Monday, March 2, 2015

The Disney First-Timer Class I Give to My Friends, Part 1

Cinderella Castle, first Disney vacation, Growing Up Disney

When one of my close friends, Jennifer, wanted to take her family on their first Walt Disney World vacation, she asked me to help her prepare. At first, I directed her to a few websites, including my own, of course. I'd ask Jennifer at preschool drop off if she had made any plans and she'd grin and say no. There was just too much to consider and as a busy, working mom, she just found it hard to get excited about facing the mountain of information available about Walt Disney World. It was simply overwhelming to her and she needed someone to condense it all. 

In hallway conversations at school, Jennifer told me they could budget time and money for three days in the Disney Parks. Based on her family and their interests, we decided she would be best served to plan on two days at Magic Kingdom and one day at Animal Kingdom. At the time of the trip, her children were 6 and not quite 3. As much as I thought Jennifer and her husband would enjoy Epcot, I felt it just didn't make the three-day cut for this trip. 

We didn't have to discuss accommodations, as they had decided to go with an off-site timeshare resort and this was set well in advance. But for the record, I like Port Orleans Riverside for first time guests. Follow the link if you'd like more information on the resort. We've stayed at many Walt Disney World resorts over the years, so let me know if you have questions on one you are considering.

I loaned Jennifer one of Tink's copies of Walt Disney World for Kids (yes, Tink owns multiple years) and told her to look over it. I suggested she peruse the attractions to make sure my park picks fit her family. Then we set aside one of our regular Friday night family dinners as Disney 101. First, you may wonder why I gave her the kids’ book? As much as I love the Unofficial Guide series, it's a bit like a sip from a fire hose. The books are really thick and are a terrific resource for someone gung-ho about planning but could be too much for those only ready for the highlights. But if you are ready for the nitty-gritty, click the link above and have one sent your way.

On the night of our Disney 101 class, Jennifer and I sat down and talked for a couple of hours about Disney; me with the notes that turned into the rest of this post and her with a notebook. After our talk, she felt ready to make some dining reservations and was excitedly looking forward to her vacation for the first time. 

Let's dive on in, shall we? Here is the first installment of things I wanted this special family to see/do/know, in no particular order. This turned into a really long post, so I'll be sharing it over several days. If we have written about the topic previously on Growing Up Disney, I may not elaborate much, but I will include a link if you need more information. And as always, leave a comment or send me an email if I can help you as you plan your vacation. 

There is also an attraction and dining component to the class, but it will have to wait for a separate set of posts. When I planned these notes for Jennifer, I wanted to familiarize her with the culture of the parks and to help her maneuver like a pro.

(If you are just beginning to research for your Walt Disney World vacation, please start with this post: First-Timer Planning Tips)

Park Hopping:  You'll see the term "Park Hopper" when you begin researching tickets.  This feature is an upgrade to the basic ticket and allows you to enter more than one park on a given day.  My family usually has annual passes which include hopping priviledges and we don't often visit more than one park per day.  We might get back to that more when the kids are older.  Please note that you cannot use an extra day on your ticket to enter a second park on the same day.   

FastPass+: This system allows you to reserve your place in line for more popular attractions. Simply go online and choose the attractions/experiences that are most important to your family. Select times that work for you and you're all set. On your day at the park, arrive at the attraction during your assigned window and ride with little wait. Like anything else with reservations, the really popular attractions fill up quickly so you may need to be flexible when choosing times online. Guests staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel can book FP+ 60 days in advance. Those staying off-site can make FP+ reservations 30 days out. Three advance FP+ are allowed per person per day. Once you have used those three, you can reserve more at a FastPass+ kiosk in the park. Note: you will need an online account and have park tickets tied to that account before you can reserve FP+.

Rider Switch: Jennifer's six year-old son would be able to ride some of the thrill rides that her preschool daughter was still too small to enjoy. To assist families like this, Disney has a program called "Rider Switch." To use the service, check with the Cast Member at the entrance to the attraction. The specific procedure depends on the location but essentially Dad and Son can ride while Mom and Daughter wait. Then Mom and Son can ride with little time in line while Dad takes care of Daughter. Jennifer said this worked perfectly for them, except for Everest. Her son was not up to taking on the yeti a second time. Rider Switch is available at most attractions with a height requirement. The Cast Member at the entrance to a given attraction will be happy to answer questions about Rider Switch at that location.

MagicBands: MagicBands are wristbands that serve all sorts of purposes: room key, park ticket, FastPass redemption, credit card substitute, PhotoPass link, and fashion statement.  If you have a Disney resort hotel reservation, you will receive these in the mail at no additional charge and you will have the option to personalize them a bit.  If you are staying off-property, you can buy a MagicBand for around $12 or just use your regular ticket for claiming FastPasses and such.

PhotoPass: Disney's PhotoPass Service has photographers stationed in good spots all over the theme parks.  Simply have them scan your MagicBand or ask for a PhotoPass card if you aren't using a MagicBand.  Then smile for your photo.  It's a great way to get the whole family in the shot and they will even take a set of photos with your camera too.  The service itself is free and you only pay if you buy photos or gifts customized with your photos.  You can also purchase Memory Maker prior to your trip and it will include all of your PhotoPass shots as well as those from attractions and dining locations.  I think it's really important to get photos of yourself with your kids and other traveling buddies.  Follow this link for "Get Yourself in the Photo."

Restaurant Reservations: Reservations (407-WDW-DINE or online) open up 180 days prior to your visit.  Some of the most popular restaurants book up on that first day.  So while it may seem crazy, if you have your heart set on dining at any particular location, reserve as early as you can.  A credit card is now required to hold your spot and you'll be charged a per person fee (usually $10) if you cancel within one day or no-show.  However, if someone is sick, call and speak to a Cast Member at the dining line.  They will help you if they can.

That's a good start for today.  Please come back for parts two and three of the series where I'll give all sorts of tips to help make your first or tenth Walt Disney World vacation a great one.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Photo Flashback! Unforgettable

This week's topic from Focused on the Magic is "Unforgettable." At first, I thought of the classic song by the same name and considered sharing photos from my Disney Fairy Tale Wedding.  My next  idea was to share unforgettable moments from many trips, but that's pretty much what we've been doing on this blog since 2010 so that was out.  I decided I'd share with you some unforgettable moments from one special Disney World vacation, Baby Minnie's very first trip in May 2012.  She was 11 months old.

Enjoying her First Visit button at Old Key West

First trip down Main Street USA with Granddaddy and Tink

I'll never forget how much fun Minnie had interacting with everyone at 50s Prime Time Cafe.  We were in a high-traffic area and it kept her very entertained.

I'll never forget how Granny was holding on to Minnie for dear life during the bumpy parts of the Kilamajaro Safaris.  The little one enjoyed every moment.

Tink thoroughly enjoyed Mulch, Sweat and Shears and wanted to share her snacks with them.  Watching her dance to the music was unforgettable.

Watching Minnie light up during her first meeting with her (nick)namesake was unforgettable. 
This was Minnie's very first character greeting and she adored Pluto.

Focused on the Magic
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Friday, February 20, 2015

What makes it all worth it for me

Growing Up Disney, Walt Disney World, castle
Cinderella Castle

It really didn't surprise me when Amy started this blog almost FIVE years ago.  She has always had a love for Disney, I guess, thanks in part to me.  When she started researching taking her first child, Tink, to Walt Disney World she couldn't find what she wanted to know in one place.  So out of her research began Growing Up Disney and out of Tink's first trip on her first birthday came the Growing Up Disney Logo.

Soon, her brother, known as Ridge here on Growing Up Disney, started posting and I would occasionally add a few articles (Check out Ridge's articles here).  Amy now has 2 beautiful girls.  And as a mom finds less and less time to write.  She has moved half way across the US, not once, but TWICE.

Ridge still goes on trips with us to WDW, but since changing jobs, has not been able to find much time to write.  So for a while most of our posts became sharing lots and lots of photos.  The first photos I have posted of WDW begin in 1971.

Over the years we have help from lots of friends from California to England and points in between who have contributed posts.  Disney has their Mickey Mom's but Growing Up Disney has had our Minnie Mom's (click to see their posts).  We have met lots of new friends through GUD.

Last year we lost the web site.  We missed renewing the site and someone jumped in and bought the domain out from under us.  For several weeks it no longer was our family photos.  It had some random "junk" on it.  It cost me way to much money to get it back.

Sometimes I wonder if it was worth the cost.  But then you get an email...

We recently received a email from someone who had just found our "home-away-from-home" here on the web.  They told us how much they enjoyed the old pictures and the family posts.  That is what makes it all worth it to me.  The late nights trying to get a last minute post done, searching through old albums to scan a photo, or trying to come up with a subject to post are all tiring and time consuming.  You wonder if you are really sharing with anyone, or just typing words into the computer.  Then someone will post a comment or send you an email.

I hope you enjoy our family posts on GrowingUpDisney.  Last week Amy posted several pictures of a trip and one of Mickey and me (click to see it).  One of these days I'll have to tell you all about the Old Man and the Mouse.

Everybody neat and pretty?  Then on with the show!   -- Mickey Mouse Club 1955

--DisneyDad Pin It

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Photo Flashback! Lights, Motors, Action!

On our last trip to Walt Disney World my wife and I watched Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show again at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  I've seen it several times and still enjoy the show.  Since I've seen it before I know when to watch for the "big" stunts to try to get the "perfect" photo.  At this performance  we were sitting almost in the middle of the theater.  I managed to get a few good action shots.  Let me know what you think of these.

Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show
Smoking Tires!

Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show
Jumping Cars

Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show
Falling Villians

Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show
Fast Motorcycles!

Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show
 and my favorite --- FIRE!!!

Focused on the Magic
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Friday, February 13, 2015

A New Year and an Old Problem

Disney's Old Key West Resort Lighthouse, Growing Up Disney
The Lighthouse at Disney's Old Key West Resort
our usual Home at WDW

Once again it's a new year and I have the same old problem.  No reservations at Walt Disney World.  I have several people I've seen this year that have asked me: "when are you going to Disney again?" or "when is your next trip?" Often the question is followed with "Take me with you!"  But right now, I have not made any reservations for 2015.

Oh, we have been talking, Amy, Ridge, and me. (Mom and Andy, neither being the trip planner, just go along whenever we tell them.)  Ridge and I have to plan around work and Amy has to plan around Andy's work and Tink and Minnie's school calender.  It's getting harder to put all the schedules together.  DVC has improved the Members site so it is easy to check availability when you are planning a trip.

As the Dad of the group, I feel blessed.  Our kids still go on vacation with Mom and me.  Not only our ADULT kids, but also my grand-kids, and my son-in-law go on vacation with us.  I love our family vacations to Walt Disney World!

We are Disney Vacation Club Members.  It is only with the Vacation Club we are able to afford a yearly trip or two.  It's been fun taking our kids, and now grand-kids to share in the fun at WDW.

That brings me back to my problem.  No reservations.  It won't be too much longer and we will have our plan complete, usually an October trip for EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival.  If there are points left over from our annual allotment, then there might be a trip during the EPCOT International Flower & Garden Festival.  But until then...

Do you have a favorite time of the year to visit Walt Disney World?  If so, share with us and let us know how you plan.

In the mean time,
  Here is a photo we inherited from my wife's uncle that he took in 1973.  Hope you like this "antique" photo of Cinderella Castle.

1973 Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, vintage Disney

Also below is one more of our unique 360 degree photos that I share from time to time.  This photo was taken in May, 2014.  I hope you like it.

Click on the picture or the caption to open the Theta360 website to view the interactive 360 degree photo of the inside of the Mexican Pavilion at EPCOT.

If you would like to see more of these unique photos be sure to enter "Spherical Photos" in the search box on our website.


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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Photo Flashback! 14 Examples of Disney Love

When I started doing Photo Flashback posts, the idea was to have a quick way to share a photograph and a memory with you.  Well, these days I don't have as much time for blogging as I'd like so when I get a photo topic, I tend to get carried away.  I still love to talk about Walt Disney World; the real world just likes to get in the way.  

Today is another time when I couldn't just choose one image.  In honor of "Disney Love" I have 14 pictures from my family's Walt Disney World vacation from May 2014.  My husband isn't in any of these photos because he had to stay home and work but he is certainly one of my Disney loves.

Growing Up Disney, Walt Disney World, child enjoying teacups
I love sharing classic attractions with my children and watching another generation fall in love with the magic of Walt Disney World.
Growing Up Disney, Walt Disney World, Festival of Fantasy parade
I love watching parades with my girls.

Growing Up Disney, Walt Disney World, Cinderella Castle
I love sharing this Disney obsession with my dad.

Seriously, this man loves the mouse.

Growing Up Disney, Grand Floridian, Walt Disney World, afternoon tea
I love going to tea at the Grand Floridian with my mom.  Tink was very proud to finally be old enough to go to tea and she adored the experience.

Growing Up Disney, Walt Disney World, Old Key West
Sisterly love at the resort we love, Old Key West.

Growing Up Disney, Walt Disney World, Soarin', Epcot
Tink and I love Soarin'.

Walt Disney World, Growing Up Disney, Merriweather, Festival of Fantasy
I love a certain feisty fairy with a penchant for the color blue.

Walt Disney World, Growing Up Disney, Jammitors, Epcot
I love the live entertainment at the parks.  (I'm still bummed that Off Kilter is gone.) 

Growing Up Disney, Walt Disney World, girl enjoying ice cream at WDW
Minnie loves Mickey ice cream bars.

Walt Disney World, alcoholic beverages, Growing Up Disney
I love a little afternoon break while the little one naps in the stroller.

Little girl enjoying band at Walt Disney World, Growing Up Disney
Minnie really loved these guys and couldn't resist joining in on the performance.

Be Our Guest restaurant, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Growing Up Disney, cupcakes
I love Disney desserts.  And yes, the gray stuff is delicious.

Walt Disney World, Buzz Lightyear, Growing Up Disney
I love that I still get to play at Walt Disney World with my little brother.

That's my list.  What's on your list of Disney Loves?

Focused on the Magic

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Friday, February 6, 2015

A New Year and a New Vacation Club

You've probably seen the construction at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort.  Disney Vacation Club is growing again!

Bora Bora Bungalows

Going on general sale on February 9th (sales to DVC members began January 12th) and scheduled to open on April 1, 2015, Disney's Polynesian Village and Bungalows are the newest member of the Disney Vacation Club.

Phase one will include 20 over-the-water 2 bedroom bungalows that sleep 8 and 360 Deluxe Studio Villas that will sleep 5.

Disney's Polynesian Village and Bungalows have several FIRSTS for DVC and Disney Resorts.  These are the first over-the-water accommodations, the first accommodations to have a plunge pool for each bungalow, and the first connecting Deluxe Studios.

Information on Disney's Polynesian Village and Bungalows is available now for DVC members on the member website at  General information should be available after sales begin on the public website at

Note:  We are Disney Vacation Club Members and are not employees of or otherwise associated with Disney or DVC sales.  If you do have questions about Disney Vacation Club please leave a comment and we will be glad to share our experience as DVC Members.


Did you know that the name of Disney's Polynesian Resort has changed to Disney's Polynesian Village Resort?

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