Friday, April 24, 2009

Today's the day!

The bags are packed. The boarding passes are printed. And we are ready to GO!

Disney World, here we come!!!

In a mere 24 hours from now we will be landing at Orlando International Airport and stepping on to our Magical Express bus, heading toward Disney's Wilderness Lodge.

I've got a notebook primed and ready -- I'll have many reports to post upon my return!

Happy trails!!!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dinner with Mickey Mouse? Oh yes!

One of the many memories I have of trips to the Magic Kingdom as a child is this: riding the Monorail through Disney's Contemporary Resort and seeing Mickey Mouse walking around talking to people as they ate breakfast. At the time, I probably just thought "wow...those kids are so lucky, they're having a meal with Mickey!" Little did I know they were eating at Chef Mickey's - one of the many locations where you can enjoy a 'character meal.'

Until a few years ago, I didn't know much about character meals at Walt Disney World. Sure, I had seen Chef Mickey's and The Crystal Palace...but I had no idea what happened inside! My first character meal experience was March 2006 at The Crystal Palace. My husband and I had spent the day at the MK with our 2-year-old daughter -- and had dinner at the CP. My daughter was so excited to see Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet as they stopped by our table for photos. Oh, and the food is really good too!

So, here's a few of my tips for successful character dining at WDW.

1. YOU MUST MAKE RESERVATIONS 90 DAYS IN ADVANCE! No, really. You MUST. Advance dining reservations (also known as ADRs) are a necessity if you want to have any sort of character meal at any of the WDW parks/resorts. You must call the ADR phone number (407-WDW-DINE) at 7 a.m. EST on your specific day. To figure out what day to call, visit this site -- the Planning Strategy Calculator is amazing. For tips on getting the ADRs you want, go here.

2. If you have little girls who LOVE the princesses, try to get a reservation for Cinderella's Royal Table! This is probably the most difficult reservation to get -- and you really must call 90 days before. I have been lucky enough to dine here twice (both for breakfast) I can say is WOW. You can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at CRT ... but as far as I know, the princesses only make an appearance at breakfast and lunch. At dinner, only the Fairy Godmother visits the dining room. Cinderella herself does not visit the dining room -- instead you meet her downstairs and have a photo taken. Dining at CRT will cost you two table service credits on the Disney Dining Plan (when we go next week, we are actually paying cash for the meal instead of using 2 credits).

3. If you are unable to get CRT....try to get reservations at the Akerhaus Royal Banquet Hall in Norway (in Epcot). You can dine with the princesses at the Princess Storybook Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner.

4. Character meals at WDW are served several ways: traditional buffet, family style or pre-plated. Examples: Chef Mickey's and the Crystal Palace are buffets; CRT is a pre-plated meal, and Chip and Dale's Harvest Feast dinner at The Garden Grill (in the Land Pavilion in Epcot) is served family style.

5. I would absolutely recommend the Disney Dining Plan to everyone. There are several different dining plans from which to choose, including: the original Dining Plan, the Deluxe Dining Plan and new in 2009, the Quick Service Dining Plan. The plans vary in price based on what types of meals they include. Personally I like the "Magic Your Way plus Dining" plan -- for each night of your stay in a Disney resort you receive 1 quick service meal, 1 table service meal and 1 snack. [Character meals normally count as 1 table service -- except for CRT].

For our trip next week we have these meals planned:
1. Donald's Safari Breakfast at the Tusker House (Animal Kingdom)
2. Crystal Palace - dinner with Winnie the Pooh & friends
3. Cinderella's Royal Table - breakfast
4. 50's Prime Time Cafe - dinner
5. Chef Mickey's - dinner
6. Hollywood & Vine - character breakfast w/ JoJo and the Little Einsteins
7. Les Chefs de France
8. 1900 Park Fare - character dinner w/ Cinderella

I'll be sure to report on all of them after we return home.

Happy planning!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Visions of Mickey Mouse

Planning your WDW trip...without losing your mind or breaking the bank.

Let's tackle this in a few easy steps, shall we?

1. Don't panic. It's just Disney.
2. Start your planning early. And by early, I mean at least six months in advance.
3. Don't panic.

OK, now that we have that out of the way, let me give you some of my tips on planning your vacation to the happiest place on earth. (And let me repeat...these are just MY tips -- things I've done while planning two Disney vacations in the past 1 1/2 years).

At least six months before your trip:
First and foremost -- buy some travel planning books/guides. You cannot travel down the Disney planning path without some help. You will get lost and frustrated. A few of my favorite books include: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, Passporter's Walt Disney World, and Birnbaum's Walt Disney World. (For your kids, I would buy the Birnbaum's Walt Disney World for Kids book -- my daughter loves hers!)

Read these books. They are full of useful and helpful information that will help you plan a great Disney trip. While I recommend those three books...there are others out there. Your local bookstore should have a good section on Disney planning guides.

In addition to the books, you should also look at some of the unofficial Disney Web sites. I am a regular visitor to,, and MousePlanet, and others! These sites are full of information, tips and resources for planning your trip. You can find reviews of resort hotels, menus from the WDW restuarants and calendars.

And then....
Visit the Walt Disney World site and spend some time looking around. Check out the resorts, the monthly calendars for the parks, the special vacation packages, etc. Specifically, check this out.

When do you want to visit?
If you have school age kids, this is a serious consideration - do you want to take the kids out of school or visit during the summer months? When I was a child, we would visit my grandparents in Tampa just about every summer and we usually made a trek over to the Magic Kingdom for a day (at that time, it was JUST the Magic Kingdom -- now you have FOUR parks to contend with in addition to two water parks!). I don't remember the crowds...but then again, I wasn't really too concerned about crowd levels.

As an adult, I think about crowd levels a lot. This site has a great tool if you're worried about crowds. I can tell you this, the crowds last week (the week before Easter) were OUTRAGEOUS. See here. In 2007, we took our daughters to WDW for a week at the end of September. It was lovely. The crowds OK, the waits weren't long at all (we walked on 'it's a small world' over and over and over again...and then some). The bonus for that trip? It was also during the time the MK presents "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party."

This year, we're going next week (April 25th-May 2nd). I'm expecting crowds to be 'average'....but then again, WDW has been offering their 'buy 4, get 3 free' deal so they might be a bit bigger than normal. I'll report back on the actual crowd levels after May 3rd.

Speaking of DEALS...thanks to the recession (thank you, recession!), WDW has been offering some sweet deals lately. Right now, the special offer is "Free Dining" -- with a 5-night/6-day package at select resorts you get Disney Dining FREE! In my humble opinion...this is a GREAT offer. We did this in 2007 and saved enough money that we were able to go for 7 days with a park hopper option on our ticket. Go here for more info. And don't forget, you can get into the parks FREE this year on your birthday.

Also consider these special events: Epcot® International Food & Wine Festival, Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, and going on right now, the Epcot® International Flower & Garden Festival. For info, go here.

How much do you want to spend?
Being budget-conscious (no, really...I am!), I would recommend looking at the value resorts first. They are just enough room for a family of 4 (although there are some family suites now too), and are reasonably priced. We have stayed at the All-Star Movies resort twice and I'd go back there in a heartbeat. The All-Star resorts are themed after movies, music and sports (and don't forget the Pop Century resort too).

This time around...we're staying at the Wilderness Lodge -- a deluxe resort. I fear that I may get spoiled and will never look back! In addition, WDW has moderate priced resorts. I've heard good things about several of these resorts, but have not been lucky enough to stay at one. A friend of mine swears by the Port Orleans resort -- she and her family stay there every time.

And, if you stay on property, I would recommend adding the Disney Dining Plan into your package. I could go on and on about this...but instead, visit here.

So, now what!?!, you've read the books and surfed the Web sites and decided when you want to visit. Now what? Well, book that trip. I won't tell you who to book through -- there are sites listed in my travel resources, you could book through WDW, or AAA, or your own travel agent. There are perks to each, I'm sure.

Should you fly or drive? Again...that's up to you. We're flying. The nice thing about flying...well, aside from it only takes 2 1/2 hours from Detroit Metro airport (instead of 2 days of car travel from Ohio!) can utilize the Magical Express! What's that, you ask? Simply put: once you arrive at Orlando International Airport, you go downstairs to the Disney desk, do a preliminary check-in, catch a bus to your resort and (here's the magical part) -- your luggage arrives a couple hours later! You don't have to get your bags at the airport! Genius!!! That Mouse thinks of everything!

And now, you have you've booked your room, your tickets (I prefer to add a Park Hopper to mine), your dining plan, your flight...what to do now?

1. Figure out what character meals you want to reserve.
2. Decide what to pack and what to ship.
3. Start your countdown!

Next up...character dining...

After an 8-month hiatus...

...I am back.

OK, so when I thought about starting this blog I didn't factor in the rest of what I had to accomplish. You, kids, cooking, laundry, work, kids..things like that.

However...I am back. And I promise to keep this updated. As much as humanly possible.

I don't know how much travel we'll be doing this year (darn you, recession!)...but even little trips to the zoo or art musuem might lead to some useful tips and tricks.

As it is, we are leaving in NINE DAYS for a 7-day trip to Walt Disney World!

Our travel group includes: me, husband, two kids (ages 5 and 2), my parents (ages 58), my sister, her husband and their two kids (ages 3 and 1). Yes, that's right...a party of 10!

I have been the 'lead planner' (or "Disney Dork", as my sister likes to call me) for this trip. We started planning this trip last spring and now with a little more than a week to's all coming together.

Our plans so far:
- We'll be staying at the Wilderness Lodge, one of Disney's Deluxe Resorts
- We have a 7-day park hopper ticket (the only way to go!)
- And we've added the Disney Dining Plan to our package -- and we have many character meals planned, including my favorites breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table and dinner at The Crystal Palace with Winnie the Pooh and friends!

I'm almost completely packed...which is good since I started packing three weeks ago! The girls are each taking five princess costumes (a MUST if you've got little girls!!!). Me, well I've packed my Minnie Mouse ears in my carry-on so I can wear them as soon as we land in Orlando!

So, I'm going to try and write a few posts about planning this trip before we leave. And then, when we return I'll have some more posts about how to survive Disney with four kids, two grandparents and four very tired parents. (I'm thinking that many margaritas will be involved in that survival plan!)