Pick a Pearl at Epcot!

I was a tomboy growing up.  A hardcore tomboy.  I never played with dolls, saw no point in playing dress up, and would not be caught dead in fancy clothes.  Ever.  Well, along the way things changed.  I still enjoy football, but playing in the creek gave way to hair product.  I still love my power tools, but I gave up wrestling for makeup.    I hung up my cleats and high tops and traded them in for  killer heels.  And jewelry...I love jewelry!  While I enjoy the chunky funky jewelry that is fashionable now - I mean who doesn't love a good "statement necklace"? - I still find myself drawn to the classics.  Which is why my heart is all a flutter each time I step into the Mitsukoshi department store.

Tucked back in the Japan pavilion at Epcot is the Mitsukoshi department store.  Just inside, you will find a nice Japanese lady standing behind a huge tank of oysters.  For less than $20 you can have your pick of oysters.  So why would you want a ugly, stinky, old oyster?  For the beautiful pearl inside, sillies!

On our last trip to Disney World I decided that both daughters and I should experience the fun.  We waited for our turn and then we scoured the tank looking for the perfect oyster.  I heard rumors that the uglier the oyster the prettier the pearl, so knowing that my daughers would choose pretty shells, I chose and ugly one  - strictly for scientific purposes, of course.  The official "oyster opener" opened my oldest daughter's pearl first.  Inside she found a lovely little pearl.  She dug it out, cleand it up, and used a gage to measure the pearl.  It measured  7mm.  Not too bad!  The little table drum was banged with great fanfare and applause.  Then she picked up my oyster next.  In a matter of a few seconds she had managed to locate and squeeze out my pear that measured 7.75mm.  That is a pretty big pearl!  After more drumming and clapping we were finally down to one oyster and a very excited 4 year old.  That little stinker got a pair of perfectly matched 6.5mm TWINS!  They were absolutely beautiful.  Each pearl was placed inside a tiny ziptop bag and labeled with the correct size.

I am not a mind reader, but I can imagine that you are thinking.  OK, so now what?!!?  Well, of course the Mitsukoshi department store has all sorts of settings that you can purchase for your pearl.  But we came prepared.  I got a Cinderella carriage necklace that doubles as a pearl cage.  The cage is hinged at the bottom and the bale closes in a way that when the chain is fed through it stays securely closed.  Now my princesses and I have matching necklaces. 

I recommend this for boys and girls of all ages.  Of course, the girls will love the end result, but the boys love the idea of having something rather gross looking disected for their pleasure.  Boys especially like picking out something special for their mom - and if it can be a little gross along the way, then all the better! 

So think about trading in the plush for a little something different next time.  My girls call it their "real" jewelry and I agree. It is neither chunky, nor funky, but it is a beautiful keepsake from our trip.

PS - You can find the carriage necklaces online or you can get them as a thank you for booking your Disney travel with TMC Travel.  You can also find pick a pearl locations at the Beach Club and Downtown Disney, but the Mistsukoshi Department store is the most fun!


It is Small Business Saturday!

What is Small Business Saturday, you ask?  Well, it is a day set aside to remind people to support the small businesses owners, help fuel the economy, and energize your local community. 

How can you support a small business while planning your Disney vacation?  It is super easy!
  • Use a Travel Agent that specializes in Disney Vacations - Using a travel agent to plan your vacation will not cost you anything extra, in fact, he/she may even be able to save you some money.
  • Check out - There are lots of crafty folks out there!  Use someone else's sewing expertise to have a pillow case embroidered for your cruise, or make a cute t-shirt or outfit for your kids.  
  • Check out your local screen printer. - Want some great family reunion shirts printed up?  Find a local t-shirt shop to create something special for you family. 
  • Order dog tags for the kids.  Visit your boutique pet store and order tags with your child's name and your cell phone number.  I have seen some local artisans make beautiful stamped metal charms or stamped leather bracelets that will serve the same purpose.
  • Subscribe to  They can save you tons of time waiting in line.  Their plans are not only based on anecdotal evidence, but cold hard facts. Io consider myself a Disney geek, but I am nothing compared to these guys.  What ever Kool Aid they serve up, I am drinking! 
  • There is an app for that!  Check out some of the great Disney apps out there.  Some are created by Disney, but many are created by small businesses who hope to earn enough money to pay for their next Disney vacation.
Those are a few of the ideas that I came up with.  How about you?  How are you going to support a small business today - or whenever you plan your next Disney vacation?


The Perk of Early Planning: The "Must Get" Disney Reservation!

My "must get" Disney reservation is not made for a particular restaurant, made to enjoy a particular food, or even to visit a particular resort.  My reservation is made for a partiular time.

One of the perks to planning your Disney vacation far in advance is that you are ready to go at the 180 day mark, when Disney opens the Dining reservations window.  Planning early means that not only do you get your choice of restaurant, but even your choice of dining time.

For my family that means one thing - a breakfast reservation in the Magic Kingdom before the park opens.  WHAT, you say?  Before the park opens?  Can you even do that?  Absolutely, and it is just magical!

Imagine strolling through the turnstiles of the Magic Kingdom with out a stroller nipping at your heels.  Enjoying the relative coolness of the morning hours, as you enter the park.  Have your camera ready to snap a picture of your child's face as you round the square and the castle comes into view.  Stop for a moment and enjoy - it is the only time you can do so in the morning without the risk of a mini stampede running you over.  Wave a cheerful good morning to all of the PhotoPass photogs ready to snap your picture as you walk down Main Street.  Don't be tempted to stop too soon...keep walking to the hub and find that last photographer.  He or she will be ready to snap your picture in front of the castle in the empty park.  Or by the Partners statue with nobody in the background.  Get ready to snap away and get some of the best pictures of your entire vacation.

The Photopass photographers are usually just standing around waiting for families to stop buy, so they  have lots of time to take pictures.  We had a mini photo shoot the last time we were there first thing in the morning - complete with costume change! 

As we continued across the hub to the castle, we found other photog with a different angle of the castle.  Since we planned for picture time and still had several minutes before our reservation, I handed over out PhotoPass card.  The photographer, said, "Let's do something a little different.  We have the time and the space!"  She snapped some pictures of us as we walked up to the castle holding hands and then some more as we walked back.  How cool is that?  My oldest said she felt like we were shooting a commercial. I'll bet not many folks have similar pictures in their Disney scrap books! 

Once our picture taking was done, we strolled back up the ramp, into the castle and dined with the princesses.  A bonus feature of the early morning reservation is that we finished our meal at 8:55, 5 minutes prior to the park opening.  So as the masses were trucking down Main Street, we were hopping on Dumbo and getting a jump on the day!

So how you can you re-create this experience?  It is actually pretty easy.  On the 180 day mark, make a breakfast reservation on a day that the park opens at the usual 9am. Do not schedule breakfast on an early opening day or if there are Extra Magic hours.  This could mean folks traveling at peak times may be out of luck.  Aim for a breakfast reservation at or before 8:20.  This will usually give you enough time to get a jump on the day by being at the back of the park when the park opens.  Make sure you arrive with plenty of time before your reservations - allow for slow buses, security bag checks, walking time, and of course, plenty of picture time!

There are two restaurants that offer breakfast prior to park opening. The Crystal Palace with Pooh and Friends, which is the more affordable option, requires a credit card guarantee, and costs 1 dining credit on the Disney Dining Plan. You can expect, but are not guaranteed Pooh, Tigger, Eyeore and Piglet. Cinderella's Royal Table is the other option. You can expect, but again are not guaranteed, some combination of Cinderella, Belle, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine, and Ariel. Cinderella's Royal Table requires either prepayment in full or 2 table service credits and a credit card guarantee if you are on the dining plan. The princess meal also includes gratuities and a photo package which somewhat offsets the eye popping price tag.

So what if you can only find a reservation 10 minutes before park opening?  I say go for it!  You will miss much of that coveted first hour the park is open with super low crowds, but the experience and pictures are probably worth it - particularly if you have another morning set aside to get an early spin on Dumbo!

So what if you waited to long to book and the early morning time are completely booked up?  All is not lost!  Cancellations happen all the time.  Just be diligent and troll for reservations regularly.  You just might get lucky!


Are you DREAMing of a FANTASY cruise in 2013? Then now is the time to get started!

Well now is the time!  Disney just opened their booking window today for 2013 cruises on the Dream and the Fantasy.

As expected, the Dream will continue 3,4, and 5 night cruises to the Bahamas and Castaway Cay.  The Fantasy - whose maiden voyage is this spring - will continue 7 night cruises to the Eastern and Western Carribbean as well as Castaway Cay.

QUICK CRUISE TIP  #1- If you are thinking of a 2013 cruise, now is the time to book!  Prices on Disney cruises tend to go up and up as they reach capacity!

QUICK CRUISE TIP #2 - If you would never consider a Spring Break or Holiday trip to Disneyland or Disney World because of the crowds - think cruise instead!  The cruises have a fixed capacity and they always sail at or very near full capacity.  So a spring break cruise will not "feel" any different than a late September cruise in terms of crowds.  Prices are a bit higher during these peak travel times, but since you are a smart Disney shopper (and read tip #1) you already know that you can mitigate the extra cost by planning ahead.

As always, I would love to help plan your Dream-y Cruise!  Please let me know if I can help!


Changes Ahead: Disney World Dining Reservation Policy

If you have not been making dining reservations lately, you may be unaware that Disney has been tweaking their Dining Reservations policy over the past few months. If you have ever stumbled onto a Disney message board, you have inevitably seen a post from a proud park goer boasting that they have booked a breakfast, lunch and dinner reservation for EACH park for EACH day of their vacation. Why would anyone go to such lengths? The reason given is they just do not want to be tied down to a plan…they just want to wake up and go where the mood takes them, and they want to be guaranteed a great reservation. As they delight in their superior ADR prowess, every other reader of the post is getting ready to give it to him…with both barrels. And I can understand why – by making a reservation in each park and perhaps a few resorts that person is keeping the rest of us from getting a coveted dinner at ‘Ohana or breakfast with the princesses. As a travel agent, I find myself scouring the internet looking for cancelations for my clients, in case someone was kind enough to cancel some of their double, triple, and quadruple booked reservations. And Disney…well they are stuck with empty tables, that could otherwise be filled.

Disney has been working to combat this problem in many ways. First of all, you are no longer allowed to double book dining reservations. If you create a reservation for a meal on a particular day, you are given a prompt that you already have a meal booked for that date and time. You will be asked which one you would like to keep, and the other will be canceled. This is a great feature as it not only prevents a accidental (or intentional) over booking, but it saves a step of having to cancel a previously made reservation. Nice!

Disney also has started sending out email reminders. With so many smart phones, families stay plugged in - even on vacation. A quick email is a great way to remind folks where they need to be. And if you need to cancel – they provide both a phone number and a link for you to do so. Easy! If you last minute planners are reading between the lines here, that means 24-48 hours is a great time to troll for cancelations.

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, a new policy effective October 26, 2011, will require a credit card guarantee for new reservations at Signature Dining and most Character Dining locations. Cancellations to reservations made less than one day in advance will incur a $10 charge per person listed on the reservation.

A few restaurants have already had this policy in effect, but the new policy will greatly expand the list. The $10 per penalty is not huge, but will certainly give triple bookers a cause for pause! Only serious diners need apply! While this can be a little frustrating, and some “innocent” dinners may be caught up in the penalty charges, this should mean more reservations available for those who fully intend to eat at the restaurant booked.

A word of advice: Be careful scheduling Signature and Character meals on your arrival day! A delayed flight, or excessive potty stops on your drive can mean that you not only miss a reservation, but will face a penalty if you do. Also, if you plan your trip and fully intend to go, but end up canceling your plans – be sure to cancel your dining reservations as well!

A new phone number has been added, specifically for canceling dining reservations. Avoid those penalties by calling 407-WDW-CNCL within the appropriate cancelation window.

The following locations will require the new credit card guarantee (Note: This is just a credit card guarantee, not a prepayment of your reservation):
  • 1900 Park Fare
  • Akershus Royal Banquet Hall
  • Artist Point
  • California Grill
  • Cape May Café
  • Chef Mickey’s
  • Cítricos
  • The Crystal Palace
  • Flying Fish Café
  • The Garden Grill
  • The Hollywood Brown Derby
  • Hollywood & Vine
  • Jiko – The Cooking Place
  • Le Cellier Steakhouse
  • Narcoossee’s
  • ‘Ohana
  • Tusker House Restaurant
  • Victoria & Albert’s – $25 per person
  • Yachtsman Steakhouse
The following locations still require prepayment of your reservation (or a credit card guarantee if you are on the dining plan):
  • Cinderella’s Royal Table
  • Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show
  • Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue
  • Mickey’s Backyard BBQ

Overall, I think these changes will result in a better experience for everyone. Just remember to cancel your reservations if you do not need them – credit card guarantee, or not!


New Disney Discounts Coming October 5th!

I love my Disney Visa for lots of reasons. One reason in particular is that is clues me in on new discounts that are on the way.

A few minutes ago I got an email for Disney Visa holders with some long awaited and much missed room discounts.

For Disney Visa holders traveling from Jan 2 - Feb 20 of next year you can look forward to the following discounts:

  • Value Hotels - Save 25% off a room only reservation (except All Star Movies which is 20% off)
  • Moderate Hotels - Save 30% off a room only reservation (except Port Orleans French Quarter which is 25% off)
  • Deluxe Hotels and Villas - Save 35% off a room only reservation (except Polynesian and Animal Kidngdom Lodge are 30% off) 
Not a Disney Visa holder?  No problem!  The same rates will be availble to you beginning October 5th!  If you are a Disney cardholder or just want to be ready for the October 5th general public discount, I will be available this weekend to book your trip, so give me a call if I can help!


Do your homework...but remember to have fun!

Today is a dreary day in my hometown.  I am recovering from a head cold.  And I am feeling totally uninspired.  I decided to go back and look through some Disney pictures for some inspiration on something Disney related to share with you.  After several minutes scrolling through my pictures, I found myself not thinking about something to share, not making a mental note about something to do or do differently on our next trip, or even jotting down an idea for a family I am working with.  Instead I realized I was just enjoying my pictures and the memories they brought back. 

I am a huge believer than a little Disney Park knowledge goes a long way.  A little planning and strategy will help you maximize your fun and minimize your waits.  Prioritizing your the attractions that you family wants to visit is a great idea.  Scheduling your dining reservations a simple must do. 

Some people feel over scheduled in life and do not want to feel that way on vacation.  They just want to show up and have fun.  And while I agree with that in principal, in practice it can backfire.  Now, I am not suggesting that every family should have a laminated schedule of daily events, in fact, I discourage it.  My goal as a vacation planner is to give the families enough information that they can make the most out of their vacation dollars. 

I often recommend my family's touring style.  We heavily schedule our mornings.  Just call me the Disney Drill Sargent from park opening until noon!  As late comers meander their way through the turnstiles, we have knocked out Fantasyland and are rounding the corner to Liberty Square and Adventureland.  Then we break for lunch.  After lunch we usually wander and explore for an hour  - no agenda - until we head back to our resort for a break.  When we are refreshed we return to the park, often with one or two goals in mind, but mostly to go where the mood takes us.  While no one in my crew would trade the "get it done" morning, we all truly treasure the "wander and explore" afternoon and evenings.

Whether the activity is scheduled or spontaneous, always have your camera ready to go and snap away as the magic unfolds.  You never know when it may happen.  So with that in mind, here are some of the things that had me smiling this morning...

Learning to Hula at 'Ohana.  Yes, they are having fun in spite of the serious faces.  Dancing is serious business in our house, and it must be give the proper attention and respect!

Big Sister's first trip on Splash Mountain.  I am curious as to what part of "Splash" she did not understand!
Little Sister comes from a long line of "ride wimps".  So for her first big girl roller coaster experience, we were not expecting THIS...

Character Meet and Greets are always fun.  Especially if then kids are into it and willing to play along.  Snow White teaching my princesses the art of the "twirl"...priceless!

 We also tried to make the most out of our dining experiences.  Who does not love a 4 year old S'more face at 50's Primetime Cafe? And my oldest thought the ketchup gag at Whispering Canyon Cafe was hilarious!

 Here are my sweet girls wishing on a wishing star at Cinderella's Royal Table.  Can you guess what they are wishing for?  Also, I was happy to watch my picky eater dive into a bowl of noodles at Yakitori House.

And finally I will wrap up this super self-indulgent blog post with two of my favorite memories from our trip and an important lesson I learned.  Both of these photos were literally taken during out last hour in the park after a week long vacation.  We sat down for a moment as a family and talked.  We all agreed we had a fabulous time and were so lucky to have such a fantastic vacation.  I told the girls "This is it.  Last call.  Is there ANYTHING else that you have not done and want to do.  Or any one thing that you want to do over."  I must admit that I was surprised by the answer.  The youngest wanted to drive the cars on the Tomorrowland Speedway since the line was so short.  They had showed no interest in that attraction, but that was fine...ride we will.  I honestly have never laughed so hard in my entire life.  I learned that my 4 year old thought that driving consisted of moving the wheel to the left for a while and then to the right for a while.  It does not matter what it in front of you, in fact, as the picture shows, there is no need to even watch where you are going!  Her giggles as we crashed around the track were contagious, leaving me with mascara streaked tears of laughter down my face.  Who knew that such a simple little ride would yield so much fun?
So what one thing did the oldest want to do?  "Mom, over by the Caroussel, there is this big rock with a sword in it.  I really want to try to go pull out the sword.  I have ALWAYS wanted to do that."  Really?  THAT is your final request?  On the one hand, I was happy that all of the "big stuff" had been checked off her list.  On the other, I was surprised at how such a little thing was such a big deal.  The lesson learned... ask!  I was so focused on making sure they got all of the big stuff done, that I had overlooked the little things.  Sometimes it is the smallest things that can put the icing on the cake.

Thanks for indulging me!


Hey Mom & Dad...It is your vacation, too!

Ok, Mom & Dad...I think you all need a little talking to.  You work so hard for very limited vacation dollars.  You work.  You save.  You are going to take your kids to Disney.  You want this vacation to be absolutely magical.  I get it - and I am on board!  But guess what?  This is your vacation, too!  So start acting like it!

I cannot tell you how many families that I have talked to when the adult coordinator (usually Mom) tells me.  "Oh, that sounds like fun!  *sigh* But little Johnny would probably not enjoy that."  That is when I step and and firmly but kindly remind mom that little Johnny is not paying for this trip!

Yes, Disney is a great place for kids and families.  Yes, most of us parents plan a trip specifically for the kids or grandkids.  We are willing to cough up a lot of money to make sure they have a great time and and experience that they will remember forever.  But this is a family vacation, and everyone should get to do something that they want to do!

I  unapologetically tell my kids, that since we have done everything that you wanted to do all day long, it is my turn to pick.  End of story.  And you know what?  It works!  In fact, I think they like the idea of letting Mom or Dad be the kid and have some fun our way. 

Disney actually is on board with this idea, and makes it easy for parents to have fun, too!
  • Dining - If you want to try a nice restaurant or a more adventurous spot, Disney has you covered.  Kids are welcome anywhere, except the super-posh Victoria & Albert's.  Every restaurant has a kids menu with a sub-set of the Disney kids menu staples.  Aim for a meal time close to when you eat at home.  At dinner, your kids should be appropriately tired from a busy day that they will hopefully sit still and behave.  Try not to ask to much of the little guys by pushing a meal into the bedtime hour.  We all know that can end disastrously!  I am not ashamed to admit that I will use the next day's activities as a powerful bribery tool.  (If the gentle warning "Santa is watching." works for you for the month of December, the "Mickey is watching." works just as well at Disney!) 
  • Rider Swap - If you have a kiddo that is to small to ride, or too scared to enjoy, it does not mean that you can't!  Take advantage of the Rider Swap option.  Essentially, the Rider Swap allows your family to stand in line once, but to allow each parent to ride separately.  Think of it as a fastpass for the second adult. 
  • Date Night - Disney has some great kids club options.  Several of the Deluxe hotels have clubs that will allow you to drop off your kids in a safe and fun spot for the evening.  Not only will you enjoy some grown up time, but your kids will have a ball!
  • Spa Day - Let your spouse enjoy the pool with the kids for the afternoon and you enjoy the spa.  A pedi for those tired feet is a great treat!
  • Head out Solo - This is a frequently overlooked option!  I regularly put the children and husband to bed and then take off on my own.  I enjoy a late night shopping adventure at Downtown Disney without my kids in tow.  I can do twice the shopping in half the time, and save money!  I will also often head out to a park that is open late.  It is a great time to take some pictures, scope out / preview attractions you are not sure your kids will enjoy, eat a great snack, or just wander around on your own.  Fair is fair, though...the next night you have to stay in with the sleeping kids and let your spouse go explore.
So, on your next Disney vacation, I strongly urge you to take a little time - even if it is only a few minutes and do something just for you.  You work hard - you have earned it!  I promise that your kids will forgive you if you have some fun yourself.  A happy mom is a good mom!  You can always remind your kids that the more fun YOU have, the more likely you are to return!  'nuff said!

Marathoning with the Mouse…

The Mouse Connection Blog would like to welcome it's second guest blogger, Lindsey Porter.  Lindsey loves all things Disney and is a Travel Agent with TMC Travel.  She is also in much better shape that I am...

My husband and I have made a pact to start exercising. Well, it’s more of a challenge really. I tend to do a little better when there’s some friendly competition involved. I thought I might start running again and when I thought about finding a race to train for, I thought about Disney’s big Marathon in January. When I started researching this topic, I was surprised (and excited) that Disney offered so many races to all types of runners during this weekend, not to mention all of the other races offered throughout the year they host. Although I currently can’t run from here to my mailbox without feeling out of breath, one of the races during the Disney World Marathon Weekend might just be what I need to get me motivated. What better way to reward myself for training for a race than a trip to Disney? Complete my race, then enjoy a week in the parks with my family? It might just work.

In 2012, the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend runs from Thursday, January 5th-Sunday, January 8th. The festivities begin Thursday with Disney’s Health and Wellness Expo running from 10:00 am-7:00 pm at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports. Runners begin their marathon weekend here to check in and receive their packets. The Expo offers seminars on training, racing and nutrition. Runners can also pick up their marathon gear, and get information on the latest and greatest training apparel and equipment. The Expo remains open at scheduled times throughout the weekend. After participants check in on Thursday, they can head over to Epcot for the Pasta in the Park party from 6:30-8:30 pm. This includes a buffet dinner (pack those carbs on for a lot of extra energy!), a live DJ, character visits, and great reserved seating for Illuminations; Epcot’s nighttime spectacular! This marathon kick-off party requires a separate ticket and reservations.

Disney hosts the Family Fun Run 5K in Epcot on Friday, January 6th at 6:30 am (c’mon moms…you know your kids are up anyway…). This family event does include a stroller division, so if even the kiddos aren’t quite old enough to keep up the pace on their own two feet, families can still participate together. Participants receive a t-shirt, a medallion (or two if you’re pushing your little future marathoner in the stroller), a program guide, a goody bag, and refreshments throughout and after the race. Then, on Friday and Saturday at 11:00 am, at the ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Track & Field Complex, Disney hosts the Kids’ Races. Disney has a variety of events for kids all ages. There’s even a Diaper Dash for crawlers under 12 months old. All children under the age of 13 can participate in the Mickey Mile held on Friday. Children that participate in these events will receive a t-shirt, a goody bag, a medallion, and refreshments. Early Saturday morning (5:30 am…moms, I hope you’re not up this early everyday…) the serious runners get going in the Walt Disney World Half Marathon event. Participants in the Half Marathon will enjoy plenty of goodies such a long sleeved half marathon shirt, a Donald Duck finisher medal, refreshments, and much more including a Family Reunion Area with live entertainment and character appearances.

Just as bright and early on Sunday morning, Disney presents two opportunities to participate in the Walt Disney World Marathon. Runners can either run the magical 26.2 miles individually or they can sign up as a relay team of two people. Both races begin simultaneously in Epcot, wind through the Magic Kingdom (where the relay teams switch runners in the parking lot), continue through Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and back to Epcot for a big celebratory finish with Mickey and friends. Participants of the Marathon receive many of the same goodies as the Half Marathoners, with the exception of the Marathon finisher medals which have Mickey on them.

Now, I am fully impressed by anyone who can finish any of these events. 5K, Half Marathon, Full Marathon…they’re all amazing accomplishments in my book. However, there is one final event that can only be described as downright astonishing. It’s called Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge. It’s for those runners who are, well, goofy. Runners participate in the Half Marathon on Saturday and the Marathon on Sunday to complete 39.3 miles of running in two days. Not only will finishers receive the Donald Duck medal and the Mickey Mouse medal, but the Goofy finisher medal, signifying that they completed both events. Make sure to go ahead and book yourself into a spa day at the Grand Floridian Resort on Monday. You’re going to need it.

Make sure to tack on a few extra days in Disney World after your event(s). With the wide variety of resorts and the awesome Free Dining deal going on right now for resort guests, why wouldn’t you stay to relax, celebrate, and show off those medals?

So, if the wide variety of family and individual events, the free dining, and the general perks of running in one of the events on Disney Marathon Weekend hasn’t convinced you to try it out, consider the following: Where else can you run a race through multiple countries in one day, take pictures with characters at music-filled and themed water stops, watch the sun rise over Spaceship Earth, wave to crowds on the Monorail overhead as you run by, run through Cinderella’s Castle while taking in the view of crowds spilling into Main Street USA, pass the breathtaking scenery around many of Disney’s beautiful resorts, experience the views of early morning Animal Kingdom, run down Hollywood Boulevard, and finally, cross over a finish line to celebrate with a dancing Mickey and Minnie Mouse? Nowhere but Disney World. And those may be all the reasons I need to motivate myself to start training.

If you want to join me in a quest for exercise, a healthier lifestyle, personal achievement, and a great excuse to visit Disney World, please contact me at From where to stay to when to run, I can help you plan your Walt Disney world vacation, and as always, my services are free. The Walt Disney World Marathon is a great place to start, but Disney hosts many amazing running events throughout the year. Please contact me for more information on any of the events listed below. No matter which one you choose to participate in, you can plan on the same magical atmosphere and Disney perks during them all:

January 5-8, 2012-Walt Disney World Marathon

February 24-26, 2012-The Disney Princess Half Marathon (geared toward us ladies!)

March 2-4, 2012-The Champion 5K (During ESPN The Weekend. This is by far my best chance to get my husband to participate.)

May 2012-Expedition Everest Challenge (Adventure run and scavenger hunt through Animal Kingdom…for those adventurous athletes.)

Fall 2012-Disney’s Wine and Dine Half Marathon (Most of this event is already full for Fall 2011. The slogan for this race is “The Run is a Beauty. The Party is a Beast.” Sounds like my kind of event.)

Thanks, Lindsey!  You have almost imspired me to put on my running shoes....almost! ;)


Minnie and Minnie Method Soap - a fun touch!

So, you guys know I love all things surprise there!  People often assume that my home is overflowing with the latest and greatest Disney collectibles and decor.  But surprise...hardly a Mickey in site.  My few items of Disney "stuff" is confined to my little corner of my office.  I display all of my trading pins on a bulletin board, and I have some photos, and posters around, but that is really the extent of it.

My girls have a bit more going on in their rooms, lanyards, trading pins, ears, plus princess and fairy stuff galore.  They are 100% on board with my Disney affection and think I am perhaps the coolest mom ever for helping people plan their Disney trips!  (My oldest is actually my best little PR person...she should probably be getting paid.)

As we were wandering the aisles of Target this week stocking up on school supplies we wandered over to the hand sanitizer (gotta send a big tub o' that stuff!)  and as I was putting a few vats of it in the shopping cart I hear squeals of delight followed by "Oh, Mommy!!!  PLEASE!!!"  It sounded odd because they never ask for things in stores - they are fanatically trying to save their money (and ours!) for a Disney Cruise this spring.  Extremely curious as to what had them so excited and willing to actually spend money, I went over to investigate.  They had found the cutest bottle of Micky and Minnie hand soap from Method.  At only $3.89 it was absolutely going home with us.

Minnie now sits proudly in their bathroom.  Preliminary studies indicate that children in my home are much more likely to wash their hands if they get to use the cute Minnie Mouse soap.  Who knew?!?  Perhaps I should make Minnie disappear until cold and flu season is in full swing.

So if you want to add some Mickey or Minnie fun to you home to get excited about your trip...or to mitigate post Disney vacation funk, head over to Target and get you a bottle!  Of course, now I am left wondering, it this the beginning of "Mouse Creep" in my home....


Free Dining Announced for Many Dates In 2011 & 2012

The free dining announcement announced this morning is even more delicious than the wildly speculated rumor circling every corner of the internet over the last week!  Disney has announced free dining dates for many travel windows through the end of the year and even into 2012.  The savings for this promotion can quickly add up, making a favorite for many guest (especially those staying in Value and Moderates.)  As an FYI, a hefty room discount is often the best promotion for those staying in Deluxe resorts (still no word on what, if any room discounts are coming.)

So here is the scoop:

2011 Travel Dates
October 2, 2011 – October 8, 2011
October 23, 2011 – November 5, 2011
November 13, 2011 – November 19, 2011
November 27, 2011 – December 3, 2011
December 11, 2011 – December 17,2011

2012 Travel Dates
January 8, 2012 to January 14, 2012
January 22, 2012 to February 4, 2012
February 12, 2012 to February 18, 2012
March 4, 2012 to March 10, 2012
March 25, 2012 to March 31, 2012

You can book this discount from August 3 - Oct 29 pending availability.  A three night minimum stay is required as is a 2 day ticket.

This will be a very popular offer, folks!  Do not delay with making your plans.  If you are still tentative about your travel plans I would recommend that you go ahead and reserve your spot.  A $200 deposit is required to do so and it is fully refundable up until 45 days prior to travel when your final payment is due.

As always, I would love to help plan your Disney vacation.  As a reminder TMC Travel never charges a fee for our services and we offer a free gift for everyone in your travel party with the purchase of a 4 or more day vacation package!

If you have already booked a trip with me, be assured that I have spent the morning on hold with the Mouse having the discount applied to your existing reservation.  I will be contacting you with some good news soon!


Christmas in July - Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

Well, July has managed to fly by!  I guess I had better sneak in one more Christmas in July post while I have the chance.  Mickey's Very Merry Christmas party is a separate ticketed event held in the Magic Kingdom in November and December.  Tickets for this event are not part of your base or Park Hopper ticket, are purchased for a specific day and are not inexpensive, so if you are going to make a trip to Disney World for the holidays, you will want to plan ahead for the party.

The most common question  I get about the party is "Is it worth it?"  While I can say my whole family did enjoy the party, it is not something that we would necessarily do every year.  The party officially starts at 7:00 and ends at midnight, but you will be allowed entry to the Magic Kingdom beginning at 4:00.  This essentially gives you a park hop into the Magic Kingdom for the day.  We used this as such and decided to go to the party in lieu purchasing a park hopper ticket.  Even though you can get into the park beginning at 4:00, the day crowds will not be asked to leave until 7:00 and there is nothing special going on until that time.  As a result, if you have young kids who turn into pumpkins at 8:30, this might not be the event for you...wait a few more years until you can get the biggest bang for your buck.  Of course, that being said, we did the party on the last night of our vacation and allowed the 4 year old to stay up until the bitter end.  Shockingly, she was game and we drug her out of the park at midnight with a smile on her face!

So what makes Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party special than a regular night in the Magic Kingdom?
  • Low Crowds - Attendance at the party is capped at a reasonable number.  Parties early in the season and on week nights have notoriously sparse crowds.  This means that most attractions are "walk-ons" for most of the night.
  • Special Characters - You will find lots of favorite friends in the parks.  Last year the princesses were accompanied by their princes and we used the rare sighting of all Seven Dwarfs as our Christmas Card Photo.  You will also see many characters in spiffy holiday attire, so it is worth stopping by for another visit.
  • Snow on Main Street - Ok, so the "snow" vaguely resembles Palmolive, but it is still a fun and festive touch.  Who cares if your kids belch bubbles for a few days?!?  (Kidding!)
  • Cookies and Cocoa - There are several refreshment stations through out the park serving an assortment of snacks.  We splurged with Christmas Cookies and Hot Chocolate, but there were some healthier options as well.
  • The Christmas Parade - The evening parade is different for the party than what you may have seen on the previous evening.  The parades are all perfectly holiday themed as are the characters riding them.  The Toy Soldiers and the Gingerbread Cookies "hot off the pan" are big hits as well.  And like any good Christmas Parade St Nick himself makes a special appearance.  Hint:  The parade runs twice a night and the second parade is always less crowded!
  • Holiday Wishes - The fireworks are absolutely spectacular.  A must see.  Even if you opt not to attend the Christmas party, I recommend finding a spot outside of the Magic Kingdom. 
  • Special Stage Shows
While the party is a lot of fun, there are a few things to consider:
  • Cost - Tickets start at $56.95 for adults and $51.95 for children 3-9 for off peak dates if you purchase your tickets in advance.  Expect to pay a $6 premium for peak nights.  For a family of 4 that can quickly add up! 
  • It is a late night.  - While I am a night owl and hanging out in the Magic Kingdom to midnight and beyond sounds fantastic to me, it is certainly not for everyone!  Make sure that you will at least be able to stay long enough to enjoy the parade and fireworks.
  • Controlled Chaos from 6:45-7:45 - During the early evening hours, all daytime guest are politely but firmly asked to leave.  All Party guests are asked to obtain a wristband to indicate that you are a party guest.  I felt like I should have just walked around with my wrist in the air for the hour or so that it took to make sure everyone was where they belonged.  Also, be aware that if you choose to arrive right at 7:00, you will be like a salmon swimming up stream! 
If you would like to purchase tickets to MVMCP click here for more information.  If you have already booked your vacation with me or if you would like to, I will be happy to handle this for you.

Here are some pictures from our night of holiday fun last year...Enjoy!

Our Seven Miner Friends

My oldest getting down to some Black Eyed Peas with her favorite chipmunk! 
(Lots of missing teeth between the two of them!)

First Parade Float

The Gingerbread Men from the front...

And the back!

The adorable Toy Soldiers


Christmas in July - The Candlelight Processional

The Candlelight Processional is a beautiful Christmas performance showing at Epcot that is not to be missed!  The Candlelight Processional is a beautiful, reverent reading of the Christmas Story by a celebrity narrator.  In addition to the narrator, a mass choir carrying candles (hence the name!), 50 piece live orchestra, and the Voices of Liberty round out this fantastically talented group.

The show is held three times each night (5:00, 6:45, and 8:15) from late November through December at the American Gardens Theater in the American Adventure in Epcot.  This show is free with regular admission to Epcot.  However, because seating is very limited for this popular show, the only way to be guaranteed a seat is through the purchase of the Candlelight Processional Dining Package.  The Dining Package includes lunch or dinner at one of Epcot's fantastic table service restaurants, seats for the show, and preferred viewing for the Illuminations Fireworks show.

My family got to enjoy Susan Lucci's reading of the Christmas story last year on my husband's birthday...definitely his most original gift from me!  Here is a  quick video clip from our show:

One other note...the American Gardens theater is an outdoor venue. We ended up with shockingly cold weather during our stay. But even on pleasant December days, it can be a bit cool once the sun sets. It is wise to come armed with cooler weather gear - at least a pair of gloves. You may not find yourself chilly at all while you are "out and about" cruising around the parks, but sitting on a metal bench in an outdoor theater, perched over water is a whole other story! You will want to hear the performance, not your teeth chattering, I promise!

This years celebrity narrators include:
•11/25 - 11/27: Mira Sorvino
•11/28 - 12/01: Michael W. Smith
•12/02 - 12/03: Whoopi Goldberg
•12/04 - 12/06: TBA
•12/07 - 12/09: Isabela Rossellini
•12/10 - 12/12: Neil Patrick Harris
•12/13- 12/14: TBA
•12/16 - 12/18: TBA
•12/19 - 12/21: Trace Adkins
•12/22 - 12/24: Susan Lucci
•12/25 - 12/27: Blair Underwood
•12/28 - 12/30: Marlee Matlin (interpreter: Jack Jason)

Disney will begin taking dining reservations for the Candlelight Processional Dining Package on July 26.  The reservation will require a credit card guarantee.  You can use the dining plan (credit card guarantee still applies) to book your reservation.  This reservation will use 2 of your table service credits, but will also include an appetizer, which is not usually part of the dining plan. 

Each show will have an allotted dining window prior to the performance.  Guest viewing the 5:00 show will have a lunch reservation.  Guests at the 6:45 show, have a rather awkward late afternoon dinner.  Guests at the 8:15 show will have a more reasonable "early dinner" time, but may not have time after the show to find a good spot for Illuminations in the preferred viewing area. 

Participating restaurants include:

(Prices do not include tax or gratuity)

Biergarten Restaurant
Lunch $ 32.99 adult / $ 17.99 child
Dinner $ 50.99 / $ 25.99

Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room
Lunch $ 38.99 / $ 12.99
Dinner $ 49.99 / $ 15.99

Le Cellier Steakhouse
Lunch $ 53.99 / $ 14.99

Garden Grill Restaurant
Dinner $ 52.99 / $ 26.99

Coral Reef
Lunch $ 51.99 / $ 13.99
Dinner $ 64.99 / $ 17.99

Nine Dragons
Lunch $ 38.99 adult / $ 12.99 child
Dinner $ 49.99 / $ 15.99

Restaurant Marrakesh
Lunch $ 38.99 / $ 12.99
Dinner $ 49.99 / $ 15.99

San Angel Inn
Lunch $ 38.99 / $ 12.99
Dinner $ 49.99 / $ 15.99

Via Napoli
Lunch $ 38.99 / $ 12.99
Dinner $ 49.99 / $ 15.99

Les Chefs de France
Lunch $ 51.99 / $ 13.99
Dinner $ 64.99 / $ 17.99

Tokyo Dining
Lunch $ 51.99 / $ 13.99
Dinner $ 64.99 / $ 17.99

Teppan Edo
Lunch $ 51.99 / $ 13.99
Dinner $ 64.99 / $ 17.99

Tutto Italia
Lunch $ 51.99 / $ 13.99
Dinner $ 64.99 / $ 17.99

Hacienda de San Angel
Dinner $ 64.99 / $ 17.99

I highly recommend this beautiful show if you are headed to the World after Thanksgiving and before the New Year.  Please let me know if I can help you plan and book your trip.  I will be happy to make your Candlelight Processional Dining Reservation for you as well!

Christmas in July - Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

And a spectacle it is! No Holiday trip to Disney's Hollywood Studios

would be complete without an evening stroll down the Streets of America to enjoy this enormous display of lights.

As you wander down the street you may be surprised to know that the majority of the lights in the display were once part of a private "collection" owned by Jennings Osborne. A resident of Arkansas, Mr.. Osborne set out to fulfill his daughters Christmas wish of covering their home in lights for the holidays. Like my husband who will do anything to please his daughters a mere 1000 lights the first year was not enough. Each year, their display grew and grew. They even purchased adjacent properties to extend their Christmas passion. Over a million lights and many a traffic jam later, the neighbors (understandably!) had had enough. When the Osborne family refused to take down the lights, the local residents petitioned the courts for help. Fortunately, it was Disney to the rescue. An offer was made to move the lights to a permanent new home at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

Since 1995 visitors, including the Osborne family, come from all over the world each year to wander through the streets, sip hot cocoa, enjoy the Florida "snow", and admire the spectacular display of dancing lights while Christmas music plays all around. While most of the displays are original, the teams of decorators (that begin this huge undertaking in late summer!) have started switching over to more energy efficient LED lights.

This is a magical event that must not be missed if you are headed to the World in late November or December. A few tips...learn from my photography mistakes!  Photographing this event can be a bit tricky.  If you are going to take pictures look for special nighttime settings on your camera and bring a long a tripod, or steady your camera on something stationary. Also, be sure to WATCH WHERE YOU ARE GOING...especially if you are pushing a stroller. This is an especially bad spot for folks to be looking up and randomly stopping...Not that I ran over my husband with the stroller or anything...;)

And I did not notice it at the time, but isn't this picture odd?  There are lights everywhere, but on the tree...which is where most people put them in the first place!  Go Figure!


Christmas in July - Holiday Wishes Fireworks

Who says fireworks are just for the 4th of July?!?!  Certainly not the folks at Disney World!

I am such a kid when it comes to fireworks.  Perhaps it is because my birthday is right around Independence Day and we are always at the always seemed to make my birthday extra special.

It should be no surprise that I aways try to catch at least one fireworks show each night I possibly can.  Last December, I not only managed to see Wishes inside and outside the park, but Holiday Wishes as well. (And if you are a huge fireworks fan, may I humbly suggest staying at the Polynesian!)

While I enjoyed the show each time I saw them - and Holiday Wishes is different, and even more specatular than it's not holiday cousin, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed not watching it from inside the Magic Kingdom.  Of course, we are a Disney loving family, but only one night at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party was in the budget.  So I made plans to head out to the beach at the Polynesian at the approprite time and check out the fireworks from there, where they pipe the music in so you can get the full experience.

It is a very differente perspective from being right on Main Street, but I liked it just as well for Wishes, and perhaps even more for Holiday Wishes.  You see, for Holiday wishes they did not just shoot the fireworks from behind Cinderella Castle.  During 2 different parts of the show, the launched amazing rockets from several satelliete locations.  The entire skyline was lit up with 180 degrees of sparkly goodness!  My mouth literally dropped as the beach lit up like dayight.  I got a video of the entire show, but my camera work does not even come close to doing in justice.  You can check it out in the link below, but due to the whole tripod system breaking down when I hit record, the first minute or so is super annoying to watch, so you may want to skip ahead!


Christmas in (almost!) July - The Castle Lighting Ceremony

It is Christmas in July time! Our family did a week long trip to Disney World during the first full week of December last year. I think it is my new favorite time of the year to visit. So through out the month, I thought I would share some snippits of our December to remember...

One of my favorite things happens every night at the Magic Kingdom. Right around dusk, head to the hub and find a great view of the castle. It won't belong before you hear the Fairy Godmother lead the Castle Lighting Ceremony.

In case you have not been to the Magic Kingdom in late November or December, the castle is beautifully draped in over 20,000 lights. The "Castle Dream Lights" are turned on each evening by the Fairy Godmother's magic..."Bibbidi, Bobbidi, BOO!"

Enjoy this video of the castle lighting ceremony.  Please pardon the first few seconds of wiggling, the family next to me wanted to be a little ahem "cozier" than I expected.  If you want to get to the good stuff, skip ahead to the 4:30 mark.  Enjoy!


Good things coming soon...

It is hot.  My children's schedule is oddly demanding.  Work has been pleasantly busy...It is summer time.  Vacation time.  And while I am not headed off to Disney this summer, there is a sandy South Carolina beach calling my name.

But I am also getting really excited about my upcoming Disney cruise.  Well, it is not upcoming until spring, but since we are now officially in summer that means I am one season closer...Right?  I know, I am mildly pathetic.  But did I mention that I am REALLY excited about checking out the Disney Dream?!?

Another thing that has me excited is that I hear a new blog dedicated to Disney cruising is on the way!  No comment on if this is part of the reason I have been staying up half the night lately.  Stay tuned for more details.

I am also working with several families who are headed off to Disney in December.  I love the first week of December at Disney.  The decorations, the parties, the lights, the low crowds, the Santa Mickey Ears...what is not to love?  To that end an executive decision has been made to run a Christmas in July series on The Mouse Connection.  Disney has really gotten me in the mood by publishing a partial list of guest narrators.  In case you missed the announcement, here is the latest (no official date on the dining packages, but I would expect it will be sometime next month):
     Nov. 25-27 — Mira Sorvino (“Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”)
     Nov. 28-Dec. 1 — Michael W. Smith (Christian singer)
     Dec. 2-3 — Whoopi Goldberg (“The View”)
     Dec. 4-6 — TBD
     Dec. 7-9 — Isabella Rossellini (“Alias”)
     Dec. 10-12 — Neil Patrick Harris (“How I Met Your Mother”)
     Dec. 13-14 — TBD
     Dec. 16-18 — TBD
     Dec. 19-21 — Trace Adkins (country singer)
     Dec. 22-24 — Susan Lucci (“All My Children”)
     Dec. 25-27 — Blair Underwood (“The Event”)
     Dec. 28-30 — Marlee Matlin (“Celebrity Apprentice”)

My whole family really enjoyed the Candlelight Processional last year, in spite of the freakish cold snap. Susan Lucci was our narrator and she did a great job.  I would love to see Whoopi or NPH this year, but sadly, I do not think it will be in the cards for us this year.  (Did I mention a few months after Christmas I am going on a Disney cruise? )

If you want to whet your cruse whistle, check out this video posted on the Disney Parks Blog.  Their amazing photog Matt Stroshane assembled 10,000still photos to condense a week long Alaskan cruise into 1 minute and 58 seconds.  While I am a total and complete beach bum, and it is hard for me to fathom taking a vacation where sunscreen is not involved, this has me rethinking things!

If I can help plan your cruise, Alaskan or otherwise, send me an email and we will find something perfect!


You can now Book Art of Animation, Princess Rooms, and a Pool View at Pop!

As expected with the early announcement of ticket prices, Disney has announced new package rates for 2012.

At first look, there do seem to be some changes...

Dining -
  • The Quick Service Dining Plan now only includes 1 snack per day instead of 2.  At $34.99 per adult, $11.99 per child, the price remains constant, but with one less snack.
  • The Regular (Plus) Dining Plan now includes a refillable drink mug.  At $51.54 per adult, $15.02 per child this is an increase of $5.50 for adults and $3 for kids.  With the addition of the refillable drink mug, I am calling this a good bargain, in spite of the higher price tag!
  • The Deluxe Dining Plan now only includes 1 snack per day instead of 2.  At $85.52 per adult, $23.79 per child., this is a $6.50 increase for adults and a $1.80 increase for kids.
  • Both the Regular and Deluxe dining plans still have peak pricing.
  • No Wine and Dine option is offered this year.

Resorts -
  • Ready to check out the Art of Animation?  The newest Disney Resort starts taking reservations for arrivals beginning May 31.
  • Are vacationing with royalty?  If so, your little princess will surely enjoy the Royal Guest Room at Port Orleans Riverside beginning March 4
  • An Affordable Room with a View?  At Pop Century, guest can now pay a premium to insure a pool view!  The All Star Resorts do not offer a pool view at this time.
  • No information yet on the new health and wellness rooms at the Contemporary.
Stay tuned...I am sure more details will follow!


Disney Announces Price Hikes Sooner than Expected

Usually in late August there is a flurry of activity for those trying to get their vacation packages booked, effectively locking in their ticket price before the next year's rate increase takes effect.  Perhaps the unseasonably warm temperatures have fooled Disney into thinking that August is here, as they have announced ticket prices will increase 3 months earlier than usual.

If you have kept up with this blog, you may remember that I posted some rumors regarding Disney announcing next years resort rates and ticket prices earlier than in previous years.  While it stinks any time prices rise, the silver lining in this news is that it paves the way for long range planners to book their trips for the next calendar year earlier.  In years past, you had to book your dining reservations before you knew how much you were going  to be paying for your hotel, dining, or tickets! 

You can find a complete list of all ticket types HERE.  But in a nutshell, all tickets increases in price, with the largest percentage increases tickets of longer duration and on tickets for kids.  Instead of a adding a day to a 4 or more day base ticket for $5, it will now cost you $8.  That is going to be a tougher sell for families to add on arrival or departure day!  For a typical family of four to add a day - even if it was only a few hours - for $20 was kind of a "no brainer".  Now that it will cost over $32 may give more folks cause for pause.

So thinking of a trip to Disney World and want to get in under the wire?  Good news!  I will be happy to get your vacation booked and locked in at the lower rates this weekend before the price increases Monday morning.  I will be available all weekend to take your call or email.  Contact me and we can get the ball rolling.  If you want to take a few days to think things over before you are ready to make your deposit, we can get a courtesy hold on a room for you which will allow you 7 days to thinks things over.

And if you are thinking about Disney in 2012, let's talk looks like we can get started sooner than expected!


Do you REALLY save money on the dining plan?

To dining plan or not to dining plan...that is the question.

Many of the families I work with are gung ho about signing up for the dining plan, and others are more than a little suspicious. Critics of the dining plan site its cost, the overabundance of food and not wanting to be “tied down” to dining reservations so far in advance. While all of that is absolutely true, I decided to wear the hat of my number crunching husband. I took the practical approach to see if the dining plan actually saved us money. Turns out, for our family, the dining plan is not only a winner, but a BIG winner.

We opted to go for the Regular Dining Plan, often called “Plus Dining”, which consists on one table service meal, one quick service meal, and one snack per day for each night of our resort stay. This plan made the most sense for us because I like to have one sit down, relaxing meal each day. In fact, it is my favorite part of the day. I love to be face to face with the family and talk about what we loved, what we didn’t and what we are looking forward to the next day. After we order, I have been known to discreetly pull out the video camera and do a quick interview with the kids. I love hearing about the day in their own words while it is still fresh. I like the break, the “forced” time out from the world to relax and really talk.

Another reason the dining plan makes sense for our family is that I hate nasty surprises. My thought going into the trip that I would either break even or come out slightly ahead cost wise with the dining plan (Boy was I wrong, I came out WAY ahead!). I signed up any way because I wanted to know exactly what our food costs were going to be.  The husband I and decided that even if we ultimately spent a little bit more on the dining plan, it would be worth having as a sort of "insurance" policy.  Also, I like to splurge a little on vacation and Idid not want to “settle” for the hamburger when I really wanted the steak. It was a good feeling knowing that meals were budgeted and paid for in advance. We could order whatever we wanted off the menu guilt-free….no surprises…no sticker shock.

To be fair, the critics of the dining plan do have some reasonable points. If you have paid for so many table service meals, you want to make sure you use them, which requires dining reservations…which requires advance planning. Of course, if you want to eat at any particular tables service restaurant, you will need a dining reservation whether or not you are on the dining plan! I also tend to plan most of my park days well in advance any way. While I do not necessarily believe in scheduling every second, I do not like crowds, so for most days I pick my park based on crowd levels…once I pick my park my dining falls into place.

Assuming that you are going to eat one sit down meal every day, the most compelling argument against the dining plan is the cost and the “too much food” aspect of the plan. So I dutifully saved my receipts and crunched the numbers. I looked at the numbers in two ways…what I actually ordered vs what I would have paid and what I would have ordered if I were not on the dining plan vs what I would have paid. If I were not on the dining plan, we might have shared a snack instead of buying more to take home with us, we would certainly have skipped dessert at lunch, and instead of my husband and I both ordering dessert at dinner, we would have gotten one to share.

I figured that I would have come out ahead on the apples to apples comparison, but what if I compared apples and oranges?  What if I compared the cost of the dining plan to what I would have ordered as if I had to pay on the spot? Would that 1 dessert and 1 snack for the family to share ultimately mean the dining plan cost us more than it was worth?

Well...let’s see… I used our first 4 park days as an example since we ate one quick service and one counter service meal each day. I totaled up what we ate and subtracted the cost of the dining plan to see the savings. To be fair, I did order more than I would have if I were not on the dining plan so I subtracted out the “extras” that we would have passed if left to our own devices.

So over our first four days, we saved over $280 on dining! If you subtract out the extras we still would have saved over $190! I must admit that I was really surprised at the savings. I honestly thought we would come close to breaking even or maybe end up getting out snacks “free” out of the deal.

To be fair, if we were not on the dining plan, I might have chosen some less expensive restaurants. For example, I might have traded in Liberty Tree Tavern for the Plaza. I also may forced my kids to eat from the kids menu. But I am sure that I still would have kept some of my favorite higher end restaurants in the mix. Of course, some of those snacks that I subtracted from my end of day total went to buying rice crispie treats to bring back home as little gifts…so that savings would ultimately have been added back into my souvenir budget.

For our family the biggest savings was a result of having children under the age of 9 on the dining plan and eating at buffet restaurants. The cost of the kids dining plan is $11.99. The cost of some dinner buffets is $14.99-16.99. So we came out several dollars ahead with just one meal! Also, Disney does not distinguish between adult and child counter service credits, so if my kids preferred something on the adult menu, I allowed them to order it. While Disney policy states that kids under 9 should order from the kids menu when available, every cast member when asked, allowed me to order from the adult menu for my kids.

So is the dining plan for you? I give you an enthusiastic “YES!” if one or more of the following is true:
  • You plan to sit down and eat one meal a day.
  • You have a budget that is important to adhere to.
  • You have kids in the 3-9 age range.
  • You enjoy eating from the "higher end" of the menu.
  • You enjoy eating at "higher end" restaurants.
And if all of the above are true - you are crazy NOT to be on the dining plan!

If I can help you with your vacation planning please contact me at TMC Travel or by email.  As always there is no fee for my services!


A cool way to beat the heat at Disney World (or anywhere, really)!

I don't know about you but the "Dollar Bins" by the front door at Target lure me in every trip like a moth to flame.  I find lots of great stuff in there for my Disney trips, as well as inexpensive Disney themed stuff for the kids.  During this week's shopping adventure I scored the coolest (pun intended) personal mister that has not only earned a spot in my park bag, but my pool bag as well.

This fairly small mister is about the size of a flashlight, but is a bit skinnier.  You unscrew the top and fill with water to you get to the "fill line".  Secure the top and then store in a cooler or other cool spot.  When you are ready for a little heat relief you use the bottom of the unit as a piston to pump air into the container and put the contents under pressure.  About a dozen quick pumps gets the job done.  Then you just press the button near the spray head to release a fine mist.  Fantastic!

I tested my new find out yesterday after a hot walk around the block on a muggy 90 degree day.  It worked like a charm.  The mist was very fine and with one quick spray, did not leave me wet at all.  A longer spray did allow my arms to feel a little damp - either way made me feel much cooler.

The device does not hold a lot of water, which is nice as it is not to heavy to carry around or even attach to your wrist or belt loop.  Of course that will mean that frequent refills will be necessary on long days, especially if you have a large family.  So keep an extra bottle of water handy or just fine a water fountain.

With only one day of moderately heavy use (my kids are fascinated!) my little mister seems to be holding up well.  I am hoping that the manual nature of the pump will mean a longer life, 'cause I really like this little guy!  So my verdict is head out to Target this weekend and scope out the dollar bins and see what you can find.  It was in the $2.50 section, and so far is worth every penny - even if it ultimately finks out on me sooner than I would like.  I think I am going to stock up over the weekend, so if you live in central NC consider yourself warned with a fair head start!  Viva la Target!