One Sneaky Way to Save Money for Your Walt Disney World Vacation

Disney Scrooge McDuckAs a habitual visitor to the Walt Disney World Resort, I’m always looking to schedule my next fix. Usually, what stands between me and the Happiest Place on Earth is money! So over the years, I’ve developed some effective methods for padding the bank account so we can regularly travel to the parks. And I’m pretty sure this is the most frequent question I’m asked once someone discovers how often our family travels to the Walt Disney World Resort.

Look to the right. That’s right, see that picture of the Cinderella Castle? Yes? That’s your magic portal to my eBook, Ten Sneaky Ways to Save for Your Walt Disney World Resort Vacation. And it’s FREE !

Today I’m going give you a sneak peek at what’s inside. Here’s Sneaky Way to Save #1:

Disney Vacation Account

The Walt Disney World Company recognizes that that a magical vacation requires magical pocketbooks! To help address that need, they’ve established the Disney Vacation Account program. Essentially, the account functions like a bank-sponsored vacation club, Christmas club or other savings club. But because it’s Disney—there’s a bit of added pixie dust!

Here’s how it works. The first step is to use the handy budget estimator tool so you can price your dream vacation. Once that’s done, it’s time to devise your savings plan. You can tailor this to your own timeframe—you can go as far out as five years to save for your trip! They offer some pretty nifty goal tracking features to help keep you motivated. Set up automatic contributions with your debit card (or credit card), and schedule these contributions to be taken out at your convenience. You can also make “instant” contributions at any time—for example, your income tax return or bonus check. There are no fees to take advantage of this service and your money can be refunded to you at any time!

While all of this is quite convenient in setting up a dedicated Disney savings plan, here’s the real benefit. When it comes time to book (and pay for) your vacation, you’re eligible to receive a $20 Disney Gift Card for every $1,000 you spend on your vacation. Basically, you receive 2% interest in the form of souvenir and incidental cash to be used while at Walt Disney World. While that may not sound like a lot to some— it’s nothing to sneeze at and there are ways to optimize this program when combined with other strategies that I outline below.

A Disney Vacation Account is the cornerstone for all my other Sneaky Ways to Save methods. The other nine points in the eBook work to maximize the benefits available through a Disney Vacation Club account. Of course, if you use them without a Disney Vacation Account, it’s still money in your pocket. However, the more pixie dust the better so that’s why I build off these benefits.

Want to see more? Do you too want to speed along your next trip to Mickey’s house? Well then, sign up above and you’ll get instant access to Ten Sneaky Ways to Save for Your Walt Disney World Resort Vacation. After you read it, let me know if you have a great way to save that I haven’t thought of yet. I’d love to hear your thoughts. After all, more money saved means more Disney!

Don’t Melt in the Summer Heat – Best Tips for Staying Cool at the Walt Disney World Resort

I am honored to announce that I’m now a contributing author to TheDisneyMoms.com!  Once a month I’ll be contributing to that blog, but please be sure to visit them more often.  There’s some talented Disney Moms over there!  Here’s my first post for them.  Please click on over to visit!

Don’t Melt in the Summer Heat – Best Tips for Staying Cool at Walt Disney World

Park Icon Series: Cinderella Castle – The Beauty Within

Disney Cinderella CastleThis is the first post in a series celebrating the icons representing the four Disney Parks at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Just looking at a picture of them can evoke all sorts of emotions, immediately bringing to mind joys of vacations past or those to come, and sum up exactly what to expect inside the park’s turnstiles. And of course, we begin our series with the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom.

I have been programmed from a very young age to associate a Disney castle with magic, wonder and family memories. My mother never had time to sit down and watch television, with one very important exception. Each Sunday night, we would gather as a family and suspend our everyday lives by watching The Wonderful World of Disney. My Dad would butter the popcorn as my sister and I found our spots under a blanket. Good times!

Walt Disney went out of his way to make Cinderella Castle larger than life. Literally. Imagineers (Disney’s incarnation of mere mortal engineers) used forced perspective while designing the castle. The windows and “bricks” gradually grow smaller from bottom to top, tricking our eye into seeing a much larger structure than it’s actual 183 feet. The castle first attracts our attention from the ferry, monorail or bus before we even enter the park.  Then once we step onto Main Street, U.S.A, we’re pulled toward the center hub where the Castle rises in full fairytale glory.

Mickey Fact:  By building Cinderella Castle less than 200 feet, Disney was able to avoid adding flashing red warning lights that would have been required by the Federal Aviation Administration if they hadn’t.

Cinderella Castle is more than a pretty face.  Here’s what’s inside!

1.   Cinderella’s Royal Table –  Would you like to get up close and personal with the Castle?  Just make reservations at Cinderella’s Royal Table restaurant for either breakfast, lunch or dinner!  Regardless of age or gender, I truly believe every Dinsey fan should experience this at least once.  Upon check-in for your meal, you’re ushered into a royal drawing room where you’ll have an audience with Princess Cinderella herself.  Then climb a narrow stairway to the Royal Dining Room and it is just as regal as you would expect! While I certainly enjoyed meeting Cinderella’s Princess friends, the true highlight for me was gawking at all the royal detail.

2.    Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique – Little girls become princesses and little boys transform into knights at this fun makeover salon in the bottom floor of the Cinderella Castle.  Fairy Godmothers-in-training make their dreams come true with her magic wand and a few hair and fashion tricks!  Can you imagine how special these little ones feels when they exit their castle and parade through the kingdom?  It’s a good thing the age limit is 12 or my husband and kids would completely disown me!

Mickey Fact:  Don’t miss the five mosaic murals as you pass through Cinderella Castle. Made up of over one million pieces of glass, bits of gold and silver, and numerous “jewels, these 15-feet high and ten-feet wide murals tell an abbreviated version of the classic Cinderealla story.

3.     Cinderella Castle Suite – Originally intended to be an apartment for Walt Disney when visiting the park, the Cinderella Castle Suite is the stuff dreams are made of.  If I had one last dying wish, spending the night in this suite would be a strong contender.  This space isn’t very big– probably the size of many master bedrooms.  But I can assure you what it lacks in size is made up in ornate detail!  A beautifully appointed private elevator opens to reveal a salon, bedchamber, and opulently appointed bathroom.  From outside the castle, if you stand on the Liberty Square bridge and look about two-thirds of the way up the castle, you’ll see a series of three stained-glass windows.  If the lights are on at night, there just may be a special celebrity guest enjoying their stay!

4.     Specialized Magic – As the centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom, Cinderella Castle provides an irresistible backdrop for Disney’s particular brand of magic.  Here’s the lineup.

Located immediately in front of the Castle, the Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage is an open-air venue where Disney presents high-energy musical shows several times a day.  Of course, no Disney show would be complete without its cast of characters!  Currently, Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire is preparing to debut in June 2016.

The Wishes Nighttime Spectacular is an unparalleled fireworks extravaganza.  The show takes place every night– except when it’s temporarily replaced with specialty firework shows like Celebrate America – A Fourth of July Concert in the Sky, Hallowishes, Christmas Holiday Wishes and New Years Eve Fantasy in the Sky.  As you might imagine, The Walt Disney Company is the largest consumer of fireworks in the United States.  Rumor has it that Wishes Nighttime Spectacular costs approximately $50,000 per night!

Celebrate the Magic transforms the Castle into a “living piece of art”, honoring time-honored Disney storytelling.  Tinker Bell taps her wand to sprinkle pixie dust and the show begins!  The show usually takes place about 15 minutes before the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular begins, but times and frequency vary depending on the season.

The Christmas holidays are a very special season at the Walt Disney World Resort where they pull out all the stops.  The Cinderella Castle dresses up in her finest!  A Frozen Holiday Wish and the Castle Dream Lights wow every guest during the November/December holiday season.  The castle is adorned with 200,000 LED lights and it takes six weeks to perform the Castle’s transformation.  Each evening Princess Anna, Kristoff and friends (yes, even Olaf), convince Elsa to gift the Magic Kingdom by turning the Castle into a sparkly ice palace!  It’s a fantastic sight to behold!

4.     Deep Inside the Magic – Cinderella Castle also serves a practical purpose.  Over the years, Disney has used the space as a call center, storage area, dressing rooms and various other less-than-magical functions.  While I have never personally been on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Castle (there’s that dying wish again), here’s what I understand to be currently inside.

First, there’s an access ladder to the perch from which Tinker Bell takes flight each evening the Wishes Fireworks Spectacular takes place.  She flies from high atop a castle turret down to the Tomorrowland Terrace, weather permitting.  Can you even imagine??

Here’s the one I find most fascinating.  Disney’s Operational Command Center is beneath the Castle.  Its sole purpose is to improve the guest experience by reducing our waiting in lines.  Disney has long been sensitive to the fact folks don’t want to spend their vacation waiting in a one-hour line for a five-minute ride, and has worked toward improving that experience by installing interactive queues where the line itself becomes a mini-attraction.  But they’re also attacking the problem by using state-of-the-art technology.    This underground nerve center uses video cameras, computer programs, digital park maps and other magical tools to spot gridlock before it happens and then dispatch a solution.  For example, they can contact the attraction and have them put more boats in use at Pirates of the Caribbean, or even send a character or two to entertain you while you wait.  Their mission?  To get you to the fun faster!

Thank you so much for hanging in with me to the very end!  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sharing my love for the Cinderella Castle with you.  What do you think?  Let me know if you learned anything new about this park icon!

 

runDisney Virtual Running Shorts 5k Series – Will Sweat for Mickey!

Disney Virtual Running Shorts 5k Yellow-Shoes-MedalSince this isn’t television, let me explain something about myself straight away. My body type is more like Winnie the Pooh than Jessica Rabbit. I tell you that so you will understand the true power Mickey Mouse holds over me.

There are several excuses reasons why my clothing can fit a hunny-loving bear instead of a citizen of Pixie Hollow, but one critical justification reality is that I hate to sweat. Period. But nonetheless, I know I need to improve my health to help ensure a long healthy life for me and my family—not to mention making many more trips to Walt Disney World.  But head knowledge was not translating into body movement. That is, until I discovered runDisney.

Back in the day, say three years or so ago, I discovered that I could justify a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort if I committed to training and completing a runDisney 5K. It was a wonderful motivation! In fact, I have actually crossed six finish lines and have the medals to prove it! Yes, there was sweat involved– buckets of it– but my pal Mickey was there to cheer me on.

Sad to say, I am no longer in 5K shape. But again, runDisney to the rescue!

runDisney Virtual Running Shorts Series

runDisney has recently announced a new series of virtual 5k’s that can be done from the comfort of your neighborhood! While nothing can compare to running through Cinderella Castle at an actual runDisney event, this is a great way to bring the magic of Disney to bear on my fitness goals.

This new runDisney event is actually a series of three virtual 5K’s. You can run 1, 2 or all three of these virtual events and will receive an awesome medal for each race (see example posted at the beginning of this post). BUT– if you run all three 5K’s within the prescribed timeframes, you’ll receive a fourth medal to commemorate conquering the entire series. Here are the details for the three races:

  • runDisney Virtual Running Shorts – Yellow Shoes (May 15 – June 1, 2016)
  • runDisney Virtual Running Shorts – Red Pants (June 5 – June 18, 2016)
  • runDisney Virtual Running Shorts – White Glove (June 19 – June 30, 2016)

For each race, participants will receive a Digital Race Bib and a Commemorative Finisher Medal if the race is finished within the scheduled time frames.

Complete all four, and you’ll receive a special Mickey Series Finisher Medal to match your Commemorative Yellow Shoes, Red Pants and White Gove Individual Finisher Medals. You’ll also receive what’s described as a Mickey Tumbler.

Each race fee is $39, and $142 to register for all three, including the extra medal and other entitlements.

Here’s the link for runDisney’s Official Details and Rules.

Why Am I Running Mickey’s Virtual Shorts 5k Series?

  • I NEED those four medals to add to my collection.
  • What I really need is to better my health and physical stamina.
  • Participation can benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
  • Running 9.3 miles in three 3.1 mile installments over the course of six weeks will not kill me.  No matter how I may feel to the contrary.
  • This is so flexible!  I can run anywhere, anytime as long as I complete the races within the scheduled time frames.  Since summer in the Carolinas is a scorcher, I plan to binge watch Netflix while I train and run the races on my home treadmill. Air conditioning is a good thing for someone who is allergic to sweat.

#runDisneyShorts

I’ll be periodically posting my progress and thoughts on the runDisney Virtual Running Shorts Series.  I would love it if you could encourage me through this process– since, you know, I’m gonna have to sweat.  Head over to and “Like” the A Disneyfied Life Facebook page for regular updates.  You can also find me on Twitter @MamaLovesDisney and ADisneyfiedLife on Instagram.

Is anyone else planning to participate? If so, leave a comment below. It would be fun to do this together!

 

Crowded School Holidays at the Walt Disney World Resort – Yay or Nay?

Yesterday, I was privileged to be featured on a blog I admire tremendously, AnOpenSuitcase.com. Please head on over to check out my latest Walt Disney World travel tips.  And while you’re there, be sure to enjoy the other Disney related posts!

An Open Suitcase Blog Logo

Crowded School Holidays at the Walt Disney World Resort – Yay or Nay?

Disney Crowds

New Shows, Fireworks & Food, Oh My! What’s New this Summer at the Walt Disney World Resort

Disney Olaf Summer PictureHard to believe, it has been less than four weeks since my last visit to the Walt Disney World Resort and I’m already trying sneak in a quick trip just to experience all the new attractions and experiences scheduled to open this summer.  The Disney Parks Blog opened the flood gates this week with official announcements of upcoming summer attractions, fireworks, restaurant and retail openings, and so much more—my head is still spinning.  Each of the four Walt Disney World theme parks, plus Disney Springs, are rolling out new experiences over the next few months.  In order to strategically time my next visit to enjoy as many of these as possible, I laid them out in calendar sequence.  Perhaps you’ll find this helpful as well?

Late Spring

  • While not specifically a new attraction, I’m eager to see the new Dooney & Bourke handbags that will be arriving in the parks at select merchandise locations. Three new designs will be introduced, including black leather bags embossed with Star Wars icons.  Check all three styles out here: New Dooney & Bourke Handbags Arriving in Spring.
  • As a Disney Vacation Club member, I am eagerly awaiting the opening of a new members-only lounge to be located in the Imagination! Pavilion at Future World in Epcot. This private lounge will offer a comfortable spot to relax and escape the Florida heat with complimentary soft drinks, an all-important wi-fi connection, digital device charging stations and even computers with printers for those who want to kick back old-school style.  Member Services Advisors will also be there in case you have any questions about using DVC membership benefits.  While this certainly won’t excite DVC non-members, I think this is a terrific addition.
  • Sprinkles Cupcakes with a cupcake ATM coming to the Disney Springs Town Center neighborhood. Need I say more?

Memorial Day (May 30, 2016)

Nighttime Magic comes to Disney’s Animal Kingdom 

  • Beginning May 27th through July 2nd, Animal Kingdom will stay open until 11:00 pm!
  • “The Jungle Book: Alive with Magic” show will debut at the new waterfront stage on Discovery River. The movie music is scheduled to come alive with special effects.  This is a limited-time offering, presumably giving way to Rivers of Light sometime in the future.
  • The Tree of Life Awakens. I think of this as a re-imagined Celebrate the Magic that takes place on Cinderella Castle.  In true Disney tradition, the spirit of Animal Kingdom will be presented with breathtaking lighting and visual effects.  I’m really looking forward to seeing this.  I have often thought the amazing Tree of Life icon has been underutilized and has great potential.
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris After Dark – This popular trek across the savanna has been unfitted with special lighting to allow adventurers to explore the area and the animals who live there well into the evening hours.
  • Nighttime Street Parties – Two nighttime dance parties debut at Animal Kingdom. One is the Harambe Wildlife Party and the other is Discovery Island Carnivale.  Guests can join the local communities with music, dancing, stilt walkers, food and more.
  • Nighttime Attractions – Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids and the midway games and attractions at DinoLand U.S.A. will now be open for guests to enjoy during the extended nighttime hours.
  • Tiffins Restaurant opens at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Located in Discovery Island, this new table service restaurant will offer cuisine and décor inspired by the world travels of the park’s creators with African, Asian and South American influences.  Adjacent to Tiffins will be the Nomad Lounge where no reservations will be required to enjoy a varied menu of small bites and beverages as unique as the menu, including handcrafted cocktails and beers.

On occasion, we’ve visited Walt Disney World during the winter months when nighttime falls early.  I’ve also participated in two runDisney Expedition Everest Challenges which ran through the park after dark.  I can tell you from experience, Animal Kingdom becomes a different park once night falls.  One of the most memorable experiences was walking into Asia, home of Expedition Everest, at night with the prayer flags and ambient lighting.  The view from the peak of Expedition Everest is remarkable in the dark.  I for one am happy that the magic is being extended into the night at this beautiful theme park.

June 2016

  • “Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire” will debut on the Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage in the Magic Kingdom, replacing the beloved Dream Along with Mickey. Mickey and his friends have traveled far and wide to invite their new friends to the Magic Kingdom—Tiana and Naveen, Rapunzel and Flynn Rider plus Anna, Elsa and Olaf!  This musical stage show is sure to be a hit!
  • “Soarin’ Around the World” at Epcot’s Future World opens on June 17th. I cannot begin to contain my excitement!  As a huge fan of the original Soarin’ attraction, I’m truly amped to witness more than a dozen wonders found around the world—The Great Wall of China, Sydney Harbor and the Swiss Matterhorn are just a few.  And to help accommodate the expected travelers, Soarin’ Around the World has added a third departure gate.  The magical multi-sensory experience from the original attraction will be carried over to this new version, including stunning aerial views, reverberating sounds and even the subtle scents that make this ride so special.
  • “Frozen Ever After” attraction in Norway at Epcot’s World Showcase. This long-awaited opening will end the speculation of what is actually replacing the Maelstrom attraction.  We’ll be able to embark on a boat tour through the kingdom of Arendelle, including Troll Valley, Queen Elsa’s Ice Palace and then on to the Bay of Arendelle.  Anna and Elsa will be greeting visitors at their new Royal Sommerhus location.
  • “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular” is a brand new fireworks extravaganza at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This show is said to be the most elaborate fireworks display to ever take place at this park. In addition to fireworks, the park will light up with pyrotechnics, video projections, a tower of fire and massive lightsabers.  I have a special weakness for Disney firework shows, so this is high on my list of priorities!

August 2016

  • Disney will be introducing its first Latina princess, Princess Elena of Avalor! First, La Princesa Elena will first debut on the Disney Channel in her own series.  She’s a teenager in a fairytale kingdom who is bold, adventurous and loves her kingdom and family.  Princess Elena will appear in the Magic Kingdom sometime in August.
  • Rivers of Light, the first nighttime show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, will officially debut sometime this summer (I’m presuming August for trip-planning purposes). The show will be set on Discovery River in the Asia section of the park in an all new waterfront amphitheater built just for the occasion.  Illuminated lanterns, water screens, light projections, fountains and an original soundtrack—this is sure to be amazing!
  • Disney Springs will have opened 30 new retail and dining outlets by the end of summer! Check out some of the details on the Disney Parks Blog by clicking here: Disney Springs to Open More than 30 Shops & Dining Locations.  I am really looking forward to the completion of Disney Springs.  I’m anxious to see the updated theming but I’m especially looking forward to the new shopping and dining opportunities!

Whew!  Thanks for sticking with me for this long!  Walt Disney said that Disney will never be completed as long as imagination is left in the world.  Clearly Walt Disney World Imagineers are nowhere near running out of imagination.

What new attraction are you most looking forward to?  Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to study my calendar to see when I can squeeze that trip into the schedule!

First Things First: Five Things I Do When Entering a Disney Theme Park

Disney Parks Logo

As a frequent visitor to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, I realize I’ve developed certain habits once Mickey gives me the good-to-go green light after scanning my Magic Band for entrance into the theme parks. Come along as I share my entrance routine!

1.     Once I cross the threshold—whether it’s coming out from under the Main Street, U.S.A. Railroad Station at the Magic Kingdom or winding my way through the Leave a Legacy megalith stones at Epcot, I stop and absorb the moment. Disney Imagineering is quite masterful at manipulating the senses of their guests. No matter what eye-catching park icon greets you, it’s larger than life. The ambient music whisks you away to another time and place. And have you caught a whiff of the Main Street Bakery as soon as you enter the Magic Kingdom? There’s no feeling quite like Disney Magic. And before I get caught up in the busyness of the day’s visit, I want to wallow in every particle of Pixie Dust I can.

2.     Next, I assess crowd conditions. Looking around, is it what I anticipated?  A quick check of the My Disney Experience smart phone app lets me know the current wait times at the various attractions. If necessary, I can revise my FastPass+ reservations to better reflect what’s going on in real-time. This also allows me to better strategize my plan of attack to eliminate as much standing in lines as possible.

3.     Then I head to the attraction with the shortest wait time. Believe me—wait times can change in a blink of an eye, so take advantage of any manageable wait time available. Of course, if I have a FastPass+ return window about to open up, that would be the attraction with the shortest queue!

4.     It doesn’t take long for me to fall prey to gravitate to my Disney favorites. Depending on the time of day, that may mean hitting up my favorite Quick Service restaurant or checking in for my Table Service reservation. Or, it could mean hunting down my favorite snack. Whether it’s the fresh Werther’s caramel popcorn from Karmell-Kuche Kitchen in Epcot’s World Showcase or the Yak & Yeti Local Food Cafes’ Egg Rolls at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, no park visit is complete without indulging! By the way, I understand one of Tinker Bell’s primary responsibilities is to sprinkle pixie dust on all the yummy food to remove the calories before it’s ever served to guests. No? Well—that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

5.     And last, but certainly not least, I enjoy whatever snack I’m devouring from a primo people watching vantage point. And some of the best people to watch are the Streetmosphere players! The Dapper Dans, the Tam Tam Drummers from Harambe, the Citizens of Hollywood or Jeweled Dragon Acrobats—they’re all vastly skilled and love to interact with the crowd. And witnessing a family’s first glimpse of the Cinderella Castle recreates the wonder of my first visit. Stopping to smell the popcorn is just another way to fully absorb Disney magic at its best.

Of course, there’s no one perfect way to enter a Disney Park. What’s important is that you do!  Do you have any routines you do when first entering a park?  I’d love to hear them! Please share them below. Who knows—I may just have to add your favorite to my list!

Epcot’s Spaceship Earth – Must Do or Must Miss?

Disney Spaceship EarthSpaceship Earth presented by Siemens is the iconic symbol of all things Epcot. Noticeable from miles around Disney property, this silver geosphere (affectionately known as “the golf ball”) inspires awe and curiosity from all ages. Let’s go inside and see just what this attraction is all about.

At first blush, I honestly expected this ride to be a sleeper—nothing more than a cool break from the Florida sun. Disney’s official website describes it as: “Take a ride through time for a look at the landmark moments that made today’s communications technology possible.” Yawn. Not exactly a thrill ride. In fact, it struck me as distinctly educational.

How dare I doubt Mickey?? Even my kids, five and six at the time of our first visit, loved it! The outside queue moves quickly since the ride stays in perpetual motion and we time travelers have to hop into a slowly moving vehicle to begin our journey. A screen in front of you asks your language preference and home location. Nothing like a touch-screen to excite kids—no matter what their age! You slowly climb a ramp and you’re prompted to smile for the camera. When the kids were young, we just got cheesy grins. Now we get peace signs, duck lips, and whatever else the teenage mind finds cool at any given time.

And then the show begins. The distinctive voice of Dame Judi Dench comes through the speakers and narrates our way from when cavemen first banded together to fight wooly mammoths, until an early computer geek tinkers with the first desktop computer in his garage. In classic Disney style, we see, hear and smell the various stages of history. I can’t help but think of Rome burning when we fire up our patio fire pit at home.

But more magic awaits once we leave that computer guy’s garage. I won’t spoil the fun, but the touch-screen in front of you comes to life and asks a series of questions about what you’d like your future to look like. Remember that duck-face picture taken at the beginning of your journey? Well, you are now starring in your own futuristic video!

Upon your return to earth, you exit your time travel vehicle and enter Project Tomorrow: Inventing the Wonders of the Future. An arcade-like room surrounds you full of interactive, hands-on exhibits and displays featuring technology that will soon be available to us all. Explore digital surgery while building a 3D human body, check out accident avoidance technology already being introduced in the newest automobiles of today, and find out what energy conservation might look like in the future.

But here’s what my kids love—prominently displayed above it all are the pictures you created of your future. We can’t resist visiting one of the kiosks and emailing our customized futuristic video to ourselves and friends back home.

So the bottom line—Disney makes even educational material fun. To the point where even my teenagers insist on riding this attraction each and every visit to Epcot. And I had to chuckle. One evening I was helping my daughter study for a middle school social sciences test. The subject?  How modern communication technologies came into existence. That was one night of homework that went quicker than expected.

So to answer the question posed in this post’s title, for us Spaceship Earth definitely falls under the Must Do category.

Please let me know your thoughts on Spaceship Earth.  Have you ridden it?  Are you Team Must Do or Team Must Miss?

 

 

Traveling with Teenagers to the Walt Disney World Resort

Brosnan Aeris Expedition Everest

As I’m writing, I’m sequestered at The Artist’s Pallette, the quick service dining location at the Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa at the Walt Disney World Resort.  It’s the week after Easter, which is considered to be one of the top two or three busiest times to visit.  I will share my impressions, survival techniques, and conclusions soon!  But in the meantime, I’d like to share my experience traveling to the world’s family vacation mecca with teenagers.

Bonus Mouseketool:  Disney features a whole section on their website for families traveling with tweens and teens.  Great ideas for when you’re planning your vacation!  Planning for Older Kids, Tweens and Teens

Why on earth would I be spending Disney time writing a blog post?  Because my kids are sleeping in.  That’s what teenagers do.  And rather than fight their biological tendency, I’m embracing it and altering our typical Disney attack plan.  I’m actually following my own advice, although that advice is typically shared with parents of toddlers who vacation at Disney.  But the premise is the same and just as valid– be attentive to the needs of your kids.  While it has been difficult for me to abandon my beloved crack-of-dawn, park-opening, rope-drop strategy, going with the flow of my kids’ sleep cycle is making for a much more pleasant experience for us all.  As an added bonus, we’re staying late until park close and experiencing the park from an all new perspective!

I have introduced the no-device-during-family-time ground rule.  It’s scary how many kids– and yes, even adults– wander around the parks staring at their phones.  Not only is this a sad commentary on how we’re spending our vacation time these days, but it’s also dangerous in a crowded theme park.  So unless we are parked in a line, no devices are allowed.  And then they’re only allowed to check wait times or other planning details on the My Disney Experience app. We also don’t have our noses stuck in our smartphones during meals– a policy that actually extends beyond the parks to our house.  I have found that in order for this ground rule to work without rebellion, we do allow them technology time at the pool or in our room so they can keep up to date on their universe.  It’s not a total ban on technology, just a pre-meditated approach that keeps “family” in the phrase, “family vacation.”  And I must admit, this is almost as challenging for the parents!

We have heard through the years that the Walt Disney World Resort is fun for all ages.  As a Mom, I’m discovering first-hand how true that is.  While meeting the princesses or riding the carousel isn’t all about the wonder of first discovery when they were little, it’s still priceless.  Now they’re re-visiting old friends and are appreciating the magical details in a whole new way.  Their palate has graduated beyond chicken nuggets and can now appreciate a more diverse menu.  But on that note– if you are traveling with a teenage boy, double his food allowance.  He basically goes from one snack to the next, thinking about his next meal while he’s downing a massive Ghiradelli sundae.

Side Note:  As I sit here typing this, I’m staring out the window toward High Rock Spring Pool, and notice an early morning photo shoot taking place with a Disney Photopass photographer.  It’s obviously a senior portrait session which would be ideal for that Disney loving teenager!

We’re also finding the joy of independence– ours and theirs!  The adults can enjoy the parks at a more leisurely pace while the kids are old enough to explore on their own.  We no longer have to find a quick service restaurant that satisfies us all.  I would rather watch the Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage show than ride Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith five times in a row.  It’s fun reaping the benefit of raising responsible and mostly level-headed kids.

We are a Disney family.  Always have been, always will be.  With our kids becoming busier and busier balancing academics, outside activities and social lives, we’re finding the Walt Disney World Resort as magical as ever.  Not only does it offer a respite from the business of adulting for the parents, but also for the soon-to-be adults in the family.  And when it’s all said and done, isn’t that the true magic of Disney?

Five Off-the-Beaten Path Adventures at the Walt Disney World Resort

Disney Adventure is Out ThereThere are times when families can use a break from the Walt Disney Resort theme parks.  Gasp!  But it’s true.  If you’re spending a week or more at Walt Disney World, or are a frequent visitor, you may want to try one of these Five Off-the-Beaten-Path Adventures.

1.  Tri-Circle-D Ranch

The Tri-Circle-D Ranch is my personal favorite non-park activity! Nothing like combining my life-long love of horses with my Disney obsession!  Younger equestrians-in-training can take a gentle pony ride, while beginner or intermediate cowpokes can hit the trails.  There are 25-minute wagon rides through Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campsites & Resort for those who prefer to stay grounded.  Walk through the barn where you can visit (but not touch!) the horses of Main Street, U.S.A. and even Cinderella’s beautiful white ponies!  There’s a room at the front of the barn displaying many pieces of memorabilia commemorating Walt Disney’s love of horses and animals.

Transportation Tip:  From any theme park, board a Disney Transportation Bus to Fort Wilderness Campsites & Resort.  Upon disembarking, just ask your bus driver and he will point out the ranch’s entrance.  It’s only steps away!  I do not recommend taking the wate taxi from Magic Kingdom.  It’s a much further walk to Tri-Circle-D Ranch and it’s easy to get turned around.

2.  Miniature Golf

We had a fantastic time when our family did this! There are two miniature golf complexes on Disney property.  Each option offers two 18-hole courses and is themed in the typical Disney over-the-top style, including creative interactive elements.  At the current time, adults can play for $14 and kids 3-9 for $12.

Winter Summerland Golf (near Disney’s Blizard Beach Water Park) tells the tale of how Santa and his Elves vacation after their Christmas busy season.  Story has it that some elves prefer to vacation in a warm, sunny climate, while others prefer the more familiar winter climate of the North Pole.  You decide which group you wish to play with.  There is a sand course amidst surfboards and sandcastles, plus a winter course featuring peppermints and snowmen!

Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf (close to Swan/Dolphin Resort Area Complex) features two distinctly themed course options.  Both are themed around Disney’s animated classic, Fantasia.  There’s a family-friendly option set amongst the whimsical theme of dancing hippos and marching broomsticks.  Fantasia Fairways offers a more realistic “golf course” experience with water hazards and sand traps and requires more than my pathetic golf skills—using that “s” word very loosely.

And while we’re talking golf—you did know that Walt Disney World is home to four championship level golf courses, right?!  They even offer golf lessons.  Arnold Palmer Golf Managements oversees the award-winning courses and you can find out all you need to know about golfing at the Walt Disney World Resort by visiting their dedicated website:  Disney Golf.

No matter the skill level or competitive spirit, there is definitely a golfing option for every member of the family!

3.  YeHaa Bob at River Roost Lounge

This is family fun entertainment at its finest! YeHaa Bob Jackson performs each Wednesday through Sunday evenings at the Port Orleans – Riverside Resort in their River Roost lounge.  His wacky sense of humor, honky-tonk piano skills and audience sing-a-longs are truly memorable.  The show runs from 8:30 p.m. to 11:45 p.m.  Just be prepared for your sides to hurt from all the laughing!

Transportation Tip:  Using Disney’s complimentary bus transportation, head to any theme park and then catch a bus going to Port Orleans – Riverside.  The bus will let you off right in front of the main building where you will find YeHaa Bob Jackson.  You can’t miss the River Roost Lounge!

4.  Atlanta Braves Spring Training

The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort hosts the Atlanta Braves Spring Training during the month of March.  Enjoying this All-American past-time is a great way to preview the Braves as well as many visiting MLB teams before their seasons begin.  It’s even better than eating hot dogs and Cracker Jacks at Casey’s Corner at the Magic Kingdom!  Tickets go on sale early December, and the best tickets are purchased early.

5.  Sammy Duvall’s – Tubing

What better way to beat the Florida heat than going water tubing? Sammy Duvall’s Tubing  is located at Disney’s Contemporary Resort Marina (easily accessible from the Magic Kingdom by monorail or walkway), families can enjoy a one- or two-hour high-speed ride across Bay Lake!  Each tube holds two people, and two tubes can be pulled at the same time.  And if there are any non-participants, up to five people may be able to ride in the boat for no extra charge.  And don’t worry, the skilled pilots are not like your crazy Uncle Larry.  They won’t try to knock you off your perch!  You control the intensity of your ride via pre-arranged hand signals.  Awesome, dude!

Mouseketool Tip:  Sammy Duvall’s at the Contemporary Resort Marina also features other water sports:  parasailing, fishing, personal watercraft and more!

 

There you have it.  Five Off-the-Beaten Track adventures at the Walt Disney World Resort.  Pixie Dust isn’t just for the parks!