To hop or not to hop...that is the question.

As a travel agent, one question that I am asked over and over concerns park hopping.  Should I?  Shouldn't I?  Is it worth it?  The simple truth is there is no one size fits all answer.  The current price of the park hopping option is $54 per ticket, regardless of the number of days.  For the average family of 4, that adds over $200 to the vacation budget.  That is enough money in my book that it is worth taking a few minutes to figure out if it is a good decision for your family.  When the inevitable question comes up, I try to lay out some pros and cons and give some general advice based on my clients specific situation, and then leave it in their hands.  So...here goes...

Reasons to Hop...
  • Length of Stay - For me, this is the most compelling reason to hop (or not).  If I am not going to have at least 4-4.5 days in the parks, I want to hop!  I must have 1.5-2 days at Magic Kingdom, 1 day at Epcot, and at least a half day taste of Animal Kingdom and the Studios.  If I only have a few days to hit the highlights, then park hop I must!  
  • Dining Flexibility - If you are a family that enjoys dining in the World Showcase, then a Hopper is also a good choice for you.  Enjoy your morning and afternoon in one park and head over to Epcot in the evenings for dinner!
  • Crowd Avoidance - I love touringplans.com...their advice on the best and worst parks is like the gospel to me.  Have you ever noticed that they always list Studios as a park to avoid on Fantasmic nights?   That is because the park is generally more crowded on Fantasmic nights (see, they really do know what they are doing)!  If you have a Park Hopper option, you can go to the recommended park during the day and slip in just for Fantasmic.   Perfect!
  • Night Owls - If you like to prowl the parks at night, using your Park Hopper to take advantage of the Evening Extra Magic Hours is a great plan.  It is also nice to hop after a day spent at Animal Kingdom.  The park usually closes between 5-6 pm, leaving plenty of time for dinner and Illuminations at Epcot.
  • Weather and other reasons to "call an audible" - If the day you planned to wander through the trails at Animal Kingdom ends up being rained out, you can always cruise over to a more rain friendly park.  Also, if you are simply ready to move on, you can.
Reasons not to hop...
  • Cost - It is expensive.  If you have the vacation time, consider taking that extra $200 (for the average family of 4) and extending your stay by a day or two.  If I need to keep my trip on a tight budget, the hopper is the first to go.
  • Increased Travel Time - Park hopping costs more than money.  It costs time as well.  Be sure to budget in additional travel time, should you choose to hop.
  • Time to Explore - Yes, you can hit the highlights of a park and move on, but if you have the time...take it!  Take the time to explore all of the wonderful details the Imagineers have left for you. "All commando, all the time" gets the job done, but you will certainly miss all of the magical little touches that make Disney World so special.
  • Time to Rest - So what if Animal Kingdom closes before you are drop dead tired?  Why not take the rest of the afternoon and hang out by the pool?  Or check out another resort at dinner? 
Non-Factors (for me!)
  • Children - Conventional wisdom is to save your money on the hopper if you have young children.  I am a firm believer on an afternoon break from the parks, so for us it is just as easy to go to a new park as opposed to going back from whence we came.  Now if you are staying off property and are going to "push through" until you have to go...then I would recommend you just stay put and enjoy.
  • Cost per day - Many make the argument that a Park Hopper is much more affordable on a per day basis for a longer stay.  And that it absolutely true!  However, if I have a longer stay, I am much less likely to hop as I am happy to move at a more leisurely pace and explore it all.  I also tend to build in more rest breaks, pool days and resort dining.   
  • Early Extra Magic Hours - There are plenty of folks who like to hit the Extra Magic Hours every morning and then leave as the park opens to the masses.  Once you consider the extra travel time, at peak  hours, I wonder if it is worth it?  Of course, my attitude could be because I am SO not a morning person.   I am still a big believer in arriving before the park opens, but I time things out so that I can stay in bed until the last possible moment, and still manage to get coffee, dressed, and to the park before rope drop (in that order!)
I hope this helps you figure out if the Park Hopper option is right for your family.  While the hopper does provide the maximum in flexibility, it is not with out cost - monetary and otherwise! As a travel agent, I am more than happy to boost my commission check from Disney by selling a Park Hopper to every client.  As a good travel agent, I am much more concerned about making sure that my clients get the best value from their vacation dollars - whether that means Park Hopping or not.  Finally, when in doubt...wait.  You can always add the Park Hopping option to your ticket once you are there.

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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.


Still hoping to for that hard to find ADR?

Only a small percentage of Disney die hards are willing to be up by 6am 180/190 days before they vacation to make sure they get that coveted Le Cellier reservation.  Many families to not even plan their trips until 2-4 months before the fact.  Others did manage to get reservations, but at off peak times or on days that are not ideal for their travel plans.  If you are any of those people, listen up!

If your perfect reservation is not available at first glance, keep trying!  People do cancel reservations.  One key time to try is 45-50 days or so before you hope to dine.  For Disney package holders, final payment is due 45 days prior to travel.  Many people use that as their "do or die" date and if they opt not to travel, many will cancel their resort and dining reservations all at once.  That is your chance to swoop in and scavenger for some good finds!

Right now is a great time for late November and December travelers to look for those hard to find reservations.  The Candlelight Processional packages were released yesterday and many people are cancelling their "backup" ADR's.

Finally, keep tabs on the Monthly Cancellation thread over at disboards.com.  Nice people over there post when they are cancelling their reservations which will allow those "in the know" the best time to time their dining searches.

Good luck...and happy dining!


2010 Candelight Dining Packages on Sale Tomorrow!

The Candlelight Processional at Epcot is one of the most beautiful holiday events at Disney World.  The Processional features a celebrity narrator reciting the Christmas story.  A huge choir carrying candles and a  50 piece orchestra make the evening unforgettable.  This magical event begins on November 26th and runs through December 30th. 

The celebrity narrators include:
  • 11/26 - 11/28: Isabella Rossellini
  • 11/29 - 12/01: TBA
  • 12/02 - 12/04: TBA
  • 12/05 - 12/06: TBA
  • 12/07 - 12/09: Jodi Benson
  • 12/10 - 12/11: Whoopi Goldberg
  • 12/12- 12/15: Steven Curtis Chapman
  • 12/16 - 12/18: Thomas Gibson
  • 12/19 - 12/21: Trace Adkins
  • 12/22 - 12/23: Brad Garrett
  • 12/24 - 12/27: TBA
  • 12/28 - 12/30: Marlee Matlin / Jack Jason
 Seating is very limited for the event, so plan to get in line very early for one of the three shows each evening (5pm, 6:45pm and 8:15pm).  If you would like to be guaranteed a seat, consider the purchase of a Candlelight Dining Package.  The dining package goes on sale at 7am on August 26th and reservations must be made over the phone.  A credit card or dining package is required to hold the reservation.  If you are on the Dining Plan the Package is 2 Table Service Credits.

 The Dining Package includes an  Appetizer, Entree, Dessert, non alcoholic beverage (but NOT specialty non alcoholic beverages) or Full Buffet at any restaurant that is buffet service.  You will also have guaranteed seating for Candlelight processional as long as you arrive 20 minutes prior to its start, and preferred viewing area for Illuminations.

 Reservations for the package are offered at off peak times.
  • The 5:00 show has a lunch reservations between 1:45 pm and 2:45pm.
  • The 6:45 show has a dinner reservations between 3:30 pm and 4:30pm.
  • The 8:15 show has dinner reservations between 5:00 pm and 6:00pm.

The following restaurants are participating in the Dining plan, grouped according to price:

  • Least Expensive:  Lunch $32.99 adults /17.99child (ages 3-9) or Dinner $46.99 adults /$23.99 child (ages 3-9)
    • Biergarten
    • Garden Grill (Dinner Only)
  • Moderately Expensive:  Lunch $38.99/$12.99 or Dinner $46.99/$15.99
    • Nine Dragons
    • San Angel Inn
    • Restaurant Marrakesh
    • Rose & Crown
  • Most Expensive:  Lunch $51.99/$13.99 or Dinner $61.99/$16.99
    • Teppan Edo
    • Tokyo Dining
    • Chefs de France
    • Tutto Italia
    • Coral Reef
    • Le Cellier
If you are planning a holiday visit to the world, consider putting the Candlelight Processional at the top of the list!  And be sure to get on the phone bright and early tomorrow morning  to make sure you get the restaurant of your choice...space is very limited!  Call (407)WDW-DINE for reservations.  Good luck!

Disclaimer:  None of this information is posted on Disney's official website.  I spoke with a nice lady in the Dining Reservations department who filled me in on the scoop with the warning that it could change before tomorrow!


Disney Transportation or "How do I get there from here?"

With over 300 buses, Disney World has one of the largest private bus fleets in the world.  Every year, each bus in the fleet travels enough miles to circle the equator.  Twice.  While many lament the use of buses, Disney does an amazing job of shuttling folks about, usually with a 20 minutes or less wait between buses.  Taking a few minutes to make your self familiar with the bus service and other transportation options before you head to the world is always a good idea.  If you have any questions while you are on property, you can ask any cast member for help.

As you can probably deduce from my introduction, most resorts rely on buses to transport guests.  Once you know the basics, you will be able to navigate the bus system like a pro.  The first bus many visitors encounter is the Magical Express, a free shuttle that transports guests from the Orlando Airport to their Disney resort.  Unlike other buses at Disney World, this one requires a reservation.  Once you deplane, head to the Magical Express location, check in, hop on a bus, check in at your hotel, and hit the parks.  Don't worry about your luggage, Disney will collect it for you and deliver it to you room in a few hours.  Magical Express is one of the best deals around...check back for a more in depth post on the topic.

After you get settled in, there is likely another bus in your future.  (Yes, there are exceptions to the rule that I will cover in a minute!)  Head to your resorts bus depot and stand in the appropriate line.  As each bus pulls into the depot the destination will be clearly marked on the front of the bus.  If it is headed where you want to go, climb aboard in a in a nice orderly fashion and find a seat if you can.  Be aware you may not immediately head to your final destination.  You may have a few more stops to make at your resort or even another resort before you get where you are going.  Now I know there is much debate on this topic, but I am a healthy, able bodied, grown woman and I believe in good manners.  I will always offer to stand and let a child, parent carrying a child, elderly person, pregnant lady, sick, injured or otherwise infirm person have my seat.  Yes, the seats are first come, first served, and no, you don't have to give up your seat...it is just the polite thing to do.  Lecture over.

Disney bus system has a "Hub and Spoke" design.  The hubs include the four major theme parks, Downtown Disney, and the Ticketing and Transportation Center (TTC).  From each hub, you can travel to any Disney resort and back again.  The buses begin operations early in the morning by delivering breakfast guests to the parks.  Bus service begins 2 hours prior to park opening, so there is no excuse for you not to make the park opening!  For the stragglers and the late diners, buses continue to run 2-3 hours after the park closes.

What?  You want to eat dinner...where?  Moving between resort hotels is quite easy, it just takes a bit of planning and some extra time.  Since there is not direct transportation between hotels (unless they happen to be on the same route) you will need to first travel to a hub, and then transfer to your desired resort.  It helps to know the general areas of the hotels...you do not want to go from the Beach Club to the Contemporary via Animal Kingdom!


Operation Hide: How to share a room with a child in a pack-n-play!

When my youngest daughter was almost two years old she still needed a nice afternoon nap.  It was about that time that she realized she may be missing something big if she took one.  Unfortunately for us, those two facts collided right about the time we scheduled our trip to Disney Word.

I almost panicked at the last minute and left the toddler behind.  I knew if she did not get a nap, and get to bed at a reasonable hour that our vacation would spin into an uncontrollable death spiral from which we could not recover.  Let's face it...if a toddler is not happy, no one in the near vicinity will be happy. 

I knew that she would never go to sleep in a hotel room with the rest of us visible to her in the room.  Plain and simple.  Two rooms were not an option budget wise.  I thought about hiding everyone in the bathroom until she fell asleep, but that did not seem fair to anyone - especially her older sister who really needed an afternoon rest as well.  We were staying in a moderate hotel without a balcony or patio - so sitting outside with a door cracked was not an option either. 

I finally decided the best option was to hide her.  I positioned her pack-n-play in the corner of the room near the bathroom (I only had to do some minor re-arranging.)   I gathered my supplies: a large pair of 3m brand Command Hooks, a large pair of Office Binder Clips, and the darkest sheet I had from home.  Read the directions carefully on the hooks to make sure you install and remove them properly.  This will insure you do not damage the walls in any way.  Install the hooks on each wall just outside of the pack-n-play.  Be sure to hang the hooks over the head of the tallest person in the room.

A reproduced close up of our rig
Next unfold your sheet and attach the binder clips along one edge of the sheet.  Fold the clip back on itself
so that the sheet hangs from the bottom and the loop of the clip can be hung over the hook.  Now just stretch the sheet from hook to hook and hang and you have hidden your pack-n-play, essentially giving your toddler his or her own private room!  This would also be great to create a separate changing area for older kids would appreciate a little privacy.

When our daughter was not sleeping, I just let the sheet hang from one hook.  I could easily hang  the other side when needed.  When it was time to leave I stuffed the sheet back in my bag, carefully removed the hooks according to package directions, and moved the furniture back to the proper spot.  No evidence of our privacy screen remained! 

I hope this trick comes in handy for someone else. A few dollars on supplies saved us a fortune on another room and made sure our little one got the sleep she needed...which made us all happier in the long run! I guess necessity really is the mother of all invention!
Yes...she really is back there!  (Pardon our mess!)

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


Check out the Dismarks Blog Carnival!

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Dismarks Blog Carnival



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 and get the Regular Dining free! 
  • Free dining available most nights 10/1-10/7/10, 10/22-10/28/10, 11/12 – 11/18/10, 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.
August - October 2010
Save up to 40% off regular room rate

Valid for stays most nights 8/15/10 - 10/2/10, must book by 10/02/10
  • Save 30% on Select Disney Value Resorts: from $58 per night
  • Save 30% on Select Disney Moderate Resorts: from $108 per night
  • Save 40% on Select Disney Deluxe Resorts: from $144 per night
  • Save 40% on Select Disney Deluxe Villa Resort: from $177 per night
October 2010 - February 2011
Save up to 40% off regular room rate

Valid for stays select nights 10/3-11/23/10, 11/27-12/25/10, 1/1/11-2/16/11, must book by 11/21/10
  • Save 25% on Select Disney Value Resorts
  • Save 30% on Select Disney Moderate Resorts
  • Save 25-40% on Select Disney Deluxe Resorts*
    • Save 30% at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
    • Save 25% at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge
  • Save 40% on Select Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts
October 2010 – February 2011 Free
$500 Disney Gift Card Offer!

Offer valid select night 10/3 - 11/23/10, 11/27 - 12/25/10, 1/1 - 2/16/11, must book by 11/21/10

Book a Walt Disney World vacation package that includes a 5-night, 5-day stay at a Walt Disney World resort and a 5-day park ticket, and receive a free Disney gift card up to $500!
  • Book a Disney Value Resort and get a $200 Disney Gift Card
  • Book a Disney Moderate Resort and get a $300 Disney Gift Card
  • Book a Disney Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resort and get a $500 Disney Gift Card

Contact TMC Travel for a free no obligation quote and to learn more about FREE vacation planning!



Fun Facts: Cinderella Castle

• Most guests mispronounce the name of the castle, making it possessive. It is Cinderella Castle, not Cinderella’s castle.

• How many stones make up the iconic castle? None. It is made of fiberglass and gypsum plaster.

• The mote surrounding the castle contains 3.370 gallons of water.

• One of the prime restaurant reservation’s is for Cinderella’s Royal Table, a character meal featuring the princesses located on the second floor of the castle.

• An apartment suite for Walt Disney and his family was to be built in the castle. Unfortunately, Walt died before its completion. And the space was used for storage and offices. In recent years, the space was renovated to become the Castle Suite, a fantastic prize given away to unsuspecting guests during the Year of a Million Dreams promotion.

• The Castle also uses forced perspective techniques.

• There are a total of 27 towers on the castle, each numbered 1-29. Tower numbers 13 and 17 were deleted before construction when it was realized that they could not really be seen from anywhere in the park, due mainly to the other Fantasyland buildings. The tower with the clock in front is 10, the tallest is 20. 23 is the other golden-roofed tower.


Book Review: Realityland

After my last visit to Walt Disney World I was really interested in a behind the scenes look at the magic.  I wanted to learn more about the daily operations and the logistics of how Disney manages it's theme parks.  How do the manage to feed, house, and entertain so many people every day while keeping their customers so happy and willing to shell out thousands of dollars for a repeat experience?  It is pretty good question, huh?  Unfortunatley, I could not find the exact book that I was looking for...if you would like to write it you can dedicate it to me and I will be first in line to buy a copy!

I ended up with a copy of David Koenig's Realityland.  I found it to be a facinating behind the scenes look at the creation of Disney World.  I must delare upfront, if you are looking for a magical, pixie dust recounting of Disney history, then this book is absolutely not for you.  In fact, stop reading right now...go on, scoot!


Disney's PhotoPass Preorder Offer

Disney's Photopass is a great way to document your family's vacation.  Disney staffs the park with photographers to take pictures of you and your family in front of the major park icons, scenic spots, character greetings, as well as some character meals and attractions.  To take advantage of the service you can simply ask a photographer to take your picture and he will give you a PhotoPass Card, which is similiar to a hotel room key.  Each time you use wish to have your picture taken, simply hand over your card and all of you photographs will be waiting for you online.  You can add multiple cards to one PhotoPass account, so if you find yourself without your card handy, you can just grab a new one and keep on touring.  Be sure to write down or photograph your card number just in case it gets permanently misplaced!

The great thing about Photopass is that the whole family can be in the picture.  I always joke to my husband that my children may look back on their childhood and think they were motherless - I am always behind the camera!  Atleast they will know I exist in photos at Disney World!  Photopass photographers have also gotten some great shots of my children with the characters that I missed entirely.  While I was juggling strollers, autograph books and my own camera, they were already busy snapping away.  Perfect!