some point in your life you have probably had shampoo, sunscreen, or something even worse ooze out of its container during travel.  If you put everything in a bag first, then any mess as a result of spillage will be minimized.  Of course, if you are flying remember that all gels and liquids must be of appropriate size and sent through security in a 1 quart Ziploc bag.
  6. A Mini Diaper Bag - I used to fill a gallon size bag with a few diapers, a change pad, and some travel wipes.  Everything stayed dry and together.  If a change was necessary, I could pull out only the essentials and head off in search of a changing table.
  7. Packing Kid Clothes - You may remember this from a post awhile back.  I pack one one Ziploc bag of clothes per child per day.  I grab a bag, toss it to the appropriate child, and they have clean undies, socks, outfit and accessories ready to put on all by themselves.
  8. Wet Poncho Storage - I want my poncho off asap.  I loosely fold it (ok...wad it up) and put it in a Ziploc as soon as it stops raining.  When I get back to the hotel, I pull it back out, make sure it fully air dries and then properly refold it.
  9. Electronics Storage - Surprise rain storm or scheduled water ride?  Tuck your cameras and cell phone safely in a bag to make sure they stay dry.
  10. Bathing Suit Storage - If you spend the day at a water park, you can store your suit in a bag for the ride home.  This is also a good idea if you go for one last swim at your hotel on departure day.
  11. Mug Storage - Did you enjoy your morning coffee in your Refillable Resort Mug?  If so, bring an extra bag for it.  When you are done drop it in the bag, seal it up, and toss it in your park bag.  That last drop of coffee will stay in the bag instead of all over your stuff!
  12. Remote Control Germ Control - I once saw one of those germaphobe Dateline shows where they discovered that the remote control was the dirtiest thing in a hotel room....constantly handled by unwashed hands and never cleaned by housekeeping.  The expert interviewed said the first thing they do in a hotel is Ziploc the remote control.  It still works, and the you avoid contact with everyone who has used it before you.  I am not sure that even I will go that far, but after watching that show, I do always at least give the phone, remote, and bathroom door handles a quick wipe with a  Clorox wipe!
So with one simple box of plastic, you can stay organized, keep things dry, contain wet things, manage snack time, and control germs.  These little see through gems will also help save you time as you go through security in the parks.  If a security guard can check your bag with a quick glance instead of opening every little pocket of opaque bag, then you will be that much closer to getting that first fast pass of the day!

Anyone else love the bag?  Share your favorite use in our comments section!


Going to Disney: How to Tell the Kids

If you have caught even one Disney commercial in the past month since the "Let the Memories Begin" campaign started you have without a doubt watched a cute kid react to the news:  "You are going to Disney!"  Some react with disbelief and with others scream so loudly,  you can only hope the poor parents had ear plugs handy to prevent permanent hearing damage.

Whether you tell them a year, a month, or an hour in is so much fun to make the announcement.  Here are some of the fun ways to break the news:
  • A Gift for Special Occasion -  Make the news part of a birthday or holiday gift, or to celebrate something special.  You can just announce it, or wrap in up in a nice box or card
  • Slide it into a Normal Conversation - As you are discussing day to day things, try sliding that news in with a mundane list of things to do.  You can actually watch their little wheels turn as they try to process such big news in an insignificant conversation.
  •  Drop the Bomb - Be loud, be proud!  Of course, this is more fun if you are waking them up in the morning!  A friend of mine picked her child up from school early and had the elementary school principal page the child to the office  "...please come to the office.  You mom is here to take you to Disney World."
  • Make it a Game - If you are one of those creative types, think of a puzzle or game that they will need to work out.  The classics are all good - Word Searches, Scrambles, Cross Words - make them "earn" their trip!
  • Scavenger Hunt - Again, this is for the creative among us...leave clues around the house that lead to the Disney Treasure.
  •  Don't Tell Them - Just wait...they will eventually figure it out!
We are Disney World bound in just a few weeks.  I am in the final countdown and planning phase...and my little princesses still don't know.  I have sufficiently thrown them off the trail.  At this point they are convinced that their trip is still months away.  In fact, this weekend, the seven year old asked me to wrap up the name of our hotel and give it to her for Christmas!  Instead, I will be wrapping up their personalized, pre-ordered Mickey Ears with a note for each of them to be opened the day we leave.  It will also be my Dad's birthday and I will tell them I got them a little something as well.  Big Sister will get her ears first with the news that we will be staying at the Polynesian (her first choice).  The 4 year old, who is most proud of her early reading skills will get the note that says "We are going to Disney today!"  I am DYING to watch their reaction.  My money is on tears of joy from Big Sister and squeals of delight from the tidbit.

No matter how you tell them, be sure to have the video camera rolling.  Who knows, your little darling may end up on a Disney commercial or on the side of Cinderella Castle! 

Let the Memories Begin!!!!


Going To Disney: When to tell the kids

A trip to Disney World is a major trip in the life of any child lucky enough to go.  As a parent, one of the fun things is deciding when to tell your kids about the trip.   There are a few schools of thought on the topic...

Right Away
Many parents prefer the "right away" method.  Some families prepare a year or more in advance.  It is fun to let you kids know way ahead of time so that they can have input into the planning process.  They can interview friends, vote on the resort, check out menus, read up on the attractions, and start the countdown.  While all of that can be fun - especially for an older child - the wait can seem positively endless!  And if you think "how much longer" can drive you crazy in the car, try counting down for months!

Getting Close
Lots of parents prefer the "getting close" method.  Mom and Dad can get the resort and dining booked and then wait until a holiday or special occasion to spill the beans.  Sometimes letting the kids know a month or even a week in advance is perfect.  That gives the kids enough time to get excited and make some plans without having too much time to drive the rest of the famliy crazy.  If you are taking your child out of school for a few days, it also helps if they can get a head start on the work they will miss.

The Surprise
A few parents manage to pull off the "surprise".  I know kids who thought they were off to visit Grandma up until the minute they rolled under the official Disney World welcome sign!  The look of shock and delight is most definately picture worthy and the surprise is always great fun.  Of course that does have a bit of a trade off, as the planning,counting down, and anticipation are all part of the fun.

The Hybrid
My family goes the "hybrid" route.  Our kids know we are going, but they just don't know when.  For our family this works out perfectly.  We are able to openly discuss out trip and make plans for resort, dining, and parks.  We avoid the calendar obsessing that my girls are famous for.  I often joke that in our house we operate on a "Need to know basis, and my children don't need to know!"

For our last trip, we woke the children up and told them to get dressed because we were hopping on a plane and would be at Disney by lunch time.  My daughter was still having trouble with her "R's" and kept asking, "Aww you seaweous?"  After assuring her that, in fact,  we were serious, her little face just lit up.  One of my favorite memories. Ever.  In fact the girls, enjoyed the hybrid approach so much they told me that they want to do it again.  They asked for us to surprise them on the actual day of the trip.

My oldest is a pretty smart cookie and likes to think that she doesn't miss a trick, so I have been playing into her cute little hands.  Our trip is in December, but at least once a week I will "slip" and say something about "When we go to Disney in Feb---I mean whenever we go to Disney..."  Now she is convinced that she is one step ahead of me because I have accidentally let it slip that our trip is in February!  Mwaaa-haaaa-haaa! (or insert your other favorite evil laugh here.)

What works for your family?  Have you tried multiple approaches?  Let me know in the comments section!


Diary of a Park Bag

If you have ever been on a Disney fan board, you have inevitably read at least one thread about park bags.  What style, size and brand to bring are endless discussed.  You can also find post after post about what people put in their park bags. 

Since I am about 30 days away from our next trip to Disney World, I have already pulled out my park bag and reviewed its contents.  While everything was all spread out I decided to arrange it neatly and snap a photo to share with you guys.  Of course, I did all of this when my darling husband was not home, lest he decide to have me committed.

First of all, let me explain the strategy that works for our family...  My kids are young enough that we still make use of a stroller.  We really use it more as a pack mule that as a stroller.  My kids could probably do the parks on foot, but whining really annoys this mama!  As a result, I like to make judicious use of a stroller when I know a lot of walking will be involved, or on particularly long days.  Because of the pack mule option, we pack 2 bags and perhaps a small cooler.  One bag contains "the valuables" and is kept with us at all times.  The husband and I take turns carrying it.  In it you will find both of cameras (video and still), a cell phone, and anything else that would ruin our vacation if we lost.  The other bag contains the "extras" that make our life easier in the park.  Nothing in that bag is "mission critical", so I am ok with assuming the risk of leaving it in the stroller.  Are you shocked?  Well, don't be. people leave things in strollers all the time!  Most people never have any problems leaving their things behind.  That being said...DO NOT LEAVE ANYTHING VALUABLE IN A STROLLER.  If it will ruin your vacation, or even your day, keep it with you!  My general criteria:  If it will take more than 10 minutes and $3 to replace any item then don't leave it behind!
As for what kind of bags to use...I bring a plain old standard issue backpack.  I think I got it at Walmart for $10.  It is not a fancy hikers day pack, it does not contain a camel back, it is just a simple backpack.  My husband - the primary valuables carrier uses his old college back pack.  Surprisingly, it has not yet dry rotted.

Drum roll is a list of what I actually carry in my bag:

  • Rain Gear - Heavy Duty Ponchos, Ziplok bags to store them in when we are done, and a chammy cloth (nice for wiping down a stroller or wet bench!)
  • "The Drug Store" - Ibuprofen, Dramamine, Tums, Lip Balm, Contact Lens drops, tissues, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, wet wipes,  a stain remover pen and ear plugs for my princesses who are not fans of loud noises.
  • The First Aid Kit - I bought a little pre-fab kit and supplemented with some extras.  I have band aids of all sizes, a new Neosporin Spray that is the size and shape of a credit card, tweezers, nail clippers, safety pins, moleskin for blisters, alcohol wipes, insect repellent, and insect bite relief.  Probably overkill, but it all fit in the little white box, so I don't care!
  • Kid Stuff - Glow Sticks, colored blinking "flashlights", perhaps a snack or something to keep them occupied if the lines are long.
  • Miscellaneous - Disposable Ponchos for water rides (we toss them or pass them along when we are done), extra zip top bags, Autograph books, and some spare change for penny press machines and fountains.
  • "Back in the Day" items included an extra diaper or two, some wipes, and perhaps a change of clothes...Loved having toddlers, but I don't really miss the extra stuff that comes along with them!
  • And of course...I always have my daily itinerary, dining information, and the World at a Glance Card, Disney Fun Fact Cards, and tip cards provided exclusively by TMC Travel.  (Yes, that is a shameless plug!)
So, there you have it...all of the stuff that I schlep around with me!  If you do not have a stroller pack mule, I would suggest a locker or streamlining a bit.  How about you?  What essential did I not mention that you must have?


Got kids? Get Glow Sticks!

A great money saving tip when you are headed off to Disney World is to stock up on glow sticks! 

Glow sticks are great for evenings in the parks.  I always tuck several into my park bag each day before we take off.  As we are waiting for the evening parade or fireworks shows I pull them out as a nice distraction.  I am not sure what it is about those little plastic tubes that enchants my children, but I am happy to take advantage of it! 

The glow sticks are super easy to use, just bend the plastic until you hear a snap and give it a shake.  The gel inside gives off a nice glow that lasts several hours. 

Besides being fun, the glow sticks provide many useful purposes!
  • Have your child sport a glow stick necklace or bracelet through the evening, which helps you keep an eye on them in the dark.
  • Attach one to your stroller to help in stand out in the herd.
  • Attach one to your spouse or their park bag.  It make it easy to follow the leader during the post fireworks / parade surge.
  • It may save you money.   A few glow items from home keep my kids occupied and less likely to beg for the light up toys all around.
  • Depending on how long your glow stick lasts, you may even have a nice little night light when you get back to your hotel.
There are several cool glow products out there, so check out your local dollar store or party store.  Unlike the old fashioned 4 inch tube glow stick that I used to BEG for at Halloween as a child, there are so many different items out there.  While of course you can find the old fashioned tube, there are now bracelets and  necklaces with connectors to help you make your own design.  There are also some cool masks and balls.  My little princesses are most excited by the glow stick fairy wands topped with stars and butterflies!

And while you are stocking up for your trip, buy a few extra if it is in the budget.  We like to share with whatever kids are sitting around us.  (We always ask Mom and Dad first!) It isgreat fun to watch a child's face light up when given an unexpected and inexpensive treat!


Food Allergies, Disney World, and You

It seems like more and more families I know are dealing with food allergies these days. I am not talking about the old fashion "belly aches" that my brother got if he ate something with oats in it, but serious, potentially fatal food allergies.  Families dealing with food allergies live in a constant state of high alert....every label must be read, every snack checked, and every meal carefully prepared to avoid cross contamination with a potential allergen.

If you are a family dealing with food allergies from mild to severe, I have GREAT news for you!  Disney cares!  A LOT!! 

As a travel agent, I have worked with many families dealing with food allergies, so I thought a first hand call was in order so I could let my clients know what to expect.  I am happy to report that I got some great information!

First Steps
First of all, if you are headed to Disney and have food allergies, your first call (after me of course! ;)) should be to the Disney dietary request hotline at 407.824.5967.  When I called I was instructed to leave a message and someone would contact me within 2-3 business days.  To my surprise, my call was returned within an hour or two.

I spoke with a fantastic and knowledgeable cast member who patiently answered every question I could think of.  She told me that she was giving me generalized information, as I was not calling with a specific allergy.  If you call with a specific allergy or allergies, you get specific information...go figure! 

There is no guarantee that your allergy can be accommodated, but you can be sure Disney is used to dealing with the major offenders (gluten or wheat, shellfish, soy, lactose or milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish or eggs).  Every effort will be made to make sure your visit is a safe one.  Disney also clearly points out (as families dealing with food allergies know) "it is ultimately always up the Guest to use his or her individual discretion to make an informed choice regarding whether to order any particular items, since the Walt Disney Company cannot guarantee that allergens may not have been introduced during another stage of the food chain process—or even inadvertently—by us."

It is all about the details!
After you make contact with the Special Dietary Requests office, they will complete a form detailing the type and severity of your allergies.  A copy will be send to your resort hotel, as well as all of the restaurants where you are planning to eat.  (This is where planning ahead with your ADR's really pays off!)  This form will be sent directly to the chef ahead of time to make sure that he is aware of your allergies and his kitchen is stocked appropriately.

At this time, the Special Dietary Request office will give you some great "need to know" information.  For example, if you have a serious shrimp allergy, dining at Columbia Harbor house would be a serious risk for you.  They can also make recommendations of various Counter Service locations through out the park that can most easily accommodate you.  For the record, every restaurant will try to accommodate you, but if you are "winging" things or just prefer the path of least resistance, knowing where you can be easily accommodated is certainly handy.

When you make your reservations, you should also note your allergies on the standard form provided.  This information goes to the hostesses and waitstaff to make sure they are properly alerted.  This does seem a bit redundant, but it is worth doing to make sure everything is a safe as it can be.

When you Arrive
Table Service Restaurants - When you give your name to the hostess, he or she will likely immediately acknowledge your allergies.  If not, be sure to mention it!  The hostess will alert your sever and the chef.  Expect the chef to come to your table to discuss your allergies and any accommodations that need to be made.  The chef will advise you as to what is safe to eat from the menu, or will offer to prepare you something to your liking. How cool is that?
Buffet Restaurants - Expect all of the same as you would from a menu service restaurant, but with a twist.  If you have a less severe allergy, the chef will walk down the buffet with you and let you know what is safe to eat.  If you have severe allergies, the risk of cross contamination is too high on a buffet, so the chef will as what you would like and he or she will specially prepare it for you.  Again, how cool is that?
Counter/Quick Service Restaurants - Alert the cashier of your allergies and a chef will be sent out to speak with you. The chef will let you know what is safe for you and will see that it is safely prepared.  Again, all locations will accommodate you, but you may find it easiest to stick to the restaurants that can accommodate most allergies.

It's my party!
Planning a celebration?  Need a cake?  Not a problem!  Call the cake hotline  at least a week in advance, preferably longer, and let them know your needs.  You will have a safe cake waiting to celebrate your special day!

Plan ahead
Please plan on contacting the Special Dietary Request a minimum of two weeks in advance.  Some meals (such as vegan meals, low protein meals, and kosher meals) are prepared at an off site location and shipped in.  Adequate notice is requires to make sure your meals are where they need to be.  Also, restaurants and resorts will actually stock their kitchens based on your needs.  Soy milk can be easily found around the property, but Disney will happily stock Lactaid for you if you need it.  All you have to do is let them know.  (I know!  How cool is that?!)

As I concluded my conversation with the great lady at Special Dietary Requests, I asked what else I needed to know.  She repeated that every guest is given specific information based on their specific I have the feeling that I only scratched the surface.  She also indicated that Disney regularly reviews and changes their policies to better serve their guests, so even if you are a Disney pro, you need to check in each visit to make sure your needs are considered.

She also referred me to the official Disney web page on the topic.  Click here for more information.

So...happy (safe!) eating!

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This post is part of the Disney Blog Carnival. Head over there to see more great Disney-related posts and articles.


RSS Feeds, The Orange Wave Icon, and You.

This is not so much a Disney post as it is a PSA.  If you spend any time on the web, you have probably noticed the ubiquitous orange wave icon on every website that you visit.  If you have paid any attention to it at all, you know that that little orange thingy stands for RSS Feed.  For most people, that is where their knowledge ends.  But it is only since I have started blogging that I have learned how cool the RSS Feed really is!

What exactly is an RSS Feed?
RSS stands for many versions of the same thing, but the easiest acronym is "Real Simple Syndication".  Which means it is really a very easy way for you to create a customized "news" site for what every you wish to be informed about!  If you are an information junkie, follow lots of blogs, or just like to keep things clean and organized then it is time for you to harness the power of an RSS feed.

So how does it work?
Basically myself and other bloggers submit our articles in a simple text file format to a special feed server, who in turn pushes it out to whoever subscribes to our site. The information is instantly available to you...whenever you want it. It is not going to clog up your email, or endlessly harass you. If you want to get your favorite newsy updates on what ever you enjoy, you simply go to your Feed Reader and ...Viola!

Why should I subscribe?
It is really cool.  Don't take my word for it...give it a go!  It takes only a few minutes to set up and saves a ton of time later on. 
  • Fast Info - Posts from you favorite bloggers and news sources update your feed automatically as soon as the post is made. 
  • Customizable - You choose exactly what you want to see.  As my husband would say "All killer, no filler!"
  • No Checking and Re-checking For Updates -If it is not in your feed, it is just not there.
  • No Oversights - I run down my favorite list of sites every morning, but occasionally I forget to hit a site.  Not with a Feed Reeder!
  • No Bookmarks - With the growing list of users on the family computer, our bookmarks are getting out of control.  My Feed Reader eliminates the need entirely.
  • No Buried or Lost Posts - My feed reader shows all unread posts for the blogs I follow.  So if I get a little slack, it will be waiting for me when I return.  
  • Easy to Prioritize and Organize - You can organize your feeds into nice little categories of your own choosing.  I have my "Must Reads", "Disney Favorites" (which is quite small because they are usually in my must reads!) "News", "Family Blogs", and "Other". 
How to I read a feed? 
The first step is to select a feed reader.  This is a webpage that you will go to to read your feed.  I already have a Google account, so I just decided to go with the Google Reader.  You can Google "Google Reader" for more information on getting it set up.  There are plenty of feed readers out there, so do some looking and find one that works for you. 

How do I subscribe?
If any blogs you follow have a Google Follow button or that Orange Wave icon, you simply click it. Follow the screen prompts to make sure you get subscribed properly.  When you open your Feed Reader you can categorize your feeds in any way you choose.

Anything else?
Yup!  If you have a smart phone, look for a feed reader so you can stay in touch on the go.  I love to check for overnight updates before I crawl out of bed in the morning.  One button on my phone launches my reader and I am plugged in to my favorite content.  Warning - Use of a feed reader in this manner may make you late for work, school, or what ever else you should be doing!


Sailing the WONDERful Seas with Disney! - Part II

I hope you enjoying reading about Lori Potter's cruise experience on the Disney Wonder as much as I am.  I think I must get a trip on the books for next year!  In case you need to catch up, you can read Part I of Lori's cruise experience here. 

Kids Clubs
One thing that we really loved about doing a Disney cruise was the option to have the kids go the kids only area. They have it broken down into 4 areas: Teens, Out & About (especially for 10 - 13 year olds), Oceaneer Club/Lab and the Flounders Reef Nursery. My girls were all eligible for the Oceaneer Club/Lab. I think at one time the club was for ages 3 - 7 and the Lab for 7 - 12 but now either area is for all ages, 3 & potty trained and up. The Club is full of toys, games, a giant pirate ship, Disney movies, places for art and some computers. The Lab has games, tons of computers, a "kitchen" for cooking school and places for art and crafts. They have around 50 cast members that work in the kids club. When you check your children in they are scanned in with the wristband, given a squirt of Mickey soap and directed to the bathroom to wash their hands. They have scheduled activities in the areas as well as free play and the scheduled activities cover a variety of themes. My 7 year old loved the lab. She wanted to spend a lot of time fact the last night we told her no, she had to come to dinner with the family! My younger girls liked it but they didn't beg to go there like the older one. The staff was very good about paging us if any of the kids wanted to leave. The staff was always extremely friendly and kind and the security system was great. Also, the last afternoon the kids put on a really cute show! My toddler was eligible for the Flounders Reef Nursery. It is for kids under 3 and is an additional charge of $6/hr, which, in my opinion, is a bargain! You can pre-book your time in the nursery (up to 10 hours on a 4 night) which I did. What I didn't count on was my toddler having extreme separation anxiety and hating the nursery! We usually don't have any issues with him but he was not at all happy about that nursery. The nursery seemed very nice, Disney shows playing and lots of Disney toys. They had an area in the back with cribs. It was sort of small but the cast members in there were extremely friendly and loving. And it always seemed to be the same people in there. They were very good about giving us updates on how my son was doing and when he clearly was too upset to stay in there they called us to get him which I really appreciated.

Our ports were Nassau and Disney's Castaway Cay. We didn't do much in Nassau - with our child to adult ratio and factoring in their ages we didn't think the money was worth it. We ended up walking around some but it got hot and the kids got whiney so we spent much of the day on the ship which was great. Castaway Cay is Disney's own island and we were completely blown away by it. We all loved, loved it and it topped everyone's list as one of our favorite things of the cruise. They have a separate beach areas for families, adults and teens. They also have lounge chairs for everyone as well as strollers and wagons available for use. There is a splash pad, a water playground and plenty of sports activities to keep everyone busy! There are two restaurants that bring a bbq to the beach for lunch! There also have a few bars and food is plentiful on the island. There are also a couple merchandise shops (it is Disney after all). They also bring the kids club to the beach, a separate area from the water, so the kids can play with their new friends while you lounge on the beach. The weather was beautiful the day we were there and again it was fabulous!

Time of Year to Sail
I can't say that I would necessarily recommend September, the peak of hurricane season as the best time to sail. The weather was great for us but, the seas were very, very rocky the first night due to a hurricane far off to the east. One of my children (along with many, many others) got seasick the first night. After that it was much better but in general, the ocean was rougher (or so we heard) then usual. The best thing about September is that the rates are low since it is hurricane season but if you get seasick you may consider another time of year!

I had read that dress for dinner is "cruise casual" and one night is an optional dress up evening. Cruise casual means no shorts or bathing suits. I packed pants for my husband and son and dresses/skirts. for the girls and I. What we found was a little bit of everything. There were certainly more people dressed up than others and plenty of people in shorts. I liked dressing up for dinner, my family..not so much but we did it anyway!

There are many, many opportunities to see Disney friends on the cruise! Each day in the Navigator they print the character appearances and there are many every day. We also happened upon a couple characters running through the lobby or hanging out on deck! Even if the appearance is supposed to be only 15 minutes they are very flexible about it and seem to do their best to give everyone waiting a photo opp! On the last night of the cruise the characters put on a very special program "Til We Meet Again" giving everyone one last opportunity to hug a character you may have missed. That was another highlight!

Debarkation Day
Sadly debarkation starts very, very early on the final morning. You set your luggage out the night before and you are given a time to go to breakfast based on your dining rotation (the late dinner seating gets a later breakfast time) Breakfast is with your servers so it's a nice chance to say goodbye to them and the other friends you made during dining. Did I mention it's early? Technically you are supposed to take all your things with your to breakfast but I hadn't planned that very well and had too much stuff so we left that in the room during breakfast and walked back down to get it before departing. Upon debarking you find your luggage (it's tagged with a color/character) and go through customs. We found the process to be very quick and easy. Sadly we were at our car by 8:30am. I just wished we could have stayed on board longer!

We definitely hope to another Disney cruise. They are unveiling a two new ships, the Dream and the Fantasy, in 2011. Both ships will be far bigger than the Wonder and Magic and with many new features - have you seen the pictures of the Aquaduck...the water coaster?? It looks amazing!! Can't wait to go fact, my husband and I want to take a Disney cruise without the kids next year...shhh...don't tell them!

Thanks again to my old long time friend Lori Potter for her insights on the cruise experience.  (We have been friends since middle school, which makes us long time friends - we are not, I repeat, NOT old!)


Sailing the WONDERful Seas with Disney! - Part I

For the first time on The Mouse Connection, we are welcoming a guest blogger, Lori Potter.  Lori and her family just went on their first Disney Cruise and she kindly agreed to share her thoughts on her trip with us.  She is a mom to four kids, so she got to experience the ship through many different eyes.  I hope this helps you get a feel for the cruise experience, but Lori did warn that she doesn't want you to know every single thing that will happen.  In her words, "Some of it needs to be magical!"

When my family bought into the DVC we were "given" a Disney cruise as an incentive, a 5 day/4 night on the Wonder. We were thrilled to say the least as we'd done a cruise for our honeymoon and always wanted to do another one, add a Disney twist and it seemed like a perfect combination. The list of available dates was somewhat limited but we settled on a week in September since my older two kids were due to be out of school. We have a large family, 2 adults, 4 kids (ages 7 - 2) so we had to book 2 rooms (one drawback, in my opinion, is that they literally don't have space for a family of 6). We used our DVC points to book our 2nd room - and we were set! The anticipation of the trip was exciting and I literally spent hours and hours reading forums and blogs to make the most of our trip. All in all we had a WONDERful time. Probably one of our best vacations ever. I can't say enough good things about Disney Cruise Lines. It's clear that service is the top priority. I also loved the family feel. There is no gambling on the Wonder (with the exception of Bingo) and though there were many adults traveling without children a majority had kids. I loved that you could have a nice dinner in the dining room and not feel bad if your kids got loud or got up from their seat. I loved that they had activities for every age group and how organized the entire staff was. And though the boat was full it only seemed really crowded at the Pirates In the Caribbean party. But of course every passenger wants to see fireworks! Here are a few tips/things we learned about sailing with Disney.

Embarkation Day
My advice is to get to the port early. They officially open at 10am and that's when we got there. You leave your luggage (they send you luggage tags preprinted with your room number) with a porter and get in line to go into the terminal. You will need to keep a day bag with you with things like sunscreen and bathing suits as your luggage may not arrive in your rooms until late afternoon. We walked right into the terminal and got immediately checked in. You are assigned a boarding number (we got group 2) and the lower your number the earlier you will get to board - of course Disney does it all very organized! You can then check the kids into the kids club - they get wristbands and parents get a pager. That just saves you time once you get on the ship. The wait time goes very quickly - some special friends come out to greet passengers and that certainly helped the time go by! Official boarding time is 1pm but as soon as they get the ship turned over they will begin boarding however, you don't have access to your room until 1:30. Once you get boarded you are directed to one of the restaurants for a fabulous buffet lunch! We were lucky enough to see some special friends at lunch too! The mandatory muster drill is at 4pm and the stateroom hosts do an awesome job of ensuring you have the right life jackets for the people in your room. The muster drill is painless and pretty quick and immediately after you should help up to Deck 9 for the Sail Away Party.

We opted for Deluxe Oceanview Staterooms on Deck 2. Deluxe means you have a split bath - meaning there is a tub and sink in one room and a toilet and sink in another. I thought the room was nice. I remembered from our previous cruise (not Disney) how tiny the rooms are but it was not bad at all. We had a queen size bed and the sofa turned into a single bed. We also had a bunk bed recessed into the ceiling which the stateroom host set up for us each evening at turndown. He even added a special touch putting princess sheets on the beds! My girls loved it! The closet was large enough to store our luggage and really space was not at all an issue. The stateroom service was fabulous and towel animals adorned our beds each night at turndown as did some yummy chocolate!

I thought the food was great. Always plenty of choices on the menu. And there was a special kids menu/activity sheet each evening. For breakfast and lunch there was always a couple buffets and an ala carte option. For dinner you are assigned an time (main or late) and you are on a dining rotation as there are 3 dining rooms. One night is Pirate Night and there is a special menu which is the same in all the restaurants, that evening. You are also assigned a table number which remains the same and servers who follow you to the different dining rooms. Our family being somewhat large had a table all to ourselves but we did dine around the same families each night so we did get to meet some great folks. They do have pizza open late and on Pirate Night there is a late buffet. Room service is available 24 hours a day and they do have a beverage station where you can get sodas, milk and water all the time. The Wonder has an adult only restaurant, Palo that is available for brunch and dinner for an additional charge. I hear it's fabulous but we did not do it this time. Maybe next time! One interesting note about dining is that there is a cast member stationed outside each and every restaurant handing out sanitizing wipes before you enter any dining room. They are all about the hand washing!

Activities & Entertainment
Each day the cruise staff prints a Navigator which is your guide to all that is going on for the day. The guide is full of great information - about shopping, the evening entertainment, dining options and a full schedule of the daily activities. The activities are broken down by theme - Special, Characters, Entertainment, Family, Adult, Kids. They have activities from 9am until 2am (or something like that!). There is literally something for everyone! The evening entertainment was great - we saw 3 Broadway style shows and Toy Store 3 in 3-D. Disney Cruise Line boasts they are the only cruise line that can show first run movies since they own them! There were several showing throughout our cruise. One highlight is Pirate Night. They have special character appearances with the characters in pirate attire and they encourage all the passengers to dress up too (we didn't but plenty of people did). There is a big party on the deck complete with fireworks and a special buffet.

I hope you enjoyed Part I of Lori's post.  Check back in a few days for Part II.  And on a personal note, thank you Lori for taking the time to share this with us!


Meeting the Big Cheese - Autographs

So, if you have read the basics about meeting the characters, you have probably already figured out that getting character autographs is a big deal!  And why not?  It is a (nearly) free souvenir! 

Autograph seeking also give younger children a purpose when meeting their favorite friend. For the little guys, approaching a character with armed with a pen, book, and the goal of an autograph is equal part distraction and duty. Somehow, if they have a job to do, it all seems a little less overwhelming! Hopefully, once the ice has been broken, your little guy or gal will really enjoy the face time.

The traditional tool for the autograph hound is an official Disney Autograph Book.  My family prefers the slightly less traditional unlined index card.  I buy a spiral bound pack of ruled index cards and flip them over.  (If anyone out there can find a 4x6 pack of spiral bout unruled cards... Let me know!)  I use one of the index cards to create a new "cover" on the back, to remind the kids to open the book with the unruled side facing up.  Be sure to buy a pack for each child and label them accordingly.  We don't need to discuss the forgery that occurred in the bathroom of our resort when I figured one autograph for the family would be good enough. 

I like having the characters sign on index cards because I always buy a mini 4x6 photo album for each child to commemorate our trip.  I put the index card on one side and a photo of them with the character on the other side.  Any extra space gets filled with some of our favorite photos.  This is especially nice if you child is not reading yet, they know exactly what the name says because the picture is right beside it.  I can hear the wheels turning already for you crafty scrapbookers out there...the possibilities are endless for you!  One day I may join your ranks if I ever get the creative juices flowing.

Any good autograph seeker worth their salt should also have a good pen.  I am a Sharpie girl myself.  I buy the biggest fattest one that I can find for our furry friends.  Mickey's big gloved hand and Goofy's paw have a hard time grasping smaller pens.  I always remove the cap and hand it to them carefully to avoid getting ink on them.  I also carry a nice retractable Sharpie pen as well.  It is not as fat, so it is nice for the princesses and anyone else with opposable thumbs.  It is also handy not having to keep up with the cap.  Now if Sharpie would get on the ball and make a big fat retractable pen, then things would be perfect!

I keep all of my autograph "supplies" (two books and two pens) in a zip top bag tucked safely in my park bag.  Not only does it keep everything together nice an neatly, but it insures things will stay nice and dry.  Nothing would be more disappointing to my girls to end up with soggy signatures after a surprise rain storm or extra soaking on Splash Mountain.

Finally, you don't need to limit yourself to autograph books or index cards.  Have the characters sign a hat, a pillowcase, a poster, a book, or a t-shirt.   What could be cooler than enjoying reading Cinderella before bed from a book signed by Cinderella herself!  The characters will be happy to sign anything you like (within reason!) as long as it is not an article of clothing that is actually being worn, or an object that contains another company's logo. 

I hope getting some autographs from your favorite characters ends up being time well spent.  And let's keep that whole forgery thing between us, 'kay?

This post is part of the Disney Blog Carnival. Head over there to see more great Disney-related posts and articles.


Meeting the Big Cheese - The Basics

Dancing With Goofy
It is mandatory.  Children or not.  You simply must meet Mickey.  Ok, that may be a little dramatic, but for my crew, no trip to Disney would be complete without meeting lots of characters. I thought I would share a few tips to help you get the most out of your character experience.

Be Prepared
As the family in front of you greets the character, that is your cue to get yourself ready:
  • Have your stroller or other gear ready to move. 
  • Have autograph books (or whatever else is being signed) open to an empty page. 
  • Un-cap your pen, so it is ready for action.
  • Find your PhotoPass card....Yes, it is there...somewhere!
  • Take your camera out of the case and turn it on.
  • "Fluff" your kids.  You want to remember the experience, not the crusty nose!
Watch the Time
When it finally is your turn, take your time to enjoy the experience.  I am a bit guilty of rushing my kids through, often to the point that they characters themselves are trying to get us stick around a bit longer.  Yes, there are other people waiting, but if your child wants to take a moment to make sure Donald is ok after flying into the wall at Mickey's Philharmagic, let him!  If he feels the need to lauch into his life story, then it is time to move him along. I always try to be mindful of the crowd, but getting an autograph, a picture, and taking a moment to tell Tigger that he is your favorite is ok!

Snuggling Pooh
Play Along
Ask Belle if she has a suggestion for your next book club.  Call Captain Hook a codfish.  Let the gentleman in the group kiss Minnie's hand for a cute reaction.  Ask about their movie, or their friends.  You can have a wonderful impromtu conversation that is somehow completely real and total fantasy at the same time.

Be Nice
Not to sound like Miss Manners, but I am amazed at how many people forget their manners when they are on vacation.  It can be hot, which can make folks very irritable.  Pleases and thank-yous go along way.  Remember, no matter how hot you may be, under all of his fur, Pooh is MUCH hotter!

Be Gentle
(No matter how much your little guy thinks Hook deserves a kick in the shins!)  I was shocked that I had to remind my otherwise staid husband of this on our last trip.  He was so excited to see Tigger that he gave him a big bear hug.  Even with his giant head, my hubby was a good bit bigger than his orange friend.

Be Patient
Sometimes your favorite character might be called away for a moment.  Snow White may need to slip away to check on the dwarfs, or Pooh may have a rumbly in his tummy for some honey.  While it really stinks if you are the next person in line, understand that everyone needs a little break.  You can ask the attendant when they will return.

Be Creative
When you are taking your photo think of a creative pose.  Drink some tea with Alice or try out your best snarl for Lady Tremaine.  One of my favorite pictures is of Snow White and my reluctant husband.  My then 4 year old daughter "assigned" Snow White to be her dad's favorite princess (we were all required to have one and they had to be different.)  When Snow White approached our table my little darling loudly announced "Snow White, you are my Daddy's FAVORITE!"  Seeing the blush creep up his neck, Snow White proclaimed in the breathiest of voices, that she "Simply MUST  have a picture with this prince!"  She made him stand up and do the "Prince Pose" while she sidled up along side him.  I smile everytime I see that picture.  I would share it with you, but I fear the repercussions.

Just Ask
If you would like to have a separate picture with each child, or if you want to do something a little different, ask the attendant.  They will accomodate you if they can.  Also, if you are not sure where to find your favorite pal ask an attendant.  They should be able to find the information for you.

I hope you enjoy meeting your favorite characters.  Be sure to blow Mickey a kiss from me...and tell Snow White that she can borrow my Prince anytime!
The Whole Gang

Let the Memories Begin

The next chapter in Disney history was announced today...a new campaign called "Let the Memories Begin".  In 2011 Disney will honor memory making by featuring family vacation photos for the whole world to see.  Disney is asking that you send your most precious vacation videos and snapshot so they can share them with the world.  On select nights images taken throughout the day and images sent in will be projected on Cinderella castle in Disney World and it's a small world in Disneyland. This night time spectacular will be accompanied by a new original song titled "Let the Memories Begin".  This campaign will also include more traditional outlets such as web, print and tv ads. 

So what do you think?  Do you like the idea that your can be a star in a Disney commercial?  Or be part of the "show"?  Or does the idea of looking at someone else's vacation photos sound like torture?  I am a little on the fence with this one.  Perhaps a spectacular execution of this idea will when me over.  I guess time will tell!

Update: Check out the projection test and see what you think!(Right now I think I am sticking with "neat", but it is not as cool as "Year of a Million Dreams" or even "What will you celebrate?"

If you want to get in on the act dind your favorite photo or video clip, describe it, and submit it to: