spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 7A: A morning with DS

Once we had DS, I knew that one day we would be able to pull off a Parent Switch Day at Disney- one of us parents would spend the morning with one child, then all meet and switch, so the other parent would spend the afternoon with that child. The planned activities would be kept a secret from the kids, but would include something special.  I really looked for activities that each child would love, but maybe the other child wouldn’t be interested in, or couldn’t participate in.

Leading up to the trip, we teased our kids with little hints at what they might do on Mami Morning/Daddy Afternoon (for DS), or Daddy Morning/Mami Afternoon (for DD).  DD in particular, I think, looked forward to alone time with each of us, able to speak/eat/walk freely without being interrupted by her little brother.  She WAS an only child until she was 9, you know…

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 6: Disney Springs and MNSSHP

After several consecutive days of early wakeups to hit the Parks, sleeping in on this day was lovely.  I drifted awake at around 9:30am and was immediately excited for the Halloween Party that evening.  We had a long list of things to do before then, so I got everybody into their bathing suits, and we went down to the Big Blue Pool again, with a load of laundry.  DD wanted to keep sleeping, so she stayed in the room with strict instructions to be ready to walk out the door by 11:45am.  The water was a little chilly in the pool!  I guess because it was so early in the day.  But we had a lot of fun in the main pool, and especially in the splash area 🙂

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 5: Animal Kingdom and more MK


Jambo!  This morning, we did our usual thing, and got up in time to make Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom.  Something that makes me feel good- the Cast Members (aided by the technology of the MagicBands) were consistently enforcing the rule that only Disney Resort Guests are allowed into the parks during EMH.  Several times, offsite folks were turned away and had to wait outside the tapstiles until the Park officially opened to all guests.  It is nice that the perk is not diluted by lax enforcement.

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 4: Epcot and Hollywood Studios

Fresh off our magical first Disney Day, we got up bright and early to hit Rope Drop at Epcot.  We had FP+ at Test Track for late morning, and since Epcot FP+ operates on a Tier System, we couldn’t also get one for Soarin’ on that same morning.  Our best bet was arriving early and going directly to The Land pavilion to soar over California before the standby line became prohibitive.  I am an aficionado of ride soundtracks, and the Soarin’ music is my absolute favorite.  To say I was looking forward to riding it again is an understatement.  We had good luck with the busses, and found ourselves about 5 families back from the rope, waiting impatiently for the Cast Member (CM) to announce the Park officially open.  We had left the stroller at the hotel for the AM shift of Park touring again, so as soon as I saw the CMs moving to open the ropes, I lifted my little guy onto my back- to avoid him getting caught up in the crowd, and also to speed our walking pace.

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 3: Magic Kingdom/Epcot

Note: Terrorists are cowards, and I hope they are brought to justice in every way possible.  I feel for all victims and their families, and have renewed my determination to take my children all around the world to learn and grow.  I will not be made afraid to travel, and I hope none of you will be, either.

Trip report, continued…

I woke up on Monday, October 5th with a pit in my stomach.  All the time spent daydreaming, planning, and anticipating my little boy’s first visit to a Disney Park was about to happen, and here I was, a bundle of nerves.  I was apprehensive.  Not that he wouldn’t like WDW, but that he wouldn’t LOVE it.  What if he didn’t find it fun, or cried and asked to go home, or screamed when we tried to take him on rides?  I could kiss my whole rosy picture of future planned family vacations goodbye.  DD and I would have to leave the boys at home, or be forced spend half our Orlando time at Camp Jurassic and Seussland on every trip.  Now, we HAD had fun at Universal, but remember when I said that just 1 full day was enough for several years?  I was serious.

On the other hand, I was happy to the point of bursting.  I was about to walk down Main Street, USA, toward Cinderella Castle and all kinds of Disney fun.  There is nothing like the atmosphere of a Disney Park, especially in the morning.  The sidewalks are freshly washed, the Cast Members (CMs) are smiling, and something wonderful is in the air.  I put aside my worries about the little guy, strong in my belief of Disney Magic, and we all got ready for the day. Read the rest of this entry »

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 2: Islands of Adventure

This picture about sums it up…


The Adventure Begins…

There are a variety of ways to get to Universal Resort from WDW.  This page on Mousesavers.com details them nicely.  We took the option of the Mears shuttle.  I called about a week ahead of time to reserve 4 RT fares, which were payable to the driver in cash.  The agent told me that morning pickups happen every 30 minutes at the :20 and :50 minute marks.  Evening pickups would be on the quarter hour, in a designated area near the regular taxi stand.  A Mears shuttle picked us up from Art of Animation at 8:15 on the dot- we lucked out and got a private van.  We paid the driver for the round-trips, and he gave us vouchers for the evening ride.  It took about 20-25 minutes to get there, so we were at the gates about 10 minutes before the park opened at 9am.  We were only about 10 families back, so in a great position to book it to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter- Hogsmeade as fast as possible.  DH grabbed a map to orient himself and we went over the plan for the day. Read the rest of this entry »

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Disney World October 2015 Trip Report Part 1: flights and arrival

All you need is faith, trust, and pixie dust.  Here we go!

Cast of Characters:

Me: Disneyholic and planner extraordinaire, 6 trips to the World, 2 Disney Cruises, 1 trip to Disneyland, 1 stay at Aulani

DD: teen daughter, Disneyholic planner-in-training, 4 trips to the World (1 in utero!), 2 Disney Cruises, 1 trip to Disneyland, 1 stay at Aulani

DH: husband, happy to leave the vacation planning to me, 1 trip to the World, 1 stay at Aulani, 1 Disney Cruise

DS: toddler son, loves the characters, 1 stay at Aulani, 1 Disney Cruise


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Dealing with Disney withdrawal…

So, we’re back.  It was a magical, wonderful time.  But the post-Disney depression is just beginning.  Today, I woke up, and had no FastPass+ for any beautifully-themed rides, fantastically-produced shows, or amazing fireworks displays.  No reservations for unique restaurants.  And no MagicBand on my wrist.  So sad.

disney cry

I’ll just have to relive the experience with a Trip Report.  I didn’t take any notes while we did our Park touring, but I have the written itinerary that we followed pretty closely, and my pictures are in order, so it should be too hard to piece everything together.  Some general impressions:

  • FastPass+ worked perfectly for us.
  • I implemented a “walk in the morning, stroller in the evening” strategy for our 5-year-old, and that was a stroke of brilliance with our touring plan.
  • I’m glad to have stayed at Art of Animation, but the walk from our room in the Little Mermaid section in the WAY BACK of the Resort was pretty far (a 10-15 minute walk from the bus stop) and I wouldn’t stay in that section again.
  • The My Disney Experience App was very useful.
  • Memory Maker continues to be worth it.
  • Nothing will ever top IllumiNations for me, but the Hallo-Wishes fireworks, Hocus Pocus Villains Spelltacular, and Boo to You parade during the Not-So-Scary Halloween Party were really impressive.  The Festival of Fantasy parade was visually stunning, too.
  • I wanna go back….now!

Stay tuned for the full Trip Report, including pictures!


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Disney Pre-Trip Report: bits and bobs

I love the British saying in the title of this post.  Makes me want to “pop ’round the shops on the High Street picking up bits and bobs.”

british accent

Currently I’m completing my pre-trip shopping checklist, those last few indispensable items I can’t resist buying before a fun vacation.  If I were you, I’d try reading this very non-British-vocabulary-using post in a British accent now.  I definitely will.

  • ways to make water taste like something other than water:  I hate water, precisely because it has no flavor.  I don’t drink soda, though I do love juice, but all those calories are not good for the waistline.  So I’m the queen of making water taste like juice, with 2 different products: flavor drops, and flavor powders.  Flavor drops came onto the market a few years ago, and I’ve loved them from the start, and ALWAYS have a bottle or two on hand at work, where I drink water all day long.  They are super-concentrated, sugar- and calorie-free liquids that make gross plain water taste like yummy juice.  The pioneering brand was Mio, but now many companies have started producing branded flavor drops.  My favorites are Kool-Aid Cherry, Minute Maid Fruit Punch, and Sunkist Strawberry Lemonade.  They come in a tiny bottle of no more than 2 ounces, and you just squirt a little (or a lot) into your water, mix, and voila…flavored water.  BUT!!!  We all know that taking liquids through airport security is iffy, and I’d rather save my 3-1-1 for toothpaste.  So, for traveling, I opt for flavor packets.  Same principle as the drops, but in powder form.  Each little packet is enough flavor for a 16-20oz bottle.  Again, lots of brands to choose from.  For this trip, I’ll be taking along Snapple Iced Tea, Hawaiian Punch Red, Crystal Light Raspberry Lemonade, and even Mott’s Apple Juice.
  • candy/gum:  Somehow, it became a family tradition to always have Werther’s candy on an airplane ride.  Since we’re always planning a trip somewhere, I get a bag or two when they are on super sale after candy-centric holidays like Halloween and Easter.  I tend to buy both chewable and the traditional hard-candy kind.  Anecdotally speaking, sucking on the hard candy version has always eased any motion sickness I might experience.  On the gum side of the equation, I’ve found that chewing gum really helps to relieve the pressure in the kids’ ears during takeoff and landing- once they are out of bottles/sippy cups/breastfeeding.  So gum is always on our pre-trip shopping list, and we like to try new flavors here as well.  Just bought some Starburst-flavored Juicy Fruit!  Win-win.  You’ve abandoned the British accent already, haven’t you?  For shame!
  • actual food for the plane: shelf-stable items that provide protein and carbohydrate energy.  Quite by accident, I discovered that Ritz crackers and Hormel sliced pepperoni are the same circumference.  My son was getting hangry, and I made a “pepperoni-wich” out of these 2 ingredients, and he was so amused by the tiny sandwiches that he ate several of them and got over his bad mood.  I also pack mixed nuts, raisins, and chewy fruit snacks or fruit leather (like a Fruit Roll-Up but no high-fructose corn syrup).  Sometime I bring regular Fruit Roll-Ups too, because…vacation.
  • swim gear: We bought my son a new swimsuit/rashguard a month ago, because his toddler-size Toy Story one was getting a bit worn, though it still fits.  I have been waiting to buy my daughter a new one because she kept changing her mind on the style she might like.  But now it is the time, because we were cooling off at the pool yesterday, and her board shorts were too small, her rashguard didn’t fit at all (or maybe she “lost” it because the design was too childish), and she only has 1 swimsuit that fits properly.  Anyone who has ever tried to air-dry a bathing suit in a hotel bathroom knows that 1 swimsuit is not enough, because it never dries completely before the next time you want to go to the pool.  Putting a damp suit back on IS THE WORST, so off to the mall we shall go for a second suit.
  • And finally, more spray-on sunscreen.  It smells like paid days off.  Excuse me, I mean, it smells like a jolly holiday 🙂

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you….the 30-day Mickey Head Countdown.

Like Princess Tiana in this picture, I'm Almost There!

Like Princess Tiana in this picture, I’m Almost There!

Legend tells of a chronically organized madwoman who cajoles her husband and children into making 150 construction paper strips, then putting a Disney sticker and number counting down from 180 to 30 on each strip, and stapling those strips together to make a massive paper chain.  This chain takes our crew from 6 months until their trip to 1 month until their trip, when the madwoman deploys the rarely-seen Mickey Head Countdown.  This objet d’art is made from vintage (as in, not available anymore) paint chip samples from when Disney sold home paint at the esteemed orange superstructure known as Home Depot.  Many years ago, exactly 30 paint chips shaped like Mickey Heads were deftly procured with nary an intention to actually buy the paint.  These chips are lovingly stored in a tiny tin suitcase that once held exorbitantly-priced Disney mints until they day they can be attached to a simple piece of cardboard using colorful pushpins.  Each day of the last 30 days of the vacation countdown, a small boy points to the correct Mickey Head with his favorite dry erase marker (CAP ON, of course, the madwoman leaves nothing to chance), and an adolescent girl carefully removes the pushpin from the cardboard, reads aloud the whimsical paint color name the chip once represented (Ariel’s Afternoon Swim, Happily Ever After, Mickey’s Shorts, etc), then carefully returns the Mickey Head to the tiny suitcase to bring untold amounts of joy for a future trip.  At this point the husband has either rolled his eyes, fallen asleep, or both.  But no matter!  The ritual continues until Day Zero, or the last 24 hours before the airport shuttle whisks them away to HNL to begin their vacation adventure.

Have a magical day, friends!

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Disney Pre-Trip Report: FastPass+ing in my sleep

Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration. And, in my case, the organization was easy because our party of 4 will pretty much always be together on rides/attractions.  But I also prepared quite a bit, and I think that contributed to it being a very pleasant experience.

So, in a nutshell, FastPass+ is a ride reservation system.  It lets Disney know approximately how many people to expect, crowd-wise, for a given ride at a given time per day, and also allows them to distribute opportunities to experience their biggest headliner rides and shows.  For all you tin-foil-hat folks, I’m sure it’s also a data-mining opportunity, since by the time you make FastPass+ reservations, Disney knows how many people are in your party, their ages, the kind of tickets you bought, whether you are staying on property or not, whether it’s your 1st visit or 20th, what the average income of people in your zip code is, and even what your favorite color is (based on MagicBand customization).  I don’t mind Disney knowing too much about me- I am a shareholder after all 🙂

There has been a lot of negative stuff printed about FastPass+: specifically, that it forces you to decide your plans for the day so far ahead of time, losing the spontaneity/fun of a Park day, and causing longer lines at attractions that typically didn’t represent long waits because everyone who couldn’t get a Space Mountain FastPass+ opted to get a Barnstormer one instead.  Some of these points are valid.  Obviously, the point about needing to do advanced planning doesn’t bother me!  The point about losing some spontaneity holds a little weight, but in my opinion, you can add fun at Disney in a million different ways, plus, if you PLAN right, you have some buffer time to allow an awesome character interaction to go on longer than you expect or to have that extra Mickey bar on a hot day.  The last point is fairly valid, some rides do suddenly have bottlenecks/long waits because they are FastPass+ eligible.  But again, with smart planning, pretty much any wait can be minimized.  Lastly, a point about managing expectations: Disney stopped having well-defined “slow times” a while ago.  The Parks are pretty crowded all the time now, so no one goes to Disney without having to wait in a least SOME lines.  My personal limit is 30 minutes (and that’s only because a lot of the ride queues are interactive and you might actually miss something fun if you walk through too fast), though with the kids I’d prefer not to wait more than 20.

Quick FastPass + facts:

  1. you can make up to 3 selections per day in advance
  2. all 3 advance selections have to be in the same Park
  3. each FastPass+ is good for 1 hour (so if you get one for 10:00am, you can enter the ride any time between 10:00am and 11:00am)
  4. after you’ve used all 3 of your advance selections, or your FP+ times have expired, whichever comes first, you can use an in-Park FastPass+ kiosk to make another selection in that Park if any are available.  I’ve heard the in-Park kiosks are a bit slow, so people have been choosing whatever ride comes up first on the kiosk screen, then using the My Disney Experience (MDE) app on their mobile devices to fine-tune their 4th, or 5th, or 6th, etc., selection. The kiosks are clearly marked on all Park maps.
  5. Your selections are stored in My Disney Experience, and that information is linked to your MagicBand.  To use a selection, simply tap your MagicBand to the “tapstile” at the ride entrance during your selection time range, and it should light up green.

When you have a FastPass+ for a ride, you can have little to no wait at all!  Disney resort guests (those staying on-property), have the ability to make FastPass+ selections 60 days from their check-in date.  Those off property can make them 30 days before check-in, as long as they have an MDE account that has park tickets linked to it.  As I waited for my magical 60-day date, I checked out the following:

  • TouringPlans.com: this is the sister site to the Unofficial Guide that I mentioned when discussing ticket options.  If you want a customized plan, you need to register and pay the low yearly fee.  I found that taking the book out of the library and being able to access the generic touring plans in the back was enough.  I was then able to customize my plans using some of the advice on the site.
  • easyWDW.com: another great site, they offer FREE “cheat sheets,” touring plans for each Park.  The author lives locally, so he is always posting about new stuff in the Parks, and updating his crowd calendar, where he makes recommendations on which Park to visit on what day, depending on historical/anticipated crowds.  He advocates never going to the Park that has Extra Magic Hours (EMH), stating that this Park becomes more and more crowded as the day goes on because many Guests just gravitate toward it, even after the extra morning time has passed.  I agree and disagree.  Where I Disagree: I always go the EMH AM hours, ARRIVING BEFORE THE PARK OPENING TIME, enjoying the extra hour, plus the 2 or 3 lower-crowd hours after the Park officially opens, and leaving as soon as it starts to get hot/crowded for a dip in the resort pool.  So if Magic Kingdom is open for all guests from 9a-10p, and EMH is from 8a-9a, I arrive at 7:30a to be among the first in the Park, enjoy lots of rides with little or no lines until 10:30a, stop for a snack or show, use some FP+ for things that will have developed a line by mid-late morning, then have a nice lunch and get the heck out of there. Where I Agree: do not go to the morning EMH Park late in the day or anytime after the Park opens, really.  Also, note that some Parks also have PM hours, staying open after the Park is closed to non-resort guests, though in practice they don’t kick those people out- they just can’t get on rides.
  • DISboards.com: again, a site where you easily get lost in minutiae and uber-planning.  I stuck to the Theme Parks Attractions and Strategies board for itinerary research.
  • my own head/heart: yes, this is where my previous Disney experience came in, and where I balanced the tendency to pack a lot into each day with the need to make sure my kids and husband have lots of fun the whole time, i.e., taking time to smell the roses orange groves on Soarin’ 🙂

So what did all this research get me?  Why, it’s a day-to-day itinerary, with built-in breaks, time for snacks, and even distribution of rides, shows, and character meets.  The most important part of the proposed itinerary was the “ideal FastPass+ selections” for each day.  Some days I knew we would sleep in in order to have a later night, so I wanted FP+ afternoon/evening selections.  For our first day, I wanted to guarantee the popular stuff that would really wow the family, so I planned for morning FP+.  Some days, we would be Park hopping, and able to take advantage of the early morning little/no lines at the first Park, so I made FP+ for the second Park.  My final wish list wound up like this:

Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10
FP+ #1 Anna & Elsa 10:30a Seas w/Nemo 10:25a Exp Everest 9:00a Space Mtn 4:00p Disney Jr 10:30a Mickey Mouse 4:30p Character Spot 5:00p
FP+ #2 Enchanted Tales 11:45a Turtle Talk 10:45a Mickey/Minnie 11:30a Barnstormer 5:00p TSMM 11:45a Splash Mtn 6:00p Spaceship Earth 6:00p
FP+ #3 Peter Pan 12:45p Test Track 12:45 Kali River 12:30p 7DMT 6:00p L,M,Action 12:00p Haunted Mansion 7:00p Soarin 8:00p

My abbreviations: MK = Magic Kingdom, EP = Epcot, DHS = Disney’s Hollywood Studios, AK = Animal Kingdom, MNSSHP = Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.  It’s pretty easy to guess the full names of the attractions from what I wrote.  The * is for the EMH Park.  Finally, my chart starts with Day 4 of our vacation because the first 2 days are taken up with travel, and Day 3 is when we go to Universal Islands of Adventure.  And I hereby present to you, my actual FP+ selections!

Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9 Day 10
FP+ #1 Splash Mtn 9:50a Seas w/Nemo 9:30a Mickey/Minnie 9:50a Space Mtn 3:00p TSMM 10:35a Mickey Mouse 5:00p Character Spot 5:10p
FP+ #2 Enchanted Tales 11:50a Turtle Talk 10:45a Exp Everest 11:40a 7DMT 4:10p Disney Jr 11:50a Anna & Elsa 6:00p Spaceship Earth 6:30p
FP+ #3 Peter Pan 12:50p Test Track 12:50p Kali River 12:50p Barnstormer 5:10p Frozen Sing 12:35p 7DMT 7:10p Soarin’ 7:30p

Not too shabby!  My 1st Priority was the Anna & Elsa character greet, meaning I would rearrange any other plans to accommodate FP+ availability.  Since Resort guests can make FP+ for any of their vacation  dates as of the 60-day mark, I started searching availability for Day 9 first, since I was planning to be in MK that day, and more people with my check-in date would be searching for earlier in the week (their “Day 1”), as is human nature.  As you can see, my strategy paid off immediately with a FP+ for 6:00pm.  I moved on, working backwards date-wise, and was able to pretty much get everything I wanted.  The whole process took approximately 25 minutes.

With this task done, this will be me until we leave for the trip in October:

Sorry, coworkers.

Sorry, immediate family.  Not sorry, coworkers.

And finally, unless you’ve been under a rock for the past week, you’ve heard about some of the new stuff coming to Disney Parks in the next few years!  Toy Story Land, Star Wars Land, new restaurants, updated rides, shows, etc.!  Here is a great overview…guess I’ll have to start planning my WDW next trip now…haha, START?!  I already have it penciled in for 2020.  With Disneyland coming up in 2018 🙂