Disney World – Best Time? ANYtime!

IMG_3280As difficult as the transition to “Empty Nest” status has been, I’ve discovered one really great perk!  We can now go to Disney World any time we want to.  Any time of the year!  We are no longer tied to summers and school breaks – we can go during any season, any month, any special event!  We can plan our trip to avoid crowds and enjoy cooler weather if we want to or…not!  Okay, this empty-nest thing is looking UP!!!

In my heart I believe that ANY time at Disney World is better than just about anytime elsewhere, so I’ve put together a list of reasons to go to Disney World and things to do for every month in 2014.

January and February –

Two great months for runDisney fans and also a great time to take advantage of lower crowd levels and cooler, drier weather.  Average high temperatures are in the low 70’s, average lows are around 50-degrees and rainfall averages are around 2.5″ a month (compared to over 7″ per month in the summer).

The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend is January 8-12, 2014  and offers participants the opportunity to run a 5k, 10k, and both a half and full marathon!  In February, runners flock to the Disney Princess Half Marathon and Princess 10k (Feb. 20-23).IMG_2746

Planning Note:  Unless you’re going to cheer on your loved one, non-runners may want to avoid those race weekends as those very popular events boost crowd levels tremendously.

March and April –

Epcot Flower and Garden Festival.  Even if you are ambivalent to horticulture, you will still be delighted by the many magical touches and pixie-dusted details that abound in Epcot in the spring.  The Flower Power Concert Series is part of the Festival and you would not BELIEVE the awesomeness of the bands in 2014’s lineup! (The Guess Who, Herman’s Hermits and The Lovin’ Spoonful – need I say more?)  New in 2014 – Kermit and Piggy will star! – immortalized in all the topiary glory those Epcot wizards have become famous for.  Also, if you’re there, don’t miss out on the IMG_2750Butterfly exhibit – an absolute must-do if you have little ones.

May –

As Flower and Garden wraps up in Epcot (ends May 18th), over at Disney Hollywood Studios, Star Wars Weekends are just getting started (weekends, May 16-June 8).  While I’m not a Star Wars geek, I’m enough of a fan to get a big kick out of all the Stars Wars-goings-on during this summer-long event.  Your little Jedi (under 12) can attend the Jedi Training Academy and you can meet (and get autographs from) some of the most famous Star Wars IMG_3531superstars in the world.  The Storm Troopers on top of the Studios’ entrance are SO cool – and not above providing a little fun photo op if you can get their attention.

June –

School’s out for summer and June’s a great time to visit Disney World!  The last Star Wars Weekend is June 8-10 then the Sounds Like Summer Concert Series at Epcot runs from about the second week of June to the last week of July.  This musical gathering of tribute bands offers guests some fantastic opportunities to have a rocking good time – included in Epcot park admission.

Expect afternoon thunderstorms and be prepared with rain ponchos (a good attitude doesn’t hurt either).  There are plenty of fun activities you can still enjoy even if the weather isn’t perfect.  At least those summer showers are usually short in duration and you can right back out photointo the action.

July –

It’s HOT, it’s crowded (with a ton of tour groups from our South American neighbors), but, with a little extra planning, you can still have an awesome Disney vacation.  Especially if you’re patriotic!  As with all holidays, Disney does Independence Day right!  While the official celebration activities have not been announced yet, you can bet that the Magic Kingdom fireworks will be spectacular!  Guaranteed to bring a tear to any red-white-and-blue-blooded American lucky enough to find a viewing spot on Main Street!  For anytime patriotic pleasure – go see the Voices of Liberty at the American Adventure in Epcot.  This a capella group is simply amazing and the acoustics in the rotunda are perfect!  Teary eyes and goose bumps guaranteed.

August –

IMG_0639As all the kiddos head back into the classroom – it’s still hot and sunny in Florida!  The second week in August is an ideal time to head to the World.  Crowds are much lower and one of the very best events in Disney World begins – Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival.

Imagine if you will:  A morning spent hanging out by the very un-crowded resort pool to catch a few rays (sunscreen, people!) before heading over to  your massage appointment at one of the many resort spas at Disney World.  (Raymond recommends the “Custom Firm-Pressure Massage” at the Contemporary Resort’s Olympiad Fitness Center.)  After a quick, light lunch spend the rest of the afternoon on the attractions at your favorite park.  Finally, enjoy a relaxing evening out for dinner and drinks before taking in your favorite nighttime show – like Illuminations at Epcot or Wishes at the Magic Kingdom.  IMG_0062

September and October –

What a fantastic time to visit with and without children.  The parks get all decked out for Halloween and Magic Kingdom presents Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party on select dates through the first week of November.  Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival is in full swing offering guests the chance to sample culinary treats (and special beverages) from around the world.

RunDisney Event Alert! 

  • October 4-5 is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler Weekend
  • November 8-9 is the Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend

November and December –

Over at the Magic Kingdom, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party helps you get into the holiday IMG_1044spirit on select dates beginning around the second week of November.  Spectacular holiday decorations are everywhere.  All the parks and every resort show off their seasonal best for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s celebrations.  Epcot presents Christmas Around the World as well as the Candlelight Processional (select dates).

Crowds are at their absolute extremes during these two months.  If you avoid Thanksgiving week and the Christmas to New Year’s Day period, you can find some less crowded days to enjoy.  If you go during school break expect capacity crowds – careful planning is a must but you can still make a visit during this wonderfully crazy time a very magical vacation indeed.

Are you taking a Disney vacation in 2014?  What time of year are you going?

Saving on Disney World Dining – Part 2

DSCN0980Yesterday in Part 1 we talked about some ways to save on dining at Disney World by bringing food, budgeting, and planning ahead.  Today let’s talk about what Disney has to offer with regard to savings on dining.

Potential Money Saving Purchases:  Disney Dining Plans / Tables in Wonderland.

Dining Plans come in different flavors, but all are pre-paid meal plan options which offer Disney guests the opportunity to select a plan that works for both their dining style and budget.  Per Disney’s website, “Disney dining plans are options available exclusively to Guests of select Walt Disney World Resort hotels with Magic Your Way Vacation Packages.”

Pros of the dining plans:  Meals are mostly paid for – makes budgeting easier and minimizes unexpected surprises with regard to food expense.  Sometimes, Disney runs specials where the dining plan is INCLUDED in the Magic Your Way Vacation Package at no extra charge – aka Free Dining!  These plans can be a pretty good deal IF you’re careful with your dining credits and you don’t generally want adult beverages with your meals.

IMG_0933Cons:  May be too expensive and/or no single plan matches the way you like to dine on vacation.  Years ago, the regular dining plan included an appetizer and also included gratuities (if I’m not mistaken).  We loved that!  But things have changed and now the basic plan only includes dessert (which is perfect for a lot of people) – plus you must pay out-of-pocket for gratuities (and alcoholic beverages always).  The regular dining plan is supposed to save 15% per adult on dining, but many people end up spending (and eating) more than they think they will…read on.

Your plan choices look like this:

Disney Dining Plan (Basic):  One table service meal, one quick service meal, and one snack per night of stay – also includes one resort refillable mug for the duration of each guests stay.  Price is $58.66 per night per adult (10 and over), $18.88 per night per child (3-9).  Many of our favorite restaurants require TWO table service credits to dine there – this means many more meals out of pocket!  To make this work for saving money, you’ve got to avoid all those double-credit-required places.DSCN2519

Deluxe Dining Plan:  Three meals of the type of your choice (table or quick service) and two snacks per night of stay, plus the refillable mug per person – this is a LOT of food to consume!  Price is  $104.94 per night per adult and $29.51 per night per child.  We have never purchased this plan – I could not make the numbers work out where any money would be saved for us.  Tables in Wonderland is a much better option (in my opinion) – see below.

Quick Service Plan: Two quick service meals, one snack per day.  Also includes the refillable mug.  Price for adults is $39.64 for adults and $15.75 for children per night of stay.  If you are not into table service meals, this may be perfect for you.  Quick service is usually just that – quick – so you can keep on riding rides and seeing shows.  Many of Disney’s quick service restaurants have new delicious and healthy options, so don’t be afraid that all you’ll be eating is hamburgers and hotdogs.  I can see this being an excellent choice for many families.

For all the details on the 2014 Disney Dining Plan, go here, Deluxe is here and the Quick Service plan is here.  Info on the Premium Plan (included with the Magic Your Way Premium Vacation Package) and takes Disney vacationing to a whole new level is here.

An extremely helpful Disney Dining Plan Calculator can be found here.

IMG_2457Tables in Wonderland – This is a one-year “membership” that must be purchased and is only available to Florida residents, Annual/Seasonal Passholders, and Disney Vacation Club Members.  If you fall into one of those categories, the TIW card can save you big bucks (except on the blackout weeks which include most major holidays).  We have found this to be our best way to save on meals because of two key things:  1. we eat at least one table service meal each day and 2. we enjoy a bottle of wine with dinner.

From the Tables in Wonderland website, here are the benefits:

  • A 20% discount offered on food and beverage, including alcohol, at over 100 participating restaurants at the Walt Disney World® Resort (discount is valid for a party of up to 10 Guests including the member)
  • Complimentary Resort Valet and Theme Park parking for dining purposes
  • Invitations to special events, such as happy hours, dessert parties, and dinners!

IMG_5075The price of the card is currently $125 for Florida residents and $100 for Annual/Seasonal Passholders and Disney Vacation Club Members.  To make back the investment ($100 for us) and start saving, we’d need to spend $500 at participating restaurants – Easy enough to do in just the first few days at Disney World.

Well, there you have it.  If you’ve stuck with me here to the end, hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought (hahaha)!  What type of dining will YOU be doing on your next Disney vacation?

Disney World Dining – Money Saving Tips Part 1

IMG_0931So, the end of 2013 is fast approaching and I’m starting to think about next year – I’m going to Disney World!!!  How about you?  If you are planning a Disney trip in 2014, don’t forget to plan the FOOD!  Just think!  Mickey ice cream bars!  Lunch at the new Be Our Guest in Fantasyland!  Cheese soup at Le Cellier!  Dole-whips!  The wings, dumplings, shrimp and bread pudding at ‘Ohana!  Buffet at Chef Mickey’s!  Yorkshire County Fish and Chips at Epcot! Mmmmmmmmm.  So much to eat, so little time!

There are a LOT of dining decisions to make and dining in the World can take up a fairly large chunk of your vacation dollars.  Today’s post will focus on tips for what you can bring, plan, and budget for saving a few dollars on dining at Disney World.  Come back tomorrow – part 2 will focus on Dining plans and discounts you can purchase.

Here are a few money-saving ideas to consider:

Bring breakfast.  Actually pack breakfast foods (granola bars, pop-tarts, breakfast cookies, etc.) and bring them with you.  This works like a charm for us – you can read more about it here.  Saves both money and time!  We’ve also saved money by bringing our own movie snacks onto Disney cruises.

Bring Snacks:  If you have little ones, this is especially important.  Having some goldfish crackers or other snacks and a juice box tucked away will not only save you some money – it may even prevent a meltdown.  Some children are so excited to be at Disney World, they don’t eat when you want them to and then must eat when you least expect it.  Best to be prepared.

Consider brunch or lupper (lunch+supper – yes, I made it up, but we’ve been using the term forDSCN2611 years and now you can too).  Eating your main meal of the day during a restaurant’s lunchtime window can serve two purposes:  Lunch is generally (and sometimes much) less expensive than supper/dinner at most table service restaurants and a willingness to eat at non-traditional times like 11:00 am or 2:30 pm may make the difference between scoring ADRs (advance dining reservations) at one of the most popular eateries and not getting in at all.

Load up a Disney Gift Card (or cards) before leaving home.  This is much better than carrying cash and you can pre-budget your food/beverage expenses without purchasing any dining plans or discount cards (see Part 2 tomorrow).  You can easily find menus and prices for most Disney restaurants online to get an idea about cost.  My favorite place for menu info is here at allears.net.  We’re planning to do this when we go for the Epcot International Food and IMG_0760Wine Festival in the fall.  Forced budgeting for when we hit all the exotic food and beverage kiosks in the World Showcase.

Book ADRs at 180 days out.  Seriously.  Do this.  If you want to eat at any of Disney World’s popular table service restaurants without waiting a looooooong time or being turned away outright, you must have an ADR.  You can call (407-WDW-DINE) or go online  (or have your travel agent do it for you) and make advance dining reservations (ADRs) 6 months in advance.  While it may not directly save you money, it makes budgeting so much easier – gives you a chance to compare restaurants serving similar fare and select the most budget friendly option.  Again, use online resources to view menus and prices.

Remember – you’ll need to give a credit card number (this is new) in order to book the ADRs.  Nothing is charged to your card unless you’re a no-show, then it’s $10 per person on the reservation.  Avoid this charge by making sure that if you need to cancel, you do so at least 24 hours in advance of your dining time.  WDW Info (aka the DIS) has a great tips post on ADRs here.

Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for Part 2 – I’ll give you the 411 on Disney Dining Plan options and the Tables in Wonderland discount card.







What Disney Gifts did Santa Bring?

IMG_2453We Disney fans have got to be, without a doubt, the easiest people in the World to buy gifts for – if it’s Disney, we love it!  So, the very best thing about having Christmas behind me?  I now get to enjoy the new Disney “toys” I found under our Christmas tree!

Confession time:  While I was shopping Disney for The Fam, I did (I hope I’m not the only one who does this) buy myself a little something.  Couldn’t help it – I love Mulan and the ornament was too cute to pass up.

My own purchase aside, I’ve got to say, I’m completely thrilled with the variety and thoughtfulness of this year’s Disney gifts.

Here are some of my most favorite:

IMG_2439The Haunted Mansion bottle stopper.  Perfect for me since I love wine almost as much as I love Disney – Thanks, Megan!

Tea and cookies, anyone?  If you happen to already have Mickey Mouse dinnerware and an “awning red” kitchen, then a tea-for-one set and matching cookie jar are perfect gifts, no?




Raymond continued Megan’s theme with some additional Disney kitchen items (mixing bowls and salad plates).  Plus he booked a trip to Disney World for us all to take this spring – can’t wait!

IMG_2435I have been hinting for quite a while that it would be super cool to start collecting those new Disney shoe ornaments.  Have you heard about them?  The Disney Parks Blog as a great write-up about them with fab pics here.  Anyway, someone (sweet Megan) finally took pity on me and got my collection kicked off with a perfect shoe – Tink’s –   Check out the wings!


Finally, my very wonderful and thoughtful friend, Phyllis, took the time to make me a Living a Disney Life scrapbook.  She wanted me to have a memento of how I turned my Disney obsession and a little free time into my very own blog.  Posts and pages printed and adorably embellished with colorful Disney bling.  Thanks, Philly!

What Disney gifts did Santa bring you?


IMG_2446 IMG_2447