Disney World Arrival Day

Oh, the possibilities! The World is your oyster! What to do first? What will that Disney World arrival day bring? Let’s talk about the options, shall we?

Arriving the day before you want to use your park tickets – We’ve been fans of this in the past and I want to emphasize that time spent outside the four Disney World parks is not time wasted! Here are my top three recommendations…Raglan-Road-Irish-Dancers

  1. Disney Springs is full of wonderful places to shop and eat! And NO ticket required! Personally, We LOVE Raglan Road for that first night’s dinner…great food, music and entertainment. Just walking around the expanded Disney Springs is interesting and fun. Usually there’s live music and entertainment plus plenty of shopping and those magical Disney details to get you feeling all relaxed and vacation-ish right away.RM-Fort-Wilderness-Pool1
  2. Explore and relax at your resort. Swimming and other outdoor activities are great options. Staying on Disney property? Shopping, dining, pin trading even – all excellent choices. Some resorts offer outdoor movies and S’mores-making too! Think about it, you grab dinner and find a lounge chair in front of an outdoor movie screen to enjoy one of your favorite Disney movies before turning in…looking forward to kicking off the rest of your vacation the next day!Good Morning at the Grand Floridian
  3. Wander the World! Get the lay of the land at your own resort and then go exploring! Take a bus from non-monorail resorts to Magic Kingdom, then hop the monorail and check out the sights, shops, and grounds of the three resorts along the route. Make advance dining reservations (ADRs) for a character meal at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary or 1900 Park Fare in the Grand Floridian. At the Polynesian Village Resort, you can’t go wrong with dinner at the super-popular ‘Ohana.1900 Park Fare / Drizella and Anastasia

If you’re headed for the parks, make some FastPass+ choices in advance and consider booking an in-park dinner to make that first day even more special. We used to make Magic Kingdom our first stop on every visit and back in the day, Cinderella’s Royal Table was our dinner choice. What could be more magical than eating in Cinderella Castle? The view is spectacular! Each park offers plenty of rides and restaurants to choose from – take your pick and kick off your vacation with tons of fun! If your family can make it into the later evening hours, end that first night with a show like Fantasmic in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Illuminations in Epcot, or Wishes in Magic Kingdom.RM-HalloWishes

Whether you arrive early or late, with first day park plans or not, there’s always a way to begin your Walt Disney World vacation in a special way!

What are your favorite first day activities? Do you have any traditions?



Easy Disney Vacation Mistakes

Little “uh-oh” or colossal error, Disney vacation mistakes are made every day.  Here’s a look at some we’ve made that took little effort yet produced major detractions to our vacation happiness.  Luckily, we’ve learned the error of our ways and you can too.

Easy Disney Vacation MistakesYellow Monorail / Walt Disney World

Underestimating Travel Time – This is big.  We still struggle with this one sometimes.  Getting from place to place in the humongous Disney Bubble can take a lot longer than expected.  If you’re heading to a park for early breakfast reservations or leaving a park for lunch or dinner reservations, plan ahead and know what the worst case scenario will be time-wise.  If you end up arriving early to a restaurant, you can often be seated early.  We once badly underestimated how long it would take to get from Magic Kingdom to Disney Springs (monorail to the Contemporary then bus to Disney Springs) and we were terribly late for our dinner at Raglan Road.  The stress this creates is not good when you’re trying to relax on vacation.Walt Disney World MagicBand

Self-inflicted Sticker Shock – If you choose to use the Magic Band charging feature, you may want to consider limiting it to only the members of your party who are responsible for paying the final bill.  Use budgeting mechanisms such as Disney gift cards for souvenirs or Food & Wine festival booth purchases.  Stay out of gift shops if your willpower is low or if you have trouble saying no to your little prince or princess.  For sure, research restaurant menus online to get an idea about prices before you go.Drink-Menu-Raglan-Road

Dreadful Dehydration – It is ridiculously easy to become dehydrated in Florida.  Dehydration doesn’t just make you thirsty, it can make you cranky, give you a headache, make you feel exhausted and can even make you crave sweets when you’re not even hungry.  Start every day with a big drink of water, carry water with you or take advantage of the free ice water available at quick service counters in the parks.  Snack on fresh fruit and veggies with high water content instead of salty, dry snacks like pretzels, crackers, or chips.  If consuming adult beverages, drink water between servings.These Feet are TIRED

Doubling Back (over and over) – This can add miles of walking to your day.  Whether you’re a super-planner with very structured touring plans or prefer to freestyle it around FastPasses, familiarizing yourself with what rides and attractions are located in which areas of the park is worth a few minutes of research.  You can do this from home within the My Disney Experience app or, if you’re not into major pre-planning and don’t want to fool with the app, simply grab a park map when you arrive.  Try not to go back and forth from one end of the park to the other over and over.  When you have time between FastPasses and want to squeeze in extra attractions, use the app’s wait time feature to find something nearby with a short standby line.Kali River Rapids Boat

Water Ride Woes – This may sound silly to some of you, but others will appreciate this – Consider the damage water rides like Kali River Rapids (Animal Kingdom) and sometimes Splash Mountain (Magic Kingdom) can do to your appearance.  Imagine you’re having a lovely day at Animal Kingdom, looking forward to your dinner at the new signature restaurant, Tiffins.  You can become 100% drenched, I’m talking soaked to the skin, on Kali River Rapids.  Unless you plan ahead and wear a poncho on the ride or come to the park with a complete change of clothes and don’t care about your hair and/or makeup, this ride has the potential to make eating a nice meal less than magical.

we’ve made all of these mistakes and a few more! What lessons have you learned the hard way at Disney World?

At WDW? No FastPass? Please Stand By!

Magic Kingdom's Big Thunder Mountain RailroadEven if you’ve mastered all the tricks of the new FastPass+ system, I’ll bet there will come a day when you will want to experience a ride or attraction and will need to use the standby line.  I know!  That’s the way it used to be all the time!  I think some of us have been so spoiled by the entire FastPass convenience, we’ve come to believe that a 20 minute wait is practically torture – a vacation-ruining waste of time!  I, for one, don’t fall into that category.  I’m so much more patient and tolerant of waiting when I’m in the Disney Bubble – sometimes, I’m willing to step into line for one of my favorite attractions even if the posted wait is 45 minutes!

Luckily for all of us, those geniuses of Disney Imagineering have come a long way with theEntrance for Toy Story Midway Mania entertainment value of the standby line.  Once just a holding pen with little to see or do as you and your party snaked around and around chain barriers and handrails like cattle, the introduction of a well designed standby line has changed overall ride experiences exponentially.

Today I want to highlight three examples of what I consider excellence in queue creativity.  I chose these three attractions based on their ability to provide samples of the following categories –

  • Existing ride successfully refurbished to provide a vastly better standby experience
  • Brand new ride with a wildly entertaining standby line
  • Not-so-new ride with an original, well-themed queue

Existing Ride:

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – Refurbished in 2012 to add a new interactive queue:  I just got to experience this highly touted standby experience myself in May and I thought it was absolutely wonderful!  So wonderful, in fact, the line moved too fast for me to fully enjoy all the cool features and activities.  I’ll share a few pictures, but you’ve just got to experience it for yourself.  Seriously – if the wait is 30 minutes, you’ll have a ball!Interactive Queue for Big Thunder Mountain RailroadInteractive elements for Big Thunder Mountain Queue

Brand New Ride:

Ariel in Fantasyland / Magic KingdomUnder the Sea- Journey of the Little Mermaid – New Fantasyland attraction, Opened December, 2012.  From the craggy rocks along the “shore” to the seashells, starfish, and many other tiny details on the outside of the Little Mermaid queue to the really awesome treasures and cute blue crabs that move in and out of different scenes.  Again, this ride moved too fast for me to catch all the interesting things to see and do!  Since the Clammobiles are continuously loading, this line moves fast.  Do not waste a FastPass on this one!Outside Queue / Under the SeaTreasures in the Queue for Under the Sea

Not-so-New with Originally GREAT queue: 

You know what I’m going to pick, don’t you?  Expedition Everest!  We were lucky enough to be at Expedition EverestAnimal Kingdom during this ride’s soft-opening back in the Spring of 2006.  So, EE’s 8 years old now and still boasts one of the (if not THE) most amazing, clever, spectacularly detailed queues in the World!!!  We fell in love at first wait and still try to use the standby line at the Forbidden Mountain whenever time allows.  To me, Expedition Everest set the bar for every new attraction that followed.  This is Disney Imagineering at its finest.

Okay, it’s your turn – which ride would you nominate in each category?Expedition Everest Queue Yeti MuseumExpedition Everest Train Platform Gear   


Walt Disney World’s Memory Maker Reviewed

Character Meet-and-Greet with SullyPlease note: The advance purchase price for Memory Maker has increased to $169 (from $149) since this post was originally published.

We (I should really say I ) decided to fork over the $149 advance-purchase price for the Memory Maker photo package for our recent trip to Walt Disney World.  (You can check here for what really prompted the purchase.)  I believed we would absolutely get $149-worth of happy vacation photos and would have plenty of time to take advantage of those awesome Disney photographers situated throughout the parks.  Well, as it turned out, not so much.  What went wrong?  I’ll tell you – it wasn’t Disney’s fault!  We didn’tMemory Maker Photo in Disney's Hollywood Studios make the most of a great opportunity and I wouldn’t want you to make the same mistakes we did.  Here’s a complete recap of our experience, where we went wrong, and how you (and we) can make Memory Maker a good investment in the future.

Click here for details about what is included in the price of Memory Maker.

Okay – about OUR Memory Maker experience:

We started having pictures snapped on our arrival day.  We were at WDW for a full 5-and-a-half days, so you’d think we would have ended up with a huge bunch of pictures, right?  No.  Here’s where we went wrong – we passed up great opportunities early in the day when we Test Track Ride Photostill looked pretty fresh and well-rested.  Why did we not stop for pictures?  We would have had to wait in line behind at least one, but usually two or three other families.  I had never noticed much of a wait for pictures before, but as with many things in life, as soon as you want something, it’s not as readily available as you thought it would be.  See, we didn’t want to wait – we wanted to make the most of those early morning Extra Magic Hours, so we passed up loads of photo ops.  That was mistake #1 in a series of poor Memory Maker decisions that resulted in a less-that-optimal use of our vacation dollars.The Fam on Rock'n' Roller Coaster

Here’s what we ended up with and our Do’s and Don’ts for the future.  I hope this helps you avoid making the same errors we made and end up with a lot more great pictures.

Our Memory Maker efforts netted us a total of 43 pictures.  Of those 43, 11 were ride photos.  So, there were 32 “other” pictures to choose from in 7 different settings.  Of those, about 18 were likeable enough to possibly want to have them printed.  Ride photos are tricky!  If Memory Maker Photo at 1900 Park Farewe weren’t all in the same vehicle, we’d end up with only two of us in the picture with complete strangers.  We did not get all of our ride photos – even after a call to the PhotoPass people for help.  They did manage to recover some of them and Disney’s rumored use of the MagicBands’ RFID capabilities for linking on-ride photos to My Disney Experience may help with that in the future.  Details here.

Tips for Using Memory Maker:

1.  Get photos early and often.  If we had just stopped two times each day, we’d have ended up with 12 different settings with pictures to choose from (instead of our measly 7, not including ride photos).

2. Break up the group – yes, it’s nice to have all of you together, but we should have had just the kids in some pictures and just Raymond and I in others – or even father/daughter, father/son, and so forth – which we did not do!Family Picture in front of Sorerer's Hat in Disney's Hollywood Studios

3. Check your clothing!  My shirt rode up on one side from carrying a backpack and nobody told me to pull it down – made me HATE a bunch of pictures.  Don’t let this happen to you!

4. Wait in line when necessary or go off the beaten path if you want a good many pictures to choose from.  There are photographers available in more places than just Main Street U.S.A, Hollywood Blvd., in front of Space Ship Earth, etc.  They’ll be on hand for most character meet-and-greets as well.

5. Ask if any “magic” pictures are available.  The addition of Tinker Bell or Baby Simba (among other magical add-ons) to your group (or solo) shots may make you happy!  In our case, we think the Animal Kingdom Magic Picture with Tinker Bellphotographer may have thought our children were a couple (not sister and brother) and added Baby Simba in Megan’s arms – we found this awkward.

6.  The photographers will be happy to take pictures with your camera!  Be sure to have them do this!!!  That way you’ll have different photo types/quality to choose from.  Also – you can post those all that much sooner to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram if you’re so inclined.  We should have done this at 1900 Park Fare – every one of those pictures came out too saturated with color in a weird way.

7. Make it fun.  Be silly – take the time to shake it up a bit.  We were too boring and in a hurry to make the most of our chances for some fun pictures – don’t make the same mistakes we did!

8.  Be sure everyone is linked in My Disney Experience – that way if your group splits up, you’ll get all the pictures taken of everyone, even if you weren’t there.  After the pictures are taken, the photographer just needs to scan one person’s MagicBand – that’s it!Family Picture in Fantasyland

There you go – that’s the best advice I can give you.  If you part with $149 for Memory Maker, hopefully this review and tips will help you get the most from your investment.  Got pics?  I’d love to see pictures from your Disney vacation!  Please hop on over to Living a Disney Life on Facebook and share a picture with us there.