Friday, June 28, 2013

Trip Planning With My Disney Experience - The final word

I've written two posts about the My Disney Experience App and Website.  Read those reports here:

In those two posts I talked about using My Disney Experience to plan our May 2013 trip to Walt Disney World.  I'd like to finish up by writing about using the My Disney Experience App on my iPhone 4 while at WDW.  

While at WDW, I actually did not use the app that much.  I referred to it several times just to see how the the app was functioning in the different parks and resorts.  I have been going to WDW since 1971 (I actually visited the Preview Center in 1970).  So with over 40 years of visits, I don't need a map.  I know exactly where I am.  For someone who has not been to the parks for most of their lives, it would actually be handy.  It will give you maps of the park you are IN without having to search for a park map.  It uses the GPS in your phone to place you in a park or a resort and it gives you the pertinent information for your location.  I set a reminder to watch the 3:00 parade in the Magic Kingdom and the app reminded me of the parade and suggested a viewing site.   

We had dining reservations that were stored on My Disney Experience also.  It reminded us of the reservation and had the confirmation number stored.  I don't remember how long it had been since I have needed the confirmation number for a reservation, but I always had it if needed.  With the My Disney Experience app confirmation numbers are held in the app for you without having to put them in your phone.

We did use it to check dining availability and to make one dining reservation.  Everything worked very well.  I'm sure it does much more than how I used it for while at WDW.  It seamlessly integrated all our reservations and did all I expected it to do.

Some functions only work while at the park so you'll have to load the app and take off to WDW to see how it works for you.  If you have played with My Disney Experience website and app, what are your thoughts on how it works?


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Photo Flashback! Mickey, My how you've changed!

Just a few days ago we received SLIDES from Mom's Aunt who lives in Gainesville, Florida.  She had gathered up several slides from 1973 and sent them to us.   Never let it be said we let some good pictures go to waste.  All the slides will make their way here eventually.  The first one I wanted to share was Mickey and Minnie from 1973.  Mickey, My, how you've changed!

growing up disney
Amy, Tink, Minnie with the Big Cheese
Above from May 2013, Amy, Tink, and Minnie visited with Mickey Mouse at The Magic Kingdom. 

Below from March 1973 is Mickey and Minnie.  Just a little different, don't you think?  This photo was taken near the Tomorrowland Speedway and is part of several slides taken of a parade.  My wife was just amazed at the LACK of people watching the parade.  In the background you can see one of the original attractions in the Magic Kingdom, the Skyway to Tomorrowland (or Skyway to Fantasyland depending on which direction you were traveling).

growing up disney

Thank you! to Earline Webb for sharing this and other slides with us.
Focused on the Magic

Monday, June 24, 2013

Five Photos: Radiator Springs at the Flower and Garden Festival

The Radiator Springs area at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival was a must-see for us.  Why? The playground.  It had a nice double slide for the smaller kids, a rock climbing area for the bigger ones, and some bouncy half tires that they all seemed to enjoy.  I didn't get many shots of the playground itself because I was busy helping Minnie on the tires, photographing the topiaries and visiting the nearby restroom for a diaper change for know, basic mom blogger stuff.  We visited this area after dinner at Garden Grill and both girls loved having some time to play after being at the table for over an hour.  I believe I had to remove Minnie from the area actually kicking and screaming (her, not me.)

The Mater Topiary is the star of the area.

Another shot of our friend, Tow Mater.

Lightning McQueen looks like he is mid-conversation with Mater.

The only picture I could find of both Tink and Minnie on the playground.

Somebody spied my camera....

He cracked me up.

Thanks for joining me on this lookback at Radiator Springs from the 2013 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival.  

Friday, June 21, 2013

Magical Blogorail: First-Timer Planning Tips

Welcome to the first stop aboard Magical Blogorail Red. Enjoy the ride as we share our tips for planning your first Disney vacation.

Magical Blogorail Red, Walt Disney World planning, Disney first timer

A good friend of mine is planning a very special Walt Disney World vacation for this fall and has asked me for help.  Technically she has visited WDW once but since it has been about 30 years, we're considering her as a first-timer.  On this vacation, Ann will be traveling with her husband, their daughter who will be almost 4, and Ann's retired parents. They are all looking forward to seeing the little one take in the magic and Grandpa really wants to spoil his grandbaby.

first visit to walt disney world

You have to admit the volume of information available about Disney World is daunting. The options are nearly endless and a first-timer could quickly get overwhelmed with the research project required for a Disney vacation. I've tried not to bombard my friend with tons of information as she begins the process but rather break it down into smaller tasks.  Here are the first few things to consider as a first time Walt Disney World guest-to-be.  I'll write additional posts on this topic as I help her plan for the big trip.

cinderella castle

The first step is to select travel dates. They were originally considering September, wanting lower crowds with weather still warm enough to enjoy some pool time.  Ann and her husband had not heard about the Food and Wine Festival but of course, it peeked their interest.  They were at our house for dinner, asking tons of Disney questions, when F&W came up.  Looks now like they'll visit in late September or early October, depending on which works best with school.  I reviewed Touring Plan's crowd calendar for my friend and that time of year is fabulous.  I also suggest checking the calendar at All Ears to see if there are any special events, conventions, tournaments, etc that a guest would either like to see or avoid.

Step two is to choose a Disney resort hotel.  There are some really good off-property options but you just can't beat the magic 'bubble' that staying on Disney property provides.  Especially for infrequent guests, the special touches, theming, and terrific Cast Members of a Disney resort hotel are really worth spending a little more.  Ann and her family are really interested in being very close to the Magic Kingdom and will likely book a room at the Grand Floridian.  Ann first let me know they were starting to plan via a text message.  She asked if I had heard of the Grand Floridian.  I told her I loved to visit there but I wouldn't personally pay the "Grand" prices and suggested Port Orleans Riverside.  What I didn't know was her father had already made up his mind that they were staying at the Grand and it was pretty much a done deal.  My husband and I had a suite there for our wedding night and it was beautiful.

If you are deciding where to stay for your first Walt Disney World vacation, know that Disney offers a wide variety of accommodations.  The prices vary widely from the cheapest value resort to the most expensive deluxe suite.  Once you've decided your budget for the vacation, you still have options within a category.  Be sure to browse Disney's site and check out the theming and amenities of a resort. For instance, a larger family might consider the Cabins at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort or a Family Suite at the new Disney's Art of Animation Resort.  Both sleep 6 and are about the same price but the experiences would be very different, as Fort Wilderness is rustic and AoA is as colorful as it gets.  That's one thing I love about Disney...something for everyone!

For a value resort, I've stayed at All Star Music twice.  Once in a standard room and once in a family suite.  It's not exciting but ASM has all the perks of being on property.  Pop Century is a very popular value resort in the Disney online community.  The newest resort is Art of Animation and I'm surprising the girls with a few days in a Little Mermaid room at the end of our fall trip.  They will love the theming and the gigantic pool.

The favorite moderate resort of the Growing Up Disney family and a fair number of our team is Port Orleans with most of us leaning toward Riverside.  This resort is divided into two sections, French Quarter and Riverside.  French Quarter is themed exactly like it sounds.  It's smaller and has a good cajun/creole food court.  Riverside has a more bayou feel, a little more space to wander, and a table service restaurant as well as a food court.  I don't think you can go wrong staying anywhere in this resort.

My favorite Disney deluxe resort hotel is the Polynesian.  I've stayed at all three of the monorail resorts and the Polynesian would be my choice for my family.  However, we are a Disney Vacation Club family and almost always book at Old Key West.  It's a lovely relaxed resort with huge villas and many of the comforts of home with full kitchens and washers/dryers.

Step three is contact a Disney Authorized Vacation Planner to reserve a room and purchase park tickets.  We use Travel with the Magic and they don't pay me to say that.  Yes, you can book on your own online or by phone but when you can get the help of a Disney expert for free, why not?  Your travel agent can check the latest deals for you and advise on ways to maximize your travel dollar.  They'll also watch for future offers to see if you could save more.  The current ticket pricing structure offers a myriad of options (park hopping, no expiration, water parks, etc.) and sometimes it's a good deal to purchase an annual pass for one member of your party in order to get annual passholder room discounts.  Back to my previous advice, let your travel agent run the numbers for you.

Step four TAKE A DEEP BREATH.  Again, it's easy to get in over your head in research so if you've wandered off into exactly how rider swap works at this point, walk away from the computer for a few.  You'll have time later to learn those things.

Step five is to make dining reservations.  Popular Walt Disney World restaurants book up far in advance.  This is the biggest surprise for pretty much everyone who has ever asked me for advice on a first-time vacation.  People just can't believe that they need to book a table six months before they'd like to dine with Cinderella or in Beast's Castle.  So if you are planning around the six month mark or less and are interested in the quintessential Disney dining locations, you need to get on the dining reservations fairly quickly.  If you are at around the one year mark when you read this...see step four.

Keep in mind that there are many options with Disney dining, just like with resort hotels.  If you have your heart set on having dinner with your favorite princess and it's booked throughout your vacation, try another similar restaurant.  I have two little girls and they will love Cinderella's Royal Table someday.  We don't tend to book far in advance and I'd like to save their first meal in the castle until they are a bit older.  However, we had a FABULOUS time at the Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus in Epcot's Norway Pavilion.  Hands down my favorite dining experience in ages and it's less expensive than Cindy's and a little easier to book.  You can always take a shot at last minute reservations for popular restaurants.  We managed to get a late breakfast a couple of hours in advance for Akershus.

We here at Growing Up Disney (and my blogorail pals) have shared many restaurant reviews and photos over the years.  When I am planning my own dining reservations, I always look at the menus at All Ears or the official Disney site.

Disney has a wide variety of dining options, from the character meals mentioned above to the exquisite five diamond/four star Victoria and Albert's to world cuisine to the casual cafe.  Check out our trip planning tab above for articles on the favorite restaurants of our family and guest contributors.  Our team of Minnie Moms has discussed our lists of best and worst restaurants for children.

Making reservations is simple.  Either send your list to your travel agent or book online with Disney or call 407-WDW-DINE.

Ok.  That's enough tasks to get you started on planning your first Walt Disney World vacation.  I'll be back later with more tips and you can always peruse our site for yourself in the meantime.  

Happy planning! 

Be sure to check out our First Timer Class series.

Thank you for joining me today. Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail Loop is My Dreams of Disney.

Here is the map of our Magical Blogorail should you happen to have to make a stop along the way and want to reboard:

1st Stop ~ Growing Up Disney
3rd Stop ~ Disney Donna Kay
Final Stop ~ A World View

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Photo Flashback! Stay Cool at WDW and Save Money

Summertime (or honestly, most of the time) at Walt Disney World is HOT!  One great way to cool off is with a mister fan.  My mom has been carrying a very small fan from Brookstone for as long as I can remember.  This past trip, I bought Tink her own Disney fan.  This water bottle/fan creates a nice mist and was about $8 at my local Walmart.  I added a lanyard we had at the house and Tink was all set.  Disney sells their own version for at least twice that.  Disney does tend to chill their mister fans on ice but ours stayed under the stroller (dry!) until we needed it and then I filled it from a drinking fountain.

Now of course, for a four year-old, it is mostly just another way to play with water but I'd call it money well spent.

Thanks to DisneyDad for capturing these adorable photos!

Thanks to Deb at Focused on the Magic for another fun topic! Today's post was inspired by her theme of The Disney Days of Summer.
Focused on the Magic

Monday, June 17, 2013

Five Photos! Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano  Walt Disney World

 On our trip this past May we had lunch at Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano at the Disney Hollywood Studios.  The lunch was wonderful and we finished up with the adults sharing a Chocolate Cannoli cake while Tink enjoyed a Spaghetti and Meatball Cupcake.

growing up disney

growing up disney

growing up disney

growing up disney

growing up disney

growing up disney

Friday, June 14, 2013

May Trip Report: Sick at Walt Disney World

In over 40 years of trips to Walt Disney World I never remember being sick until now.  Both my wife and I got sick on this trip.
growing up disney
Mom and I booked this trip to see the EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival

I felt bad before we drove down on Saturday to be at Old Key West to meet Amy and the Girls on Sunday.  Sunday I made it around EPCOT for dinner at The Garden Grill in The Land pavilion.  An all-you-care-to-eat meal and I was sick. The food was good, I just couldn't eat.  I mostly watched the girls eat and how excited they got when Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Chip and Dale came by the table to visit with them.  Our waiter was excellent and made over the girls appropriately and gifted both of the girls with some stickers and one of the small Toy Story alien dolls before we left.
growing up disney
Mickey and the Girls at The Garden Grill

If you have never been to the character dinner at The Garden Grill it is fun.  Your dining room rotates so you see many of the scenes from the Living With The Land boat trip.  The food is served "family style" with plenty of choices.  Dinner started with warm fresh rolls with a maple butter.  Then there was turkey and stuffing, "sustainable fish of the day" (ours was grilled tilapia),  and a char-grilled filet of beef.  (The Garden Grill Menu can be found here.)  Since I was not feeling well, the warm fresh rolls were fantastic.  I ate a few bites of the filet of beef and some of the sides, but an all-you-care-to-eat restaurant when you are sick would not be my first choice.  Of course reservations had been made weeks before and everyone else was ready for a good meal.
growing up disney
Happy Birthday Mom!

Monday was Mom's birthday.  Amy and I were going to take her to lunch at Le Cellier in the Canadian Pavilion at EPCOT.  Unfortunately, since I was not feeling well, Amy canceled our reservation Sunday night. I was feeling better Monday, but would not have enjoyed eating there.  (Ridge ate there on his trip the end of May.  I hope he writes a full report for Growing Up Disney.)  We still went to Epcot.  By the time lunch came around, Amy had Tink and were off alone and Mom and I had Minnie.  Minnie had fallen asleep in her stroller so we pushed her around to The Liberty Inn at the American Pavilion for lunch.  She slept while we ate.  Mom wanted a cheeseburger and I ordered her the 1/3 lb Angus Smokehouse Burger and I had the Chili-Cheese Hot Dog (as you can tell I was feeling much better).  The Smokehouse Burger has barbecue pulled pork, cheese and an onion ring on it.  It was much bigger than what Mom could eat, but she tried.  The Chili-Cheese dog is big and I did my best to finish it off but left most of the fries.  Mom was not feeling well so we went back to the room early.
growing up disney
Minnie at EPCOT

Tuesday was Mom's turn to be sick.  Amy and I took the girls over to The Magic Kingdom and I had a ball with the girls.  We started with breakfast at The Crystal Palace which is another character meal with Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and Pooh. We then visited Princesses (see post here), Mickey Mouse, took the girls on The Jungle Cruise, and then Aloha Isle for a  Dole Whip.  Mom was feeling better that evening and joined us at for dinner at Olivia's at Disney's Old Key West Resort.
growing up disney
Girls just want to have fun!!!

Wednesday everyone was feeling fine.  Amy took Tink and went off to a park while Mom and I stayed at Old Key West and played with Minnie.  We got out and went off property to Chevy's at the Crossroads for lunch.  Minnie loves Mexican and the chips and salsa are first rate.  She ate well but enjoyed the ice cream at the end the best.

Thursday we went to Disney's Hollywood Studios.  Lunch was at Mama Melrose's Ristorante Italiano.  We shared the antipasto platter for an appetizer.  I had the Penne alla Vodka, Mom and Amy shared a grilled sea bass and a gnocchi dish that they both enjoyed.  Tink had the best dessert with a Spaghetti and Meatball Cupcake.  It has to be seen to believed.  Disney's web site describes it as "A Chocolate Cupcake with "Spaghetti" Frosting and a Chocolate "Meatball"' with a Strawberry "Marinara Sauce" and White Chocolate "Cheese"."  Amy had told me about this but it really has to be seen.  See end of post for a picture.
growing up disney
Amy and the Girls at The Crystal Palace with Tigger

Friday as we prepared to leave we had breakfast at Olivia's.  Tink and Minnie had mini-Mickey Waffles and I had a big Mickey Waffle.  I love waffles anyway and the Mickey ones just make it a little more special.

If you haven't noticed yet Mom and I have been so many times to Walt Disney World over a 40 year span, we plan our trips to the park around were we want to eat for the day.  Of course when you are sick and don't feel like eating it really doesn't matter where you are.  Feeling bad is still feeling bad.  Of course somehow feeling bad is better if you are at Disney World and having my Granddaughters along for the week didn't hurt either.


growing up disney
Tink and....errr....Tink at EPCOT
Amy said since I had said the Spaghetti and Meatball Cupcake had to be seen, I should show it.  This is a iPhone photo that is a little dark, but I think you can get the idea of the cupcake with no problem.   I'll post more on this Monday's Five Photos post.  -- DisneyDad

Spaghetti and Meatball Cupcake from Mama Melrose - Yum Yum!!!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

Five Photos: Tinker Bell's Butterfly House

Tinker Bell's Butterfly House
Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

Epcot blooms in spring as the Flower and Garden Festival fills the park with thousands of plantings, special topiaries, demonstrations, and guest speakers.  One of our favorite parts of the festival each year is the butterfly house.  My Tink loved seeing topiaries of her favorite fairies and the tiny fairy houses tucked around the butterfly house.  She was absolutely thrilled to (very gently!) touch one of the butterflies.  Even the Disney butterflies know how to make magical moments!!

Happy little girl.  Only moderately annoyed butterfly.

If you had wings, had wings, had wings...

This butterfly was sweet on Terence.  Sorry, his heart belongs to Tink.

These tiny fairy houses were such a fun touch

Tink, Tink, and Periwinkle

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Walk Around The World With Ridge – Kingdom Camera Rentals

Before our last journey to Walt Disney World, a new company Kingdom Camera Rentals approached Growing Up Disney to look at their services. Once I had checked out their site I wanted to try renting from them.

Kingdom Camera Rentals is not only a reference to the Magic Kingdom but also the Kingdom of Heaven and is a Christian company. I met with the co-owner, Lenise, when she dropped off my lens and had a very nice talk about photography, Disney, business and even introduced her to DisneyDad and Mom. It was a very enjoyable conversation. But enough of the chatter let’s talk about the site and the equipment.

First thing I notice about a site is how easy it is to find information. Use their site and you will see that there is a very logical flow to the information and it has a clean look. The site isn’t cluttered and is full of good information.
I used the Canon 18-200 IS USM lens for my time at Disney. The lens isn’t bulky, looks good on the camera body, and the pictures are pretty crisp. I used this lens as my primary for the time I had it and can’t say that I am disappointed. One thing to be noted about this lens is that it does what is called lens procession. It’s a fancy way of saying it will come out of focus if you aren’t holding it. When you lean the camera forward the lens is going to expand as if you were trying to zoom in. So to keep this from being a problem when not in use there is a lens lock switch on the underside. It didn’t take long to get used to this and it’s designed in such a way that you can operate it without fumbling around for it. So overall I give the lens good marks but you be the judge with my pictures.

So why rent? Well as we all know camera gear can be extremely expensive. I know firsthand when I think about the fact I drag a couple grand worth of gear into the parks every day. Wide angle, zoom, fisheye, prime… I never know what I am going to want to try. But cost is killer in this game. I’m not making any money off my pictures so I can’t write this stuff off as business expense. So try renting. The cost of most lenses is very reasonable for a 3 day trial. If you like it you can rent it for longer. Since most of my personal trips are 4 days or less a 3 day rental is perfect. You can take out insurance on them so if there is an accidental damage you’re covered.

I’m a Canon guy but they have it Nikon as well and it isn’t just lenses they have lots of other equipment available from camera bodies to SD cards. On my next trip I will be renting a Canon 7D, yay! Now there are other companies available for online rental however they are located in Orlando and don’t bring you your equipment and those other companies charge a lot to ship their lenses. So local is really the way to go. I am very satisfied with my rental experience and will look at this as a way to try more lenses in the future and expand my shooting.

What is your favorite lens and what camera set up do you use?
Beast's Castle
The Eastman Family


Tree Topper At Epcot