Showing posts with label Disney World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Disney World. Show all posts

Top 5 Memorable Family Vacations

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Ohana at Disney World

The kids are out of school and you are looking for a family vacation that will make lasting memories. You know the kind, the ones you will talk about at Thanksgiving 20+ years from now.  Over the past decade, since my son was 4 years old, our family has been blessed to visit many memorable places during our travels. Read on to learn about our family’s top 5 memorable family vacations. 

Disney World in Two Days


I have always wondered what it would be like to travel to Disney World when it was not at peak travel times. Since my husband and I are both teachers, we usually travel during the busiest (read most expensive) times to travel. As luck would have it my son's school had a three day weekend for Mother's Day 2016. We took advantage of this rare holiday in early May & booked a vacation to Disney World.  I have to say it was a great Mother's Day gift! 
Magic Kingdom
Once the trip was decided, the question that came to mind was, can we visit Disney World in JUST 2 days?  Is it possible? All of the times before when we visited Disney World we were there for 6+ days each time. Our budget nor time would allow us to visit for our typical stay.  This time we had to do it differently...

First we had to decide how we would get there. Time was a big constraint on our trip. We live 17 hours from Orlando, it would not be feasible to drive to Disney on a three day weekend. So it was decided we would have to fly. 
Southwest Airlines from Dallas Love Field Airport

For several months I had been researching airfare to Orlando for weekends throughout the spring. Therefore I had a pretty good idea how much airfare cost & could recognize a deal when I saw one. I used Google Flights & Southwest Airlines to research airfare prices. Here are a few things I learned about airfare while researching prices. First airline ticket prices fluctuate constantly. The time of day you look at airfare prices & the day of the week effected the cost of the ticket.  For example if I searched for airfare on a Tuesday morning it was considerably cheaper than the SAME flight if I looked it up on a Friday afternoon. I ended up booking our flight with Southwest on a Saturday morning. By that afternoon the price of the ticket had increased $50 for the same flight.  When I checked the same flight again on Sunday morning the price had dropped once more. Flying out on a Friday & returning on a Sunday would not fit into our budget as typically those are the two most expensive days to travel. We ended up flying out of Dallas Love Field on a Thursday evening at 7:15 PM.  We arrived in Orlando by 10:30 PM & took Disney' Magical Express from the airport to our hotel, Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter. We arrived at the hotel at midnight & quickly got our room. Our return flight was Sunday morning at 10:50 AM putting us back in Dallas by noon.  This gave us 2 full days to enjoy Disney World!


Next we had to choose where we would stay... There are many choices for hotels in the Orlando/Disney World area.  In years past we have stayed on Disney property & off Disney property.  We prefer to stay on Disney property in a moderate resort.
Disney's Port Orleans French Quater
 This year the moderate resort we selected was Port Orleans French Quarter located near Epcot & Downtown Disney. Disney's Port Orleans French Quarter is a sister property to Port Orleans Riverside.  The two properties are within walking distance from each other & they share amenities meaning you can swim in either pool, enjoy resort amenities, etc. You can find out more about Disney's Port Orleans resorts by clicking here. In years past we stayed in French Quarter two times and really liked it. So when it came time to select a hotel for our quick trip to Disney World we chose Port Orleans French Quarter. The main reason we selected this resort is the size of the resort. Compared to other moderate resorts, French Quarter is small with just over 1,000 rooms available. Another reason we selected Port Orleans
French Quarter Grounds
French Quarter is we really enjoy the boat service to Disney Springs. We also like that the grounds are beautifully landscaped to have the look of New Orleans' French Quarter. Jazz music plays in public places to add to the ambiance. Room choices include standard, garden, & river views. At the French Quarter no room is more than 5 minutes walk from the main building/pool area, boat launch, & bus stop.  There is only one bus stop at French Quarter making the ride to and from the theme parks faster. In addition French Quarter has it's own bus service to and from the theme parks so you do not have to share a bus with another resort like the All Star resorts. In the past when we have stayed at Port Orleans Riverside there were multiple bus stops that we had to go to before our bus dropped us off or picked us up for the theme parks.  This was a BIG waste of time. On more than one occasion we have ridden the French Quarter bus from the theme park & then walked to our room at Riverside because it was faster than waiting on the crowded bus for Riverside.   The bus system at French Quarter is better than Riverside.  
French Quarter Pool
We have stayed at Port Orleans Riverside twice before & liked the resort except for one thing, PORT ORLEANS RIVERSIDE IS HUGE!  The first year we stayed there we were in Alligator Bayou as far from the main building as you can get, Building 37! Our walk to the main building took no less than 10 minutes to get there. The grounds were beautiful but it was a long walk. The second trip we stayed at Riverside I did a little research and learned how to request a room that was in my price range but closer to the main building. If you would like to know how to request rooms at Port Orleans click here. It really does work because the room we stayed in on our second trip to Port Orleans Riverside had a great location!  Of all the hotels we have stayed in at Disney World, Port Orleans French Quarter is our absolute favorite.

French Quarter Splash Area
Next we had to decide the best possible use of our 2 days at Disney World. Being ever budget conscious, money was a huge factor in choosing how we would spend the limited time available at Disney World. Since we had visited Disney World 4 times previously, we had a better idea of our choices. This helped in the planning process. After looking at many variations of our two day trip we decided to spend one day at Magic Kingdom theme park & one day at  our hotel & Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney). At Disney World it is quite expensive to visit a theme park for one day, the more days you visit the cheaper the daily rate becomes. But we did not have time to visit for longer.  Therefore our 1 day ticket to Magic Kingdom was $110 per person. If we had selected to visit Epcot, Animal Kingdom, or Hollywood Studios the daily rate was slightly less expensive at $102. If you wish to add park hopper to your one day ticket it costs an additional $50 per ticket. 


Cinderella's Castle

We chose Magic Kingdom over Epcot, Animal Kingdom, & Hollywood Studios because as of May 2016 it offered more entertainment for the money.  We did not choose Epcot because Soarin' (one of our favorite rides) was closed for refurbishment. Also, as of April 2015 Innoventions West closed permanently at Epcot. In addition, the "Frozen" themed ride in Norway is not open as of May 2016. A final reason we did not select Epcot is when we visited Summer 2015 on a Saturday night there were more drunk people in World Showcase than there were sober people - not really family friendly.  We did not select Animal Kingdom because as of May 2016 the closing time for Animal Kingdom was 6 PM and we would not have felt as though we were getting our money's worth. We did not select Hollywood Studios because everything past Toy Story Mania! is closed permanently.  Hollywood Studios is undergoing major renovations & the entertainment offerings are limited. 
Magic Kingdom Main Street at rope drop.

Once Magic Kingdom was selected, our next choice was which day to visit the theme park. You can find crowd meters online that will give you an idea of expected crowds based on historical information. Our choices were Friday or Saturday since we had to fly home Sunday morning.  Friday was selected because we knew Magic Kingdom would be crowded on the Saturday of Mother's Day weekend. Especially since the weather that weekend had high temperatures around the 80 degree mark with humidity at 40% - which is unheard of in Orlando on the trips I have been on in the past. As luck would have it Magic Kingdom had Extra Magic MORNING Hours that day.  We prefer Extra Magic Morning hours to evening hours because we are early risers. However, it was very difficult to get up at 6 AM after not getting to our room until midnight the night before. But it was Disney and the "magic" got us up & kept us going that day. 


Our day at Magic Kingdom was... MAGICAL! The weather was perfect with sunshine & a high temperature of 78 degrees & 40% humidity! The crowds were - not bad compared to the June crowds we were accustomed to dealing with. We did not have to wait on Disney transportation at all during our trip. We got to do everything we wanted to do, some of it TWICE! Of all our trips to Disney World, this one was the closest to perfect that we experienced. 



Our day at the park began after a short 12-minute Disney transportation ride from our hotel to Magic Kingdom. We arrived at 7:30 AM & went through bag check & the park entrance. We then waited for the Magic Kingdom Welcome Show to start at 7:45 AM.
Magic Kingdom Welcome Show
During the Magic Kingdom Welcome Show, Mickey & the gang came out to open the park.  This is a great opportunity to see a variety of characters.  The characters open the park from the train station balcony. After the welcome show we enjoyed the Extra Magic Morning hour from 8 AM to 9 AM that is available only to Disney hotel guests. In this time
 we were able to ride 4 rides including the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (always try to ride early because the lines get really long during the day), Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, Tomorrowland Speedway, & the Astro Orbiter. Our first FastPass+ selection started at 9:10 AM so we headed to Adventureland which was vacant at 9:15 AM. We spent the next two hours exploring Adventureland & Frontierland. In the early afternoon we headed back to Tomorrowland & Fantasyland to finish the rides we did not get to during the morning. 


Entrance to Adventureland


Pirates of Caribbean Ride


Big Thunder Mountain ride


Haunted Mansion ride


Jungle Cruise ride
At 3 PM we took a break from Magic Kingdom & rode the monorail to Disney's Polynesian Resort to eat at our favorite restaurant, Ohana. After lunch/dinner at Ohana we took the water launch back to Magic Kingdom. As we entered the park once more we took the time to take pictures down Main Street that we did not take at arrival that morning.  This was great because there was not as many people! That evening we explored the park & rode rides until time to pick our spot for the Electric Light Parade at 9 PM. We selected our spot around 8:30 PM that would work both for the Electric Light Parade and also for Wishes Nighttime Spectacular.  We selected a spot in front of the castle near the entrance to Adventureland that did not have trees blocking the castle. We knew if we tried to pick two different spots it would be difficult to move around in the crowd between the two. Our selection was a good one & we enjoyed seeing both of these not to be missed attractions. Remember: Magic Kingdom fireworks are not your typical everyday or even July 4th fireworks - you do NOT want to miss the show.  Wishes Nighttime Spectacular always makes me cry.  
Magic Kingdom Wishes Fireworks
Magic Kingdom Wishes Fireworks

After the fireworks we had one last FastPass+ to cash in at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for a night time ride.  It was a fabulous final ride for a near perfect day! The day was long as we were in Magic Kingdom from 7:30 AM until 11:00 PM.  We could have stayed until 12 midnight that night but we were worn out & were ready to get some much needed rest. Our day in Magic Kingdom was truly "magical" for our family. From trying to scare each other in the caves of Tom Sawyer Island to seeing who could get the high score on Buzz Lightyear to screaming our heads off on the night time Big Thunder Mountain this day will be remembered always. 
Port Orleans French Quarter

Our day at Disney Springs & our hotel was... RELAXING. After a long day at Magic Kingdom Friday, relaxing on Saturday was perfect.  We awoke and ate the breakfast bars we brought with us on the tables outside of Jackson Square.  The morning was brisk but invigorating at 58 degrees. We explored the beautifully landscaped property of Port Orleans while we waited for the boat to Disney Springs to begin service at 10 AM. My son played video games in the Medicine Show Arcade at French Quarter during this time as well.  



Disney Springs

We headed to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) around 11 AM on the free boat service from our hotel.  The twenty minute boat ride was a relaxing journey down the Sassagoula River to Disney Springs. At Disney Springs we did a little shopping, had lunch at Raglan Road, & picked up dinner at Earl of Sandwich for heating up later. Disney Springs is not a theme park and therefore there is no admission charge.  You have a variety of stores, restaurants, theaters, and other activities you can do when you visit Disney Springs. Some of the most popular include: La Nouba - Cirque du Soleil (a great family friendly show), Disney Quest (an indoor interactive theme park with five floors of video games & 3D interactive rides), AMC Disney Springs 24 with Dine-in Theatres (catch a movie while eating at the dine-in theater), Splitsville Luxury Lanes (bowling in the 21st century accompanied by tasty food selections), & Characters in Flight (a 10 minute ride on a tethered hot air balloon). 



Disney's Magical Express - FREE
transportation from/to the airport.
We used Disney's Magical Express for transportation from & to the airport. You do not need to rent a car if you are staying at a Disney hotel & plan to only visit Disney World. This is a great way to save money. Disney's Magical Express will pick you up from the Orlando Airport 24 hours a day 7 days per week. If your plane arrives before 10 PM Magical Express will deliver your checked bags to your room.  Disney guests that arrive via plane between 10 PM & 5 AM will have to get their own bags & take them on the bus. You will need to register for Magical Express pickup at least 10 days prior to scheduled arrival. Your booking agent can help you register for pick up at the airport. For return to the Orlando Airport Disney's Magical Express will pick you up at your Disney hotel. You will receive departure information one day prior to scheduled departure in your room. Disney's Magical Express will go to other resorts than just your resort so expect to make stops prior to your hotel. The ride is approximately 35-45 minutes from/to the airport to your resort.  

We used the FREE Disney transportation exclusively during our stay. Disney World is 40 square miles in size!  Disney World theme parks, hotels, etc are not close to one another so transportation is important.  Disney transportation includes bus service, boat service, & monorail service.  Bus service is available between Disney resorts & theme parks & Disney Springs. You can also use the bus service between theme parks. Boat service is available at select resorts & theme parks. Monorail service runs between Magic Kingdom & the Contemporary, Polynesian, & Grand Floridian hotels.  Monorail service is also available between Magic Kingdom & Epcot. You can find out more about the FREE Disney transportation online by clicking here.

Boat transportation from French Quarter to Disney Springs

We relied on Disney transportation during our trip. We took the bus to & from Magic Kingdom. We took the monorail from Magic Kingdom to the Polynesian for lunch/dinner. We took boat service from the Polynesian back to Magic Kingdom.  We used the boat service from our resort, Port Orleans French Quarter, to Disney Springs. As luck would have it, we never waited for a bus, boat, or monorail - as close to perfect as can be expected.  This is atypical to a visit during the busy summer months. I highly recommend using the FREE Disney transportation to avoid having the hassle of driving, parking, etc. Disney transportation makes your stay all the more MAGICAL! 


Over the years we have learned that EATING at Disney World is... challenging. You would not think a place such as Disney World that has over 140 restaurants, including sit down restaurants & counter service fast food style restaurants,  would be a challenge to find something good to eat.  However, I do not like fast food (except Chick-fil-A) when I am not at a theme park.  I REALLY don't like fast food when I am at a theme park paying theme park prices! With that being said, we still have to eat so that we can have the energy to stay in the theme parks for hours on in.  So how does a family eat & stay within a budget? 


** We do NOT purchase the Disney dining plan.  The Disney dining plan is available to guests of Disney World hotels where you can pre-pay for all of your meals & snacks.  To learn more about Disney dining plan click here. On previous trips to Disney World we have tried the dining plan & without the dining plan. For the needs of my family we save money NOT purchasing the dining plan.  In fact on our trip in June 2015 we saved $500 by paying for our meals as we go instead of purchasing the dining plan. However, IF you are a family that wants a dessert every meal AND you eat a snack once per day in addition to your meals then you might want the dining plan. The year we purchased the dining plan, it seemed like all we did was eat - which made it very hard to walk around the theme park in the heat of the summer. 



French Quarter's Sassagoula Floatworks
  • Breakfast - To save money we always eat breakfast at our hotel in our room or on the grounds of the hotel. Disney World hotels do not offer complimentary breakfast that mid-priced hotels offer. All Disney World hotels have a restaurant and or food court where you can have breakfast.  However, the prices for breakfast cost from $10 & up per person when you include a drink. For this trip I brought along Nutrigrain bars & instant breakfast mix for myself & my husband & pop tarts for my son for the 3 mornings we would be at Disney World. We purchase milk at the hotel store to have with our breakfast.  If we stay more days & we drive to Disney World, I will pick up milk at the grocery store before getting to the hotel. However, if you fly to Disney World & are staying for a lengthy stay, you might want to consider getting groceries delivered to your hotel room at sites such as Garden Grocer to save money on food. 
  • Lunch - The day we went to Magic Kingdom we were lucky enough to get reservations for Ohana Restaurant at Disney's Polynesian Resort at 3:45 PM. Ohana (means family) is our favorite restaurant at Disney World. I was surprised I was able to get dinner reservations as it is usually booked up months in advance.  When I first checked for reservations there were none available.  However, I continued to check the Disney
    Ohana Restaurant - Our FAMILY Favorite!
    reservations
    web page for openings. About one week prior to our trip a reservation became available. Ohana is an all you can eat restaurant that serves Polynesian style food family style. The first course is friendship bread followed quickly with a Polynesian salad that is simply wonderful.  But don't fill up on bread & salad because the next course is appetizers that have wonderful pot stickers & wings. After the appetizer comes Polynesian noodles & grilled mushrooms & peppers. Next is the main course, grilled chicken, shrimp, & steak. The meat is brought out to you on skewers straight from the flame grill that is located in the middle of the restaurant. The meat is tender & savory. Remember to save room for the final course - dessert. Ohana serves delicious friendship bread pudding with a banana's foster sauce along side a scoop of ice cream.  Everything is all you can eat so be prepared to eat too much. Is Ohana a budget buster? The cost for the 3 of us was $140 including tip.  This is a bit pricey but not when you compare a counter service meal at Magic Kingdom costs our family of 3 around $50 & all we get is a burger & fries. The quality of food at Ohana is far superior to counter service restaurants at Magic Kingdom. Therefore I feel it was a better use of our money than eating a counter service meal in the theme park.  The second day of our Disney World trip we went to Disney Springs and had lunch at Raglan Road Irish Pub &
    Raglan Road Disney Springs
    Restaurant
     which is our favorite restaurant at Disney Springs. It is located near The Landing in the center of Disney Springs. The lunch menu serves a variety of sandwiches as well as entrees.  Budget saving tip: the entrees are slightly less expensive if you eat lunch as opposed to dinner.  We like Raglan Road because the food is tasty & we enjoy the ambiance as well. The day we visited (Saturday) there was an Irish band & dancers entertaining on the main stage during lunch.  Typically entertainment starts at 3 PM. The band & dancers were phenomenal.  Audience participation is encouraged & our son was invited up on stage to learn to clog dance.  In addition to the clogging lesson, he received an autographed photo for his participation.  This was a memorable & fun lunch for our family.  For dessert we headed over to  Ghirardelli Chocolate at the Marketplace & got a free sample of chocolate. For a family on a budget this was a nice treat!
  • Dinner -  Remember we are a budget conscious family so we tried to cut costs as much as possible.  The day we visited Magic Kingdom we ate a snack we brought with us for lunch of crackers & water so we would be ready for Ohana at 3:45 PM. Because we ate so much at Ohana we did not have any dinner that night. This saved us $50 for food for a counter service dinner at Magic Kingdom. The second day of our trip we
    Great AFFORDABLE Food in Disney Springs
    picked up a to go sandwich at
    Earl of Sandwich when we were in Disney Springs. Earl of Sandwich offers a great selection of soups, salads, & sandwiches at an affordable price. Make sure you join the Earl of Sandwich e-club before you leave for your trip so you can get a FREE sandwich. Hint: put your birthday as being the week of your trip so you will get a free birthday sandwich too. Our hotel room had a refrigerator so we put the sandwiches in it until dinner time.  At dinner we heated the sandwiches up in the microwave at the food court of our hotel & ate dinner on an outside table located on the patio near the food court. This was much less expensive & much more tasty than eating the burgers & fries that we could order at the French Quarter food court. I highly recommend Earl of Sandwich for the family on a budget.
On this trip we ate some fantastic food while maintaining our budget.  It is possible to eat great while at Disney World! 
Cinderella's Castle at night.


Yum! Ohana bread pudding with ice cream &  Bananas Foster sauce

Our room at Port Orleans French Quarter


Magic Kingdom Seven Dwarf's Mine Train


Monorail that runs from Magic Kingdom to Contemporary,
Polynesian, & Grand Floridian Hotels.
Some final thoughts about our 2 day trip to Disney World... Often times families do not go on vacation because life gets in the way. I encourage you to take some time while your kids are young and travel - show them the world.  Your time to do this is brief - so do not let it pass you by.  You CAN visit Disney World even if you are on a budget! A two day visit to Disney World was within our budget where a seven day visit was not.  We had to cut corners by bringing our on breakfast & snacks but because we did that we were able to go to Disney World. You will not regret the lifelong memories you will make on your travels. 

Visit our video link at the top of the page to see footage from our trips.

May God bless you on all your adventures! 

Disney World 2015


We just returned from our fourth trip to Disney World where we stayed for 7 nights & 8 days. In total we were gone 11 days as we drove to Disney World & spent a day in Pensacola, Florida on the way home.  We stayed on Disney property at Port Orleans Riverside, a moderate resort, because we enjoy the amenities offered including a boat ride to Downtown Disney. We spent 1 day at Animal Kingdom, 2 days at Epcot, 1 day at Hollywood Studios, & 4 days at Magic Kingdom. Below are some of my tips from my most recent trip.
  • Saving Money by using Disney gift cards to pay for hotel, food, drink, & souvenirs. Sam's Club sells Disney gift cards for a $7.12 discount. To put it differently you can purchase $150 worth of Disney gift cards for $142.88, saving you $7.12 (you get three $50 gift cards per package). I know what you are thinking, only $7.12, that's not worth my time. But think about it like this, IF your trip costs you $3,300 and you used the discounted gift cards to purchase the hotel, food, drinks, etc. you would need 22 packs of gift cards.  If you save $7.12 PER PACK of gift cards that comes to a savings of $156.64. My dinner at Ohana Restaurant was paid for with my savings with a little money left over! If you are wondering HOW you can pay for your Disney World package using gift cards, let me tell you. You have to call the Disney resort phone number 407-939-1936 and speak to a cast member.  You will then have to give the cast member each gift card number from the back of the card.  A trick I learned once I was using the cards on the trip is that the gray scratch off on the back of the gift card is actually a STICKER, just peel it off and things will go much faster for you. I also used the discounted gift cards to purchase food, drink, & souvenirs while I was at Disney World.  I used the gift cards for restaurants at theme parks, Disney water parks, Disney resort hotels, and Downtown Disney.  Yes, all of the restaurants & stores at Downtown Disney will take the Disney gift card. I also used the Disney gift card at the Disney Character Outlet Store located on Vineland Avenue. It would have been easier to just link my credit card number to my MagicBand and use it to pay for everything, but I was on a budget and needed to save money where I could.
Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue - Featuring all you can eat 
served family style meal including fried chicken, ribs,
mashed potatoes, corn, beans, salad, cornbread, 
& the BEST strawberry shortcake you ever tasted! 
All while enjoying some down home fun entertainment.
  • Meal plan or no meal plan? That is the question... When we went to Disney World in 2013 we decided to take the Disney Dining Plan whereby we received 1 counter service meal including entree, drink, & dessert, 1 sit down meal including entree, drink, & dessert, and 2 snacks per night of our stay. After we got home from our trip we felt as though we ate ALL THE TIME. Needless to say it was too much food for us. When it came time to book our trip this year, we debated should we get the meal plan or not.  The cost for the meal plan for 3 adults aged 10+ would have been $1281 above the cost of our package. We decided to try the discounted gift cards and see what the difference in cost would be.  Keep in mind that during our 7 night stay we ate dinner one time each at Boatwrights (cost $75), Ohana (cost $140), 50s Diner (cost $53), Raglan Road (cost $68), & Hoop Dee Doo Dinner & Show ($177). Note: If you are on the Disney Dining Plan Hoop Dee Doo will cost you 2 meal credits. As you can see we did not eat all counter service meals, although we did eat some counter service meals, usually one per day.  The total cost for all of our meals including counter service restaurants, sit down restaurants, milk for breakfast in our room, and snacks was $821.90. That was a savings of $460 and we ate plenty of good food! In my opinion, unless you eat A LOT of food you will save money if you do NOT get the Disney Dining Plan.
  • Download the My Disney Experience App for your smart phone. We used My Disney Experience everyday to see the wait times for rides & change FastPass+ reservations. This app will also have your reservations for restaurants, etc.  Disney World has fantastic free WiFi available at all of the theme parks and hotels.  Accessing My Disney Experience will be a breeze with the WiFi available.  

You can choose from a wide range
of colors for your MagicBand.
  • MagicBands are really cool! If you are staying at a Disney World resort or you are an annual pass holder you will receive a MagicBand for each member of your family included in your package cost. If you are not staying at a Disney resort or are an annual pass holder, you can still get MagicBands to use while at the theme parks, you just have to pay $12.95 for them online or at select retail locations. I really liked the MagicBand - once we got them all working. Our MagicBands worked without fail to enter the theme parks.  However, they would not open our hotel door at Port Orleans Riverside the first time we tried. Unfortunately we discovered this at 11:00 PM on the night we checked in. Tired we went back to the front desk and the cast member "fixed" the bands.  Long story short, she only "fixed" mine and my son's band.  My husband's band required a second trip back to the front desk to fix the problem. Once they were all fixed we really enjoyed tapping our wrists to use our FastPass+ selections (remember once you are in the theme park, you can use anyone's MagicBand to access a Fastpass+ reservation - they do not make you give a finger print to use the FastPass+ at a ride), get our room door to open, or gain entrance to a theme park. An additional benefit was we could have tied our credit card to the MagicBand and we could have tapped to purchase food, drinks, & souvenirs, meaning no wallet necessary. We opted to use Disney gift cards to purchase our food, drinks, & souvenirs because you could purchase them at a discounted rate at Sam's Club. See above for how much money I saved using gift cards from Sam's Club. One problem I saw with the MagicBand for FastPass+ was about 3 times I saw people arguing with the cast member because they "supposedly" had a FastPass+ but it was not showing up in the system and thereby denying them entrance. I think they were just trying to sneak on the ride without having to wait in line... There is no fix for dishonesty I suppose...
You have 1 hour to redeem your
 FastPass + reservation. Example redeem
between 9:00 - 10:00 AM. 
  • FastPass+ - Maybe it is because I am a planner, but I really like the FastPass+ system Disney World began using in 2014. I booked my Fastpass+ 60 days before my scheduled arrival date.  I then used My Disney Experience computer and app based version to track my reservations & change them as needed. I no longer had to worry about IF I was going to get a FastPass for my favorite ride. We did not wait more than 10 minutes for any ride and the theme parks were very busy. As much as I like FastPass+, I would like to see Disney make a few changes to the system however. For starters I do NOT like the tier system Disney has for Epcot & Hollywood Studios FastPass+ - just make them like Magic Kingdom & Animal Kingdom. Another change I would like to see would be for Disney to allow you to use My Disney Experience to get the FastPass+ choices after the initial 3 selections are used up. It could be a benefit for Disney Resort hotel guests. Finally I would like to be able to select the same ride multiple times for my initial 3 FastPass+ selections.  For example, I would have ridden Seven Dwarfs Mine Train three times in one day instead of Seven Dwarfs & then 2 other rides. I tried to get a FastPass+ to Seven Dwarfs after I used my initial 3, but guess what?  There were none available and standby times for this ride averaged 80 minutes. Since we don't like waiting in lines, we only got to ride Seven Dwarfs once on this trip. Even with the suggested changes I still believe FastPass+ is better than the old FastPass system. 
  • Take Disney transportation to Downtown Disney & expect renovations in the theme parks. Disney World is undergoing A LOT of construction! To some extent, every theme park & Downtown Disney is experiencing construction.  Magic Kingdom has walls up on Main Street & around the castle making for a less than desirable photo.  At Magic Kingdom, Disney did attempt to make the walls blend in to the background but it does not look the same. Epcot is renovating the Norwegian ride so that it is "Frozen" themed. Innovations West at Epcot is permanently closed. Hollywood Studios has many areas, such as Back Lot Tour & American Idol Experience, shut down permanently. Animal Kingdom has walls up in Asia, Africa, & Discovery Island.  The walls at Animal Kingdom do not attempt to blend into the background, making them less appealing. You cannot get to some parts of Discovery Island due to construction. Downtown Disney is perhaps the biggest mess of them all. Downtown Disney has been under construction since 2013 with completion expected in 2016. New shops & restaurants have been added and will continue to be added. I suggest you take Disney transportation to Downtown Disney instead of trying to drive and park.

2015 Review of Port Orleans Riverside

Port Orleans Riverside was enjoyable but we did have some problems... 


Entrance to Port Orleans Riverside
Let me  begin by saying we have stayed at Port Orleans Riverside one previous time and Port Orleans French Quarter two previous times.  We choose the Port Orleans moderate resorts because we like the landscaping, amenities, & having the boat ride to Downtown Disney available.
Resort area Port Orleans Riverside
So what are the pros & cons of staying at Port Orleans Riverside?


Building 18 is a good location.

Everything Good About Port Orleans Riverside - Port Orleans Riverside has a great pool area in Ol' Man Island.  We also enjoyed the FREE smores each night. My son enjoyed playing a few video games in the Medicine Show Arcade. Yee Haw Bob does a great family friendly live show a few nights per week. There is a different movie on the lawn each night at sunset, but we did not get to see it. The boat ride to Downtown Disney was pleasant as always. You can also go on carriage rides, rent bicycles, & rent boats for an additional fee at Port Orleans Riverside. If you are assigned a building close to everything you will enjoy it - we enjoyed our building assignment this year. (Building 18) The cast members were friendly and helpful. The landscaping is beautiful! At the theme parks Riverside does not share a bus with French Quarter.

Riverside Food Court

Lobby Area Port Orleans Riverside


Now for the not so good...
A corner room is good! (IF it is cleaned.)
Last time we visited Port Orleans Riverside we were in Building 24 and were a minimum of 15 minutes walking to the food court and Ol' Man Island.  After that trip we learned to request a building closer to "everything". I read online and saw that for the rooms that did not have an upgrade charge you should request building 16 or 17.  I requested building 16 or 17 when I booked my room 6 months before leaving and I confirmed it 1 week before my scheduled arrival.  We arrived early to check in to our room (11 AM) but I went to the front desk and once again made my request. I was told my room was not ready yet but they would text me as soon as it was available.  The cast member also told me I was to be in building 18 based on what she could see on the computer. She said it was actually a better building than the one I requested. I left, excited about getting a building that would not be too far from everything. I received a text message from Disney Destinations around 4 PM telling me there was a problem with sending me an assigned room and that I needed to contact front desk.  I was at Disney Quest in Downtown Disney so I called. I spoke with 3 people before they finally told me my room assignment, no one could ever figure out why I received the text message I received. We arrived back to our room at 11 PM after a long day.  Our MagicBands would NOT unlock our door.  We then had to walk to the front desk to get that fixed. Long story short it took a total of 2 trips to the front desk to get all of our MagicBands to unlock the door.  At 11:30 PM we got into our room to find a mess! The room had not been vacuumed or swept. At the conclusion of my stay the room had not been swept or vacuumed. In addition, there was a straw on the floor under the bathroom sink that was there when we arrived. There was also a white substance on the floor under the sink that needed to be mopped. The table in the room had a white substance looking like old milk on it when we arrived. The wall on the left of the toilet had a brown spot that looked like chewing tobacco that was spit on the wall. It was there when we arrived and it was still there when we departed. When we arrived the toilet had a 2" wide yellow streak going down the front that I had to clean. Because it was so late at night I just cleaned what I could and stayed in the room. We ate at Boatwrights Dining which is a Cajun themed restaurant at Riverside. The food was bland and downright tasteless.  FYI I don't add salt to my food at restaurants but at Boatwrights I had to. The trundle bed is uncomfortable and anyone taller than 48" 
should not attempt to sleep comfortably on it. My 11 year old son found the bed to be far too short for him.

Trundle bed - not for those taller than 48"
So what do I think about staying at Riverside again?  
We have never experienced such lack of cleanliness at a Disney resort like we experienced this year. Maybe this was a one time occurrence... However, I think we will stay at French Quarter next time. Because Riverside & French Quarter are sister resorts, you can enjoy the amenities at each resort. That is my plan for next time. UPDATE: After completing the survey Disney sent after my stay, I was contacted by a representative from Disney. He apologized for the problems I experienced and offered me two free nights stay at a moderate resort of my choice when I visit Disney World again. I add this to my blog as evidence that Disney really does know a thing or two about hospitality.  Will I go back? - OF COURSE! 



Videos from our June 2015 Trip to Disney World

Magic Kingdom
For our 4th trip to Disney World we experienced some new as well as revisited some family favorite attractions and rides. We spent 8 days at Disney World and 1 day at Pensacola Beach, Florida. We drove this year because gas prices made driving MUCH more affordable than flying. We stayed on Disney property at Port Orleans Riverside, a moderate resort, because we enjoy the amenities offered including a boat ride to Downtown Disney. We spent 1 day at Animal Kingdom, 2 days at Epcot, 1 day at Hollywood Studios, & 4 days at Magic Kingdom.You can see videos for each theme park, hotel, & Downtown Disney by clicking the following links:


Downtown Disney

Disney World on a Budget - My Best Tips

Disney World Epcot
Hello! I am a mom and a wife who has a confession to make. I am addicted to Disney World vacations. There I said it... As you read the information I have in my blog, keep in mind I have spent countless hours researching so my family will have a magical vacation. My family consists of my husband, my 11 year old son, and myself. We have visited Disney World 3 times since 2008. Each time we visit we find something we have not seen before. As we plan for our 4th trip to Disney World, we are just as excited as we were for the first trip! Read my blog to discover how your family can visit Disney without breaking your budget.

I think what makes Disney World so magical is there is something for everyone - thereby making everyone happy!  Do you want a 0 to 60 mph experience or do you prefer the slow moving It's A Small World or something in between?  Do you want Broadway caliber theatrical productions or to simply sing and dance with Disney Junior stars?  Disney delivers all of this and so much more.  This is why I choose to take my family back time and again!

So you have chosen to find a little magic at Disney World? Listed below are some of my favorite tips/ideas I have seen over the years of planning trips to Disney World. I hope it helps to make your trip every bit as magical as mine.

NEW TIP - You can move between theme parks using Disney transportation even if you are not staying at a Disney hotel. Plan 1  to 1 1/2 hours to move between parks on a busy day.
Magic Kingdom park & Epcot are connected via monorail
Epcot & Disney's Hollywood Studios are connected via boat
Magic Kingdom park & Disney's Hollywood Studios are connected via bus
Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park is connected to the 3 other theme parks via bus.
NEW TIP - You can use someone else's Disney MagicBand or park ticket for Fastpass+. For example you can use your son's MagicBand for a FastPass+ that he does not want to ride.  The only time the MagicBand must be on the correct person is at the park entrance. 
Sam's Club has Disney Gift Cards at a discount. You can get $150 worth of cards for $142.88. I used them to pay for my hotel room and bought some extra to use on the trip. I saved $160 using the gift cards.
You will need a minimum of 1 day per theme park at Disney World and there are 4 parks! Plan to spend at least 5 days at Disney World.
The more days you spend at Disney World, the lower the daily ticket price becomes.
If you are celebrating something while at Disney World, make sure you go by guest services or tell the desk clerk at check in so you can get your FREE Disney pin for your celebration. Wear the pin around the park where you will be greeted by cast members as well as potentially get a FREE cupcake or dessert in honor of your celebration.
If you are on the dining plan you will want to make reservations as soon as you can so you eat at the best Disney restaurants.
You can send a letter to the this address: BEFORE the trip and a character will send you a postcard: Walt Disney World Communications P.O. Box 10040 Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040
Create a My Disney Experience account. Download the app on your smart phone as well. You will need it for FastPass+ as well as other planning. FastPass+ will make your trip much more enjoyable since you will not have to stand in line.
3-5 days BEFORE you are scheduled to check-in CALL the Disney hotel you are staying in and request the building you would like to have a room in. If you have the dining plan you will have the free refillable mug and you won't want to have to walk FOREVER to fill it up from your room. You can research which building has your type room in it at http://wdwprepschool.com/how-to-get-the-disney-world-resort-room-requests-views-rooms/
Dollar Tree is a good place to buy Disney stuff such as buy glow sticks. Take the glow sticks with you for the Electric Parade and fireworks.The kids will LOVE it! You could probably even find a small Disney theme spiral that would be great for getting character autographs. Buy a RETRACTABLE sharpie the large size because that is easier for the characters to hold on to when signing your autograph book.
Another idea for autograph book is to use the Disney Junior Encyclopedia. This book has pictures & facts for of over 150 Disney characters. We had the characters sign their own picture when we met them at Disney World.. You can buy it at Amazon or Walmart online for $10. Check out our Merchandise page.
Get your souveneirs from the outlet mall right at the Disney exit. There is a Disney Outlet store in there that sells Disney Park merchandise for a fraction of the cost in the park.
WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES & CLOTHES & LOTS OF SUNSCREEN.. The last thing you want is to have blisters and sunburn after a day at the park.
It rains every afternoon in Florida - don't leave the park because of rain, others will do that leaving the whole park to you!. Get ponchos at Walmart before the trip. Take a sharpie or permanent paint and paint some identifiable logo on the back of the parka. EVERYONE at Disney has the same parkas and it's hard to find your family in the crowd.
We usually take 1 backpack into the park with us so we can keep the parkas & autograph books etc in there.
Buy Gatoraide or KoolAid in the packets so you can add it to the water if you or your kids don't like plain water. You will dehydrate FAST drinking only sodas at Disney.
Take non-perishable snacks like beef jerky or trail mix into the park so you can save money on snacks.
When you are eligible for signing up for the FastPass+ do it. Don't wait until you get to the park to get them. You don't have the option to FastPass+ all attractionss so you will have to look and see which you are most interested in seeing. See my blog about FastPass+ for more details.
If you are staying at a Disney hotel, it will have lots of activities going on throughout the day and evening - plan to spend at least one afternoon or evening enjoying those amenities.
The crowds start arriving at the parks around 11 AM. IF you are early risers you can beat some of the crowds by getting there early. IF you are night owls then you could stay late, if there are Extra Magic Hours. Some people leave the park mid afternoon and go back to their hotel to swim etc. then go back to the park later in the afternoon. I have never done this but think I might try it this year.. Just remember traveling from the theme parks to your hotel and back will take a lot of time out of your day.
Water is FREE at any theme park. Just go up to the counter and ask for it.
There is a place in Epcot called Club Cool in Future World where you get free samples of Coca Cola from around the world. DO NOT try Beverly - you have been warned... 
It will usually take 1 hour to get from your hotel room into the park. So if you want to get to the park at 9 AM you should plan to leave the hotel room no later than 8 AM. This is excluding hotels on the monorail.
After the fireworks in the theme park each night people try to bolt to the exit to try and be first in line for the bus back to the hotel. If you need to get back to your hotel fast then choose a spot to watch the fireworks that is near the exit, otherwise just spend a little time in the park after the fireworks just going through some of the shops or getting some ice cream.
I have read A LOT on Disney World and this year I am going to avoid the Extra Magic hours for most of my days at Disney. UNLESS you bought the Park Hopper option & can leave the park then I believe you will have bigger crowds to deal with if you go to the park with Extra Magic Hours. It's a theory that I am testing this time - we have always tried to visit the Extra Magic hours park in the past and found especially Magic Kingdom to be unbelievably packed that day... - I will update my blog after this trip and let you know if my plan worked. UPDATE: We did not find the parks to be overly crowded when we visited on non-extra magic hour days.  In the future I plan to avoid the theme parks with extra magic hours UNLESS I have park hopper.
You can only get Dole Whips in Magic Kingdom by the Jungle Cruise ride. It is soft serve ice cream that is great! (and only found at Disney World) UPDATE: I received a FREE Dole Whip on my birthday just because I happened to have my birthday button on & a Disney Cast member saw the button.  The cast member walked up to me & gave it to me.
We first visited Disney World when my son was 4 years old. He did not know our cell phone numbers. So I made a badge with his name, our cell phone #s, the hotel we were staying at, ect. and put it inside a clear plastic badge holder with a safety pin back that I purchased at Office Depot. I then pinned the badge to the inside of his pants pocket. THANKFULLY he never needed it, but it was there if he did need it.
You can purchase Disney PhotoPass BEFORE you arrive at Disney World for $169. If you wait until you arrrive at Disney World the cost will be $199.
The Disney PhotoPass photographers will take a picture of you with your camera too - even if you have not purchased the PhotoPass option.
Don't follow the crowd! If the crowd is moving clockwise go counter clockwise and vice versa. Try starting at the back of the theme park and come to the front.
At Magic Kingdom arrive at rope drop and ride the WDW Railroad around to Frontierland or Fantasyland and head back to the front of the park. You should miss most of the crowds. I tried it on my trip in 2015 & it worked!
At Magic Kingdom take the time to go to Tom Sawyer's Island. It is a great escape from the crowds and your kids will LOVE going through the caves and over foot bridges.
Use the single rider option on rides that allow you to do so. It will save you a lot of time if you don't have to ride with your entire party.
During the summer at Hollywood Studios go to the early Lights, Camera, Action show. The stadium really heats up as the afternoon gets later.
During the summer at Animal Kingdom, plan to see Lion King & Nemo in the afternoon. Both shows are air conditioned and it will be nice to get a break from the heat.
During the summer at Animal Kingdom, visit Kilimanjaro Safari early in the morning before the day heats up. More animals are out and moving around in the morning.
At Animal Kingdom take time to walk the Discovery Island Trails, Pangani Forest Trail, & the Maharajah Jungle Trek. They are similar to a zoo with lots of animals and habitats to see.
To make Epcot World Showcase interesting to children complete the FREE Kidcot stations at each country. Your children will have the opportunity to color a mask and get a stamp from each country while visiting with a native from the country.
Epcot has a FREE (with daily admission ticket) adventure called Agent P's World Showcase. You are given a cell phone-like device and you must go around the world showcase finding clues. This is a great way to keep tweens interested in the world showcase. My son had fun completing the activities.
Magic Kingdom has the Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom game. You get FREE packets of cards with different Disney characters on them. You then take the cards to locations around the park and unlock your next clue. The cards are one of a kind souvenirs! My husband and son had a blast collecting the cards and playing the game. Visit the Firehouse on Main Street, U.S.A. or behind the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square, where you’ll be given all the tools you’ll need to help you on your quest.
Disney's Fort Wilderness Campgrounds has FREE Chip 'N Dale Campfire sing-a-long followed by a classic Disney movie EVERY NIGHT. Your child will get to meet Chip & Dale and then watch a movie. Normally character meals are $30+ but this one is FREE for everyone - not just Disney resort guests.
Take time to ride around the monorail. Even visit a resort or two that is on the monorail. Haven't you always wondered just how "grand" the Grand Floridian is?
Don't think you will see it all in one visit. I believe you could spend a month and not see it all. Just enjoy your time together and let the "magic" of Disney be yours.
Disney World Magic Kingdom

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