Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Photo Flashback! Spaceship Earth 2003

 Do you remember when Spaceship Earth had a Magic Wand?
EPCOT Spaceship Earth
Spaceship Earth in 2003
In September 1999 to celebrate the new century a Mickey Mouse hand holding a Magic Wand was installed beside Spaceship Earth proclaiming the year 2000.

EPCOT Spaceship Earth
Spaceship Earth in 2003 
In May 2001 the "2000" on the Wand was replace by "Epcot".
EPCOT Spaceship Earth
Epcot was installed on the Wand in 2001
The Wand remained with Spaceship Earth until 2007 when it was taken down as part of the fourth renovation of the attraction.  When it reopened in 2008 the narration was performed by Dame Judy Dench.  You can still hear Dame Judy on the ride today. 

These photos were taken in September 2003 during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.


Focused on the Magic

Monday, March 23, 2015

New Disney Games from Wonder Forge

It's springtime!  I am so excited that we can finally play outdoors and put the heavy coats away.  Things are warming up over at Wonder Forge too.  If you need some ideas for gifts for spring/summer birthday parties or holiday surprises, read on.

We were given Doc McStuffins Mix Up! Fix Up! Game and the on-the-go version of Frozen Matching.

Let's look at Mix Up! Fix Up! first.  

For this game, one player is the "patient" per round and the others are the "doctors."  The patient takes an X-ray card (top center below) and slides it into one of the holders (top left below).  Each holder features a different character from the show and blocks off all but one image from the X-ray card.  The doctors spin and then ask a yes/no question of the patient based where the pointer lands.  This eliminates colors, patterns or tools from the field of possibilities.  The blue tiles below are used to cover the blocks on the diagnostic board (top right).  If you guess the correct tool, you get a bandage and the one with the most bandages wins.  

I have played this several times with my three-year-old.  I was a little afraid it would be too complicated but once I convinced her not to tell me what the image was on her card, we truly enjoyed this game and she keeps asking to play again.  It is fun and a good practice of problem solving skills.  Minnie really loves board games and I can see this one joining the rotation of favorites.  Tink (5) was off with Grandma while we were first playing this for review purposes but I think she will really enjoy this one too.

Next, let's look at Frozen Matching.

This is the on-the-go version of the game.  If you are looking for it in your local toy store, note that the package is fairly small.  It would fit perfectly in an Easter basket (or a Christmas stocking if you are REALLY ahead of the game.)

The game comes with 36 tiles.  I think we will get rid of the box and store this game in a ziploc bag.  Then I can easily pop it into a bag to take with us when traveling.  The full version of the game (available in tons of themes from Wonder Forge) comes with 72 tiles.  We have that too and honestly, we normally play with half of the set so this is perfect for us. 

This is a standard matching game where you flip two tiles and look for a match.

After we had played once following the rules, the girls just wanted to check out the cards since this game was brand new to them.  I turned this into a new game.  I'd ask questions to have them look for certain colors, shapes or characters.  

I asked Tink to choose her favorite tiles and this was the result.  The colors are really vibrant in this set.

Wonder Forge sent me Palace Pets Royal Pet Salon game in the fall.  For the first time out, my nine-year-old niece played with Tink.  They did well at following the rules and actually playing the game.  It's been a popular choice at my house but my girls prefer to just play pretend with it.  They like to move the animals around to the different rooms and make up their own stories.  I like that it encourages them to use their imaginations.

As I said earlier, Minnie loves to play games and we have quite a collection. The following games are also from Wonder Forge and are ones we play often. The company did not provide me with these; they’ve been gifts from family.  We just like these so much that I wanted to share.

Enchanted Cupcake Party Game:
Tink received this game when she turned three. My sister-in-law sent it as a birthday gift but gave me the option to exchange it before Tink saw it. That was because this game has lots of little pieces and Minnie was just a baby so we were still worried about choking hazards. But I let Tink have the game as a special “big girl” treat and it has been popular in our house for almost three years. Amazingly, we haven’t lost any pieces and the girls still love to put together the tiny cupcakes. 

Minnie's Bow Bingo:
My "Minnie" got this one for her third birthday. It’s another very popular game with my children. Instead of calling letters and numbers, you pull a bow out of the bag and look for matching colors and shapes on your bingo card. The markers are little Minnie heads…adorable!

Princess Dominoes:
These are just too cute not to share. I’m not sure which piece is supposed to start the game but in our house, the double Aurora is considered the best one.

Thank you to Wonder Forge for sending me the games to review. My kids have enjoyed playing with them and I’ve enjoyed this fun time with my girls.

These are my honest thoughts and no other compensation was offered or received.  The post does contain links to Amazon.  If you purchase through our link, it helps offset our operating costs at Growing Up Disney.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Photo Flashback! Main Street USA - 1975 & 2008

Today's Photo Flashback is two views down
Main Street USA taken 33 years apart.

Main Street USA 1975
The Growing Up Disney family has been visiting 
Walt Disney World since it opened in 1971.
We have a collection of old photos we share from time to time.

The 1975 photo is from a slide taken
by my wife's uncle.  This is is one of the slides 
we were given by my wife's aunt.

Main Street USA 2008
Main Street USA is still a favorite photo spot.
I took this photo of Mom on a quick
 trip we took to Walt Disney World
in September 2008.


Focused on the Magic

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Disney First-Timer Class I Give to My Friends, Part 3

This is the end of my Walt Disney World First Timer Class.  If you have missed the other sections, you can find them here: WDW First Timer Part 1 and here: WDW First Timer Part 2.

Growing Up Disney, Mickey Mouse hugging child, first Disney vacation

Today we will be focusing on tips for traveling with small children.

Snacks: You are welcome to take food in at the Disney parks and it’s a good idea to do so. Yes, food is available all over the place but being able to quickly provide the kids with goldfish or fruit snacks can help prevent a meltdown. Heck, I’ve even found that it’s a good idea to have some trail mix for myself. I will admit to getting ‘hangry’ at the parks when I’m in need of a blood sugar boost.

Yogurt/applesauce squeeze packs: If you have a picky eater like I do, you may want to carry yogurt or applesauce squeeze packs. If we are carrying a lunchbox with an ice pack, I’ll keep them there, otherwise, the applesauce is fine at room temperature.

Baby care and changing tables: Changing tables are available in almost every bathroom throughout WDW property, both women’s and men’s rooms. The parks also have baby care centers that offer large changing tables, little toilets for potty-training kids, high chairs, kitchens and nursing rooms. Baby essentials are also for sale if you run out of something.  Here's a link for my full article on Disney's baby care centers.

Highchairs and booster seats:  They are available at all of the table service and counter service restaurants.  Typically, they are the large plastic type.  If you use a cover for highchairs at home, leave that out of your suitcase and just pack some clorox wipes to keep things clean.  Here's a link for my full article on highchairs and boosters at WDW.

Change of clothes: I have always carried a change of clothes for my kids. I pack a lightweight outfit, socks and underwear in a gallon bag and squeeze the air out of it. I almost never use it but I guess that's the case with emergency stuff. It is part of the kit I keep under the stroller. So if your kids are messy eaters or likely to want to play in the splash areas, pack accordingly. If not, take your chances and buy a new t-shirt if things get crazy.

Packing: Follow these links for packing your Disney diaper bag and packing children's clothes for WDW.

I have many more tips for traveling with children on our "Kiddo Tips" and "Minnie Moms" tabs.  When you are finished here, be sure to read over those pages as well.

Stroller rules: 

Parking: Strollers will have to be parked before you enter most Walt Disney World attractions. Look for the signs designating "Stroller Parking" and leave your stroller in that area. Do not assume you can leave it somewhere just because there isn't a sign saying "no stroller parking." I have a friend who thought she could leave the stroller anywhere she liked as long as it wasn't specifically prohibited and her stroller was moved. EVERY. TIME. The Cast Members will likely move your stroller to keep things tidy but most of the time it will be in the same general area.

Mark Your Stroller: Since you will have to park amid one hundred other strollers and it's likely that another one looks like yours, please do two things. First, add something brightly colored to the handle. Bandanas and ribbon work well and don't get in your way when you fold the stroller. Some folks recommend using a balloon to mark your stroller, but, and feel free to call me a grinch, I think they are generally too much trouble. We use a bright yellow wrap that is intended to go around the handle of a suitcase to help you spot it at baggage claim. I wrote our last name on it with a sharpie and it works great. The second way I want you to mark your stroller is with your last name and cell phone number. Odds are exceptionally good that you will leave WDW with your stroller but if it were to somehow get misplaced, having some contact information will increase your chances of a happy reunion. I've marked mine with my label maker however your trusty sharpie will help you out here too.

Leaving Things in the Stroller: How much you leave in the stroller while you are inside depends on you. I have seen buggies totally loaded down and those nearly empty. Here's a general rule. DO NOT leave ANYTHING of value in your stroller. This is Disney World, not Utopia. Theft still happens if you give people a chance. I don't leave much in my stroller because I like to be ready for anything and sometimes you can be away from the stroller for a good length of time. If your child is near meltdown while in line and you've left the snacks in the diaper bag in the stroller, you'll really wish you had bothered to pack wisely and carry your bag around with you. I have written on the topic of diaper bags and what to carry several times over the years as the kids have grown. See the links above under "Packing."

You WILL Need A Stroller: Children need strollers at Walt Disney World way after they have outgrown them at home. An older child won't need to ride as often as a small one but especially at the physically larger parks (Epcot, Animal Kingdom), you'll be happy you can push them at the end of the day instead of carrying them. We don't use a stroller for our oldest daughter on every day of the trip anymore but having at least a sit and stand stroller where she can rest occasionally is really helpful. Another bonus is that you can move at an adult pace if you are in a hurry and your child(ren) is(are) in a stroller. I've taken about 5 different strollers over the years. I'll write up my thoughts on those soon.

To Fold or Not to Fold: For the most part, once you are in your park of the day, you can set up your stroller and be on your way. However, you will have to fold it for the trains at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. If you are using a Disney bus, parking lot tram or smaller boat, strollers will have to be folded before you board. The Magic Kingdom ferry and Monorail will allow you to push the stroller. My strollers require all pockets and baskets to be empty before they will fold, so I keep a little bag that folds into itself in my larger bag. I can quickly round up all the extra stuff we have accumulated before we get on the bus.

Thank you for joining me for this special series.  I hope you've found at least one new tip to help make your Walt Disney World vacation one full of fun and magic.  I'll continue the series later, covering attractions and dining.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Problem Solved - A New Year and an Old Problem

Not long ago I wrote about the same old problem. (Click here to read that post.) It is now 2015.  We had wonderful vacations with the Disney Vacation Club in 2014.  But those vacations are now in the past and we have nothing booked for this year.  Well, we now have reservations booked!!
Disney Vacation Club DVC

In October, 2015,  we will be staying at a Disney Vacation Club resort for the first time.  We have reservations booked for Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas - Kidani Village.

Disney Vacation Club Villas at the Animal Kingdom Lodge opened first as a re-purposed area in the original resort, now called Jambo House.  Two years later the first phase of Kidani Village opened May 1, 2009 with Deluxe Studios and one, two and three bedroom villas.  While we have visited both Jambo House and Kidani Village to dine in their restaurants, only Ridge has actually stayed at the resort.

Disney Vacation Club DVC

For our October trip we have booked a Savanna view 2 bedroom villa as well as a standard view deluxe studio.  While the 2 bedroom villa will sleep 9, we booked the extra studio so no one has to sleep on the sofa.  And if we decide to bring an extra friend along there will be plenty of room.

The 2 bedroom villa at Kidani Village sleeps 9 with a king bed in the master bedroom and either 2 queens or a queen bed and sleeper sofa in the second bedroom depending on if you stay in a dedicated 2 bedroom or a 2 bedroom lock-off (a one bedroom villa connected to a deluxe studio).  The living room has a sleeper sofa and a chair that makes into a bed.  Both 1173 square foot 2 bedroom villas have 3 bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen.

I have been researching dining choices at Animal Kingdom Villas and Animal Kingdom Lodge. There are several restaurant choices for lunch and dinner.  We have eaten at both Sanaa and Boma. Both are worth repeat visits.  Amy and Andy have been to Jiko and enjoyed dinner there.  There are also pool bars at both Kidani Village and Jambo House that start serving at 11:00 am and go through dinner.  Breakfast is counter service at the Mara or buffet at Boma, both in Jambo House.  So if you want to eat breakfast without venturing out from Kidani Village, you cook in your room or there is always room service.

I hope the weather is nice in October as the pool at Kidani Village sounds wonderful.  Samiwati Springs pool features a 128 foot long slide as well as a zero entry pool. The pool area include Uwanja Camp which is a water playground for kids 4 and up.  At Jambo House is the Uzima Pool, a 11,000 sq foot pool facing the Uzima Savanna.  There are bars and refreshments nearby both pools.

Travel to the parks from Kidani Village is by bus.  It's only about a 10 minute bus ride to the Animal Kingdom Park, but the other parks are about a 30 minute or more bus ride.  I'll probably load Mom's mobility scooter up in the car to go anywhere other than the Animal Kingdom Park.
Disney Vacation Club DVC

The big attraction regardless if you are staying in Jambo House or, like us, at Kidani Village is the Savanna view from your room.  Ridge said he took hundreds of photos from his balcony when he stayed here.  Tink and Minnie will be 6 and 4 for this trip and will love watching the animals from the room.  And of course I'll love watching them watch the animals.

It doesn't get much better than being with family at Walt Disney World.


Have you stayed at Kidani Village?  Do you have any advice for someone staying there for the first time?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Photo Flashback! My Disney Princess

Disney Royalty means Princesses.
Akershus Royal Banquet Hall has lots of them.

At Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in EPCOT you get to dine with
Ariel, Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, and Snow White.  
Tink and Minnie had fun meeting the Royal Princesses here.

Tink and Minnie with Ariel

And with Princess Aurora

And with Belle

And Cinderella

And Snow White
Of course my Favorite Disney Princess is MY Princess for over 42 years.

DisneyDad and Mom on Honeymoon in 1973

Mom at EPCOT

Mom at Old Key West
Where is your favorite place to meet Disney Royalty?

Focused on the Magic

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Disney First-Timer Class I Give to My Friends, Part 2

Today's post is a continuation of my "First-Timer Class" series.  This came from helping a dear friend plan her family's first Walt Disney World vacation.  If you haven't read that one yet, be sure you catch the beginning of the story.  

And now, on with the show!

Growing Up Disney, Spaceship Earth, first Disney vacation

Pace Yourself: If you are traveling only with adults or with older children, you might be able to run all day from ‘rope drop’ (park opening) to the ‘kiss goodnight’ (park closing). However, if your travel party includes small children, know that you’ll need to slow down a bit. You should definitely arrive to the park of the day in advance of the opening time to take advantage of the low crowds. Plan on some sort of afternoon break such as a nap in your hotel room or resting in a quiet corner of the park while your child naps in his/her stroller. Older kids might enjoy a dip in the pool or lunch at one of the resorts as a chance to have a little downtime from the excitement of the parks. It’s warm or HOT most of the year in Orlando so be sure to take breaks in the air conditioning and drink plenty of water.

Free water: Any of the Disney counter-service dining locations will give you a cup of ice water for free. The only catch is that you will still have to wait in line to make the request so this works best at off-peak times.

Magic Kingdom parking: If you drive to the theme parks, you'll pay to enter the lot or show your resort parking pass for free access and then be directed to your spot by the Cast Members. You'll load the family on a tram for a ride to the front entrance. UNLESS you are going to the Magic Kingdom, that is. MK is intentionally separated from the real world and this will cost you time, so plan accordingly. It's not a huge deal; just something you should know in case you are trying to arrive in time for dining reservations. The tram at Magic Kingdom takes you to the Ticket and Transportation Center. From here, you'll board either a ferry or a monorail for a ride to the park. We typically take the ferry over and the monorail back when it's less crowded.

Ride the monorail (and the boat and the bus): Walt Disney World transportation is fabulous and it's free. The monorail is a must-do, even if you just ride around and don't go anywhere. My favorite is the resort loop and with a stop at the Grand for tea but the monorail can be used for transportation to/from the Magic Kingdom, the resorts on the monorail, the Transportation and Ticket Center (MK parking lot) and you can even ride it over to Epcot. I love Disney's water transportation and take the boats whenever possible. They may not be the fastest way from point A to point B but they are usually the most relaxing. And if you can't ride a boat or a monorail, there are buses to take you just about anywhere on Disney property.

Security: Your bags will be checked before you enter a Walt Disney World theme park. It's not a big deal and even though the lines can appear daunting, they move pretty quickly. To speed your way through the line, open the zippers on your bag(s) while you wait. Some guards will want to see inside every nook and cranny and others will glance and tell you to have a good day. They are only looking for dangerous items. You are totally allowed to bring food and drinks in as long as you don't use glass.

Comfy shoes: Wear comfortable shoes. You'll be walking miles and miles. If you buy new shoes before a trip, be sure to wear them enough to know if you can walk and stand in them all day. 

Backpack: Just like the shoes, make sure whatever bag you carry is comfortable. Backpacks are very popular options. I've been using a sling-style camera bag with room for kid stuff for the last several years. You will have to open each compartment of your bag for security and because of this, some people will tell you to choose a bag/backpack without many sections. My thought is that the security process is quick and I’d rather be able to find my things easily throughout the day. So I choose and pack my bags for my own convenience, rather than worrying much about bag check.

Must Try Treats: WDW offers lots of great snacks but the two that top the must-do list are Dole Whip and Mickey premium ice cream bars. Dole Whip is pineapple soft-serve with a cult following. It’s available at Aloha Isle in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom, at Pineapple Lanai at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort and at the Refreshment Port at Epcot. This last one was news to me. I have had Dole Whip at Epcot during the Food and Wine Festival but to me, it’s an Adventureland treat.

Package pickup: Disney offers a free package pickup/delivery service at the theme parks. If you see a souvenir that you just must have but don't want to haul around all day, never fear! Just let the Cast Member know when you purchase the item and he or she can arrange for pick-up/delivery. If you are staying at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel, your item can be sent to a designated location at your resort, usually a gift shop, and you can collect it in a day or two. If you are staying off property or are leaving the next day, the Cast Member will send the item to the package office near the exit of the park and you can get it on your way out. Or if you really don't want to worry about it, they can send it to your home but you'll pay shipping charges.

Downtown Disney: Downtown Disney (soon to be called Disney Springs) is a shopping, dining and entertainment district. It is a great way to spend some time on a non-park day, or an excuse to escape the theme park crowds early. There is no entry fee required for Downtown Disney. It has a little of everything…Disney-themed merchandise, boutiques, train ride, live entertainment, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, House of Blues, Cirque du Soliel, bowling, movies, more shopping, food ranging from carts to nice restaurants. The parking lots tend to fill up quickly and Disney is building parking decks to help this situation. My favorite way around dealing with parking is to take a water taxi (free) from Old Key West. They are also available from Port Orleans Riverside, Port Orleans French Quarter, and Saratoga Springs. Buses run to and from all of the WDW Resorts but there is no direct connection between DTD and the theme parks.

Mini-golf and water parks: Walt Disney World has two miniature golf courses and two water parks. I'm not a water person so I can't speak from experience on the water parks but my family loves the mini-golf courses. These are a great way to spend an afternoon and provide a pleasant break from the crowds of the theme parks. Our favorite is Winter Summerland, with its year-round Christmas theme and sand and snow courses.

Meals at resorts: Since Jennifer’s family didn’t have much time at the parks, I suggested she plan character meals at Disney's resort hotels on their non-park days. This allowed them to enjoy the character meals without spending valuable park time as well as giving them an excuse to check out a couple of the Disney resorts. And don’t feel limited to character breakfasts, the Disney World resorts offer some fabulous dining options for all times of day and all sorts of cuisines.

Photograph things you don't want to lose: You aren't handed many cards at Walt Disney World anymore but if you do have a physical park ticket, PhotoPass card, or anything else you'd be upset without, take a picture of it so you have the important numbers should the card be misplaced.  Same thing for parking.  Take a picture of the row number and then you won't be wandering at the end of the night.  And kiddos!  Line them up for a quick pic in the morning.  Then you'll have exactly what the child is wearing should a Cast Member have to help you find them.  Thankfully the only place I've ever lost Tink at WDW was the playground at the Studios.  She was way back in one of the tunnels having a blast pretending to be an ant and a Cast Member quickly found her.

This isn't the end!  There will be one more post in this series.  Don't miss it!

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.
Link to Part 2  Link to Part 3