Our Next Disney Vacation? Coming Right Up!

Is there anything better than a Disney sea-and-land vacation?  I think not!  In just a few more days, Raymond and I will sail away on the Dream for a little 4-night Bahamian getaway.  I’ve been daydreaming about Castaway Cay and how heavenly that little slice of paradise will be.  Usually I’d prefer to do the land portion of the trip first since the parks are so busy and Disney cruises are more relaxing.  This trip being our anniversary Disney vacation do-over, we’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got.Castaway Cay's Mt. Rustmore

Our Next Disney Vacation? Coming Right Up!

And what we’ve got are some pretty sweet plans!  When we were only going to have the three-night land portion of our trip, I dutifully attempted to book ADRs and FastPasses at the earliest possible moment with mixed results.  I booked dinners at Il Mulino and Yachtsman Steakhouse and left Friday open for Food & Wine since we originally weren’t going to arrive in Orlando until early afternoon.  I booked the only FastPass I could get in Pandora, which was Na’vi River Journey on Saturday morning and then chose some in Epcot for Friday afternoon and Magic Kingdom for Sunday starting mid-morning.

Here’s where having Disney friends all over social media helps – I got a hot tip a couple of weeks ago that some additional FastPasses had opened up for several hard-to-get attractions and SCORE!!!  Na’vi River Journey is out and Flight of Passage is IN!  I’m super excited to see Raymond’s reaction to his first ride on a Banshee.

I’m also very excited to be meeting up with some of those aforementioned fellow Disney fans.  We’re hoping to see Tim from Dad for Disney and his family, Scott from Enchanted Tiki Talk, and our friends Linda and Phillip (we met on the Disney Magic in Norway cruise).  There are even a few more tentative meet-up plans in the works.  It’s good to have Disney friends…they understand me.

Here’s a quick rundown of the Walt Disney World part of this trip…

Friday:  Catch the Disney Cruise Line bus from Port Canaveral to Bay Lake Tower as early as possible, drop off luggage and catch a bus to Disney Springs for lunch at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ – a place we’ve wanted to try since it opened in 2016.  Initially, I couldn’t find a dinner reservation (we were going to eat there instead of Yachtsman) then realized how early we could arrive straight from the ship and lunch was available.  Win-Win!

After lunch, we’ll make our way to Epcot where we can wander World Showcase between FastPasses for Soarin’ and Spaceship Earth.  When we get hungry for dinner, we can sample our way through some of the Food & Wine booths.  We’ll be in go-with-the-flow mode and can soak up the World at our leisure.

Saturday morning we’re headed to Animal Kingdom.  We’ve got FastPasses for Kilimanjaro Safaris, Flight of Passage, and Expedition Everest and I am loving this lineup!  We can hang around until after lunch then rest a while at Bay Lake Tower before meeting Linda and Phillip for drinks and dinner – AbracadaBar (Boardwalk) followed by Il Mulino (Swan).  AbracadaBar recently changed their menu and I’m excited to try a new offering or two.

Sunday we’re planning to rope-drop Hollywood Studios to ride Rock’n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror before hopping to Magic Kingdom where our FastPasses are for Big Thunder Mountain, Pirates, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  We don’t have to rush and can tour at our own pace.  Dinner at Yachtsman will wrap up our plans and Monday morning we’ll head for home.The Red Rock of Big Thunder Mountain

It’s a very short visit, but we’ll be back in February for the Fairytale Challenge and again in May for a family vacation.  There’s a slight chance of a brief January visit as well, but that one’s not certain yet.  I was going for the perfect mix of action and no-pressure touring with lots of free time built in.

If you had only three days at Walt Disney World, what would your priorities be?  How would your plans differ from ours?

Disney Dining: How Many ADRs Does Your Disney Vacation Need?

It’s 180 days from your Walt Disney World vacation and you’re ready to book some advance dining reservations (ADRs).  You’ve done your research and you’ve made a list of places you want to try.  Now comes the critical question…

Disney Dining: How Many ADRs Does Your Disney Vacation Need?

I say (as I almost always do) it depends.  How many days will you be there?  What’s your touring style going to be like?  How crowded will it be?  What’s your food budget?  There are so many variables, I could probably write a book on this one topic alone.  For the sake of simplicity, I’ll break this down into suggestions for four different scenarios and hopefully you’ll find one of them helpful.

Long stay with plenty of time to relax – I recommend one table service experience per day.  To save some money, make a few of those for lunch (often less expensive than dinner).  If you have the luxury of time, a nice mix of park time, pool time, and maybe a special tour or round of mini-golf will be on your agenda.  Maybe you have time for visiting water parks.  If you have little ones who will need a break or early bedtime, that’s all the more reason to consider a table service splurge for lunch.  This type of vacation allows you to enjoy some special dining experiences without feeling like you’re sacrificing too much time and missing out on other activities.  Too many reservations and you risk spending all your time getting to and from meals instead of relaxing and soaking up the magic.  Moderation is my recommendation.  Once you book your reservations, plan your park days around them.  Personally, anytime I can take a boat or monorail ride to and from Magic Kingdom for a relaxing break, I feel like I’m in heaven.  My favorite restaurants for this include ‘Ohana and Kona Café at the Polynesian Village Resort and the Whispering Canyon Café at Wilderness Lodge.

Medium stay with an emphasis on park touring – Go for an ADR in the parks for breakfast or lunch a time or two and add some special dining experiences on a couple of evenings.  Consider eating only quick service meals for a day or two – especially in Epcot and Animal Kingdom.  Again – you don’t want to waste a bunch of time getting to and from meals when you’d rather be riding rides and seeing shows.  In-park, we especially love Tusker House and Tiffins (Animal Kingdom) and 50’s Prime Time Café (Hollywood Studios).

Short stay with a packed schedule – Consider making no reservations at all.  Okay, maybe one if you have to.  Since Megan and I just did this and found the Quick Service Dining Plan a good value and super convenient, I’m speaking from experience.  We wanted to spend every moment we could in the parks seeing and doing as much as possible.  If we had a do-over, we would not have taken the time to try Paddlefish in Disney Springs.  It wasn’t bad, but took a chuck of time from our measly three-and-a-half days.  Our favorite in-park quick service places include Columbia Harbor House (Magic Kingdom), Flame Tree Barbecue and Harambe Market (Animal Kingdom), and La Cantina de San Angel and Sunshine Seasons (Epcot).  I must confess, we don’t think any of the quick service places in Disney’s Hollywood Studios are all that good and will either just eat snacks or try to snag a table at the Hollywood Brown Derby’s outdoor lounge.  Let’s hope Galaxy’s Edge (a.k.a. Star Wars Land) and Toy Story Land include some excellent alternatives when they open.

Any length of stay during an insanely busy season – Make as many as you can afford!  Based on our experience the last two years at Disney World during Christmas week, we found the park crowds to be nearly unbearable everywhere by mid-afternoon.  We were happy we had a nice dinner to look forward to at the end of every day.  We also booked breakfasts at Be Our Guest and Tusker House then made our FastPass plans around them when the time came.  We booked a Candlelight Processional dining package for breakfast at Trattoria al Forno then walked to Epcot in time for park opening afterwards.  Note: Trattoria al Forno now offers the Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast!  As a final thought, If you ever get the chance to enjoy Christmas dinner at the California Grill (Disney’s Contemporary Resort) do not pass it up!

Are you a big Disney dining planner?  What are your best ADR-booking tips?  How many table service meals to you usually plan during your vacation?  What did I leave out?

Getting Your Disney World Vacation Started Right!

There’s no right or wrong way to kick off a vacation at Walt Disney World.  But a bit of advance planning for some arrival day fun helps make the most of every precious vacation minute.

Getting Your Disney World Vacation Started Right!

First let’s take a quick look at some of the factors that influence your arrival day options

  • What time will you reach the World?  Will you have most of a day? Part of a day? Arrive Late?
  • What size is your travel party?  Maneuvering a group takes time and sometimes more effort that expected.  Spending a bit of time in advance to map out at least a framework of plans is super helpful when you’re traveling with a group.
  • Littles or Bigs?  Will your children need naps?  Did they have to get up extra early for travel?  (Also, it’s good to know before you go what the height requirements are on various attractions.)
  • Will you have park tickets on day one?

Some suggestions…

Lots of folks don’t purchase park tickets for arrival day.  Before we became annual passholders, our family fell into this category.  If you’re staying near or on Disney property, you can jump right into the Disney Bubble and start soaking up the magic before you ever visit a park.

Here are some tried and true ideas:

  • Explore your resort.  It’s a good way to familiarize yourself with the location of restaurants, shops, pools, activities and transportation.  Many Disney World resorts have evening activities like movies, story-telling and S’mores-making – ask about the events schedule when checking in. 
  • If you have a car, make a grocery run.  Stock up on things like snacks, water, and breakfast foods.
  • Plan ahead for a nice dinner.  (Reservations at Disney resorts can be made 180 days in advance.)  There are so many restaurants to choose from, we usually pick someplace new to try on our first day of vacation.
  • Check out Disney Springs.  There’s something for all ages including fun shops, cool atmosphere, and live entertainment.  With or without reservations, there are a bunch of great places to eat.
  • Hang out at the pool.  We have lots of friends who claim this is their most favorite way to kick of a Disney vacation.
  • Turn in early so you can hit the parks refreshed first thing the next day.
  • During the holiday season, resort-hop to check out the amazing decorations.

Have Park Tickets?  With a little advance planning, you can dive right into the action!  If you only have three or four days in Walt Disney World, a few extra hours in the parks on arrival day can make a huge difference in the number of shows and attractions you get to experience.

Head straight to a park:

  • Book FastPasses starting about two hours post-arrival.  That gives plenty of time to check in at your resort and make your way to whichever park you’ve chosen.  Between FastPasses, keep an eye on the wait times in the My Disney Experience app and you’ll be amazed at how many attractions you can fit in on day one.
  • Magic Kingdom is my personal favorite arrival-day park.  There’s no better welcome to the Disney Bubble than seeing Cinderella Castle right away and soaking up the sights, sounds, and smells of Main Street USA.
  • Want a casual, low-key arrival day in a park?  Choose Epcot or Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  During any of Epcot’s festivals, there’s nothing more relaxing to me than a stroll around World Showcase sampling food and drinks along the way.  In Animal Kingdom, exploring the trails and animal exhibits is a laid back way to check out the park without waiting in long lines or rushing around.
  • Pre-shop a bit for park souvenirs to purchase later.
  • Plan a nice dinner at your favorite in-park restaurant.  We like Tiffins (Animal Kingdom), Skipper Canteen (Magic Kingdom), Via Napoli (Epcot) and 50’s Prime Time Café (Disney’s Hollywood Studios).
  • Pick a nighttime spectacular to wrap up the day.  Whether it’s Happily Ever After in Magic Kingdom, Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular or Fantasmic! in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Illuminations:  Reflections of Earth in Epcot, or Rivers of Light in Animal Kingdom – there’s a magical way to end your first day of vacation no matter which park you choose.

Now it’s your turn!  What’s your favorite way to start a Disney World vacation?

 

2017 Disney Cruise Vacation, Version 2.0

Here’s what we’ve done since our September 9th cruise aboard the Disney Fantasy was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma…

First we were sad.  Sad for everyone and everywhere that experienced Irma’s devastation.  I’d be lying if I said we weren’t a little sad for ourselves too, but seriously, we couldn’t be mad – life happens and there’s way worse stuff than a lost vacation.

2017 Disney Cruise Vacation, Version 2.0

We took a few days to think about our options.  We knew we were getting 100% of our money back from Disney Cruise Line and a 25% discount on a future cruise.  We decided to cancel our time off from work (September 11-15) and try to squeeze those days in sometime before the end of the year.  We’d already registered for a few weekend cycling events and had a 4-day Disney World visit booked in mid-November.

While trying to decide on Plan B, I paid close attention to social media to see what other cancelled-cruisers were doing.  Turns out, a whole bunch of them were being super mad!  Mad at Disney Cruise Line for not refunding their money fast enough (10-day time period).  Also mad they lost their 10% discount and $200 on-board credit for booking their lost cruise while on a previous sailing (even though a 25% discount is much better).  Some were mad that other fall cruises were booked up and all the adult dining reservations were gone.  Others were just mad in general and Disney Cruise Line was a convenient outlet for that anger.  Watching these people come unspooled was not helping our situation, so I gave that up.  We spent a weekend away, rode our bicycles, and thought about what to do.

Time to End the Pity Party

Exactly a week after Irma left us vacation-less, I decided it was time to stop moping around and get busy.  On September 14th, I called Disney Cruise Line and a wonderful woman named Gianna helped me add a 4-day cruise on the Dream to the front of our already scheduled WDW trip.  I knew from information posted on Disney Cruise Line’s website that we would not be eligible to receive the 25% discount until September 18th.  Gianna assured me I could call back then and apply the discount to this cruise.

Next I called American Airlines.  When we cancelled our flights for the original cruise, we were penalized.  We got the tickets back but would pay a $200 change fee to use them again.  I was going to see if I could do something about that.  I didn’t know this until the day I called, but Raymond had booked first class tickets for our trip to WDW as a birthday surprise for me.  If we moved our Orlando-bound flight in November up by four days to make the cruise, there would be a penalty for that too.  First class might have to go.  American Airlines hasn’t always been easy to deal with, so I took a deep breath and chanted, “be nice, be nice, be nice” as I placed that call.

I actually managed to be very nice (shocker, I know) and the young man who answered my call put me on hold while he spoke with his supervisor.  Next thing I knew, I was speaking to the supervisor, David, who had lots of genuinely helpful options for me to consider.  He was patient and kind and by the time I hung up, I’d gotten a penalty-free refund on the cancelled flights to be used towards future travel.  I was also able to move our Orlando-bound flight in November with no extra charge.  Still in first class even!  Shout-out to David at American Airlines for his amazing customer service skills!

The only thing I’m worried about now is that we are flying to Orlando on the morning our cruise sails.  Normally we would never do this!  But we’d already registered for the Bayou Teche Brewery Bike Bash and Giant Omelette Celebration Ride (two-day cycling events).  There’s no way we wanted to miss out on that.  (Can you blame us?  Beer!  And omelettes!)  So Raymond, Joseph and I will bicycle 100 miles over the weekend, then Raymond and I will catch our plane on Monday morning.  I’m thinking it’ll be a great way to burn off some of those cruise calories in advance.  I’ll be trying not to think about all the things that could go wrong and cause us to miss our ship.

I called Disney Cruise Line on Monday (9/18) and they were happy to apply the 25% discount to this new cruise.  So, while not exactly the 28th anniversary celebration we had planned, we ended up with a solid replacement in the form of a sea-and-land Disney vacation instead.

We’ve got to stop scheduling vacations during the peak of hurricane season.