31 October 2012

31 Days:: Disney Resources

{Insider Info Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Disney Resources! Some things I've learned over the years have been through reading the below book and websites. So I must give credit where credit is due! Feel free to check out these resources for even more fabulous Disney information!

Thank-you SO so much for joining me on this journey on planning your Disney trip! I hope you've found some useful tips along the way, and feel free to leave a comment or email me if you have any questions!!

Birnbaums "The Official" Guide
Every year we go to Disney, I buy this guide! Yes, many years it has the same info, but it is hands down the best resource for planning your Disney trip! And there's coupons in the back of the book :) You can buy it {here on Amazon}. The 2013 edition was recently released- that's the one I bought!

Of course there's the Disney official website! Always useful!

A great online resource for planning your Disney trip. Lots of reviews, photos, and insight from Disney travelers. There's info about Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruises and lots more! I constantly use this website- it also has menus posted for pretty much every restaurant around the World, including menus that you can't find on the Disney official website.

Mouse Planet
Another website with great reviews and tips. Lots of trip reviews where you can read about other people's vacations, gain some additional insight.

WDW Info
Yet another website with great info and insight!

Mouse Savers
All Disney discounts, promotions, and discount codes in one place! Check to see if there's any savings to be found during your visit.

Touring Plans
If you're a first-timer, this could be a very useful website. I only just found it myself. It has tips about wait times, crowd levels, and best order to visit rides. Some areas of the site are only available to subscribers, but at ~$11, even a WDW veteran like myself is contemplating subscribing... They also have a smart phone app, called Lines, that you can look into getting!

Easy WDW
**updated to add this
I can't believe I forgot this site!! It's similar to the above Touring Plans site, but is free and has in-depth explanations of which parks to go to each day (for the whole year!) and often why to go there and avoid the other parks. I'd say it's a definite go-to site for me from now on! I found it HIGHLY useful when planning our most recent trip, which was during a peak season when I'd never gone at that time.

WDW Mobile Phone App
Check out the above link on the Disney Parks blog to learn all about it. It's a one-stop place to get your wait times, park maps, dining info, etc! I have it and look forward to using it on Verizon's upgraded in-park network!

Note: I earn advertising fees on qualifying purchases from the Amazon Affiliate links to the Birnbaums book.   I have not been compensated in any other way to endorse these resources. They're just tools that I find myself using again and again, so I thought I'd pass them on! :) 

30 October 2012

31 Days:: Other Tips and Tidbits

{Insider Info Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Other Tips and Tidbits! These are random tips that didn't seem to fit anywhere else, but are really neat and useful, in my opinion!

Apparently I'm Piglet size!! Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom
Throughout the Disney parks, at various times of the day, you can meet Disney characters and get their autographs! You can bring your own book or buy an autograph book at many of the shops around WDW. Also, bring a fat pen (so the characters can better grip them!). A great FAQ page about Character Meet and Greets can be found {here} on AllEars. It's been quite a while since I've gone to one, so head on over to AllEars to find out some great info :) Don't forget that various restaurants have character meals, and those can be found {here} on Disney's website! Check to see if the characters are about to come by your table before you head off to the buffet line (I missed Eeyore that way last year!).

eticket Rides
Some of you may have been wondering about this "eticket" thing I've mentioned here and there throughout the month. To quote Wikipedia, "The phrase E ticket (or E ticket ride) refers to an unusually interesting, thrilling, or expensive experience. It derives from the admission ticket system used at the Disneyland and Magic Kingdom theme parks before 1982, where the E ticket (officially termed "E coupon") admitted the bearer to the newest, most advanced, and/or most popular rides and attractions." Today, the term is still used by Disney enthusiasts to describe the most popular rides :)

Remember where you parked- row and area!! The parking lots are broken up by area (Mickey, Donald, Minnie, etc.) and by rows. You can jot it down on paper you know you won't accidentally throw away or misplace! Or I've taken a picture of it! Then you can scroll through your camera/phone's photos at the end of the day and find the picture of your area and row. Not a chance you're gonna throw away your phone or camera ;)

At the end of your day at the park, you'll hop a tram back to the parking lot. If you're at Magic Kingdom, then you'll hop a ferry or monorail back to the Ticket and Transportation Center, and THEN grab a tram to the parking lot :) If you're at Epcot, you can actually walk to many of the parking lots. At closing time (or if you have a fussy child) this can often times be faster and more convenient. The lines for trams can get LONG at closing times, especially after the last evening shows.

Hidden Mickeys
Disney Imagineers, when creating the Disney parks and resorts, created hundreds of "hidden Mickeys." They are generally defined as the traditional three circles depicting Mickey's face. You can find them hidden in the cement of walkways, hidden in murals, hidden in tile work, hidden all over the place! There's a website you can visit {here} where it explains more about this really neat feature of WDW. You can also purchase the book to bring with you on vacation, {here on Amazon}. I have it, and every year we visit, I make a note of which new Mickeys we find! There will likely be a new addition coming out in upcoming years with the newest areas of Magic Kingdom's New Fantasyland and The Magic of Disney Animation Resort being finished up!

Throughout the Disney parks, you'll find cast members wearing tan vests and wielding cameras. They take your photo at the perfect photo locations throughout the parks, and can even pose you in fun ways to later "add in" Disney characters to the photo. Before you get your first photo taken, ask the cast member for a Photopass. This will let you see all of your photos online and order them and other photo memorabilia! My favorite purchase in a photo calendar :) Lets me chose two photos for each page, along with two photos for the cover, and you can access professional Disney photos of the parks as well! Take a peek at the {official website here} for more info!

Disney has their own timeshare resorts, called Disney Vacation Clubs. DH and I are hoping to invest in one down the road, but if you'd like to learn more, there are booths located at most every Disney location- parks, resorts, Downtown Disney, the Boardwalk (which is where many of the DVC resorts are located!). You can also read more {here online} at their website.

Pin Trading
Trading official Disney pins is a long tradition at Disney. I myself have never partaken in this hobby, so I'll direct you to {this AllEars article} or this {Disney website overview} to learn more (or ask any Cast Member), but I'll give you the general gist here! When you visit, you'll notice many of the Cast Members (as well as many of the guests!) will be wearing a lanyard around their neck or belt that is adorned with many Disney pins. Once you buy a start up Disney pin trading set, if you like a pin someone else has, you can trade your pin for theirs! It's a pretty neat Disney tradition, as you can often stumble upon rare pins that were only offered at special events or have been discontinued! There is "pin etiquette" for what constitutes a fair trading of pins, but I'll leave that info to the articles that I've linked for ya ;)

Free Personalized Maps
Once you go to the Disney website and create an account, you can pick your favorite rides and restaurants and they'll ship you free personalized maps! They come with your family's name, your choice of theme, and all of your favorite picks! They're a thick sturdy material, perfect for standing up to plenty of folding and unfolding as you reference them throughout the day in the parks (and maybe even a spill of water!). Make sure you allow enough time for shipping (I think it's up to 2 months, though we got ours in ~2 weeks). They're a really neat keepsake :)

Cast Members
The Disney employees are known as "Cast Members." Many times they won't even go by their real names, but rather a "Disney name" ie. "Daisy" or "Thumper"(this is common when you talk to CM's on the phone). It's all part of the Disney magic :)

Parades & Shows
  • If there are two showings of a parade or evening show (ie. Fantasmic, Electrical Parade, etc), the later showing will generally be less crowded. Families with small children tend to go to the earliest showings and then head home for the evening. 
  • Also, while any parade or big show is occurring, generally lines for the big "eticket" rides will be shorter, so hit up those rides during a parade/show!

Source: AllEars

Electrical Water Pageant
Although I have yet to see the Electrical Water Pageant, it's on my to do list- it looks so cool!!
"The Electrical Water Pageant is a nightly display that makes its circuit around Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake for the Magic Kingdom area resorts. The pageant consists of two strings of seven barges, each carrying a 25-foot-tall screen of lights."  This quote is from {this Allears.net article}- check it out to see photos and more info!

Tip Boards (in case you missed this on the FastPass post!)
You can also use your iPhone app to check current wait times and Return Times being distributed. In each park, there is also a display board showing the wait times and FastPass times for the various rides throughout the park. Here's where they're located...
  • Magic Kingdom: on the lefthand side in front of the Castle, just before you enter Partner's Circle
  • Epcot: just outside of Innoventions West
  • Hollywood Studios: at the corner of Sunset and Hollywood Blvd.
  • Animal Kingdom: on Discovery Island, to the right of the tree after you enter from The Oasis
This will help you better plan out your day. If there's a short line for your favorite ride, you can hurry over and ride it. You can also check to see if FastPasses are running low for your favorite ride so you can scurry over and get one before they're gone!

Immune Boosting
While this may not be for everyone, we like to bolster our immune systems before heading out on a trip! Considering that we'll be in cramped quarters with other guests while on the plane, taking in some of the shows, and grabbing onto door handles that have been touched countless times by perhaps other sick guests... and factor in that I'm also a bit germaphobic, so yea. We take some zinc starting about a week before hand through a week after the trip! Echinacea, vitamin C, and blueberries are also common items we use to give our immune systems a little support!

While there are no pets allowed at WDW parks, aside from working service dogs, there is a kennel located on Disney property. Best Friends Pet Care is located across from the Port Orleans resort. Visit their website {here} to find out more info, if your furry friends would like to travel with you to the World!

Note: I earn advertising fees on qualifying purchases from the Amazon Affiliate links to the Hidden Mickeys book.   I have not been compensated in any other way to endorse these resources. 

29 October 2012

31 Days:: Military

{Insider Info Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Military! My past few trips to Disney have been as an Army wife. WDW has various discounts available to the Military, some of which I've shared in previous posts, but I wanted to have a post to wrap everything up in a single location for ya! Be sure to check out Disney's official  {Disney Military Discount page here}.

Source: Shadesofgreen.org
Location:: Shades of Green
This is one of two Armed Forces Recreation Center CONUS locations. You can view more info on their {official website here}. The rooms are a spacious standard size hotel room- prices are based on rank {see chart here}. They often run various discount packages as well. It's location is great- nestled right in amongst all the Disney resorts (it actually used to be a WDW resort, hence its location) and you can even jump the monorail if you take a 10 minute walk over to the Polynesian Resort. They also have complimentary buses that service all of the Disney resorts. You can also purchase discount tickets to various local attractions there. Additionally, you get to partake in Extra Magic Hours!!

MWR (or other on-post military travel agency)
The go-to place on your post if you want to get lovely discount tickets. Useful not only for Disney tickets, but also discounted Sea World and Universal Studios tickets. On the Disney Military Discount page above, they have a special rate for a 4-day park ticket. If you'll be at Disney longer, they also discount other length park tickets. This is where you can book your discounted Disney rooms as well. Check with them for discounted special events tickets too (wish I had known that before I booked ours!!).

La Nouba
This is the Cirque De Soliel show that's performed at Downtown Disney. I've seen the performance on TV, and it is my favorite Cirque show! Unfortunately we haven't gotten a chance to see it in person. The military usually gets a discount, the percentage varies by year. Check out the Disney Military Discount page above to check for this year's discount.

Sea World
There's a wonderful program called Here's to the Heroes, where your service member and up to 3 dependents can get into one of their parks (Sesame Place, Sea World and Busch Gardens locations) once a year for free! You can get your free tickets online {here on their website}. There's conflicting information about whether or not you can upgrade the Sea World tickets for the "return free a 2nd day" promotion. I've heard from people in the past that were able to do this. During our trip in Aug. 2009, we asked and Sea World said no. I haven't been able to find anything official on their website regarding this policy. It might be worth a stop at Customer Service and see if you have any luck!

USAA and Car Rentals
If you're a USAA member, they offer various military discounts via their {website here}. After you log into your account, you can access the actual discount codes. Check the websites of other car rental companies- many offer military discounts, but you have to look for them. We will be using Dollar car rental during our upcoming trip, and they do offer a discount to military.

28 October 2012

31 Days:: Real Coffee

{Insider Info Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Real Coffee! For those coffee connoisseurs who have been to most any amusement park before, you'll know that real true good coffee is hard to come by... usually it's some instant coffee or a super watered down brown liquid they call "coffee!"

Splash Mountain signage in Magic Kingdom

Well, Disney isn't necessarily an exception- many locations throughout the parks use Nescafe (which although I don't mind on occasion, it's certainly not up to snuff). Below is a list of where you can find real, true, honest-to-goodness coffee during your visit to WDW!

Keep in mind that, of course, most of your sit down Table Service restaurants are going to have real coffee as well- these are the other places where you can grab a quick cuppa joe!

27 October 2012

31 Days:: Quiet Places and Babies

{Insider Info Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Quiet Places and Babies! Full days at the parks can be quite exhausting, but if you know some of the quiet places around WDW where you can take a breather, it can make the days a bit more manageable! I've also included a little printable of the "quiet places" so you can stash it in your bag and bring to the parks!

Morocco's mosaic tiled fountain courtyard in the World Showcase

Quiet Places
These are great places to keep in mind for all stages of your life...
  • if you and your loved one want to escape the crowds and have some one on one time
  • if you're pregnant and need to take a load off the swollen feet for a while
  • if you need a private place to cover up and nurse (and you're far away from the BCC)
  • if your little ones need to stop, get out of the stroller and unwind a bit
We have sought out the "quiet places" for the first two reasons, and will be using them for the latter two reasons on this coming trip!! Below is a list of those lovely escapes within the parks, and the link below will take you to a free printable version for your convenience!

Baby Care Centers
In every park, there is a Baby Care Center. It's a place where you can grab a private nursing room while you let the other young kids play, buy extra diapers or formula, change a diaper in comfort, and just generally take care of baby in air conditioning! It's a great resource for mamas, and you can find out the locations in each park {here on the Disney website}. You could ask any cast member too, if you need help finding them.  Downtown Disney and the water parks do not have Baby Care Centers, unfortunately. You can find the BCCs noted on park maps as well (look for the pacifier icon)! Here are some perks of the BCCs...
  • air conditioning!!
  • tv for younger family members to watch in the playroom
  • nursing mother's room
  • private bathrooms
  • changing station (of course)
  • stocked kitchen to warm food and bottles
  • free utensils
  • complimentary feeding areas with high charis
  • water cooler
  • items for sale, such as: diapers, baby food, infant/children's medications, pacifiers, clothes, etc.
  • some have Cast Members that also staff the facility!
{Click here} to read a review of the BCCs on AllEars and see pictures!

Rider Swap
This is a fabulous program that Disney has set up!! It allows parents or families with kids too young to ride a particular ride to "swap" riders. For example, you and your hubby wait in line for Rockin Roller Coaster, but of course baby can't ride. They'll let you ride the ride, then once you're done, they'll let hubby ride. So you wait in line once, but both get to ride whilst the other holds baby. Each ride has it set up a little differently. Ask the cast member at the entrance to each individual ride for more information about swapping on that ride, Also {here is the official Disney page} about Rider Swap.

26 October 2012

31 Days:: Fastpasses

{Insider Info Series}
Welcome to today's topic: FastPasses! Today's post will be a bit shorter, but is great information to have- even more so if the parks might be a bit busier when you visit! We use fastpasses during every visit, regardless of crowd size at the parks, and here's a bit more info about why!

Source: allears.net

How it Works
So FastPasses allow you to wait in line for another ride, or grab a quick bite to eat, and then cut the line at your original ride! Neat, right?? So how does this work? Well, I shall share...
  • head to the ride of your choice that participates in FastPass
  • the ride will have machines that distribute FastPasses and displays the times during which you can return and ride the ride with your FastPass 
  • if the Return Time works for you (say, you don't want to catch a show at that time or have a dinner reservation), then
  • put your park ticket (or Key to the World) into the FastPass distributor 
  • out will pop your FastPass (and park ticket)
  • go about your day
  • return to your ride at the Return Time designated on your FastPass
  • have your FastPass ready
  • get in the FastPass line (generally near the normal entrance) 
  • hand your FastPass to the Cast Member where indicated

Return Times
The Return Time is generally a one-hour window, so say 1:10 PM to 2:10 PM, and you can return to ride the ride at any point during that ride. Some rides are very strict about the return times, so make sure you're not late!! 

Limited Availability
For each time window, only a certain number of FastPasses are distributed. So if there's a high demand for a ride, FastPasses for the entire day may run out at noon! This is not all together uncommon, especially during peak park days/seasons. 

Tip Boards
You can also use your iPhone app to check current wait times and Return Times being distributed. In each park, there is also a display board showing the wait times and FastPass times for the various rides throughout the park. Here's where they're located...
  • Magic Kingdom: on the lefthand side in front of the Castle, just before you enter Partner's Circle
  • Epcot: just outside of Innoventions West
  • Hollywood Studios: at the corner of Sunset and Hollywood Blvd.
  • Animal Kingdom: on Discovery Island, to the right of the tree after you enter from The Oasis
This will help you better plan out your day. If there's a short line for your favorite ride, you can hurry over and ride it. You can also check to see if FastPasses are running low for your favorite ride so you can scurry over and get one before they're gone!

Multiple FastPasses
On your FastPass it will say at what time you can get another FastPass (either for that ride or for another ride). Generally you can't get another FastPass until your current one expires or at least for a good while after you got your original Pass. So you can't just run around the park grabbing up FastPasses for every ride all at once :)

Generally the FastPass line cuts through about half of the line or more, depending on the individual ride. For example, you may only have to wait 20 minutes instead of 80 minutes to get onto Soarin' at Epcot. So just don't be surprised when you don't cut the entire line and jump right onto the ride ;)

Here is Disney's official {FastPass site} so you can read more about it, and see which rides have it! Every park has a handful of rides that utilize it! Another great FAQ page about FastPasses can be found {here on AllEars}.

25 October 2012

31 Days:: Transportation Part 2- At WDW

{Insider Info Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Transportation: Part 2- At Walt Disney World! So you've arrived at Disney via plane, train, bus, automobile, magic carpet, etc! Yay! Today I'll talk about some ways to get around once you're at Walt Disney World and you want to get some where else in the World! If you're staying on-property, the website for each resort has a link called "Transportation" where you can easily see how to get from your resort to any given destination in the World.

Source: allears.net

Disney Buses
For those guests staying at a WDW resort or have a park-hopper ticket/annual pass/season pass, there are complementary buses to and from every WDW resort, park, and Downtown Disney. You can get to...
  • every resort from every park
  • every park from every resort
  • every park from every park
  • Downtown Disney from every park
  • Downtown Disney from every resort
  • every park from Downtown Disney
  • every resort from Downtown Disney
If you need to get from one resort to another, you'll need to hop to a park or Downtown Disney and catch a bus to the other resort. If you're hopping via a park, keep in mind closing times of the parks. The bus drivers are knowledgeable, so feel free to ask them or any WDW cast member if you have questions.

The monorail is really one of my favorite modes of transportation at Disney :) It's kinda like a flying train! Hehe. Anyways, it runs from the Ticket and Transportation Center (aka. the Magic Kingdom parking lots), to Magic Kingdom and Epcot. You can also hop from Epcot to MK (and vice versa). There are a few resorts that also are serviced by the monorail, but on a different line (so make sure you always catch the correct monorail!)- the Polynesian, the Contemporary, and the Grand Floridian.

Ferry (to/from Magic Kingdom)
Another way to get from the Ticket and Transportation Center (aka. the Magic Kingdom parking lots) to the Magic Kingdom is via the ferry. When you're walking up to the monorail area from the parking lot, the ferry dock is to the left. This is often a quicker mode of transportation over to the MK since fewer people seem to use it. Both the monorail and ferry take an average of 7 minutes to reach the MK.

Friendships & small ferries
There are four Friendships or small ferry boats to mention...
  • in Epcot, there is a boat that goes across the World Showcase. It takes about as long as it would walking at a brisk pace. 
  • at Downtown Disney, there's a boat that goes between Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and West Side
  • if you're staying at the Port Orleans resorts, there's a boat that goes to and from Downtown Disney. It's a ~15 minute ride- very pretty!
  • from Epcot's "International Gateway" or off to the right of Hollywood Studios' entrance (before you enter the park), you can catch a boat over to the Boardwalk area. It makes stops at the various resorts around the Boardwalk. If you're coming from HS and have a reservation at a Boardwalk restaurant, it can be quicker to get off at the Swan and Dolphin stop and walk the rest of the way (we did that once, definitely quicker if you're in a rush!)

Source: allears.net
Motor Cruisers & Motor Launches
These are boats that provide transportation between the Seven Seas Lagoon resorts and Magic Kingdom. The resorts serviced include the Contemporary, Fort Wilderness, Wilderness Lodge, the Grand Floridian, and the Polynesian. Different color flags are flown on the front of the boats- these indicate which resorts they service. Ask a cast member, boat captain, or check out {this AllEars article} to find out what flag color for which you're looking!! You can access these boats at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, before you go through the security lines, look for the docks on the lagoon. 

Rental Cars (on WDW property)
If you're staying on Disney property without a car, but need one for a day or two, there's a few rental locations on Disney property. Get in touch with the concierge service at your resort, and they can set you up with transportation to the rental centers. At the WDW Car Care Center there's National and Alamo rental centers. At the Swan and Dolphin Resort there's also National and Alamo. Additionally, at Shades of Green there is a Hertz rental center. There are a few other rental centers at hotels across the street from Downtown Disney, if you don't mind a ~10 minute walk.

If you're staying on Disney property (or at select other local hotels/resorts) and want to go to other local Orlando attractions (ie. Sea World or Universal Studios), you can use a variety of shuttle services. We prefer Mears, and it's also the choice of Disney resorts! If you're staying on property, you just need to make a reservation {see their official website here} with a pick up and drop off time, and the buses pull up to the main entrance of the resort. We used it, and it's quite convenient! Some days we wanted to be picked up from the parks a bit earlier than originally reserved for- you usually just have to give them about 2 hours notice and you're good to go! If you're staying at some other local hotels/resorts, you can also book them. They also service the airport.

A great overview of the WDW transportation system is written up {here on Mouse Planet}. Two things to note: "MGM Studios" is now "Hollywood Studios," and you can no longer ride in the front of the monorail due to an accident in recent years. Again, another useful overview can be seen {here on AllEars}.

24 October 2012

31 Days:: Planning your Meals

{Dining Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Planning your Meals! Now that you have a little more info about bringing vs. buying your meals at WDW, here is how I go about pre-planning everything. I explained a bit {here} in my Budget Planning post, but I'll elaborate today!

incredible zucchini fries at Portobello's at Downtown Disney

Step 1: Worksheets & Lists
Grab your Meal Planner worksheet {from this post}, your Budget Worksheet {from this post}, and your Shopping List from {this post}. Meals are where you can really make or break a budget.

Step 2: Restaurants
Check out my previous posts about different places to eat in each park (Magic, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom), as well as places to eat at {Disney's Boardwalk} and {Downtown Disney}. Don't forget any offsite locations, like {Sea World or Universal Studios} and don't forget even your resort's restaurant(s). See if any of those restaurants strike your fancy, or check out more restaurants on Disney's website {here} and AllEar's website {here}. Narrow it down to one restaurant per meal, just a few of your top picks, or skip this step all together if you want to bring all your meals! Don't forget to make your ADRs as soon as possible- check out my previous post {here} for more details. Plug in your restaurants and confirmation numbers on your Budget Worksheet and Meal Planner.

If you know you'll be back again soon, perhaps leave some restaurants to try on your next trip. Since we've been able to visit yearly, our restaurant choices are generally a few favorites, a few new choices, and a few brought meals. This helps cut costs, and we always have something to look forward to next trip- either some favorites we didn't get to go to this year and/or some new ones to try!

Step 3: Restaurant Menus
(Skip if you're bringing all meals!) Check out the menu for each restaurant you've chosen, and guestimate what you and your family will likely eat. I generally chose the highest priced item, if I'm not sure if we'll feel like splurging that night or not. Total up all the meal choices, add an extra $5-10 (in case you want another coffee or soda!), add Florida's 6.5% sales tax, and add your 10-20% tip for the waiter. This should give you an upper-ended estimate for what the meal will cost. Hopefully you'll come in under budget this way, but you'll have padded the budget just in case. Plug in these costs to your Budget Worksheet.

Step 4: Meal Planning
(Skip if you're eating out all meals!) Check out my previous post about {Bringing Your Meals}, and decide what you'll have for each of your meals that you plan to pack yourself. Whether it's granola for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, or staying in and cooking rice and beans for dinner, figure out what you'll be having! Plug that into your Meal Planner and fill out your Shopping List accordingly. For meals that I'm bringing, I plug in the total amount for the groceries into one of the rows on my Budget Worksheet (or you can divide the total grocery cost by the number of meals you bring and plug that total into each row where you're bringing that meal... you're call!). 

Step 5: Cutting Costs
A few ideas to cut costs down during your trip...
  • bring your own snacks to the park 
  • bring a reusable non-glass water bottle and refill it at the water fountains
  • skip the sodas at meals and opt for water (which is generally free of charge, or at least cheaper)
  • skip desserts and appetizers, or share one amongst the whole table
  • Quick Service restaurants will be cheaper than Table Service restaurants, and no tip needed!
  • lunch at Table Service restaurants will be cheaper than dinner (and often the same or similar menus)

Nothing too complicated here today, but I wanted to show you step by step how I figure out where to eat our meals! Hope this helped a bit :) Check back tomorrow when I'll be starting my Insider Info mini series and sharing transportation tips about getting around WDW once you're there!

23 October 2012

31 Days:: Dining at Animal Kingdom

{Dining Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Dining at the Animal Kingdom! Animal Kingdom has the fewest number of dining options out of all the Disney parks. That doesn't mean they're any less wonderful! In fact, since Animal Kingdom has the different themed countries, they have authentic cuisine from those countries! So let's get started with breakfast...

lunch at Yak & Yeti

Breakfast at Animal Kingdom
We usually grab breakfast before we come to the park, but I know there's a character breakfast with Donald and friends at the Tusker House, located in Africa, if you want to give it a try! It's a flat rate, all you can eat buffet.

Lunch at Animal Kingdom
Our favorite, hands down, for lunch (or dinner) is definitely Yak & Yeti! Located in Asia, it's Pan-Asian, so think of Chinese or Thai food, stir fry, tempura... we've always gotten something different there and it's always amazing! If you can get an upstairs seat by the window, it can be a great place to watch the afternoon parade from too!

Dinner at Animal Kingdom
Since the park can close early, a great option for dinner is the Rainforest Cafe, located right at the entrance to the park. It's hours I believe operate slightly independently of the park, so even if Animal Kingdom is closed for the day, you can still get a seating there.

Snacks at Animal Kingdom
Our go-to place to stop for a quick beverage or pastry is Kusafiri Coffee Shop & Bakery, located in Africa. Another place we may stop this year is Restaurantosaurus, located in DinoLand- they look to have some yummy sounding quick service meals there. There's tons of carts around the park where you can grab fruit, water, or an ice cream bar! Another place that typically gets rave reviews is Flame Tree BBQ, located on Discovery Island (we just haven't been there since I'm vegetarian- not much for me to snack on!!).

As I mentioned, Animal Kingdom doesn't have as many sit down restaurants here, so I'm about done for today's post! Check back tomorrow where I'll share how I use my meal planning trackers and go about choosing where/what we're eating throughout our trip!

22 October 2012

31 Days:: Dining at Hollywood Studios

{Dining Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Dining at the Hollywood Studios! There are fewer restaurant options here, but they're some really good ones! So let's start with where we like to eat for breakfast...

gluten-free pizzas at Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano

Breakfast at Hollywood Studios
We like to keep it lighter for breakfast, so we head to our favorite little bakery, Starring Rolls Cafe, at the corner of Hollywood and Sunset Blvd. It has coffee, pastries, fruit, sandwiches, pastries, muffins, pastries.. you get the gist ;) Perfect place to grab a quick bit before heading off to see the shows and rides!

Lunch/Dinner at Hollywood Studios
There's a few fabulous places that we like to grab either lunch or dinner at here!

  • The Hollywood Brown Derby- an old favorite of ours located on Hollywood Blvd near the big sorcerer's hat. If you've ever been to the original in California, this is nearly an exact replica! Very neat place, and often a line, so make reservations in advance. The food is super top-notch from appetizers to main course to dessert. The desserts can be quite elaborate, and their grapefruit cake is legendary! I'll admit, unfortunately we had a lackluster chef the last time, so my vegetarian gluten-free meal was a little bland, so we're shelving this restaurant to revisit later. In the past though, my vegetarian meals (pre-gluten-free days) were spectacular! 
  • Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano- located on the far side of the Streets of America, fantastic Italian fare, some of the best gluten-free pizza I've ever had, this is our new go-to eatery at the park!

signature grapefruit cake at the Hollywood Brown Derby

Snacking at Hollywood Studios
If you're walking down Sunset Blvd, down towards Tower of Terror, the whole left-hand side of the street is like a street market, with tons of little quick service eateries and tons of tables- with foods ranging from fruit and turkey legs to veggie burgers and margaritas. Back near the Studio Backlot Tour at the end of Streets of America, there's Studio Catering which is a fine quick service eatery with your standard salads, wraps, and sandwiches and an abundance of tables. Min and Bill's Dockside Diner located on Echo Lake is a great place to get a milkshake!

That's all that I can think of for today, so come on back tomorrow when we'll be dining at the Animal Kingdom! :)

21 October 2012

31 Days:: Dining at Epcot

{Dining Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Dining at Epcot! There are a myriad of delicious restaurants at Epcot! The countries in the World Showcase are home to authentic cuisine from their respective countries. So let's just jump right in with where we like to eat for breakfast...

sushi at Tokyo Dining 

Breakfast at Epcot
We haven't eaten breakfast at Epcot before, but we've eaten near Epcot, hehe! As you enter into Epcot, right after you get through the security lines, hang a left and hop the monorail line that goes to the resorts. We take that to the Polynesian Resort and eat at Kona Cafe. It's slightly Polynesian themed food (go figure!) and super amazing! DH loves their french press Kona coffee and I love the pineapple macadamia nut pancakes! Another place we like to grab breakfast is at Kouzinna on the Boardwalk. To get there, you head into the World Showcase to the International Gateway. From there you can walk or catch a water taxi over to the Boardwalk. Kouzinna is Cat Cora's restaurant, the Iron Chef from Food Network! It's Greek/Mediterranean themed food with beautiful atmosphere. Wether you're in your Sunday best or coming in flip flops and shorts from the park, you'll be welcomed and find yourself amidst some fabulous food!

Lunch at Epcot
Keeping things light at lunch, we like to hit up Sunshine Seasons, located in The Land pavilion in Future World. There are a wide range of food offered here at this quick service location- from mongolian grill to fresh soups and salads, from sandwiches to stir fry! Try to hit an early or late lunch here as the foot traffic can get pretty hectic at prime eating hours.

Dinner at Epcot
We are really looking forward to eating at the Coral Reef Restaurant in The Seas pavilion in Future World. One wall is a beautiful salt water reef tank with tropical fish! No surprise, it specializes in seafood :) Another neat eatery is The Garden Grill in The Land pavilion in Future World. It is a rotating restaurant that overlooks part of Living with the Land ride! It's a flat rate buffet featuring a Thanksgiving dinner meal served family style at your table. Much of the food is grown right there in The Land pavilion!
Heading over to the World Showcase, there are a number of great places to eat as well! Tokyo Dining was a favorite before I went gluten-free. They have wonderful sushi, tempura, and hibachi. A current favorite is the Rose & Crown Pub & Dining Room located in the UK pavilion. You can only make reservations for the dining room there the day of, and it is usually only open for dinner. You can make reservations around opening time in the evening by going to the booth located to the left of the pub. The dining room has indoor and outdoor seating, but they do not take requests at the time of booking. If you're lucky enough to be eating when the evening Illuminations show is occurring, they usually hold your food so you can watch the show (if you're indoors) or you have a front row seat if you're seated outdoors! Truly one of the best places to view the show in all the park! Tutto Italia Ristorante was another amazing eatery, located in the Italy pavilion. True fine dining, you'll get the white glove treatment regardless if you come in your Sunday best or flip flop and shorts. Fabulous food from appetizers through dessert and coffee!

Werther's Karamell-Kuche treats
Snacks and Dessert at Epcot
Stop by Tangierine Cafe in Morocco for some quick service snacks or coffee. In Germany, you can grab a bratwurst to-go at Sommerfest. Our two favorite places to grab a pastry are Boulangerie Patisserie in the France pavilion and Werther's Karamell-Kuche inside Germany's shops!

So those are my top picks for eating at Epcot! Tomorrow I'll be back to talk about food at Hollywood Studios, so I hope to see you then!

20 October 2012

31 Days:: Dining at the Magic Kingdom

{Dining Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Dining at the Magic Kingdom! Our family's two favorite restaurants are in the Magic Kingdom- The Crystal Palace and Liberty Tree Tavern. Yum yum yum! So with that said, let's start with where we like to eat for breakfast...

full plate at Liberty Tree Tavern

Breakfast at Magic
The Crystal Palace! This is a flat rate, all you can eat buffet, complete with characters- Winnie the Pooh and crew :) They come around to each table and you can take photos and interact with them, and I believe there was even a "conga line" with them last time we visited!

Lunch at Magic
We usually hit up a quick serve place for a light lunch. We liked Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe- just your standard burgers, wraps, and salads- but they have a top notch fixin's bar.

Dinner at Magic
Liberty Tree Tavern! Oh. My. Word. Delish! It's a flat fee, all you can eat "Thanksgiving-ish" dinner. It's served family style at your table, so you can help yourself to however much you'd like of each dish. You start off with rolls and amazing honey butter, followed by a salad with the most amazing berry vinaigrette. During one visit, I actually had a whole meal of just the salad and gluten-free rolls with honey butter! The main meal is turkey, beef, pork, veggies, mac n cheese- yum! The traditional dessert is a craisin/apple pie a'la mode.

Snacks and Dessert at Magic
Ah! There's two great places here that come to mind! Main Street Bakery has a whole buffet line of treats to choose from, including the piled-high-with-icing cupcakes that you'll find all over WDW. Also there's Plaza Ice Cream Parlor which has fabulous ice cream. You'll find both of these places nestled in along Main Street. And if you want to experience a signature Disney treat, hit up Aloha Isle in Adventureland for some Dole Whips!

So those are my top picks for eating at the Magic Kingdom! Tomorrow I'll be back to talk about food at Epcot- one of the best places for dining!

19 October 2012

31 Days:: Eating at the Parks

{Dining Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Eating at the Parks! There's so many wonderful restaurants, you could easily eat every meal there for a month without ever repeating a restaurant! For Florida residents, Disney Vacation Club members, and Season/Annual Passholders, there's even a program called "Tables in Wonderland" where you can get complimentary parking and discounted meals! You can check out more about that program {here}.

gluten-free Alfredo from Wolfgang Puck Cafe in the West Side

Quick Service and Table Service
There are two types of restaurants at the park- quick service and table service. Quick Service is pretty much like a take-out place- cheaper, basic menus, you walk up to the counter and order, take your food with you on a tray, and find a table in the dining area. Table Service is like a standard restaurant- a bit more pricey, extensive menu, you're seated, and there's a waiter who orders and brings your food. Each resort and park has a mix of both types of restaurants to best suit your needs and budget.

Disney Dining Plan
If you're staying at a Disney resort, you can purchase a Disney Dining Plan (DDP). We did this one year that we stayed on-property, and it was really convenient- just hand your server your "Key to the World" {aka. your room key} and tell them you're on the DDP. Then all you do is sign the check and leave a tip. There are different types of plans- Quick Service only meals, combination of Quick Service and Table Service meals, Meals and Drinks, etc. The different meal plans are {here on the Disney website}- there you can view which restaurants participate in the DDP. This may help you decide whether it is worth it for your family to purchase. We did not do a great job of keeping track of our meals, and so we actually didn't use all of our snacks or Quick Service meals, thus we lost money- so make sure you use them all up!! :)

I actually saved my receipts to see if it was worth it- if you pick some of the priciest sit down table service restaurants, it can definitely save you money. We are actually holding off eating at some of the upper end restaurants this trip, waiting until we stay on property again to take advantage of the DDP. I will admit though, it does add to the Disney experience :)

Be sure to check out what (if any) promotions are running when you book your stay at a Disney resort- often they're offering a free Disney Dining Plan on non-discounted resort stays, in which case- definitely do it!! I know I would :)

Coffee and ice cream at Ghirardelli's in DD

Advanced Dining Reservations (ADR)
For most any Table Service restaurant, you really want to make reservations- especially if you're visiting when the parks are more crowded. Reservations can be made starting 180 days in advance of your dining date, and if you're staying at a Disney resort, you can make them 190 days in advance. There are a few dining experiences that you generally have to call exactly 180 days in advance, as they fill up very quickly (ie. Cinderella's Royal Table or Chef's Table at Victoria's & Albert's). Some restaurants do require a credit card to hold a reservation, and you will be charged if you do not show up or do not cancel within a required time frame.

To make a reservation via the phone...
  • call (407) WDW-DINE
  • NOTE: have your credit card handy if need be 

To make a reservation online...
  • create an account on the Disney website, then 
  • go to any restaurant's page on the Disney website and click on "Make a Reservation"
  • OR go to the {Reservations webpage} and search for a restaurant
To make a reservation on your iPhone app...
  • select your park of choice
  • click on "Dining"
  • then click on "Make a Reservation" 
  • OR click on "Browse Restaurants in the Park," then select a restaurant and click "Make a Reservation"
  • NOTE: reservations that require a credit card must be made online or via the phone
AllEars has an excellent FAQ page all about Advanced Reservations, so please feel free to check it out {here online}. Another great FAQ page can be found {here on WDWInfo}.

Disney's cupcakes with mile-high-frosting!

Meal Times
When booking meal times, if you're able, I'd strongly recommend either eating early or late lunches and dinners- that's what we do. If you eat lunch before 12:00 noon or after 2:00 PM, you'll find the restaurants less crowded. This means you're more likely to get seated without a reservation, have shorter wait times for your table and for your food, and of course a less crowded eating atmosphere! If you eat dinner before 6:00 PM or after 8:00 PM, it will be less crowded as well. We very often eat lunch around 11 AM and dinner around 4:30 PM, and it has worked out beautifully! This is a useful tip also if you're worried about younger children disturbing other eating patrons- just try and avoid the peak eating times if you can. I've made our reservations for non-peak times whenever possible, just in case our then 9 month old gets a little fussy :)

Food Allergies
For many with food allergies, Disney World is a safe haven for vacation like no other! They practically bend over backwards to accommodate food allergies and lifestyle diets (kosher, vegetarian, no sugar, etc). They do not have separate kitchens, so people with very severe allergies may not be able to be adequately accommodated, but they often have separate friers (for gluten-free french fries) or separate waffle irons to avoid allergens as best as possible. On Disney's website {here}, they share more about dietary requests and needs. 

I'll be talking a little more later in the month about how I decide when and where to eat! Tomorrow we'll be talking about restaurants in the Magic Kingdom, so stay tuned :)

18 October 2012

31 Days:: Bringing your Meals

{Dining Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Bringing your Meals! When bringing your meals to the parks, take a look first {here on the Disney website} at their official policy on food brought with you. Let's start off with a free shopping list printable, decked out just for Disney!

{printable list here}

There's a few ideas for bringing food with you down to Disney...
  • driving: bring cooler of your own food
  • plane/train/shuttles: bring pre-made non-refridgerator foods in your luggage
  • drive/car rental: head to the supermarket once you arrive (and meal plan ahead of time!) 
We like to bring food in our checked bags, and this trip we'll have a rental car and there's a supermarket right next to our resort, so we'll meal plan before we head down and purchase foods there. If you buy food there, I'd strongly recommend meal planning ahead of time- we winged it our first trip and ended up throwing away a lot of food.

If you bring your meals to the park, there are locker rentals located near the entrance to each park where you could leave your cooler until meal time. One less thing to lug around the parks all day, but factor in enough time to head to the front of the park to grab your meals (not ideal if you're tight on time because you want to catch the afternoon parade!).

What to Eat? 
Where you'll be staying and what type of kitchen facilities (or lack thereof) that you'll have access to, that will mostly determine what foods you might bring with you to Disney. Here are some ideas for different types of foods that could travel well...

Easy To Prepare In A Standard Hotel Room
  • granola
  • trail mix or GORP
  • oatmeal packets
  • grits packets
  • dry cereals
  • apples, oranges, and other non-refrigerator-necessary fruits
  • PB&J fixins
  • bread (just surround it with clothes or put it in a box to cushion it during travels)
  • nutella
  • tomatoes, bananas, and some other softer fruits (I'd put them in a container to protect them from bruising and contain any juice leakage!)
If You Have A Kitchenette
  • rice
  • quinoa
  • canned veggies, fruits, soups, etc
  • beans (canned or dry)
Supermarket Shopping Upon Arrival
Again, I'd recommend menu planning ahead of time so that you don't over buy food like we did! Some items you could pre-package and bring with you to avoid buying a large container at the supermarket and throw away much of it at the end of your trip! Here are some ideas...
  • spice packets- put together all of the spices you'll need for each meal in a baggie, this way you're not buying a bunch of spice containers there just to use for a week, and you also don't have to skip adding spices to your meals and have bland meals all week!
  • bring half, buy half- for example, if you're making rice & beans, bring the pre-measured rice in a baggie with you, but save space in your suitcase by buying the beans at the supermarket
  • condiments- sugar, salt, and any other items that you use in smaller quantities
  • water bottle- if you don't like tap water, bring a reusable water bottle and buy jugs of water at the supermarket to refill your bottle, cheaper than buying a flat of disposable water bottles
  • extra water bottles- leave the ice packs at home, instead fill up a spare water bottle or two and pop it in the freezer overnight, when you head to the parks the following day use the frozen water bottle for an ice pack, it will keep your meal cold but be melted enough to provide a nice cold beverage with lunch!
  • tea & coffee- bring a few tea bags, pre-measure loose leaf tea into a baggie and toss in a measuring spoon along with some loose leaf tea bags, pre-grind your coffee and toss in a baggie with a measuring spoon, and bring your own coffee filters! 

Where to Eat? 
Below, I'll suggest some options for each meal. You can, of course, bring every meal to the parks or eat every meal back at the resort. In our opinion, we like to mix and match- bring some meals and buy some meals! That's just us, so here are some other options we'd recommend for each meal!

BREAKFAST suggestions....
  • at the resort before you leave for the parks
  • at a park restaurant, many of the breakfasts are buffet-style and feature characters!
LUNCH suggestions...
  • brought with you and enjoyed in one of the Quiet Places I'll share later in the month, if you eat at non-peak lunch time, you could always grab a free table at any of the quick service eateries too
  • enjoyed back at your resort for a mid-day break from the parks
  • "on-the-go" as some light snacks or snacking throughout the day
  • park restaurant (often the same menu as dinner, but cheaper)
  • grab a seat for the afternoon parade about 30-45 minutes early, you'll have a prime viewing location and finish up eating just in time to enjoy the entertainment!
DINNER suggestions...
  • park restaurant (if you don't mind the cost), we like to take a break after a long day on our feet and have dinner as a sit down meal. Especially if this is the only meal we eat at the parks that day, we think it's worth the slightly higher cost.
  • at the resort after you leave the parks, and you can always return to the parks for the evening shows or parades
  • brought with you and enjoyed in one of the Quiet Places I'll share later in the month, if you eat at non-peak dinner time, you could always grab a free table at any of the quick service eateries too

I hope these suggestions and ideas help you consider what to do if you plan to bring your own food either to Florida and/or to the parks! Check back in tomorrow when I talk about our favorite meal places at Magic Kingdom! Hope to see you then :)

17 October 2012

31 Days:: Meal Planning Trackers

{Dining Series}
Welcome to today's topic: Meal Planning Trackers! Today I'll be sharing two printable trackers that I find are very useful for planning out your meals. These trackers will be most useful once you've decided whether you'll be bringing your meals, eating at the parks, or a mix of both. Over the next week or so, I'll be sharing about my favorite meal spots at the parks, as well as sharing some of the perks of bringing your meals. I'll wrap up the mini "Dining Series" with how I use these trackers to actually meal plan before heading on vacation!

Tracker 1:: Bring/Buy
Most useful if you'll be mostly bringing your meals to the parks or a combination of bringing/eating out.
In the Meals column, I write down what we're having or where we're going for that meal... ie. rice and beans or Be Our Guest Restaurant. If we're eating in or bringing that meal, I put an "x" through the Time and Confirm# columns. If we're eating out that meal, I fill in our reservation time and confirmation number in those columns! The Notes column I may use to jot down what park we'll be at that day or order# if we have to pick up tickets in the park (ie. Dining With Shamu tickets at Sea World) or maybe write down the Quiet Place where we want to eat our meal that we brought with us to the parks that day. Here's a sneak peek of how I'm using this tracker for our upcoming trip...

Tracker 2:: In Park Eating
Most useful if you're going to be eating mostly at the parks. This tracker has room for your reservation numbers. It also has an area to track what type of meal you're using (Quick Service or Table Service), which will be useful to have if you're on the Disney Dining Plan (more info about that on the 19th!).

In the yellow column, I write down which day of the trip it is, the date, and perhaps what park we'll be going to that day. Then I fill in our restaurant names and confirmation numbers for each meal. In the grey column, I fill in what time our meal reservation is, and if we're on the Disney Dining Plan, I plug in a "Q" or "T" to keep track of our Quick Service meals and Table Service meals. If there was an evening show we were hoping to catch (and make sure we planned our meals with enough time to stake out a good seat for said show!), I filled that in in the last columns along with the showtime(s). Here's an example of how I used this meal tracker on our last trip...

If you have any questions about these trackers, would like a customized version, or would even like an Excel spreadsheet version to fill in on your own computer, please leave a comment or send me an email!! Check back in tomorrow when I'll be sharing some tips about bringing your meals to the parks!