Planning your trip — Two months before arrival

Planning your trip - Two months before arrival

Last time we covered things to do six months before you arrive in Disney World. Unlike six months out, two months out you have two things you need to keep in mind.

First, you can customize and order your Magic Bands if you’re staying on property. If you aren’t staying on property, you can purchase a Magic Band for $12.95 plus tax at any of the parks or Downtown Disney once you arrive. For those ordering their Magic Bands online, you can pick your color and customize the text inside the Magic Band through My Disney Experience.

Customize Magic Band

Customizing your Magic Band is easy. You get to choose from seven colors, and you can add up to 9 characters inside your band. We’ve always put our names on the inside, but you can use any combination of letters, numbers, and spaces. Your Magic Bands should ship around 30 days before your arrival date. Unboxing the Magic Bands is too fun. I’m already looking forward to it.

In addition to your Magic Bands, you can also make your Fastpass+ reservations starting 60 days before your check-in date, starting at midnight Eastern Time. So for example, if your checkin date is Oct 1st, you can make your Fastpass+ reservations at midnight Eastern Time on Aug 2nd. Login to My Disney Experience and find the Fastpass+ section on the main page.

Fastpass+

You should be able to make up to 10 days of Fastpass+ reservations starting 60 days from your check-in date, just like dining reservations. I wasn’t sure about how the Fastpass+ reservations worked, so I contacted a friendly Cast Member via chat on My Disney Experience, and Mariah was very helpful.

Before you arrive, you can make three Fastpass+ reservations per day. You cannot have two Fastpass+ reservations for the same time, and you cannot choose attractions from multiple parks. You also cannot make advanced reservations for the same attraction more than once a day. Once you are at the park, you can make additional Fastpass+ reservations one at a time after you have used your first three, and if you are using Park Hopper you can make reservations in a different park. Your additional reservations can only be made at an kiosk. You cannot make additional selections using the mobile app.

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I suggest figuring out what Fastpass+ reservations you want before your reservation time arrives. Some attractions run out of Fastpass+ slots very quickly. I’ve heard of folks not being able to get a reservation for Anna & Elsa at Princess Fairy Tale Hall just a minute or two after the reservations opened. So depending on what you want, you may have to be fast.

Since you can make additional reservations after you’ve used your first three, I would also encourage you to choose times earlier in the day if you want to maximize your Fastpass+ usage.

I think that’s about it. 60 days out is the last really important time before your trip. After that, sit back, and try to relax until your trip arrives. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty hard for me.

What did I forget? What other tips do you have for making your Fastpass+ reservations?

Planning your trip — Six months before arrival

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The truth about us is that we’re always planning our next Disney vacation. We’re talking about where we’re going to eat next year while we’re walking through the park. But there are still important dates you will want to keep track of as your Disney vacation approaches. We usually book our vacation about seven months ahead. We always travel in September, and we had our reservations by early March. Once you have your reservations, you want to make note of the date that’s 180 days before your check-in date. That is when you are eligible to make dining reservations. If you’re like me, you’ll have someone make your dining reservations for you. Hi Ho Vacations is our travel agency of choice, and they’ve consistently done a great job getting us exactly what we want for dining.

Sanaa

If you’re staying at a Disney resort (not including the Swan and Dolphin), you can make up to 10 days of dining reservations 180 days from your arrival date. Off-site guests will only be able to make reservations within 180 days of the current day. Add this to the list of reasons we love to stay on site! You can make your reservations online or by phone at (407) 939-1947.

The food is one of our favorite parts of the trip. We’ve never gone to Disney without advance dining reservations (ADRs), and I can’t imagine traveling without them. Sit down restaurants tend to be busy all the time, even during the “slow” times of year. If there’s a sit down you don’t want to miss, I have to recommend a reservation. One nice thing about traveling as a couple is that you can often get a table even at the most in demand restaurants.

Reservations for many sit down restaurants require a credit card guarantee, and you will be charged if you miss your reservation. You have until 11:59 PM EST the day before your reservation to cancel without being charged.

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You could spend hours reading suggestions on where to eat at Disney. Sanaa, Chef Mickey’s, and Be Our Guest are some of our favorites. Don’t forget resort restaurants when you’re making your selections. Downtown Disney has some fantastic restaurants, too.

Want to know when you can make your dining reservations? You can use the widget below to find the date that’s 180 days before your arrival.

Dining can be one of the most enjoyable parts of your trip, and with a little planning, your dining reservations don’t have to be stressful. What are some of your favorite restaurants? Do you usually make dining reservations ahead of time?

Talking Mickey Now Greeting at Town Square in Magic Kingdom

I have a confession. On our last trip, I didn’t stop by and see Mickey at Town Square. Since Minnie moved to Storybook Circus, I decided to skip seeing Mickey on his own at Magic Kingdom. I know, it’s probably a felony or something. If it helps at all, I saw Mickey twice at Epcot. But next trip, you will definitely find me at Town Square, because now, Mickey can talk.

Mickey isn’t answering guest questions, yet, but you can see him in action in this video from Disney.

Will you be stopping to see talking Mickey on your next trip? What do you think of this new character interaction. I wonder how this will evolve. Will we eventually be talking with all characters, not just the faced characters?

Port Orleans Riverside — Scenic and Relaxing

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Just this past Thursday, we returned from our anniversary celebration at Disney. This year, we stayed at Port Orleans Riverside, a moderate Disney resort. We’d not stayed at Port Orleans previously. A friend had stayed at French Quarter some years ago and had nice things to say. Riverside is themed to Princess and the Frog. Tiana could be found in the artwork on the headboards. The family checking in next to us received a special letter from Tiana for their girls. The theming is relatively subtle, but I really liked it.

We had a Standard View room with two queen beds. Our room was on the bottom floor, and it looked out on, well, not a whole lot. But we kept the blinds closed generally anyhow, since we were on the bottom floor, and there were people walking by frequently.

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The room was plenty big. The armoire was a perfect place to stash our suitcases. There was a space for a fridge, but no fridge. We would have used a fridge, because did order a case of water, but it really wasn’t a problem for us that there wasn’t a fridge. I’d heard you could request one if you needed it. I ended up putting our dirty clothes bag in the fridge spot, so it worked out fine. 🙂

The thing that I really loved about Riverside was the absolutely beautiful grounds. There were gazebos, fountains, beautiful flowers, and of course the river. It was a great place to walk around. And it was incredibly quiet. When we were walking around the grounds, we felt like we owned the place. It was very peaceful.

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Transportation was not an issue. There were four bus stops throughout Riverside. We’d requested a room close to transportation, and that worked out very well for us. It was a short walk to the East bus depot. I’ve read some complaints that busses were slow to come at Riverside, but we did not experience any issues. There’s a boat that will take you to Downtown Disney. We didn’t take advantage of that, but it seemed very convenient.

There’s no shortage of pools at Riverside if that’s your thing. The main pool looked amazing. I thought the water slide looked liked lots of fun. And there was another pool right outside our room. We aren’t big pool people, so we didn’t take advantage of any of the pools, but they looked terrific.

If you’re looking for a moderate resort, I think that Riverside is a great choice for couples. It’s a beautiful resort. I thought the gazebos and fountains were particularly romantic. I also appreciated that we couldn’t hear the people in the rooms next to us. That hasn’t been true in other moderate resorts where we’ve stayed.

Have you ever stayed at Riverside before? What’s your favorite moderate resort?

Anna and Elsa from Frozen Meet and Greet

Photo Courtesy Disney Parks Blog

Photo Courtesy Disney Parks Blog

I don’t know about you, but I’m very excited for Disney’s newest movie, Frozen that’s being released November 27th.

Starting early November, Anna and her sister Elsa will be appearing at both Disneyland and Disney World. They will appear in Fantasyland at Disneyland and at the Norway pavilion at Epcot. According to the official Disney Parks Blog, other Frozen characters are not presently scheduled for meet and greets in the parks.

If they add more characters, I’d like to see Olaf. I think he’d be super cute. Who would you like to see?

Five Reasons We Always Stay on Disney Property

Five Reasons We Always Stay on Disney Property

We’ve stayed on Disney property for each of our past trips, and we’re staying on property again this trip. I looked a bit at staying off property before we booked our trip this year, but there were five big reasons that kept us on Disney property:

5.) Resort Hotel Delivery — If you are able to go to Disney and not shop, please tell me your secret. I can’t do it. I love to bring little souvenirs home for myself and my friends. But I hate lugging them around! Resort Hotel Delivery to the rescue. If you stay on property, you can have your purchases delivered to the gift shop at your resort and pick them up at your convenience.

4.) Key to the World Card — Your room key is a lot more than a room key when you stay on Disney property. Your room key is also your park tickets and your credit card! All I have to carry with me in the park is my ID and my Key to the World. Oh, and my Photopass card.

3.) Dining Plan — We’ve been lucky enough to always get free dining with our vacation. And I am crazy about the Dining Plan. We have eaten at places we likely wouldn’t have eaten otherwise. I’m quite certain you can eat cheaper than the cost of the Dining Plan, but I definitely think you’ll eat better with the Dining Plan.

2.) Transportation to the Parks — We never rent a car when we go to Orlando. Disney makes it incredibly convenient (surprise, surprise) to get to all things Disney when you stay on property. Depending on where you stay, you’ll be able to take the monorail, ferry, or bus to the parks or Downtown Disney. Getting between the resorts generally requires a stop at a park, but it’s not hard to get around. Busses can be full at night, but I really love not having to rent a car.

1.) Magical Express — Magical Express is the best and the worst ride at Disney. The Magical Express gets you between the airport and your resort in style and comfort. Is it sad that I love the cartoons they show? Because I really do. The only bad part is going back to the airport.

Bonus reason: Extra Magic Hours — This is a perk we actually haven’t used a ton, but not because it isn’t a nice perk. Each day, a park is open an hour early or two hours late for Disney Resort guests. The morning hours are really nice. The parks don’t tend to be super crowded when the parks open early. The later hours can sometimes be busier.

What about you? Do you stay on property? Do you have an off property location you love?

Character Palooza — Hollywood Studios Character Meet & Greet

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There’s a joke between Joshua and me about my love for the characters:

Shawna: Let’s go get in line to see Wilderness Donald!
Joshua: Where’s Wilderness Donald?
Shawna: Around the corner behind the tree.
(This isn’t actually a joke.)

It’s called my character radar. So when I first read about Character Palooza at Hollywood Studios, I could hardly believe it. Character Palooza is a character meet and greet experience that you won’t find on the times guides. If you ask a cast member about it, you’ll get a fairly vague answer, in my experience. But if you love the characters, it’s worth tracking down.

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The schedule for Character Palooza is fairly complicated. Kenny the Pirate has an extensive discussion of which nights you’ll find a Character Palooza and where you’ll find it. What you won’t know is which characters you’ll find. Sometimes there are two Character Paloozas, sometimes one, sometimes none. So consult Kenny’s schedule to see if you should expect a Character Palooza during your visit.

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The thing that I just love about Charcter Palooza is that you’ll likely seem some fairly rare characters. While I’ve heard that you might see Minnie or Goofy, in my experience I’ve seen characters I didn’t often see elsewhere. One night, we got there a bit too late, and all the lines were closed, but I could at least see who was there, and it was awesome! Genie, Tweedledee & Tweedledum, and Bolt were a few of the highlights. Some of the characters I’ve actually met at Character Palooza include Meeko, The Queen of Hearts, Queen Grimhilde, and my absolute most very favorite ever—Jafar!

The lines tend to be relatively short, so you’ll likely be able to see many characters in a fairly brief period. Because the crowds are small, you can also sometimes have an extended interaction with the characters. I got to speak with Queen Grimhilde for quite some time, because there was no one else waiting for her.

Queen Grimhilde

Note that in my experience, you won’t find a Photopass photographer at Character Palooza, so be sure to bring your own camera. The character handlers are always very willing to take photos.

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Have you ever been to a Character Palooza? Which character would you love to see? I’ve yet to meet Genie. He’s on the top of my list for our next trip (which is just a few weeks away!).

Disney Rose Gardens

Hello, Joshua here. I’m a bit of a rose fanatic and when we went to Disney World for the first time in many years, I had to stop and smell the roses!

Hidden in plain sight near the base of Cinderella Castle, to the right of the circle toward Tomorrowland, is an horticultural treasure. In 1980, Disney opened a rose garden intended as a tribute to the All-American Rose Selections (AARS) breeders and judges. The garden was so successful that in 1985, AARS presented Disney with a plaque:

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When we visited Disney World, I had to walk through the gardens and snapped a few quick pictures. This was an especially nice Sweet Surrender hybrid tea.

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Disney has grown their roses on a special rootstock. Rose grafts aren’t too pretty but the Rosa fortuniana rootstock does help them thrive in the warm Florida sun.

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If you have a green thumb and would like to bring some Disney home, there is a Disneyland floribunda rose that grows in many regions of the US. My rose garden is full at the moment (Anyone else have that problem?), but I may have to find a way to squeeze one of these in.

A few additional links:

Is Park Hopper Right for You?

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Tickets can be one of your biggest expenses when it comes to a Disney trip. A 5-day base ticket will run you $300 a person. That’s more than we paid for our plane tickets for our next trip. So it’s important that you pick the right type of tickets for you. There are two primary options: park hopper and base tickets. Base tickets allow you to visit one park per day. And no, you can’t buy additional days to go to more than one park in a day. The computer system won’t allow it. Park Hopper tickets allow you to “hop” between any number of parks in the same day. Park hopper is a flat $59 fee per ticket for all multi-day tickets. Park Hopper costs the same for a 2 day base ticket or a 10 day base ticket, $59.

So how do you know if Park Hopper is right for you? This is one of the most discussed issues when it comes to Disney park tickets. There are some obvious benefits to Park hopper. Get sick of Animal Kingdom? Head over to Epcot for the evening. Want to have dinner at Crystal Palace, but dying for lunch at Pizza Planet? No problem. Or you could head over for the early rope drop at Magic Kindom at 8am, then party at Epcot until midnight with Extra Magic Hours. It doesn’t sound too bad. And I don’t think it is.

But we don’t actually buy Park Hopper tickets. We’re one park a day kinda folks. For one, I can’t do 16 hours straight in the parks. I’m about beat after 10 hours. (Does this mean I’m getting old? I digress….) We really like that our Animal Kingdom day tends to end a little earlier and we get to bum around the hotel or Downtown Disney. That evening could be a good time to visit a resort restaurant.

So is Park Hopper right for you? I’m not sure I’m able to answer such a hotly contested question. 🙂 I think it depends highly on what you want to do. I would suggest waiting until you actually get to the parks to decide. You can add Park Hopper onto your ticket anytime. I also suggest contacting Hi Ho Vacations if you’re not sure. The experts there can help you figure out what will best meet your needs, and their service is entirely free. (I don’t get anything for telling you about Hi Ho Vacations. I’m just too crazy about them to keep them to myself.)

What We Pack in Our Backpack

What's in our backpack

What’s in our backpack

When we first went to Disney, I carried everything in my purse. It was fine, but I always lugged everything. And I don’t generally carry a huge bag, so I sometimes felt like I couldn’t bring what I wanted to bring. So after our first year, we decided to bring a backpack instead. And now I leave my purse in the room. Here’s what we pack up in our backpack before we leave for the parks.

Sunscreen — This is my #1 item. If I didn’t bring anything else, I’d have sunscreen. The Orlando sun can be brutal, and sunscreen in the park will run you upwards of $15 a bottle! Bring it with you, and don’t forget to apply it. Nothing is worse than ruining your vacation by getting a painful sunburn your first day.

Hats — Not only does my Safari Minnie hat shield my face from sunburn, it also looks super awesome because it has Minnie Mouse on it!

Sunglasses — Have I mentioned the Orlando sun? Because the Orlando sun can be brutal.

Plastic zip-top bags — We’ll put our cell phones into a plastic bag when we’re on rides like Splash Mountain. You don’t want to ruin your phone on a water ride.

Ponchos — In case you didn’t know, it rains in Florida. Sometimes, it rains a lot. Ponchos at Disney cost a fortune. We got our ponchos at Meijer before our first Disney trip for less than $10 total. They have been a life saver every year.

Pain reliever — Don’t let a midday headache ruin your vacation. One Excedrin can go an awfully long way.

Portable phone charger — We got a portable phone charger that runs on batteries to bring with us to the parks. We take lots of pictures and use the Disney phone apps for things like wait times. That can take a toll on your phone battery. It’s great to be able to throw it in the bag and get it charged up.

Hand sanitizer — But Shawna, it’s not in the picture! I know… I realized that after I’d put everything away. Please don’t judge me. You can find hand sanitizer dispensers in the park, but a little bottle doesn’t weigh much.

And a note about the actual bag. We use a very light drawstring bag, because we don’t want it to weigh a ton. The bag with all the goodies inside weighs less than 2 lbs. Joshua is kind enough to wear it most of the time, but we do take turns.

Am I forgetting anything? What do you bring to the parks?