Friday, April 27, 2012

How do you utilize Disney's fastpass?

Disney offers a great service in the parks that will allow you to "hold" a spot in line while you do something else.  It's called "Fastpass."

Anyone can use it.  You don't have to be a VIP.  You don't have to be a resort guest.  And most importantly, the service is completely FREE!

Let me explain how it works.

If you are at Magic Kingdom, and your group decides that they want to ride Splash Mountain - when you arrive at the attraction, you might find that the line is 75 minutes long.  Personally, I won't wait in a line that is any longer than 20 minutes.  (Really.  And yes, I still ride everything the world has to offer!)  So, since 75 minutes is way past my 20 minute rule, I'll get a fastpass.  Just to the side of the stand by line, you'll find fastpass machines.  Above the machine you'll see a time - and this is the time that you will need to come back to the ride.  As long as you have no conflicts (meaning you don't have dining plans at that time - or it's at a time when you plan to be back at your hotel) - get a fastpass by placing your ticket into the machine.  The machine will then "spit out" your fastpass.  This is what they look like:

Let's talk about what the information on your pass means.  Notice the time window for your return - you do need to return within that window, but they will give you a 15 minute grace period outside of end time.  Also, a bit further down, your fast pass will tell you when you can get another fast pass.  Often you may get another one as soon as you are ready to use the one in hand.  But sometimes with more popular rides, if your fastpass return time is more than two hours away, you will be able to get another fastpass in two hours rather than waiting for the return time.  For example, if it's 9am and you are getting a fastpass for Toy Story Midway Mania at Hollywood Studios - and the fast pass return window is between 1:20 and 2:20 - you do not need to wait 4 hours to get another fastpass.  Usually, your next time to get a fastpass will be at 11am - and that exact time will be printed on your fastpass.

You can hold as many fastpasses at one time as you like - just make sure that you are using them at your window of opportunity!

Everyone in your party that wants to ride needs their own individual fastpass.

So.  Let's go back to our Splash Mountain fastpass scenario.  The line is 75 minutes long.  And everyone in your party of four wants to ride.  So, you put, one at a time, everyone's ticket into the machine, and now you are the proud owner of four fast passes.  Let's say that it's 10:30 am and you are to return between 12:10 and 1:10.  So...what are you going to do now?

You have lots of options.  You could find a ride with a much shorter wait.  Perhaps you could ride both the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean.  You could take a boat ride over to Tom Sawyer's island and explore while you wait for your window.  You could go shopping on Main Street.  You could go to Sunshine Seasons and get a Dole Whip (delicious pineapple soft serve!) or some other snack.  And the next thing you know, it's 12:10.

When you arrive back at Splash mountain, you'll want to look for the special entrance to the ride that is designated for fastpass holders.  Everyone will need to show their fastpass to the Cast Member at the entrance - and then you'll actually give the fastpass to someone closer to the front of the ride.  Your time in line should be minimal - perhaps just the amount of time it takes to walk to the front - but usually no more than 10 -15 minutes.

As soon as you ride - or perhaps even before you ride - be sure to get another fastpass for another attraction (or the same one if you want to ride again!) so that you don't spend your fabulous Disney vacation waiting in long lines!

So...what about you?  Do you use fastpasses?  You can check the Disney website for a full list of rides with fastpasses.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why I love Canada in the World Showcase

I think that Canada is often one of the most overlooked countries in Epcot's World Showcase.  There is no ride.  No counter service.  And people just keep walking. But I also think it's one of the most beautiful in the World Showcase.  And deserves a moment of stopping to check it out.

When you approach from Future World, enter a path by the check in booth for LeCellier, and you are now in Victoria Gardens.  And it's simply exquisite.  Your kids should be on the look out for the bunnies that live here.

Keep wandering down the path and it narrows between a rock wall - and you'll come out at a gorgeous water fall - and the entrance to "O Canada" (which is a circle vision movie showing the beauty of Canada and narrated by Martin Short).

In addition to the gardens, there is the beautiful representative of the Hotel du Canada.

There are Native influenced totems.

A trading post.

And there are some great souvenirs to be found here.  Naturally, there are Canadian tshirts, Pluto dressed as a Canadian Mountie, and even cute beaver stuffed animals.  But you can also find Canadian chocolates (like my girls' favorite - the Aero bar).

 And my personal favorite - assortments of soap with fantastic names like "Beaver Butt," "Dog Team Drool" and "Sasquatch Sweat."

So next time you are in the world showcase, take a moment to explore.  And I promise you'll find the amazing Disney details!

So...what about you?  Have you explored Canada?  Do you have a favorite country in the World Showcase?

To see more Disney themed pictures and posts, hop over to visit Deb at Focused on the Magic!


Monday, April 23, 2012

What is the Disney Dining Plan? Part II: Regular Dining Plan explained

Did you know that in addition to your resort and your theme park tickets, Disney also offers a dining plan?  This is a great thing because it makes your vacation all inclusive.  It's so nice to have it taken care of ahead of time - and not have to worry about the menu prices when you get there. does it work?

To get the dining plan, you must stay at a Disney resort.  You also need to purchase at least a one day ticket (unless you are an annual passholder, and then you don't have to purchase additional tickets).  There are several levels of the Dining plan:  Quick serve plan (part I), the regular dining plan, and the deluxe dining plan.  Today we are going to focus on the one that I recommend – the regular dining plan. 

Regular plan?  What does that mean??

With this plan (for 2012) - for each night of your stay, everyone in your party receives:  1 refillable mug per person and then 1 snack, 1 quick serve meal, and 1 table service meal per person per night.
What is a refillable mug?  When you are all checked in, go to your resort food court and pick up a cute, lidded plastic mug.  They come in several colors (we have a teal, hot pink and a black) so that you will know whose is whose.  And then you have unlimited soft drinks at your resort (they are not refillable in the parks) for the length of your stay.

What is a quick serve meal?  Think of it like a fast food option.  What's included is either a combo meal, drink and dessert or an entree, side, drink and dessert.  Here are some quick serve options you might enjoy:
1.  At Cosmic Rays in the Magic Kingdom:  for a quick serve credit, you can have: 1/2 a rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, a large diet coke and a piece of chocolate cake.
2.  At Pizza Planet in Hollywood Studios:  for a quick serve credit, you can have:  a veggie pizza, a side Caesar salad, a cookie and a bottle of water.
3.  At the Flame Tree BBQ in Animal Kingdom:  for a quick serve credit, you can have: a pork sandwich, coleslaw, chocolate mousse and a large Sprite.
4.  At the Tangerine Cafe in Morocco at Epcot: for a quick serve credit, you can have: a chicken and lamb combo Sharwarma platter with a side of Hummus, Tabouleh and a Tangierine Couscous Salad and fresh Moroccan bread, Baklava, and a large iced tea.

You can still get the ubiquitous burgers, chicken nuggets and fries - but your dining plan does not have to start and end with that!  There is much variety to be found - including veggies.  Even if want those burgers, you can always substitute grapes or carrots for the fries.

So...what about snacks?  Typically, snacks are items that cost $3.99 or less (though there are lots of exceptions) - like a bottle of soda or water, a Mickey head ice cream bar, popcorn, a soft pretzel, etc

Some exceptions that I have seen are the infamous Disney cupcakes - they are priced at $4.99 but most do have this emblem, which means they count as a snack.  Something to keep in mind with snacks: not all are created equal!  This means, that at $2.50 for a bottle of water - you are better off to bring your own water into the park - and spend you snack credits on things like cupcakes (not a hard plan to get behind!).  Also, if you are fortunate enough to be at Disney during the Food and Wine festival (Sept 28- November 11, 2012) -you can use your snack credits at all the kiosks and get wonderful things like lamb, fisherman pie, lobster rolls and shrimp on the barbie - all for a snack credit each!

How do you know if it's a snack?  Just look for this emblem, and you are golden:

And now, finally, what on earth is a table service?  Think of this as your nice sit down meal where you will have a server and where you MUST have a reservation (and this is part of my service to you - I'll make all those reservations for you!).

At a table service meal, what is included is either an entrée, dessert, and a drink OR a drink and a buffet meal.  (If you have a child in your room – and Disney says a child is someone 9 or younger – they must order off of the children’s menu)  You can order anything off of the menu.  If you want the most expensive item on the menu – by all means, order it!  What is not included?  Gratuity, alcohol, and appetizers.  Those expenses can just be charged back to your room.

Here are some examples of table service meals you might enjoy:

Lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom:  New England pot roast, Sprite, and Ooey gooey toffee cake.

Dinner at Teppan Edo in Japan/Epcot:  Hibachi style dinner with a combination steak and shrimp, rice, noodles and veggies, a Coke, and chocolate ginger cake.

Lunch at the 50’s Prime Time Café in Hollywood Studios: Grandma’s Chicken pot pie, a peanut butter and jelly milkshake, and then Dad’s brownie sundae for dessert.

Dinner at Yak and Yeti at Animal Kingdom:  Seafood curry with Jasmine rice, tea, and mango pie for dessert.

If you'd like to see menus for all the restaurants in Disney - this is a great resource.

Also, your credits are pooled.  That means that if you check in for a 5 night stay with 2 adults and 2 children in your room - you have 20 snack credits, 20 table service credits, and 20 quick serve credits (four people, 1 each per day, 5 nights).  You can use them how ever you like (except for sharing with your aunt and 5 cousins who decide to meet you at the Magic Kingdom one day) - you can eat 5 meals one day and 3 the next and none the next and so on (you can also do the same with your snack credits - you can even use them all in one day if you choose!).  Just be sure that at the end of your trip you've used all your credits - no one wants to leave leftovers for the mouse!

One more note about credits.  Most table services "cost" one credit each.  But there are some that will count as 2 credits - like a meal at Cinderella's Royal Table in the castle, the Spirit of Aloha Dinner show at the Polynesian resort, or an amazing dinner at the Flying Fish Cafe on Disney's Boardwalk. 

I hope that helps you to understand the regular dining plan.  Next week, look for my post on the deluxe dining plan!

What about you?  Do you prefer the all inclusive option?  Do you have a favorite Disney restaurant?  Did you know that you could get this plan for FREE if you are planning a trip in September?  Email me for details -

Other posts in this series:  Quick serve dining plan explained and Deluxe dining plan explained


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day Disney style

My girls and I visited Disney in April - and we so enjoyed the Flower and Garden festival.  And one of the new things this year was not a topiary - but a sand sculpture.  I don't know about you, but when we go to the beach, we try to build sand castles.  But often they resemble buckets.  Or as my children often prefer, they are much more like pits than castles.  I can't even imagine the work it took to create this sculpture.

Have you seen Disney's new nature movie - "Chimpanzee?"


Thursday, April 19, 2012

A review: Contemporary Resort - Club Level

Today, our post is being brought to you by my friend and fellow homeschool/public school mom - Gwyneth.  She and her family just enjoyed a great stay at the Contemporary Resort - Club level - and she has graciously agreed to write up a review for me.  Please check out Gwyneth's blog - and especially her "travels" tab so that you can find her accounting of her family's one month trip out west last summer while staying in their EuroVan!

Between school, travel time and cost, and work, there was just no way we could make it work. But then we heard that the cousins would, by some strange coincidence, be there too. And we just couldn’t pass it up. And I’m so happy that we didn’t. 

Rob needed to attend a professional society board meeting in Orlando. At Disney. At the Contemporary Hotel. And with his brother and family overlapping, we just had to make it work. We decided to have Camille fly down with Rob using a companion ticket. And I picked Chloe up from school at 4pm and drove like crazy to get down to Orlando as fast as possible. 

Chloe and I arrived at 11pm after negotiating the highways within the Disney complex. Apparently, not many people drive to Disney; the security gated parking lot at the hotel had lots of space. Unbeknownst to me, our room was actually on the “Atrium Club Concierge” level. Wow. Now that we’ve been there, I’m not sure that I can ever again go to Disney any other way. 

After meeting up with Rob and Camille, we used our key to get up to the twelfth level. As we walked along the “hall”, I suddenly realized that the monorail was right below us! Direct passage to the Magic Kingdom can’t be beat! From our room, the view of Cinderella’s castle was simply amazing. Unfortunately, we had arrived too late to see the fireworks … But we had time to get settled in the comfortable room … two queen beds and a lovely fold-out couch. Unfortunately, the wireless connection was terribly spotty; I’m glad I didn’t bring work along with me.

Being so late, we headed right to sleep in order to get up as early as possible. After showering, we headed down the hall to the concierge area and had our choice of yogurts, cereals, croissants, muffins, and more for breakfast. The coffee, even for me, a very picky coffee drinker, was good. Following our big breakfast, we hoped on the monorail and rode right over to the Magic Kingdom. We arrived just as the gates were opening and had no lines. We rushed on to the Pooh ride and then rode the tea cups a couple times before meeting the cousins at Space Mountain for Chloe’s first ever trip on Space Mountain!

During the two days we went to the parks, we split up, re-grouped, and rearranged. Having Park Hopper tickets and a hotel room on the property made the trip so, so, so much more relaxed than it would have been otherwise. We could get everywhere fast (except when the bus to Hollywood Studios was mis-marked and we had to wait over 30 minutes to get there from the hotel).

The club level was amazing. Every time we came by, there was some other set of food being served, including wine and after-dinner drinks for those who were so inclined. We spent a couple of hours at the pools. The lifeguards were friendly and attentive … we saw one jump in without hesitation when a kid was floundering in the pool.

I have now been spoiled. While I don’t generally go to Disney, we’ve been in Tokyo, Paris and Florida. And if I were to return to Disney in FL, I’d certainly want to stay at the Contemporary again.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Animal Kingdom's DiVine

I have found that my favorite things about Disney are not necessarily the headline attractions.  Not that I just don't love Rock n Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios.  Or Everest at Animal Kingdom.  Or my first glance of the castle in Magic Kingdom.  But.  It's the little things that make me happy.  Like Trying on Kimonos in Japan.  Or eating a cinnamon roll from the Main Street Bakery.  Or.  Being able to find DiVine on the bridge between Africa and Asia in Disney's Animal Kingdom.

DiVine would not be easy to find but for the crowd of people that often surround her.  Do take a moment (look on your times guide sheet that you will find by the park maps as you enter the park in the morning) to seek her out.  You will be mesmerized and amazed by her beauty and artistry.

Can you tell that I just couldn't decide which pictures to include?!  These photos were taken during several different trips to Disney - and DiVine is a must find for my family!

To see more pictures on the theme of Disney nature, hop over to visit Deb at Focused on the Magic!


Main Street Bakery

I have been inside the Magic Kingdom a lot.  If I even had to fathom a guess as to how many visits in my life - I'd say about a hundred.  Or more.  But I have never (at least not in memory) been to the Main Street Bakery.  Even my last few trips, I have wanted to go there.  To nosh on that incredible looking Cinnamon roll.  But I have been foiled.

Part of it I blame on my children as they would rank the Magic Kingdom at the bottom of the four parks - so we are not here much.  And if we are here, we are racing for fast passes, Space Mountain, or a lovely breakfast with Pooh at the Crystal Palace.  And by the time we head out, it's just managed to drop off of my radar.

But on our visit in April, the stars aligned and I finally got my chance!

After going over the hours on our trip, we realized our best day to do Magic Kingdom was on a day they offered extra magic hours in the morning.  And it also happened to be a morning that the park opened at 8am.  That meant we could be in at 7am.  Which meant leaving our resort at 6am.  And getting up at 5am.  Note to readers:  if you think that you are going to sleep in on your Disney vacation - you are wrong - or you are missing out!  I don't get up this early.  Except at Disney.  There is some cruel irony there.

So, the girls and I rose crazy early.  Rode the bus and were at the rope for entrance into the MK at 7am.  The girls ran ahead to get in the standby line for Space Mountain while I was in charge of the fast passes.  We rode.  They rode.  We all rode again.  And about 10 am, we were done with Tomorrow Land and Fantasy land - and decided to head out (with the ultimate plan of going to Blizzard Beach for the remainder of the day) - but first we had to stop at the Main Street Bakery.

(photo credit for the above photo: Only WDW - thanks so much for graciously sharing your photo as I forgot to take one!  If you click on the link, you can see their review and more pictures from the bakery)

I knew I wanted to get a Cinnamon roll.  And then a few weeks ago, the Disney food Blog wrote a review of the peanut butter cup cupcake - and I knew I had to get one of those, too.  Just look at all that sugary goodness:

(Okay - who's hungry now?!)

So after looking over the case - the girls went out to get a table outside - and I got in line.  I was entertained by watching them make waffle cones for the ice cream parlor.  Which really just made me want to order more yummies! 

And then I got up to the case - ordered a chocolate croissant.  And noticed that there was only ONE peanut butter cup cupcake in the case - and the man in front of me ordered it.  ACK!  Well.  I was saved by the stars aligning.  And some pixie dust.  When they went to another case to get more cupcakes!  And then we topped off our order with the amazingly decadent cinnamon roll:

I paid for our bounty and then headed out to find the girls.  It was really challenging to tell them to wait for pictures before they could dig in!

Here is the up close and personal with the cinnamon roll:

and the chocolate croissant:

And then...the cupcake:

Isn't it gorgeous?  The frosting is peanutbutter butter cream; there are drizzles of chocolate; it's topped with that peanutbutter cup.  And.  Then.  When you cut into it:

Can you see?  There are peanut butter chips in the cake.  Oh.  My.  Word.  Delicious does not even begin to explain the wonderfulness of this cupcake.  Moist.  Luscious.  Decadent.  And I can't wait to go back to have another.

Verdict?  I would say our breakfast was fabulous - it's a great use of snack credits if you have them - or a great use of your Disney dollars if you don't.  The scent of being in there is worth a walk through - though I can't imagine not making a purchase - especially now that I have finally tried the Main Street Bakery!

So...what about you?  From the bakery case - what would you choose for your indulgence?