Thursday, December 31, 2009

Disney College of Knowledge agents are great for you!!!

by Leslie Campbell

When shopping for a travel agent, especially if you are not an experienced Disney vacationer; most people look for an agent who knows the answers to most, if not all, of their questions upon their initial chat with an agent. Before I took the Disney College of Knowledge courses and then attended the on site training that expanded on the on line courses, I only thought I knew a lot about Disney. Only after taking the Disney College of Knowledge courses, absorbing the wealth of knowledge it offered and had the privilege of 3 full days of on site tours which included most of the Disney resorts as well as all 6 Disney parks (4 theme parks & 2 water parks), did I really know all that Walt Disney World had to offer it's guests! The information I gained by being a graduate of the Disney College of Knowledge has given me the ability to serve my clients in ways I could never have offered them with out the Disney College Knowledge courses.

Finding an agent who is always current on the latest Disney information is key to having the most "Magical Dream Come True" vacation possible. When shopping for your agent, one of the first questions you should ask is "Are you a Disney College of Knowledge" agent?" If they are, then proceed with your inquiries for your family's vacation. The Disney College of Knowledge agent will be on top of the latest news and information and can help you customize your Dream Vacation. Happy Agent Shopping!!

Once you find the Disney College of Knowledge agent for you, your agent will take it from there. He or she will book, plan, and make all the arrangements for you. All you will need to do is arrive at your Disney location, follow the provided itinerary, and ENJOY your Dream Vacation at the Happiest Place on Earth!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dining with Stars at the California Grill

Laure Simms

As you may know the California Grill is located on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort. There are two observation decks that you may go out on and watch the fireworks in Magic Kingdom. Our reservation was at 8:50 pm so we were seated just before the fireworks began. It also happened to be on a night when Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party was going on so we got to see the special fireworks that you only see at the party. If you can I highly recommend getting a reservation here late so you can enjoy the fireworks and the spectacular view from the restaurant. We had a great table with a view of the Magic Kingdom, actually there are no bad tables in the restaurant because there are huge windows so you can see from just about anywhere in the restaurant.

I would like to begin my review of the California Grill by saying I was not that excited about dining there. I'm sure that's not what you were expecting to hear. I am somewhat of a picky eater and the menu selections were not really appealing to me.

I was dining with a group of six. We ordered appetizers and shared them. Our waiter was really great and his service was fantastic! He suggested we try some of their famous flatbreads as appetizers. We had the Triple Cheese and I believe the Roasted Saigon Pork, both were very good. They actually surprised me. Now I am one of the people at our table who likes sushi, I had the sushi chef create a special sushi for me that was delicious. It was so good, I even told them they needed to put it on the menu.

Before my trip, I did my research by looking up what was on the menu for dinner and had decided that the only entrée I would really like was the Oak fired Filet of Beef. It came with sour cream mashed potatoes and broccoli. Myself and another dining with me split the entrée which was great, the chef even went so far as to plate the entrée separately for us so we did not have to do it at the table. I must say that the Filet of Beef was incredible, cooked to perfection and the sour cream mashed potatoes were to die for.

Now enough about the food let me tell you about the stars.
We enjoyed our dinner and were just talking among ourselves when suddenly one of the ladies with me lets out a scream. I had no idea why until she leaned over and said “That was Tyra Banks.” I did not see her at first but then spotted her. She was dining with a group and had very tight security, so we got no autographs but one in our party got off a shot with her Iphone. We did make a trip out to the observation deck which meant we had to walk right past her table. I don’t think her security people appreciated that but we just had to get a closer look. In hindsight we probably should have asked for her autograph, all they could have said was no. So you never who you will see or what you will see at Disney. For us it was a great meal and a fun story to tell our friends back home.

I will say that I really enjoyed my meal at the California Grill much more than I anticipated that I would. I highly recommend it for a fine dining experience. If you have kids with you they are welcome but it is really a more adult experience. I would suggest that you let the kids spend some time in a kids club and let the parents have a night out as well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Florida Resident Perks

Florida residents have the advantage of Disney World being right in their backyard! It’s like having your own personal playground!! Who wouldn’t love that? But getting discounts, too, how lucky are you!!! Throughout the year there are many discounts offered to Florida residents for Disney World and Disney Cruise Line.

ON LAND, Disney World offers Florida residents discounts on resort accommodations, tickets/annual passes, vacation packages and special events.

By staying at a Disney resort you can save between 35%-45% on your room with benefits that include extended theme park hours, complimentary parking and guest transportation, spectacular pools and beautiful resorts right in the middle of the magic.

There are many choices for tickets! Right now you can purchase a Disney Play 4 day pass for only $164 per person, plus tax! This pass is exclusive to Florida Residents and can be used for four admissions to any of the four theme parks, one park per day. You can use this any four days for up to 6 months after first use. You can also buy 1 day, 3 day and up to 7 day passes at a discounted rate.
You can add the Water Park & Fun option to your 1-7 day base ticket for just $25 per person, plus tax, that’s a 50% savings! Besides the two water parks this gives you unlimited access to Disney Quest, Disney Wide World of Sports and Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course.

They also offer Annual passes, which are a tremendous savings and right now they are giving three extra months free when you purchase it by Dec. 31st. Some of the benefits of this are unlimited admission to all parks, free parking, merchandise discounts, special offers and exclusive events.

If you would rather a complete package, Disney offers those to Florida residents, too! The current deal is buy 4 days get 3 free, with tickets included! This offer will be ending soon, but there are always new similar deals offered for Florida residents. You can also add the Disney dining plan to any package. There are 3 Dining plans to choose from to customize your needs and it’s a way to make your vacation all-inclusive. Just arrive and enjoy, it’s that simple!

BY SEA, Florida residents can take advantage of special rates on Disney Cruise Line. Taking a Disney cruise is just a short drive away to Port Canaveral, where Disney Ships are docked and ready for a journey like no other! Embark on an unforgettable Disney Cruise to the Bahamas and Caribbean on select dates. There are 3, 4 and 7 night cruises to choose from with 3 magnificent ships and plenty of excitement for all! There are character experiences, deck parties, dining, entertainment, live shows, pools, theaters and youth clubs. There are activities for all ages! Not to mention beautiful beaches and fun in the sun!
You can receive a $25 on board credit to use toward a wide array of onboard activities, souvenirs, spa treatments and dining at Palo. This offer is only available for a limited time! This Disney Cruise line special can be combined with all other offers, but is for new bookings only!

For all of these great Florida resident perks you will need to show proof of residency. Proof of residency includes a drivers license, military ID, state issued card, voters registration or Florida College ID.

So, whether you choose LAND, SEA OR THE BEST OF BOTH (DISNEY) WORLDS, it’s easy to see there is no other place more magical to be!!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

I have been fortunate enough to have attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party not once, not twice, but three times…so far. What is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party you ask? It is a special admission event held at Disney’s Magic Kingdom from 7 pm – 12 am during select evenings in November and December where Disney takes all their holiday splendor to a new level. As you approach the park, you are greeted by cast members in special holiday costumes setting a festive mood before you even have a park map in your hand.

As you walk up Main Street USA you see the Castle lit up in icicles. You realize you feel something cold and wet on your face. Is that rain? No, it’s SNOW. Yes, SNOW. Christmas would not be complete without snow and Disney wants to make sure it feels like Christmas.

Throughout the park there are locations with free sugar cookies and hot chocolate (very good hot chocolate). The locations are easy to spot with their lighted posts and signs pointing you towards the treats. There are dance parties with characters located at Cosmic Ray’s and over at Ariel’s Grotto. Snow White and Belle also make special appearances with their princes all deck out in their holiday finest over by Peter Pan’s Flight. Of course you must stop by Mickey’s Toon Town to meet the Main Mouse himself. This year my friends and I came upon an unruly group of pirates over in Adventureland singing holiday songs more suited for Christmas on a pirate ship then in your living room. They were very entertaining and encouraged audience participation. Their lyrics were great and I wished they had a CD of their songs.

Characters and food are only part of what makes this evening special. Many of the parks rides and attractions are open and since the amount of tickets for this event is limited, the wait times are little to none. But you didn’t come to this party to just ride the rides right? There are stage shows throughout the nights in several locations which change yearly. This year a new show, “A totally Tomorrowland Christmas Show” debuted over at the new stage in Rockettower Plaza. Belle’s Enchanted Christmas takes place in Belle’s Fairytale Gardens where she tells her story of an enchanted Christmas plus “Celebrate the Season” show at the Castle Forecourt Stage.

You want to get a spot for Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas Time Parade. This parade is pure fun. Besides all the characters celebrating the season, the floats are something special as well. My favorite float is the one of the bake shop and as it passes by the smell of gingerbread cookies fills the air. This parade will make you feel like a child again.

If watching all those wonderful shows and parades was not enough, get ready for the Holiday Wishes Fireworks Spectacular. Disney is known for its daily firework shows but the Holiday Wishes show is not to be missed. Created just for the holiday season, the show is set to holiday music which leaves you both stunned and amazed. Who knew they could create fireworks in the shapes of gifts with bows or drums?

If you still have energy after all this fun, the shops on Main Street are bursting with holiday merchandise and will be very happy to have your purchases either delivered back to your resort or shipped home.

Each time I have attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, it has been different. The shows vary year to year, the characters change, the cookies get better and each experience is different. The first time I attended I focused more on the short ride lines. The second time I focused on the special events and shows and my third and most recent visit, I did a combination of the two.

Christmas at Walt Disney World is a special event on its own but Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party enhances the experience and is a true joy for children and adults.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Michael's VIPs Tours

by Angie Kennard

Let me start by simple stating “AMAZING”!!!!!

I had a handful of Agents all down for a Earmark Conference in Disney World in November 09 and I couldn’t think of a better thing to do than a MICHAEL’S VIPs tour for my agents so they could experience firsthand EVERYTHING Michael’s VIPs tour does for our clients who chose to use them.

It started with an itinerary. We were all going to be at Magic Kingdom, and since we were all coming in at different times, we were not the common client that goes to the park all at the same time. Not a problem! Our tour guide Andrew even called me to see if we needed anything and even offered to have a different service to bring us from the Airport.

There were three of us (Laure, Stacy and I) that had arrived and checked in and were on our way to the Magic Kingdom. We got a call from our guide, Andrew, wanting to know if he could pick us up at the Resort and take us over to Magic Kingdom himself. It was the first of many things that impressed us with such a level of service that I can’t even explain. When Andrew pulled up he had bottled water for each of us for our afternoon. As we got into the Magic Kingdom he helped with taking our pictures on Main Street as almost every guest does. We headed to Small World and he started by taking our tickets and being the Fast Pass runner to Thunder Mountain. This is normally a job my husband does on our trips and I know my husband was wishing he was there so he could not be the runner…lol. We rode Small World and Andrew greeted us when we got off and noticed that I used the sanitizer when we got into the park that he stopped to get us all our own hand sanitizers, again a level of service that was BIG! We then rode ride after ride with the guided best times to ride them to less traffic ways to get to them. Everything was amazing that Andrew did. Andrew was soon a part of our WDWTravels family since he loved Disney just as we did. He told us useful facts about each ride that even some of us didn’t know which was surprising. We ate a late lunch at Plaza and were seated right away with no reservation. The food was great and a nice stop for all. After lunch we met up with our fourth agent, Samantha. We then rode more rides with little or no wait. If we ever needed a tissue, drink or a break Andrew was right there with whatever we needed. We got to ride everything we wanted to in the time frame that we scheduled. One of our last stops was Main Street Bakery before we headed over to Epcot to meet up with our fifth agent Patti who had just arrived. As we got to Epcot we met up with her and had a cheers drink at the UK and of course I had Patti’s favorite blueberry muffin from Main street waiting for her since she missed our tour at Magic Kingdom. We then went to Turtle Talk with Crush, which was amazing even without kids :). Then off to Soarin, which is one of my favorite rides. Andrew gave us his great knowledge of touring each park to get the most of our days. Michael's VIPs is the same "Mike" of Tour Guide Mike fame. Most of us at WDWTravels use Tour Guide Mike to help plan every one of our clients vacations so they may get the least busy days at each park. This is a great service we provide at no cost to our clients.

We then did some shopping before heading over to Mexico to see Illuminations on the lagoon. The seats were the best we all had ever had and we all have been to Disney MANY times. The park was closing after this and it was time to say goodbye to our new friend Andrew.

As we headed back to our resort we couldn’t help but talk about our day with Andrew and how amazing everything was and that we really need to let more of our clients know about their services. Our services are all the planning before you get there to make the best of everything Disney has to offer but MICHAEL’S VIPs are exclusive private tours by guides who do this every day for families of 4 to groups of 20!
Our tour guide Andrew with a group

Michael's VIPs invites you to be a kid again when exploring Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, or SeaWorld. Your VIP Private Guide greets you each day and guides everyone through the parks best attractions, shows and dining choices. Maximum fun, minimized waiting, minimized working and no hassles. Everything is top of the line with Michel's VIPs; from the contact of the initial request to following up after your tour. We highly suggest adding MICHAEL’S VIPs to at least one day of your vacation but be careful … you may get so spoiled that you hire them for another or even more!
MICHAEL's VIPs info:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Beaches and Cream

Samantha Barnes

Beaches and Cream

Beaches and Cream is a small restaurant at Disney’s Beach Club that has the feeling of an old-fashioned burger and soda shop. This is a tiny gem that serves great burgers and one of the biggest desserts that you’ve ever seen! The jukebox plays lively music and the waitresses dress in classic diner uniforms. Because it is so small and that they don’t accept Advanced Dining Reservations, there might be a long wait to be seated. I’d recommend going at off times, perhaps a late lunch/early dinner. If you have to wait have some fun and spend the time watching guests enjoy themselves at Stormalong Bay or step into the Lafferty Arcade to pass the time.

Rule number 1 - Don’t fill up on the main course because you have to save room for dessert! The menu includes an awesome burger (appropriately named Burger Heaven), chicken sandwich, turkey sandwich, roast beef sub, veggie burger and hot dog. Then while the meek may choose the delectable banana split, chocolate cake or brownie a la mode for dessert, the mighty choose the Kitchen Sink!

“The Famous” Kitchen Sink includes a scoop of ever flavor of ice cream (8 total) served with all the toppings and a whole can of whipped cream. Officially it serves four but when five of us tried to eat it we didn’t make much of a dent! Probably because we didn’t follow my own rule of not filling up on the main course! The fanfare that accompanies the serving of the kitchen sink is so much fun – a story that your family will share for years!

Loyal Beaches and Cream fanatics know that Beaches and Cream has only been open for lunch and dinner. But know they have added a seasonal breakfast service! While the Kitchen Sink isn’t available this early, you will find a great counter service breakfast selection. While I haven’t been there for breakfast yet, it will be a definite must-do on my next trip. If you’ve been there for Breakfast, I would love to hear your comments.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Paradise Pier Hotel
a boardwalk-themed hotel at the Disneyland Resort
In the past 3 years my family and I have visited the Disneyland Resort 5 times and stayed at Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel during 4 of those visits. Originally I looked into staying at this 3rd hotel of the 'Hotels of the Disneyland Resort', due to the fact that my family and I were visiting the 'Happiest Place on Earth' on a budget and Disney's Paradise Pier offered room rates that were reasonable. Although there are many hotel choices outside the Disneyland Resort, we have been spoiled at each of the Disney hotels by the simple fact that we feel the 'Magic of Disney' even while we are away from the theme parks; Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure Park. We have definitely grown attached to that feeling!! When I visit the Disneyland Resort, I want that magical feeling every minute of my visit!!

During our 4 visits to Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel we have had the chance to experience much of what the hotel offers.
Here are a few points that we think are important:

Cost: As a 3-star hotel, Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel offers 481 reasonably priced rooms with many amenities.

Rooms: 5 Room choices are available: Standard View, Upper Level Theme Park View, Concierge Standard View, Concierge Theme Park View and 1 Bedroom Paradise Suite. Rooms sizes range from 360 sq. ft. to 740 sq. ft.

View from the rooms: When choosing a room with an Upper Level Theme Park View, you are assured an amazing site just outside your hotel room window.

Disney's California Adventure Park
Disney's Grand Californan Hotel

Proximity: The hotel is walking distance to Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure Park, Downtown
Disney and the Monorail, the Disneyland Hotel and Disney's California Adventure Park.

PCH Grill: The on-site restaurant, decorated in an Hawaii, beach-theme offers a character breakfast featuring Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Max and Lilo and Stitch.
Meals can also be ordered from their restaurant menu and are very reasonably priced.

Rooftop Pool and Waterslide: This is perfect place to cool off during those warm California summer days, or even October afternoons, and relax before returning to the parks for more fun, fireworks, Fantasmic, etc.

When planning your next trip to the Disneyland Resort, I hope you'll consider staying at
Please contact me if you have any questions about this hotel, the other Hotels of the Disneyland Resort,
Disneyland or Disney's California Adventure Park.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


After careful planning, the long awaited day had arrived. We were so ready for Disney World; me, my dad and my two sisters. My dad and sisters had never flown nor had they been to Disney World, so we had a good reason to go and celebrate. You don't really need a reason to go to Disney, just the word Disney is a reason to celebrate.

My most recent trip to Disney, I did celebrate it with my sisters and our dad in November 2009 and all the Christmas decorations were up and so pretty. That will certainly get you in the Christmas spirit. What a wonderful feeling it gave me to be able to share this experience with them. I have been to Disney several times in the last year, but this was my favorite. It was a chance for me to make a magical memory, they would never forget.

From the airport, we boarded the Magical Express and headed to the Pop Century Resort. They loved the idea of not having to deal with luggage. When we arrived, I had already checked in online, so there were no problems, everything went well. We found our rooms to be very nice and accommodating. It wasn't very long until our luggage was delivered to our room. There were towels on the beds in the shape of Mickeys and everyone thought that was cool. I had requested adjoining rooms so we could have more of a family feeling and it was granted. Disney has a way of making you feel very special and there are so many extras and different touches you can add to your vacation to make it extra special. The Pop Century has a very nice food court. There was a wide variety of foods to choose from, and something for everyone. Our package included the Quick-Service meal plan, but I decided to upgrade to the regular dining plan and was very glad with my decision. It gave us a chance to try many different restaurants, at all the parks. I made all the reservations prior to our trip and did not have any problems what so ever.

We planned to go to Epcot on our first day. It was very nice to have Disney transportation. It was so easy just to walk out and get on the bus and not have to drive yourself around in all the traffic and deal with parking. We got a chance to eat in Canada at the LeCellier Steakhouse and the food was just fabulous, such great service! We enjoyed all the sights and even Dad did the rides. He loved Soarin. There is something for everyone at Disney. We continued the day at Epcot and finished it off with the Illuminations. It was a wonderful experience, just gorgeous.

We managed to enjoy all the parks, fireworks, food, and all the dancing lights. My family also loved Downtown Disney. They liked the busy feel and also enjoyed eating at Captain Jack’s.

My family commented on how everything was so coordinated and well planned and thanked me for such wonderful memories. We are still talking about our trip and already planning to go again.

There are a lot of things in life to celebrate, just life itself, and what a way to spend it, I can’t think of any better way to spend it than with family, friends and loved ones at Disney World.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

First Trip to Disneyland

Angie Kennard

I asked Glendon to write a blog for us since he just travelled to Disneyland for the first time. Here is what he had to say:

My First Trip to Disneyland By Glendon
I want to try to give an overview of the Resort and detail the good and not so good things as well as the differences between Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort.

This trip started out as a solo trip then with some help I was able to surprise Larissa with the trip for her birthday and Adam decided to tag along as well. So after months of planning and research we were finally off to the Happiest Place on Earth. We we’re going from Oct 19th- 25th. I was going to be able to celebrate my birthday at a Disney Park for the very first time!!! I was really looking forward to that (as well as the $72 gift card).

We arrived at LAX at about Noon PST and grabbed our luggage and went to wait for the Disneyland Express. Not the same as Magical Express, no video but still a comfy ride to your Disneyland area hotel. The platform was easy enough to find and it wasn’t too long of a wait. We had a 45 min drive to the resort area. Without the video to watch the drive seemed incredibly long!!! But at last we arrived at the Disneyland Hotel where they collect your transportation vouchers or you pay for your transfer if you didn’t opt for it as part of your pkg. Unlike Magical Express you have to pay for this service. We were staying at the Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel and were the last stop on route. The hotel has a retro theme to it and is quite nice. Some things do need some updating but overall it was a nice hotel. We checked in and had a room in the centre of the resort on the ground floor. Our room was clean and large but there was no way 2 adults could share those double beds. Luckily enough our room had a cot so Larissa would be able to sleep on that (she did say it was quite comfortable). Since we only had 4 day hoppers we decided to just have something to eat and head over to Downtown Disney.

We had our lunch/dinner at Mimi’s Café right across the street from the HoJo. This place is soooooo good. It gets rave reviews from all of us. We ate here several times over the next few days. Portions were large and prices extremely reasonable. After we dropped off my leftovers at room (each room has a fridge and coffee maker) we headed to Downtown Disney.

To get here you simply walk down the street to the Disneyland Resort Main Entrance and instead of going into Disneyland or Disney’s California Adventure you keep heading straight and wind up in Downtown Disney. I love the World of Disney here in Anaheim. It is a long store so it’s a lot easier to keep track of people here as opposed to all the connecting rooms in Orlando. At this Downtown Disney you will also find an AMC, Lego Store, ESPN Zone, Sephora, Anne Geddes and a great mix of different eateries. We visited Downtown Disney several times over the trip. Not as large as the one at Walt Disney World but I found it better to not have a bunch of stores all selling the same Disney merchandise over and over again.

Now onto Disneyland itself, we actually didn’t hit the park until Oct 20th, which was my birthday. Now if you have been to WDW you need to know that the Disneyland Resort is nowhere near the size of WDW. That being said Disneyland Park has more attractions than Magic Kingdom. We we’re able to do the Halloween version of Space Mountain, called Ghost Galaxy. It was a lot of fun and we rode this more than any other ride the whole trip. We enjoyed the Matterhorn even though it was incredibly bumpy. Some other standout attractions were the Haunted Mansion Holiday, which was a nice change to the normal Haunted Mansion. It’s a Small World with the addition of the Disney characters was nice. Big Thunder Mountain seemed longer and more detailed. The same goes for Pirates Of The Caribbean as well. Indiana Jones was a lot of fun but also very bumpy, same ride mechanics as Dinosaur at AK.

The two biggest differences between Magic Kingdom and Disneyland are both in size. First would be the size of the castles; Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle is less than half the size of Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom. Which if you are a WDW vet can be seem like a lacklustre centrepiece. But Aurora’s castle has a great walk through attraction which tells the story of Sleeping Beauty. Second size difference is the size of the Park itself. Unlike Magic Kingdom at WDW and other Disney parks there’s no subtle transition between lands. While waiting in line for Haunted Mansion you can hear the people screaming as they come down the hill of Splash Mountain. It is quite clear they had no more room to expand the park so they just squeeze in new additions wherever they can find the room. Which makes going from attraction to the next really quick but does take away from the general theme of each area. Our biggest problem with the lack of space was when we wanted to watch fireworks and see Fantasmic!

At Disneyland this year fireworks (Halloween Screams) were being presented nightly which meant many annual pass holders came each night and “set up camp” on Main Street USA literally sprawling out on a blanket with food etc. While waiting for fireworks. Not only did this make for it hard to navigate the HUB or anywhere on Main Street it seemed also very different than Magic Kingdom. I have never seen people do this at WDW for any of the fireworks, but with Disneyland being a local’s park that is the reason for it. The show itself was fantastic (we even saw it right from the HoJo one night) and very similar to Hallowishes at Magic Kingdom.

Now onto Fantasmic. At Walt Disney World it is presented at Disney's Hollywood Studios in the Hollywood Hills Theatre so everyone gets a seat and everything tends to happen in some sort of orderly fashion. Well at Disneyland, Fantasmic is presented on the Rivers of America where there is no seating and just like the fireworks people set up camp and sit for hours before the show. We did manage to see the second show by literally trying to dive our way through the crowds once they were told to move for cleaning up between shows. Now as for the show itself it was GREAT!!! The Peter Pan and Ursula sequences were awesome and the new Dragon!!! Wow I really hope we get this Maleficent dragon at Disney's Hollywood Studios someday.

As for the different lands of the park I must say there were three that really stood out to me. New Orleans Square was beautiful and I truly felt as if we were somewhere completely different. Mickey’s Toontown was fun and I really enjoyed seeing Jessica and Roger immortalized in their very own ride. Finally Main Street USA felt more quaint and real to me at Disneyland than at Magic Kingdom. I guess having the front porches and random places to sit seemed to make it more like a real street to me rather than just a bunch of stores lined together.

Whenever I go to Walt Disney World a big part of the trip for me is meeting characters and Disneyland didn’t disappoint. We got to meet all sorts of Characters. From Villains to Mickey and Friends, to movie characters and fairies. Some meets are more random at Disneyland than the actual meet and greet areas at Walt Disney World, which can make it more fun to find the Fairy Godmother just hanging out by the castle or difficult to find a certain one, but you can always ask at City Hall. The one truly cool character I got to meet was Jack Skellington. He does meet and greets by the Haunted Mansion during the HMH. I was really happy I got to meet him.
Disneyland is really easy to navigate and I am glad that I have been. It was nice to see the original park. Some say you should not try to compare it to Magic Kingdom but it is really hard not to do. The Halloween decor was really cute and fun at both Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure.

Now as for Disney’s California Adventure you can certainly tell this is a “new” park. There is all sorts of space here. It is very reminiscent of Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World. This park is not as easy to navigate as Disneyland but with the upcoming addition of Cars land that may change. I loved the theme of this park and it has some truly amazing attractions. California Screamin’ was tons of FUN!!!! This rollercoaster looks like your traditional Boardwalk wooden rollercoaster but it’s not! Mickey’s Fun Wheel was a great twist to your typical ferris wheel ride. Adam was a little surprised by this one! The Tower of Terror was different here, no random sequences but we still enjoyed it. Soarin’ was just like being back at EPCOT again.

The park itself is quite beautiful and the Grizzly Peak is interesting. This park is in the midst of a major overhaul and upgrade so there really wasn’t too much to do here.

Characters were plentiful here and easy to find. We also attended Mickey’s Treat or Treat Party here at Disney's California Adventure. It was sold out and really busy but nowhere near as bad as Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom. It was fun and we got to meet a lot of characters but not having fireworks did seem to make the party a bit of a letdown.

This is where I picked up my birthday Fun Card and button. The line at the Town Hall in Disneyland was out the door but at Disney's California Adventure there was no line! We had our only sit down Disney Park meal at Ariel’s Grotto here at Disney's California Adventure. It was my birthday breakfast. It was good but I do think Akershus at Epcot is better. The Princesses were lovely and this is the only way you can guarantee a meet with Ariel here at the Disnelyland Resort. I got to meet 5 Princesses here since Adam and Larissa decided to let me have my birthday moment with each of the ladies. I met Ariel, Snow White, Belle, Aurora and Cinderella. We met Aladdin and Jasmine at Disneyland a few days later.

Here at Disney's California Adventure the Halloween decor consisted of Goofy’s Candy Corn Acres, the main entrance plaza was decked out with all sorts of Candy Corn fruits and vegetables goofy had grown as well as a HUGE candy corn which was the backdrop for various character meets throughout the day.

Once all the additions and upgrades are added I really think Disney's California Adeventure will become the park it is was meant to be.

Overall I am glad I visited the Disneyland Resort. It was nice to see “Walt’s Park”. Will I go back? Not sure. I would one day love to visit Disneyland Paris and Tokyo but you never know. I would suggest that if you do decide to make the trip to California be sure to see Hollywood, Los Angeles and Universal Studios Hollywood. They were great additions to our trip to Disneyland.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


by Laura Mims

Spectromagic is a beautiful semi-nightly parade in Disney’s Magic Kingdom park in Walt Disney World. Focusing on the night aspect, the parade uses over 1 million points of fiber optic light to create a magnificent magical display. Don’t miss Chernabog fanning out his wings from The Night on Bald Mountain Fantasia sequence and also the most powerful villain in The Kingdom Keepers series.
There are also beautiful butterflies and even Scorer Mickey all lit up in hundreds of thousands of sparkling lights!
Watch for the lights to transform from multicolor to beautiful pristine white with the flick of Practical Pig’s paintbrush from one of Disney’s Silly Symphony episodes. Many other traditional characters also join Mickey at the end of the parade. The music score is written by John Debney and you will be humming it as you leave the park that night.

When looking for a place to view the parade, my favorite area is Main Street. Depending on how busy the park is, find a spot on the sidewalk 1-2 hours before the parade starts to get prime seating. While waiting, you can enjoy the Main Street atmosphere. One of my favorite spots is to sit in front of the confectionary store while waiting and smell the sweet sugary scent of cookies and candy while enjoying Main Street music. You can even make friends with other guests waiting with you! The second best spot, and generally less crowded is to find a place in Frontierland or Liberty Square. Sometimes, during busier periods, there is a second showing, which will usually be less crowded. Check your park guide map for parade times.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Planning for your Walt Disney World Trip

To me planning for a Walt Disney World vacation is almost as exciting as going to Disney World….ALMOST! When my husband and I decided to take our 3 little boys to Disney World, I had so much fun planning the trip! Before the trip my husband told me “Your being obsessive”, but once we were at Disney World all he could say was “Thank You!” We saw many families stressed, and overwhelmed, but thanks my knowledge of Disney and planning in advance for the trip we had the time of our lives!

When my husband and I first decided to take the boys to Disney World, the first thing we did was sit down and looked at possible dates. We decided to go to Disney at the end of June. We knew it was going to be hot and crowded, but I was determined this was going to be the best vacation ever! We booked our trip using the buy 4 get 3 discount that Disney was offering. This means you buy 4 nights of hotel and tickets and get 3 nights of hotel and tickets free! We were excited to save several hundred dollars off our vacation right from the beginning. (Disney is offering this awesome discount again!) If you use a WDW Travels agent for your vacation, we will provide discount monitoring; this means that your reservation will be monitored daily for any new Disney discounts that might decrease your cost. If we find one, we will have it automatically applied to your reservation and will notify you of the new cost of your vacation! Once our trip was booked I then ordered Disney’s vacation planning DVD. I don’t think this DVD has been taken out of my vehicle, my boys watch it all the time when were driving, they love reliving Disney World.

One of the things I did for my boys and I do for my clients who have small children is to make a Disney World countdown calendar. I make this on the computer using a regular calendar template and just add images of Disney characters. The days that we are going to Disney World have Mickey heads on them. Every night before bed we crossed off that day, my boys loved to do this and this way they could visually see how much longer we have until we leave for Disney!

When you are vacationing at Disney, I highly recommend using one of the Disney dining plans. The plan that I most often recommend to my clients is the regular Disney dining plan. With this plan you get one quick service meal, one table service meal, and one snack per person in your party per day for a fixed price. The dining plan allows you to order what you want, without having to worry about price; it’s all been paid for in advance! If you are using a dining plan that offers table service meals, reservations for these meals need to be made in advance. Advanced dining reservations are available 180 days prior to check in for your trip. We at WDW Travels will be happy to make all of your dining reservations for you. Character meals are often a highlight of many children’s Disney vacations. If your little girl has her heart set on eating in the castle with Cinderella we need to make these reservations as soon as possible. Dining at Disney restaurants can add so much to your Disney vacation.

When planning your Disney vacation, you may wonder which parks do I go to on which days? Are some parks less crowded than others on certain days? Well the answer to that is yes, some parks are less crowded that others on certain days. If you use a WDW Disney travel agent, we will be happy to provide you with itinerary planning. This is a custom guide for your vacation so you can spend your time having fun! You can sit back and relax while we do all the work for you! We will recommend the least crowded parks for each day of your trip. So you can spend more time riding the rides and less time in line waiting.

Planning a Disney World vacation can be overwhelming to say the least. When do I book? Where do I eat? Which parks are the least crowded? How do I get from the airport to my hotel? What are fastpasses? What about child/rider swap? We at WDW Travels will be glad to answer any and all question our clients have. We provide each client with itinerary planning, discount monitoring, advanced dining reservations, and a care package tailored to each clients individual needs. The best part is you never pay any fees, for our magical service its FREE!!

The night before we leave on our Disney Vacation, Mickey Mouse visits our house. He usually just leaves Mickey shaped confetti and a note. My boys just can’t figure out how Mickey gets in our house with all the doors locked! This night usually rivals the night before Christmas, no one can sleep because we are so excited about what the next day will bring!

Monday, November 16, 2009

7 nights of "Magic" on Disney Cruise LIne

We just returned from our first ever Disney cruise aboard Disney’s Magic, what a magical week we had. It all started back in March when we booked, at that time I was researching everything I could, then the summer was busy with other travels and what-not so the cruise got put on the back burner. About 2 months before we were to set sail I went in to planning mode overload, which I always do before a big trip, with a family of 5 and 3 of them 5 or under you must plan well!!! I started packing lists, eyeing over message boards and all that normal stuff, then the week we were scheduled to leave for the drive down was upon us. Where did the time go? We stayed close to the port the night before we were to leave because I had plans of getting upgraded, so the morning of Halloween we all got up, dressed in our matching shirts and headed to the port, I was amazed at how many people were already there at 10am, but luckily I was able to get my upgrade to a 1 bedroom suite w/ concierge (Cat 3), of course we had to pay for it but it was worth every penny!! We were traveling with my parents and they upgraded too to a veranda on deck 6. Even though my parents were not in a suite the Cast Members were very nice to let them be with us and board first and go to the welcome reception and all that fun stuff! The best thing I believe about the whole cruise was right when you step on board, they asked what our family name was, and I told them and then to my surprise they announced us by name and everyone clapped, that was such a special treat to us, we felt like royalty.

The ship was beautiful and pretty easy to figure out where to go , of course they were never short of Cast Members who are more than happy to assist you. While at our welcome reception we were able to sign the kids up for the kids clubs, make spa/salon appointments and meet with our concierge, Lynda. Lynda was able to book Palos for us since we missed out doing that before we left, she also took note of special requests and any questions we had.

After ,we headed up to deck 9 to check out the food, and boy was there plenty of it, so we filled our bellies and hung out for a little while. It was almost 1:30, the time when you are able to go to your staterooms so we headed to deck 8 midship to check it out. We were thrilled, it was huge, a large living room, a large bedroom a huge veranda ,2 bathrooms, lots of closet and storage space, it was a dream come true, it even had a door bell!

4 o’clock, life boat drill, was very quick and orderly! After putting the life jackets away it was time for the sail-a-way party on the pool deck, how fun was it to be sailing away with Mickey and the gang! As soon as the characters came out I got all teary eyed, this is what it was all about!!!! It was a great party, very lively and energetic, as was everything on board.

Since it was Halloween we went back to our cabin to get in our costumes and go to the Welcome Aboard Show and then Trick or Treating! Dinner was after that, we chose late seating at 8:15, that night, after the long day and no naps my almost 4 year old feel asleep at dinner and my 5 year old probably could have too. Our wait staff was great, they made a bed for him so he would be comfortable, needless to say, after dinner we all went to bed to get a good sleep for our day in Key West.

The ports were fine, we had been on many cruises in the past so they were all familiar to us and we just did our own thing for the most part. In Key West we walked all the way to the Southern Most Point and went to the Butterfly Conservatory which was amazing. In Grand Cayman we did the Island Tour with stops in Hell and the Turtle Farm. Cozumel was our only bad weather day, rained most of the morning, let up for a little while so we ventured out to get some good food at Pancho’s Backyard then back to the ship. Then it rained most of the day after that. The cruise director and staff wasted no time in putting together dance parties , extra trivia’s, games and other events for those who stayed on the ship instead of venturing out in the rain.
Our last port of Castaway Cay, their private island was wonderful, beautiful beach and good food, too bad the water was pretty cold for my liking. We had two days at sea which were wonderful, both days we dined at Palos for brunch, it was sooo good the first time we had to go back. We hung out by the Mickey pool a bit which the kids loved and it was the perfect size for them.
We also fit in naps every evening before the shows so the kids could make it all night. We also put our littlest one who is almost 2 in the Flounders Nursery and he loved it, they were soooo good with him in there.
Our Cruise Director, Clayton was the best I had ever had, such personality and love for his job. The shows were amazing, having seen many Broadway plays, I rank them right up there with them, Disney really knows how to do it. The Cruise Staff was superb, they hosted many dance parties and trivia’s which we tried to attend, my personal favorites were the High School Musical Dance Party and the Disney Tunes Trivia! There was a Tea with Alice which I knew about before sailing and was excited to get in to that, my daughter wore her Alice dress and enjoyed “tea” (which was actually apple juice) and cookies with Alice.
Pirate Night was a hit, it was great seeing so many guests dressed in pirate costumes, and of course our family was some of them! Unfortunately the weather was not on our side that night so they could not do the fireworks and deck party, however they did do them the next night and it was fabulous. Disney is the only cruise line that does fireworks from their ships. Our dining staff was wonderful, especially our waitress, Jessyca, she was so good with our little one, when he got bored, she would just walk him around the dining room and he loved it! Doing the dining rotation was different but we liked it, Lumiere's was my favorite, though my daughter liked Animators Palate the best because the colors changed, Parrot Cay was festive and colorful.

Being in concierge really had a big impact on our trip, having the extra space and the personal service was really really nice, we now know we can not doing anything else. So I suggest, if you can swing it, do it, you won’t regret it, I would be happy to elaborate more on the benefits, just message me! Another exciting thing we did for the first time was the art auction, so now we have started our Disney art collection and are anxiously waiting for our two new pieces to arrive!
I could go on and on about our cruise, but to sum it up in one word, MAGICAL!
Remember Disney is offering many new destinations, along with a brand new ship debuting in 2011, contact WDWTravels for details and we will be happy to get you started on your magical vacation! Thanks for reading

Monday, November 9, 2009

Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort

I just got back from another wonderful weekend at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort. What? You didn’t know that Disney had a resort outside of Florida? This is one of the “Best Kept Disney Secrets”.

Set amongst the palmetto trees, pines and live oaks is the most relaxing Disney vacation you've ever taken. Located on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina is a beautiful Disney Vacation Club resort. Not a Member? Not a problem! Rooms and villas are available for cash reservations to anyone. The main resort is on its own little island –Longview Island- in Shelter Cove on the Broad Creek marsh side of the island. This is where all of the villas and main lodge are. There are several types of villas to choose from: studios, 1 bedroom villas, 2 bedroom villas and 3 bedroom grand villas. Studios sleep up to 4 people and have a queen size bed and full size sofa sleeper along with a kitchenette. The larger villas sleep 4, 8 or up to12 people, have full kitchens, washer & dryers in the room and living comfortable living rooms. We just had a group of 8 in a 2 bedroom villa for a birthday party and it was great. We’ve also stayed in a 2 bedroom with only 4 of us and enjoyed being able to spread out a bit. The grand villas are often booked by large groups or families for birthdays, reunions, and holiday get-togethers.

What is there to do at the resort? As much or as little as you would like to do. There is a great pool with slide, hot tub, ping pong tables, shuffle board, horseshoes, basketball, pool table and a playground. That’s just the “stuff”, there are also activities scheduled all the time. Some have small fees, some are free. There are arts & crafts, nature photography classes, kayaking trips, dolphin tours, nature walks, magic shows & ghost stories and more. Several nights a week there are campfires with silly campfire songs (Disney style of course) and s’mores! That’s just at the main resort, there are more things at the Beach House.

Across the road is Disney’s Beach House. This 3 ½ acre complex offers access to the beach, along with another pool, restaurant, arcade, ping pong table, splash area for kids and Surfmen’s Station, a place to relax out of the heat and watch the game or some cartoons.

If you’re looking for more to do, consider bike riding (bring your own or rent at the resort) or fishing (poles & bait available for rent), and of course Hilton Head Island is known for golf & tennis. Great golf deals can be found by calling Last Minute Tee Times and there are public tennis courts just down the road that are nicer than some private clubs. The resort also has a relationship with Palmetto Dunes Resort and their courts can be used for a fee. Check with the front desk for details.

Need something to eat? There are several options at the resort: Tide Me Over offers Carolina cooking, sandwiches, burgers, salads and breakfast all day long and Signals at the Beach House offers sandwiches, salads, drinks & treats. There are also tons of restaurants all over the island to try. Several are walking distance at Shelter Cove, others are easy drives. Another option is to stock up on groceries at the Publix or Piggly Wiggly and take advantage of the full kitchen in the 1, 2 & 3 bedroom villas. There are also grills available for your use at the resort if you’d like to cook out.

Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort is a great place to get away for a relaxing weekend or a weeklong vacation and it’s a great place to get a refill on Pixie Dust when Walt Disney World is just too far away.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Character Dining at Walt Disney World

Character Dining at Walt Disney World is like the bonus, the lagniappe or the Buy-One-Get-One deal you get when you are a guest of the Mouse. Most people expect to see the charaters in the parks, wandering around here and there or at a Character Greeting spot. When you dine in the Magic Kingdom at places like Cinderella's Royal Table, or The Crystal Palace, the characters come to you, with no waiting in line!

When my family and I visit, I like to create a challenge for myself; see as many different characters as I can at the different restaurants of Walt Disney World parks and its resorts. Here are a few of my favorites (and the favorites of my kids as well!):

Chef Mickey's at the contemporary Resort - My kids and I both loved this breakfast buffet! We always take a great family picture before we a grand breakfast. They serve all of our favorite breakfast food and BONUS...we get to see the Fab Five - Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy.

Cinderella’s Royal Table – Located inside Cinderella's castle, this is the quintessential dinner for the princess lover in the family. The fact that you're eating dinner inside Cinderella's castle is enough for most people, but then you add the princess experience before dinner and BONUS! Every prince and princess coming to eat dinner is greeted in the vestibule by Cinderella herself. Everyone gets a photo with her, in her larger-than-life throne.

Akershus Restaurant in Norway at Epcot - Princess Storybook Dining. This was a favorite of my princess and well as all of the adults in the party! Akershus is a great restaurant serving unique native dishes, that we hadn't eaten before. The food was delicious and BONUS! We saw all of the princesses! We were greeted by Aurora, Jasime, Ariel, Belle, Cinderella and I'm sure I'm forgetting someone.

Hollywood & Vine in Disney’s Hollywood Studios – You want to talk about a party for kids? You must see this one! The characters from Playhouse Disney dance around the dining room, encouraging the kids to get up and dance and sing along. Oh, yes...the food is really good too! This is a buffet restaurant that offers a substantial salad bar, many tasty entree offereings and even a kids' buffet. My kids loved the ice cream bar also. Even though I miss seeing Hollywood Mickey and Minnie visiting this restaurant, the Playhouse Disney characters really make this restaurant a party for kids of all ages. The BONUS here? The party of course!

These are jus a few of our favorites. We have experienced almost all of the Character dining opportunities at Walt Disny World, and we're looking forward to the rest of them becoming a part of our future trips. If you are like me, you are always looking for ways to add value to your vacation dollar. This is one of the esiest ways I've found! Every one of the Disney restaurants that offer Character Dining will be a BONUS for your vacation. You'll get a great meal and a great experience all rolled into one!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Disney Trip Planning

Ok, so you've decided to take a family vacation to Disney World. Congratulations – you couldn't have made a better decision! You've picked your dates, chosen a resort, and booked your tickets. So now you're totally finished and all that's left to do is pack the sunscreen, right?

Unfortunately, far too many Disney guests believe that this is true. These are the families you see walking aimlessly around the theme parks, not knowing which attractions to see, waiting in never-ending lines, being turned away by the best restaurants, and missing the entertaining shows. These will also be the people emerging from the theme parks exhausted, frustrated, and vowing never to return again. Whenever I see these people – and there are so many of them on every one of my trips – it depresses me because these poor people have missed out on all the wonderful experiences that make Disney World so magical!

On the other hand, there are Disney guests who attempt to over plan their trips. These are the people that buy and read all the Disney books, spend hours browsing Disney's website, and try to micromanage every minute of the trip. Regrettably, there are countless people also doing this, so any tips and advice given through those sources will be used by hundreds of people a day! While some of it is valuable and I do, at times, recommend similar ideas, most of that information will only cause people to have the same end result – frustration.

So, what's the answer? How can you have magical experiences on a Disney trip without all the stress of under or over planning for it?

The answer comes from booking or transferring your vacation to our highly experienced travel agents here at WDWTravels. We have been planning Disney vacations for years and deeply enjoy designing a custom plan for each of our clients. We all visit Disney multiple times a year and have learned the tricks for avoiding crowds, experienced the premier attractions, and dined at the most scrumptious restaurants. All in all, we have experienced the greatest magical sides of Disney and enjoy sharing that with our clients. Each itinerary that I customize is meticulously designed especially for the group visiting Disney World; no two itineraries are ever the same because no two families have the same priorities. I started building itineraries because I enjoyed doing it so much for my own family and friends. Creating an individual itinerary and then hearing about the family’s trip when they return, increases my own fondness for Disney World and my longing to return again as soon as possible. I am spreading the magic of Disney to the family and they, in turn, return the sentiment to me. Best of all, our itineraries are just one of the many FREE services that WDWTravels offers when booking or transferring your reservation to us!

When beginning an itinerary, there are a lot of factors to consider. How many days should you devote to each theme park? Which days should you go to which theme park – believe me, this will make a MAJOR difference in crowd levels! Which attractions should you start with each day – again, your choices make a big difference! My family and I use all the information included in my itinerary and we never wait longer than 30 minutes for any attraction, at any time of the year. Overall, what's the best way to maximize the Disney fun, while minimizing the wait times – we will show you how and for FREE!

There is no one unanimous answer that works for all families – a lot of tour books claim that there's one solution that everyone can use. As a result, WDWTravel agents create PERSONALIZED guides for each of their clients. This is based on the families' individual needs. Is this their first trip or their hundredth? Do they prefer thrill rides or live stage shows? Are seeing the princesses a #1 priority, or is a meeting with Mickey Mouse a requirement? Is a sit-down meal the best way to take a break each day, or is a swim back at their Disney resort the most relaxing choice? These are just some of the questions that we ask in order to provide the most detailed itineraries possible. Once again, no two family's finished guide is ever identical because no two families are the same! As a result, our clients tend to have a much more magical experience at Disney World because they are not as frustrated as other tourists. Additionally, they are more likely to become regular Disney visitors because they will have embraced the magic of the destination just like us!

Overall, you are spending a lot of time and money to visit a place that has been called “The Happiest Place on Earth.” So, why wouldn't you want to experience exactly that? Each family has their own expectations when traveling to Disney and every family member has his or her own priorities. Merging all of those dreams together could be a nightmare for a family to plan. By using our free planning services, your Disney dreams have an enhanced chance of coming true. With a touch of pixie dust from our free travel planning services, no Disney dream is EVER too big!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Disneyland Halloween Time

Let me start of by saying Halloween has never been my holiday. I have no idea why, because I enjoy getting dressed up and I love candy, but nevertheless, I have never really liked Halloween. It’s not like I hate the holiday or have some sort of objection to it, I’m just not a big Halloween person. If I had to eliminate a holiday, Halloween would be the one I cut. Well, I guess I should say that until last year Halloween would have been the holiday I could have lived without. But last year everything changed. Last year I went to Halloween Time at Disneyland and my feelings about the holiday did a 180. I actually liked Halloween Time so much that this year, I made a return trip to Disneyland at Halloween.

So what’s so great about Halloween at Disneyland? Well for starters Disneyland is decorated for the holiday. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Donald greet guests at the front entrance as pumpkins, and the pumpkin theme continues throughout the park with Jack-O-Lanterns everywhere, even on the lampposts. You can even visit Big Thunder Ranch Halloween Roundup to see pumpkins transformed into Jack-O-Lanterns. And just in case you haven’t gotten your fill of pumpkins, a giant Mickey Jack-O-Lantern sits at the beginning of Main Street, waiting for you to pose with him.

When guests Park Hop over to Disney’s California Adventure, the pumpkins and Jack-O-Lanterns stay but the main theme switches over to something much sweeter, Candy Corn. Candy corn has invaded every square inch of California Adventure, even the iconic CALIFORNIA letters have been turned into candy corn. There’s Candy Corn Acres, where guests can see the candy corn being grown and harvested. Who knows, you might even spot a character or two helping harvest all that candy corn.

Of course, a Disneyland Halloween is more than amazing decorations. Disneyland has also redone two rides for Halloween. Jack Skellington has transformed the Haunted Mansion into a Nightmare Before Christmas themed ride. New this year, Space Mountain has also been transformed into Ghost Galaxy. I don’t want to give away too much, but both attractions Halloween makeovers make them into completely different rides. I’m not a big Haunted Mansion fan, but I absolutely love what Jack Skellington has done with the place. My brother has never seen The Nightmare Before Christmas, but he still enjoyed the ride. And unbelievably, Ghost Galaxy is much scarier than Space Mountain, keep an eye out for ghosts, you never know when one might surprise you.

Also new to Halloween Time this year is a Halloween themed fireworks show called Halloween Screams. Halloween Screams differs from other Disneyland firework shows because Tinkerbell does not start it; instead Zero flies above Sleeping Beauty’s castle to start the show. Halloween Screams mixes fireworks, pyrotechnics, a large video screen, lighting, Disney villains and even ghost fireworks into one incredible show. The soundtrack is a combination of Disney songs like “Heffalumps and Woozles”, with new songs like “Happy, Happy, Happy Halloween” which is still stuck in my head, weeks later. This show is not to be missed. Although, parents with small or easily startled children should be aware that a very loud group scream a long concludes the Halloween Screams fireworks show.

A returning favorite to Disneyland’s Halloween Time is Mickey’s Trick or Treat Party. A separate ticketed event that takes place on select nights in California Adventure Park. Mickey’s Trick or Treat Party is my favorite Disney event, at either park regardless of the season. Everyone is allowed to dress up for the party, and seeing everyone in their costumes, including the Disney characters is awesome. Once inside, guests can go trick or treating at Treat Stops where candy is given out in very large quantities. My 5 year old cousin received more candy trick or treating here then she did trick or treating at home. Characters are out and ready to pose for pictures. In my experience villains, princesses, Pixar characters and the Fab Five are out for you to visit with. The Pacific Wharf area is transformed in Pirate’s Wharf, an entertainment area with games, crafts and characters. Hollywood Pictures Backlot has also been transformed into Hollywood Bat-lot and if you visit the Bat-lot be ready to join in the dance party! Another kid favorite is Mickey’s Hide and Go Treat Trails, in the Redwood Creek area; treat stations are also back here. The twice-nightly parade, Mickey’s Trick or Treat On the Street, features Disney characters dressed up for Halloween, and is part parade/part dance party. We all got up and danced and we were rewarded with yet more candy and even special pins for our efforts. Of course you can also ride the rides during Mickey’s Trick or treat party, we rode Tower of Terror multiple times and with the whole Halloween thing going on, it was definitely spookier.
There’s more than enough Halloween to keep even the most spirited little kid amused and just in case special treats and merchandise is available also. I came home with a Mickey Jack-O-Lantern coffee cup and two Mickey Jack-O-Lantern trick or treating buckets. And trust me, leaving there with just those were difficult. So from a reformed Halloween critic, come visit Disneyland during Halloween Time for some new rides and shows, great food, a chance to catch Minnie as a witch and even see some villains. Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Grand Gathering Tip of the Day

Disney Tip of the Day:
If you’re traveling with a large group to Disney World, don’t try to spend every minute together. Instead, plan to meet up for an evening meal to discuss your day at the parks.

In my family, a Disney vacation was a part of growing up. Being the oldest of five siblings, I adopted some of my mom’s vacation practices with my own four children and our vacations to Disney. Because of the size our family, any trip to Disney means we’re traveling with a large group. Every Disney vacation is a Grand Gathering!

When my siblings and I were younger, all six members of our family did everything at Disney together. We all dressed in outfits from the Sears catalog, and they were all the same color. (I’m afraid that I’m dating myself…!) We were horrified for awhile, but our mother was firm. Truthfully, we were at Disney, and we didn’t care what we looked like! But, every ride we rode, and every meal we ate, we were noticed by every cast member we saw. We were the “Red Family,” or the “Green Family.” It very quickly became a fun game to see how many would call us by those names.

As my siblings and I grew up and had families of our own, it became glaringly apparent that we needed a new strategy. The Sears outfits of old turned into same-color shirts for my children, my husband, and me. It still has the same impact…especially when we wear tie-dyed shirts!

Because we vacationed with large groups, and still do today, it taught me how traveling with that many people can be stressful. It can be so difficult for everyone to be able to do what they want to do, and for everyone to have a great time together. That is, after all, the point of traveling together!

Since our family now consists of eleven adults and nine children under the age of ten, we have had to adopt a new plan that could work for your large group also. Now, our goal for each day at Disney is to meet for a meal together at night. During the day, we sometimes stay together, and we sometimes separate. Some of us still need a nap in the afternoon; some of us want a swim in the afternoon, and some of us are Park-Troopers. Since we decided to stop forcing the issue of everyone spending every minute of the vacation together, it is much less stressful. We enjoy each other, our children, and our vacation much more. Try this tip for your next Grand Gathering…it may bring even more Magic to your vacation!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Try Visiting Atlantis Resort when in Nassau!

If you are lucky enough to be on a Disney Cruise with a 3 or 4-night itinerary then Nassau, Bahamas will be your first port of call. This is the capital city of Bahamian New Providence Island, and as such there is no shortage of activities to fill your time ashore with. Some of the many choices of shore excursions that can be booked through Disney Cruise Line include the Nassau Harbor Cruise, the Caribbean Queen Snorkel Tour, the Blue Lagoon Island Dolphin Encounter, the Ardastra Gardens and City Tour, Blackbeard’s Stingray Adventure and Scuba Diving at Stuart Cove. We decided to forgo all of those on our recent sailing aboard the Disney Wonder and spend the day at the iconic Atlantis Resort. With a wealth of activities to choose from, including many upscale shops, restaurants and a full casino, Atlantis promises a day to remember!

If you decide to book your Atlantis shore excursion through DCL, then there are four options for you to choose from. First there is the “Atlantis Aquaventure”. Included with the price of the excursion is transportation to and from the Port and full use of the 140-acre water park that Atlantis is famous for. There are nine thrilling water slides and a mile-long lazy river with underground tunnels, rapids and waterfalls. The minimum height requirement for all of the slides is 48”. Also included with this package is a lunch and towel use. The cost is $160 per adult and $110 for children between the ages of 3 and 9.

The next excursion offered through DCL is the “Atlantis Beach day”. This includes transportation to and from the resort, a reserved spot on the pristine beach just for you, a light lunch, and use of the casino but does not permit use of the water park, pools or aquarium. The cost is $82 per adult and $55 per child.

One of the most popular excursions you can choose is “Dolphin Cay and Aquaventure” combination. In addition to full use of the water park and pools, you will also experience an interactive 2-hour Dolphin encounter where you will play with the Dolphins that call Atlantis home. It is for ages 3 and up and the cost is $295 per adult and $245 per child.

For those who aren’t interested in the sun and surf, the best choice would be the “Discover Atlantis” excursion. It includes round-trip transportation to Atlantis, where guests will receive a guided tour of resort and aquarium. You are then welcome to explore the grounds on your own and return whenever you like, as there are shuttles back to port every half hour. This excursion costs $52 per adult and $35 per child.

If you opt to “go it alone”, as we did, you will be responsible for your own transportation to and from the port. Taxis are readily available and cost $4 per person each way. If you want to do a tour of the aquariums and sea life exhibits you can do so for $25 per day for adults and $19 for children. This gives you all-day access but doesn’t include use of the water park. To secure use of Aquaventure, you must book a room at either the Atlantis resort or nearby Comfort Inn, which supplies bracelets used to gain entry into the water facilities. Atlantis resort is a large compound, with accommodations available in six separate buildings. There are the Royal Towers, Coral Towers, Beach Towers, the Cove, The Reef and Harborside Resort. Because the water park is centrally located in the middle of them all, any one of these accommodations will afford you the opportunity for easy pool and water park access.

We chose to book an ocean suite in Atlantis’s newest addition, the Cove, on our recent visit. It was a beautifully appointed room with an open floor plan and step-down living area. The spacious bathroom, with it’s marble floors and granite vanities was fit for a king. Although we didn’t spend much time in the room, it was nice to come back to for a hot shower and quick bite before heading back to port. Standard rooms at Atlantis start at $269 per night, so booking a room can yield significant savings over booking the excursion if there is more than one person in your travel party. The suites, like the one we booked, start at $399- but at 700 square feet with a kitchen, they are a great value.

There are so many recreational activities available at Atlantis. We tried the snorkeling and fed the sea life. The pools were awesome. The main pool has a great multi-level kids area with lots of bridges and slides for those who don’t meet the height requirement for the larger slides. My daughter wanted to stay there all day! We wanted to try the rock climbing wall, but were so busy with everything else that we didn’t get the chance. They also offer something called “Snuba” which is a hybrid between Scuba and snorkeling that doesn’t require certification. It combines the simplicity of snorkeling with the wonders of breathing underwater. Guests must be eight years old to take part in the Snuba adventure. Since our daughter was trying snorkeling for the first time, we decided to stick to that for the day. But the Snuba sounded like a lot of fun, and we hope to try it on our next trip!
Snacks and drinks at Atlantis can add up quickly, and many people choose to bring some things ashore with them to enjoy throughout the day, which is what we did. It was worth the trouble to bring our lunch off the ship since we didn’t plan to sit down in one of Atlantis’s restaurants. We did splurge on some Starbuck’s though before heading back to port aboard the shuttle. Nothing like a little caffeine to perk you up after a long day of sun and surf!

You can book a room at Atlantis, or one of the many shore excursions offered by DCL through your travel agent or directly through the Atlantis website. It is a great way to spend a day in Nassau and will surely leave you hoping to visit again in the future. With so much to do there, I highly recommend you disembark the ship as soon as you can to allow as much time as possible to enjoy the resort and it’s wonderful amenities.