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Old 09-14-2012, 10:25 AM   #1
Earning My Ears
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 59

In the Home Stretch Now - A Very Princess Pre-Trip Report

If you have read my 2010 Trip Report, you know most of the players this time around.

There's me. I'm the resident Disney World fan and obsessive planner.

There's my wife, Mindy. How do I put this delicately? Disney World is not her thing. In 2010, she vowed never to return again. Gradually, her position on the subject softened because the kids wanted to go back. But I doubt Mindy will ever be happy to go to Disney World. Hey, it usually makes for an interesting Trip Report.

Our oldest daughter, Josie, is 7 years old. This will be her 4th trip to WDW. She has memories of the previous trips, but more from hearing us tell stories about them. Some of her "memories" never actually happened. Incidently, we call her Joey at home. So, if I start talking about Joey, I'm referring to her.

And our youngest daughter, Kara, is three. To a large degree, she is the reason we are taking this trip. About this time last year, she became utterly fascinated with princesses. Fortunately, that fascination has only deepened in the past year. She can't wait to see all the princesses in person. She won't be able to ride a lot of rides (and sometimes won't ride the rides she is able to) but watching her tap into her inner princess should be lots of fun. She has also developed a fascination with Jake and the Neverland Pirates lately.

Finally, there's my mom. Mom's a teacher at Josie's school. Since we scheduled our trip during a rare "fall break" when Mom was also off work, she decided to come along. Mom power walks every day, so she is actually the person I am least worried about slowing us down. If anything, we could have trouble keeping up with her.

Having Mom along brings with it a lot of benefits. For one, we're splitting the cost of our room at Art of Animation. We would never have ponied up for a suite if not for that. For another, she'll help with the kids. But better still, Mindy will be far less likely to complain with my mom around. So, yay Mom!

At present, we're counting down from 49 days. I have started a countdown on my blog if anyone is interested. I am going to go over the plan in 49 parts leading up to the trip. So feel free to follow along there for daily updates. Naturally, I'll be posting frequent updates here as well as the final details of planning get hammered out.
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Old 09-15-2012, 11:12 AM   #2
Earning My Ears
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 59

As I count down the 49 days remaining until my family’s Disney World trip, I thought I would walk through the agenda step by step. Once the trip is done, we’ll see how well the plan was executed. Because there’s no way everything goes according to plan. It never does.

We are leaving for Orlando first thing Thursday morning. I had wanted to fly out the night before, but that wasn’t in the cards. It would have meant leaving Wed afternoon right after school or taking a late flight which would have included a lay-over. Pulling into our hotel at 1:00 am with two little kids was not an appealing option.

I seriously considered leaving right after school on Wed. But Wed is Halloween. This may seem silly, but we changed our plans to accomodate trick or treating. We also floated the idea of trick or treating at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party on Thursday. But ultimately, we decided it was much cheaper to skip the party tickets, shave one night off our hotel stay and trick or treat at home.
You get much better candy at home anyway.

So, our flight leaves early on Thursday morning. We have lined up house-sitters to watch the family dog. We haven’t yet worked out our ride to the airport. If a relative isn’t available to drop us off, we will likely call a cab. Josie is hoping for the latter. She has a romanticized notion of cab rides.

This trip, we are traveling with my mom. So we will meet up with her and ride to the airport together. I will arrange to have donuts on hand to tide everyone over for the flight. Unless Delta changes our flight plan again, we should touch down in Orlando at 11:30.

From the Orlando airport, we will board the familiar Magical Express bus without having to wait on our luggage. I am estimating about an hour-long bus ride to our hotel, Disney’s Art of Animation Resort.
As I have mentioned in previous articles, we are staying in a Lion King suite. The Nemo suites were our first choice, but the “free dining” discount was not available. So we settled for a room with a jungle theme.

When I broke the news to the kids, I assured them we would still be able to visit the fabulous Nemo pool as well as the Little Mermaid themed section of the resort. They handled it well. In fact, they are definitely looking forward to it even though The Lion King is far from a family favorite.

Every morning, when I drive the kids to school, we pass a building with two lion statues on the roof. The statues are relatively small and I never really noticed them before. But Kara points them out when we pass. She says, “That is the Lion King where we are going on vacation.”

She’s exceptionally proud of this discovery. She also finds “Mickey heads” everywhere. “Mickey heads” are her version of “hidden Mickeys”. In theory, a “hidden Mickey” is the arrangement of three circles to look like Mickey ears. But Kara’s “Mickey heads” can be anything. They don’t even need to be circular.

I expect we will be arriving at Art of Animation around 12:30. 1:00 at the latest. We will need to check in which shouldn’t take terribly long. And this is where we have a tough decision. Lunch.

I can not over-state the importance of food on this trip. I have been accused in the past of glossing over meals or snacks. After several trips, I have learned the error of my ways. The troops can’t march on an empty stomach. After a busy morning with a continental breakfast, lunch will be crucial.

If it were my call to make, we would hop a bus for Epcot first thing. I would grab a bite at the Sunshine Seasons or just snack until our 6:30 dinner reservations. But realistically, I think our best bet will be to grab lunch at the Landscape of Flavors food court at our resort.

Mindy is a big fan of caprese sandwhiches which are on the Landscape of Flavors menu. It might mean delaying our arrival at Epcot. But a full wife is a happy wife. And a wife full of caprese will be much happier to be marched around the World Showcase until Illuminations.

By the time we get checked into our room, grab a bite to eat and hop a bus, I figure it will be roughly 4:00 before we get to Epcot. That will give us 5 hours in the park which is just barely enough time to warrant the use of a park ticket. And that is only because the price of the extra day on a 6-day ticket is minimal.

Next, we’ll take a look at what happens when we finally hit the parks. (Follow the link to read one day ahead.)
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Old 09-16-2012, 08:47 AM   #3
Earning My Ears
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When we left off, we should have checked into the Art of Animation Resort and grabbed a bite to eat at the Landscape of Flavors foodcourt. Hopefully, with the downtime, the girls will have re-energized from the flight in. With bellies full, we’ll grab a bus to Epcot.

In 2010, we actually spent quite a bit of time in Epcot. And last summer, my mom spent a full day there. As much as we all like Epcot, we had to make some choices about where to spend our time. When I added up the things we really wanted to see and do in Epcot on this trip, I was pretty sure we could squeeze it all in in half a day. Or, more to the point, we would struggle to fill an entire day at Epcot with little kids.

If everything goes according to plan, we should arrive at Epcot around 4:00. We have dinner reservations scheduled at 6:30, so that doesn’t allow us a lot of time. I figure we have time for one headliner attraction at most. Technically, Test Track will be down for refurbishment during our trip. But there is a slim chance we could catch a soft opening of the updated attraction. It’s unlikely, but if the opportunity presents itself, we will definitely take advantage of it.

My advice to Epcot newbies is always to grab a FastPass for Soarin’ first. Last trip, Josie and I had a bad experience on Soarin’. The effect was too realistic and she was convinced we were suspended over the Pacific. Now that she is older, she would like to give it another try. Assuming that the Test Track plan doesn’t work, Soarin’ will be next on our hit list. There is very little chance we can squeeze them both in.

As Disney World fans know, Soarin’ typically has the longest waits in the park. There is really no chance we’ll wait in the stand-by line. The only way we will ride Soarin’ this trip is if FastPasses are still available when we arrive. It’s not uncommon for all of the FastPasses to be gone by 4:00. Touringplans.com tells me not to get my hopes up. But since we’re travelling during the off season, there is some hope we could still grab the most coveted FP in the park.

Since we are arriving late in the day, the odds of riding Soarin’ are 50/50 at best. And the odds of a Test Track soft opening are probably 1 in 100. So our first stop will very likely be The Seas With Nemo and Friends. Mindy and the girls are big Nemo fans. We had a great time at Turtle Talk with Crush in 2010 and this year Kara will be old enough to enjoy it as well. When I asked for input, The Seas and Turtle Talk were the only must-do attractions in Epcot.

There really isn’t a whole lot left in Future World for us to squeeze in this trip. Mindy gets claustrophobic in Spaceship Earth, so we will probably skip it. Mission: Space is a no-go. We might hop on Journey into Imagination just because the lines are likely to be non-existent. But that is at most a few minutes carved out of our schedule.

The trip is bound to be character-intensive. So we will probably stop by the Epcot Character Spot at some point. I’m a Disney Visa holder, so if we can make it there before 4:30 we can get a free picture with the characters. Realistically, that seems unlikely given the time-table. But if we arrive earlier than planned or if Soarin’ FastPasses are all used up for the day, we just might make it to the Character Spot in time for the free photo.

If we miss the 4:30 deadline, we will hold off on the Character Spot until late in the evening. While Test Track is down for refurb, Disney is keeping the Character Spot and the Land Pavilion open an hour later than the rest of the park. Assuming this is still the case, we might visit Mickey and friends or even ride Soarin’ on our way out of the park.

Next up, World Showcase.
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Old 09-17-2012, 10:09 AM   #4
Earning My Ears
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When we left off, we spent the first half of the day traveling, got settled in at the Art of Animation Resort, hopped a bus to Epcot and hit a couple of highlights in Future World. The odds are that we won’t have spent much time in Future World. The only “must do” on our list is The Seas With Nemo and Friends. Even with Turtle Talk, I doubt we will spend more than 40 minutes in the pavilion. If we spend more than an hour in Future World, it will be because we got lucky with a Test Track soft open or FastPasses for Soarin’.

The rest of our evening is pretty flexible save for two events. We have dinner with the princesses at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at 6:30 and Illuminations starts at 9:00. I expect to have a little time to kill in World Showcase before dinner. It’s impossible to know how much time that will be. I would be surprised if it’s more than a half hour, but fortunately World Showcase does not require any kind of touring plan. We will just play it by ear until it is time to report for our reservations.

As I mentioned previously, I expect this will be a fairly character-intensive trip. There are two characters we plan to see who are unique to Epcot. So I will prioritize tracking them down for pictures, hugs and autographs. If we miss them tonight, we won’t get another chance to see them. The first is Duffy the Disney Bear. Yes, I know he’s a souless marketing ploy and not a legitimate character. But he’s cute. Josie likes him. He never has a line. And he’s only available at Epcot. So we will probably seek him out at the World Showcase.

The second character is the more important of the two. It’s Marie from the Aristocats. Kara’s middle name is Marie. She has a Marie stuffed animal from the Disney Store. So, she has a connection with the character (even though she has never really watched the movie). She calls Marie “my cat” and says she is going to see her in Disney World.

Truth is, it’s entirely possible that we will see Marie face to face and Kara will change her mind. Especially since this will be early in the trip and she won’t have a lot of meet and greets under her belt yet. (I have been training her with the Peanuts characters at Kings Island all summer and results vary with her mood.) But even with the outcome uncertain, this will likely be her only chance to see “her cat” so we’ll try to track her down before her shift ends at the France pavilion.

If you detected some uncertainty in the previous sentence it’s because there are rumors that Marie may be moving from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom. These rumors come from reliable sources, so I don’t doubt that it will happen. The question is when. It’s possible that Marie could be moved to Main Street before our trip. Which would actually be great news for us. That would allow us three more chances to see her. But assuming the change isn’t made yet, we’ll have to head to France to see her before dinner.

There are only a couple of rides in World Showcase and they are both on the same side of the lagoon as our dinner reservations. Last trip, The Gran Fiesta Tour (or “The Donald Duck Ride”) was a big hit. So that will be a must-do either before or after dinner. Maelstrom is extremely optional. But FastPass is available. So we should be able to grab some FastPasses before dinner and then ride it immediately afterwards.

I had originally intended to cover dinner in this installment. But I spent longer than I expected talking about stuffed bears and cats. With 46 installments left to fill, I’ll save dinner for the next installment.
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Old 09-18-2012, 11:02 AM   #5
Earning My Ears
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When we left off, we had just attempted to cram our Epcot must-dos into a couple of hours. Fortunately, it’s a relatively short checklist. That brings us to the most important part of the day, dinner at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall.

Dinner isn’t so important because my family has a love of Norwegian cuisine. Quite the opposite, really. And since we will have had a late lunch at the hotel food court, I don’t really expect anyone to be very hungry by 6:30. The primary selling point for this meal (and the trip in general) is the chance for the girls to get some face time with the Disney princesses.

Last trip, we had to cancel dinner at this restaurant due to a rain-out. But we did have breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table which is a similar experience. Kara was really too young to get much out of princess dining last time. She was more interested in the french toast than the princesses who came to our table. This time will be drastically different.

The Akershus meal includes a photo package. So before we are seated, we will get our picture taken with one of the princesses. Typically this is Belle in her ball gown. But Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) has been known to substitite as greeter from time to time. Either is really okay with us.

Once we are seated, the meal starts out with a cold buffet called “A Taste of Norway”. The menu describes this portion of the meal thusly, “This magnificent feast includes sliced deli meats, seafood, and a grand selection of prepared salads and cheeses.”

Personally, that sounds all right to me. But I do have two picky eaters in the group. One is seven and the other will be 33. This is why I mentioned before that lunch was so important. Mindy wasn’t all that interested in the menu at Akershus.

Akershus is actually a combination of a buffet with a typical sit-down meal. We will order our entrees off of a menu. From my understanding, the menu has Norwegian influences, but has been mainstreamed (“dumbed down”) for an American palate. Here is a look at our choices for entrees:

Grilled Pork Tenderloin - with Yukon gold mashed potatoes, haricots verts, and whole-grain mustard sauce
Seared Herb-dusted Beef Tips – seared beef tenderloin tips in wild mushroom sauce served with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
Pan-seared Salmon – with vegetable nage and arugula salad with red beet vinaigrette
Traditional Kjottkake – Norweigian meatballs served with Mashed Potatoes, seasonal Vegetables, and Lingonberry Sauce
Oven-roasted Chicken Breast – with fennel hash, tomato jam and chive oil
Mushroom-stuffed Pasta – with Swiss Chard, Oven-roasted Shiitakes, and Parmesan Cream
Chef’s Catch of the Day

I have heard mixed reactions regarding the food. Most seem to enjoy the food or at least indicated that it was acceptable even for a picky earter. We’ll have to see if that holds up with my pickiest eater (the 33-year-old). Fortunately, since the meal is “all you care to eat”, you can always order a different entree if your first choice isn’t to your liking.

The kids’ menu is even more Americanized:

Meatballs - served with mashed potatoes and corn
Hot Dog – with corn
Pizza – with mozzarella
Grilled Chicken Breast – served with vegetables and roasted potatoes
Cheese Ravioli – served with tomato sauce
Salmon – served with vegetables and roasted potatoes

With hot dogs and pizza on the menu, I think the girls will be okay with the food.

The meal ends with dessert served “family style” meaning that three desserts will be brought out for everyone to share. This is also “all you care to eat” so if one dessert proves to be a clear favorite, you can request more.

The desserts are as follows:

Sweet and Savory Chocolate Mousse
Traditional Rice Cream – topped with Strawberry Sauce
Flaky Puff Pastry – filled with Mascarpone Mousse topped with fresh Berries

Sounds pretty good to me. I can’t speak for the rest of my party, but I expect to leave here stuffed.

As I said at the outset, this meal isn’t about the food. It’s about face time with the princesses. The roster is subject to change, but princesses the following princesses are typically in attendance: Ariel (in ballgown), Jasmine, Snow White, Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Mulan, or Mary Poppins.

Cinderella has been known to make appearances. But she is a rarity since she has two dedicated meals already.

We’d be happy with just about any combination of the available princesses. The girls aren’t all that familiar with Mulan or Mary Poppins. The one we’re really counting on seeing is Ariel. Despite the fact Ariel has been Josie’s favorite princess since she was little, we have never actually met her.

We will have other opportunities to meet the Little Mermaid during the trip. So if she is a no-show for dinner, it’s not the end of the world. But assuming she is there (and she usually is) that is one must-see meet we can cross off our checklist.

Next, I’ll wrap up the first day of our trip.
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Old 09-19-2012, 10:26 AM   #6
Earning My Ears
Join Date: Apr 2008
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When we left off, we had just had dinner with the princesses at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway Pavilion. I expect to be quite full after our meal. Hopefully my picky eaters aren’t hungry. No matter what, I expect the girls will have been enchanted.

Dinner started at 6:30 and Illuminations starts at 9:00. Even if we take our time with dinner, we should have about an hour or so before the fireworks start. Also, we should have a set of FastPasses ready to redeem. If they were still available when we arrived at the park, we may have Soarin’ FPs. If not, we should at least have FPs for Maelstrom.

Once we have used our FastPasses, we will have a decision to make. We will need to determine whether or not we have it in us to stay for the fireworks display.

Despite our many Disney World trips, we have seen surprisingly few fireworks shows. Somone in our party (I won’t say who) tends to run out of gas before the park closes. Add in little kids and crowded buses. More often than not, we opt to head back to the hotel before the crowd.

Ideally, I would like to stay and see Illuminations. It is one of the more beloved evening shows and we have never seen it. But realistically, I know there is a very good chance that the girls will be worn out after our flight and a half day at Epcot. So this one could go either way.

If everyone decides they want to stick around and watch the fireworks, we will hang around the World Showcase until they start. Most of the characters will have stopped meet and greets for the day. But Winnie the Pooh and Tigger will be available in the United Kingdom Pavilion until 8:30. And I understand that the UK Pavilion offers a great view of the show.

If we opt to avoid the Illuminations crowd, we’ll make our way to the front of the park. There should be a short wait at the Character Spot if we haven’t already visited the Fab 5. We could also squeeze in a quick ride or two. When the fireworks start at 9, we’ll hop on a hopefully empty bus back to Art of Animation.

Assuming we stay for the fireworks, there is one additional wrinkle I mentioned earlier. Currently, Test Track is closed for refurb. That is expected to be the case during our trip as well. To compensate, Disney is leaving the Character Spot and the Land Pavilion open one hour past park close.

This is where things could get a little crazy. I have no doubt that everyone will be tired by the end of a long day. And yet, it may make sense to wait out the crowds at the bus for at least a little while. So, if we stay for the fireworks, we may just visit the Character Spot or the Land Pavilion before we leave.

These attractions will remain open until 10. Odds are, the majority of guests won’t know this and will head for the buses right after the fireworks. If we wait a little while, we can miss the rush. But I don’t think we want to stick around until 10 either. There could be another rush as Disney sends everyone home at once.

That concludes our half-day at Epcot and our arrival day in general. Next up, we try to get up in the morning.
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Old 09-20-2012, 11:17 AM   #7
Earning My Ears
Join Date: Apr 2008
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When we left off, we had just brought the first day of our vacation to a close. Arrival days are always a little extra tiring. Whether we stick around for Illuminations or not, I guarantee the girls will be tired. I estimate we will be back to our room sometime bewteen 9:30 (if we leave early) and 11:00 (if we stay late). This makes for a late bedtime no matter how you slice it.

Ordinarily, I wake up at 6:00am on weekdays to get ready for work and help get the kids ready for school. The girls are typically up between 6:30 and 7:00 am. Even on weekends we’re usually up between 7:00 and 7:30. 8:00 is definitely sleeping in.

I bring this up because in theory, we should have no problem getting up in time to make it to the Magic Kingdom before the park opens at 9:00 am. In practice, that may not be the case.

Any serious Disney World fan knows that getting to the parks early is half the battle. Those first couple of hours while everyone else is sleeping in are a golden opportunity for early risers to knock out the most popular attractions with little to no waiting.

Among Disney fans, park open is known as “rope drop”. I have been teaching my children since they could talk about the importance of “rope drop”. Any time we go anywhere at or before it opens, Josie proudly proclaims that we made it their at “rope drop”. So I don’t expect too much of a fight when I try to get everyone to the bus stop first thing in the morning.

However, something happens when you’re on vacation. What used to seem like sleeping in (say 7:30) now feels like getting up early. For my part, I still plan to get up at 6:00 am. I’ll get myself ready and then do whatever it takes to get the troops in gear.

This will probably include feeding them in some capacity. Last trip, I learned an important lesson regarding breakfast.

When you are on the Disney Dining Plan, you get three credits per day. To maximize your bang for the buck, the most efficient strategy is to use your table-service credit for the most expensive meal of the day (dinner), your conuter service credit for the second-most expensive meal (lunch) and your snack credit for breakfast.

Or better still, bring along a quick breakfast like Poptarts or granola bars. Something you can eat in your room or on the way to the bus. Then you have a snack credit left to burn on something more expensive than a cinnamon roll.

Before our 2010 trip, I explained this strategy. No objections were raised. I bought an assortment of various breakfast bars and morning snacks which could be consumed to tide us over during our early morning touring.

The first morning of that trip, we were headed off to Epcot. I opened up the quick breakfast bars to see what everyone wanted. My mind was on the Soarin’ FastPasses I planned to score. And then I realized I was getting a look.

Mindy made it quite clear that breakfast bars weren’t going to cut it. I weakly protested. I tried to remind her about the plan. How getting breakfast wasn’t efficient from a time or cost stand-point. How we had all agreed to the “breakfast snack” philosophy.

“You were serious about that?” she replied. And with that, I realized there was no point arguing for efficiency in breakfast.

This time out, I won’t even bother. I’ll still bring some bars and snacks for those who want them. But I know Mindy’s going to need something more substantial to start the day.

If we can get an early enough start, we should have time for breakfast at the food court at Art of Animation. I intend to leverage that to the sleepyheads in the group. But if we drag our feet, the plan is to hop a bus before breakfast and grab something in the park. At least, that’s MY plan. We’ll see how that pans out for me.

Our first full day will be spent at the Magic Kingdom. In spite of the late night at Epcot, I hope to get the troops up and ready to arrive in time for the Welcome Show at the park entrance at 8:50.

Anyone want to place any bets on the likelihood of that happening?

Next, morning at the Magic Kingdom.
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Old 09-21-2012, 10:56 AM   #8
Earning My Ears
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When we left off, we were preparing to start the first full day of our vacation. If everything went according to plan, we will arrive at the Magic Kingdom in time for the Welcome Show bright eyed and bushy tailed. And potentially full of Mickey waffles. If not, well, that should make for an interesting trip report.

When I started planning, I tried to figure out how much time we would need at each park in order to see everything we wanted to see. One day at the Magic Kingdom didn’t seem sufficient if we were going to take afternoon breaks (which are a necessity with young kids) and spend an evening watching the parade and fireworks.

Since we had nixed the notion of park hopping, it looked like we would need two days at the Magic Kingdom. So I started looking at the crowd calendar at touringplans.com to try to predict the best days to visit each park. According to the calendar, the crowds should be very light at the Magic Kingdom on Nov 2.
The reason for that is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Since the Magic Kingdom is hosting a hard ticket event that night, the park will close early to regular guests. If we wanted to stay and watch the parade and fireworks, we would have to pay extra for the Halloween festivities.

We debated attending the Halloween party this year, but ultimately decided against it. The tickets are expensive if you are already paying for regular theme park admission. And the girls go to bed too early to make full use of the late party hours.

After what will likely be an exhausting arrival day, I figured it would be okay to have our first day at the Magic Kingdom cut a little short. We’ll catch the parade and fireworks on another night and enjoy the light crowds while the park is open.

While I am talking about logistics, I’ll cover one more bit of planning. Last trip, we brought a double stroller for the kids. While it was an essential piece of equipment with two youngsters, it often presented some major headaches. Especially when it came to loading and unloading the thing on crowded Disney buses.

This trip, we could probably make due with a single stroller. In fact, my original plan was to bring a light umbrella stroller for Kara and let Josie hoof it with the rest of us. However, I have reconsidered that plan.

Ultimately, we decided to go ahead and pay Disney’s ridiculous rental prices for a double stroller. Josie won’t need it 100% of the time. But it will be handy to have when she’s running out of steam. I’m willing to pay for the luxury of not having to listen to whining kids asking to be carried after a long day in the parks. Plus, since it’s a rental, we won’t have to worry about loading it onto crowded buses.

Since we have got a full two days at the Magic Kingdom and crowds are supposed to be light, my touring plan is pretty loose (by my standards any way). I took the general outline of the 2-day Magic Kingdom touring plan from touringplans.com and adapted it for our preferences.

The plan is to start the day in Fantasyland and end it in Frontierland. But before we make a beeline to the Mad Tea Party and Peter Pan’s Flight, the first stop of the day may be the Town Square Theater on Main Street.

Princess meet and greets are a motivating factor for this vacation. Ideally, we will get face time with all the princesses before the trip is over. Rapunzel sits very near the top of our list of must-sees. And she is exclusive to the Magic Kingdom.

For a long time, Rapunzel’s meet and greet was held out doors separate from all the other princesses. The line to see her was often intimidating. Fortunately, Disney has moved the long-haired princess in doors. This has resulted in drastically shorter waits to see her. But later in the day, she moves back to her out-doors location. So, the plan is to see Rapunzel before that happens.

After checking another princess off our list, we’re off to Fantasyland to start riding some rides. Ideally, we are able to sniff out some soft openings for the new Fantasyland attractions. I’ll be asking castmembers until they let us in. But for planning purposes, I am going to assume the worst.
Next up, in depth in Fantasyland.
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Old 09-22-2012, 10:04 AM   #9
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When we left off, we picked up our rental stroller, made a quick stop to visit with Rapunzel and made our way down Main Street USA to the hub. Next stop, Fantasyland.

Our trip is scheduled just a couple weeks before the official sneak previews of the new Fantasyland Expansion are scheduled to begin. There is still a glimmer of hope that we could see the new attractions in the form of what Disney calls a “soft open”. This is essentially a test run to work out the bugs before the annual passholders show up for their officially announced sneak previews. It’s a bit of a long shot, so keep your fingers crossed for us.

For the planning purposes, I am going to assume there are not going to be any soft opens during our stay until I hear otherwise. I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for any opprotunity to experience the new attractions. But in the meantime, we’ll follow a traditional approach to touring Fantasyland.

In the past, this meant making a beeline for Dumbo. Traditionally, lines for Dumbo got out of hand fast due to the ride’s central location and low capacity. If you didn’t make it to Dumbo first thing, you could expect a long wait for a short ride. And more often than not, that wait was in the blistering Florida sun. My Dad complains about it to this day.

With the Storybook Circus part of the expansion, Dumbo has been moved to a less central location, the capacity has been doubled and FastPass has been added. So after years of telling people “Dumbo first!” we are no longer following the “Dumbo or die” strategy.

Instead, we’ll be heading to another Fantasyland classic with low capacity. Peter Pan’s Flight is a charming, low tech dark ride in flying pirate ships. Riders fly over the streets of London into Neverland where they relive the adventures of Peter Pan and Wendy. Josie went through a bit of a Peter Pan phase when she was little. She was fascinated with Wendy.

Kara has come to know the character through the TV show, Jake and the Neverland Pirates. She’s not too sure about those flying boats. But if I can get her on board, she’s sure to love it. If not, there will be other opportunities. But I would like to knock this ride off the list early because it tends to build up crazy lines fast.

Since I started planning, I have been using the tools available at Touringplans.com. I have been tweaking our personalized touring plans over and over again for months. Little changes in projections, park hours and info about the Fantasyland Expansion have made some pretty drastic changes to our agenda since I started.
Just for kicks, I decided to hit the “optimize” button on today’s touring plan to see what it spit out. Last week, TP.com adjusted their projections to reflect lowers crowds for the week of our trip (yay!). I expected a few attractions might get shuffled around as a result.

Prior to pushing that button, I though I was going to write about Fantasyland for today’s entire entry. But, it seems the plan has changed. And since I like the new plan, I’m sticking with the changes (at least until another updated projection comes along). So, for now, the plan is to leave Fantasyland after our flight over Neverland.

From there, we head over to the neighboring Liberty Square for The Haunted Mansion.

That may sound crazy to walk all the way to Fantasyland for one ride and then leave. But Peter Pan’s Flight is actually on the Liberty Square border. The Haunted Mansion is actually closer to Pan than many of the Fantasyland attractions. Plus, it’s basically a pitstop on our way to the day’s e-tickets.

What is their to say about the Mansion? It’s a classic. We all love it. Ideally, I’d like to ride it more than once. But we’ll see how that goes.

The kids have both experienced it before. Josie should be totally prepared for it. I’m less sure about Kara. Last time she rode it, she wasn’t quite one yet. So, she didn’t really understand what was going on. This time, she could be freaked out. I would like for her to experience the Mansion with us, but I won’t force the issue. With three adults, we should easily be able to switch off as needed.

From there, we head over to Frontierland. Frontierland is home to two of the Magic Kingdom’s biggest attractions, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. It’s always a good idea to hit these attractions early in the morning.

TP.com suggests grabbing a FP for Big Thunder and hopping in line for Splash. There’s a good reason for doing it in this order. As a water ride, Splash tends not to get very long lines early in the morning. At this point, it should be a walk-on.

There’s a risk involved in riding Splash Mountain early. You might get wet. If you get soaked early in the day, that can be a problem. So today, I will make sure to pack wet gear so the girls can dry off afterwards. One of the advantages of a double stroller is that it can hold a bad with ponchos, sandals, etc.
Josie has never ridden Splash Mountain before. But she promises me she’ll ride it with me this year. She’s actually full of big talk right now with the trip still 42 days away. She has also promised Mindy to ride Tower of Terror with her. What are the odds on that happening?

Kara’s not tall enough to ride Splash Mountain. And even if she was, there is no way she’d ride it. So, we’ll definitely need a child swap here. If Josie enjoys the ride as much as I hope she does, that opens up the potential for her to ride it twice.

TP.com tells me that riding Splash Mountain twice with a child swap should take approximately 41 minutes (have I mentioned how much I love the personalized touring plans there?). That should leave us with a little time to kill before our Big Thunder Mountain FastPasses come on-line.

Lucky for us, there are some character meet and greets nearby. Last trip, Josie suddenly decided out of the blue that she loved Jessie from Toy Story. It was completely random, but the fascination with Jessie lasted for quite a while. It’s faded somewhat since then, but she still has a fondness for the character. So we’ll be on the lookout for Woody and Jessie who are schedule to appear near the Splash Mountain exit at about this time.

Our last big ride of the morning is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Mindy coaxed Josie into riding this in 2010 to comical effect. Josie says she’s ready to give it another try this time. Hopefully she can enjoy the newly refurbished ride more the second time around.

After this, the touring plan has us heading out to Tom Sawyer Island, visiting Frontierland Donald Duck and grabbing lunch at Pecos Bill’s before heading back to the room for a nap. That sounds like a solid plan to me. But at this point, I’ll more or less relinquish the reigns to the kids.

Frankly, Josie hasn’t expressed much interest in Tom Sawyer Island. And Mindy’s counter service restaurant of choice seems to be Pinocchio’s Village Haus in Fantasyland. So, I wouldn’t be too surprised if we ditch the plan and head back to Fantasyland instead.

On the upside, that would give me another chance to pester castmembers about any potential soft opens.

Next up: Fantasyland, really.
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Old 09-24-2012, 09:32 AM   #10
Earning My Ears
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 59

When we left off, we had knocked out some of the biggest and most iconic rides at the Magic Kingdom. Having done so, it’s time for a little planned spontaneity. Our travel plan has us going out to Tom Sawyer’s Island to let the kids run around for a while before lunch. But there is a real good chance that we will deviate from the plan at this point.

I have shown Josie pictures and videos of Tom Sawyer Island to try to gauge her interest level. Like all kids, my kids love to run around and play. We’ll definitely spend some time at the various playgrounds across Disney World. But TSI just doesn’t hold all that much appeal to Josie. She is afraid of the caves. I doubt either of the girls will go near them. It sounds weird to say this, but I think TSI might be too wide open for Josie. She prefers a more traditional playground like the Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area at Hollywood Studios.

Essentially, I don’t want to take the raft out to the island only to have my kids stare at me when we get there. If they seem to want to run around and play, we’ll give it a shot. But otherwise, I’ll let them decide where to go next. (Which is also a risky proposition as Josie is really terrible at making up her mind.)
Another consideration is Kara. By this point, we will have ridden two e-tickets in a row which she can’t ride. Hopefully, we will break them up with some character interactions. And there’s a small play area by Splash Mountain that should entertain her for a while. But after the Mansion and two mountains, I figure it’s time we did something that appeals to her.

Odds are pretty good that will take us back into Fantasyland. My apologies in advance to any cast members I see in Fantasyland during this trip. I plan to pester you in the nicest possible way until you let me into the expansion. I promise not to be a jerk about it.

If we end up in Fantasyland, we’ll just go with the flow until lunchtime. I know the kids will want to hit up the Mad Tea Party. Since that attraction tends to accumulate long lines, it will be a priority while the lines are relatively light. Last trip, Josie loved the tea cups. She giggled the whole time while demanding that I spin the cup faster and faster. So let this be a warning to my mom or anyone else thinking about riding the tea cups with Josie. She’s a spinner!

We’ll be keeping our eyes out for Alice (who almost counts as a princess in Kara’s eyes). She and the White Rabbit pull meet and greet duty near the tea cups. The Mad Hatter can also be seen nearby, but the girls find him somewhat scary. But if we can see Alice and/or the rabbit without much of a wait, we’ll collect their autographs.

From there, I suspect we’ll kick around the nearby Fantasyland attractions like it’s a small world and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Unless we blow through Fantasyland at record speed, we’ll probably hold off on Dumbo and the Storybook Circus until the evening. I hear it’s something to see when it’s all lit up.

Another must-see on our character list is Merida from Brave. This summer, I took the girls to see the Pixar animated feature. It was a little too dark for their tastes. When the movie ended, Josie was in tears. In spite of that, she has developed a fondness for the character. Both the girls really want to see her while we are there.

Unlike Rapunzel or Tinkerbell, lines to see Merida are never really all that long. So I don’t feel the need to plan a specific time to see her. If we find ourselves in Fantasyland looking to kill some time before lunch, we might pay her a visit at the Fairytale Garden.

Lunch is up in the air. We typically eat at the nearest counter service restaurant. The one place in the Magic Kingdom we will actively avoid is Cosmic Rays. I know a lot of people love the place. But it tends to be a madhouse. The multi-line set-up with two little kids and scarce seating tends to be a recipe for disaster.
Odds are, we’ll end up at Pinocchio’s Village Haus (unless the new counter service locations in Fantasyland have opened of course). PVH offers Italian food with a view of the loading area for it’s a small world. The menu includes flatbread pizzas, salads and a meatball sub. My compulsion to get the most bang for my dining plan buck will likely compel me to order the most expensive item on the menu, the barbeque chicken flatbread. Although I have heard decent things about the meatball sub. The caprese flatbread is sure to be a hit with Mindy.

The kids can choose between mac and cheese, pb&j or a pizza (cheese or pepperoni). Kid’s menus at Disney World tend to be exceptionally limited. They usually offer three or four choices per restaurant. But it’s the same three or four items everywhere you go. Typically mac and cheese and pb&j are available everywhere. And then you get either pizza, nuggets or a hot dog. There are a couple of places that offer something unique, but they are relatively scarce.

Kara is not a picky eater at all. This limited menu won’t be a problem for her. But Josie is very finicky. Even if she likes something, there is no guarantee she will eat it. She burns out on foods quickly and yet is reluctant to try new things. So that will be a deciding factor in where we eat our counter service meals.
The plan is to take a break from touring the parks every day of our trip. This has worked out well for us in the past. We leave just as the park starts getting crowded. We’ll head back to our room for naps and/or pool time. Last time, Kara always took a nap. This time, I’m not so sure that will work out. But even if we spend an hour or so at the pool, it is important to let everyone decompress a little in the midday.

Next up: First we rest, then we go back for more.
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Old 09-24-2012, 09:36 AM   #11
Earning My Ears
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 59

When we left off, we had taken in some of the biggest attractions the Magic Kingdom has to offer, grabbbed lunch and were ready to wind down. When we went to WDW in 2010. We made it a habit to return to the hotel room for a few hours in the afternoon. Kara took a nap most days and I took Josie to the pool. (Which, if anyone was wonder, was pretty damn cold in March in spite of the pool heater.) This worked out well for a couple of reasons.

First it gave everyone some much-needed down time away from the parks. If you stay in park commando mode too long, it stops being fun and starts to feel like work. Or so I am told. That never actually happens to me. But the kids definitely benefitted from the break. Second, the afternoon is when the parks are the busiest and the hottest. It seems crazy to me, but most people visit the parks at the most uncomfortable, crowded part of the day!

Just as the throngs are pushing their way down Main Street, we’ll be headed for the exit. I’ll try not to chuckle knowing they will be waiting in hour-long lines for the same attractions we just walked on. I’ll try, but I will fail. In fact, I’m chuckling a little right now. When will those silly tourists ever learn?

Ideally, we should have spent 3-4 hours in the park. Just enough time to get our beaks wet, not long enough to wear ourselves out. We’ll head back to Art of Animation for another 2-3 hours. Enough time for a quick swim or a nap and hopefully to get excited about the idea of returning to the Magic Kingdom.

This will be our first day for swimming (weather permitting). Hopefully, early November in Orlando is a little warmer than mid-March. Last time, the pools were just barely tolerable. Disney has pool heaters which they claim keep the pools at 70 degrees. Which is true if you are standing in the right place. If you step too far to one side, you will no longer be standing in the heated water stream.

Regardless, unless it is raining, Josie is going to have me in the pool. Art of Animation has some really nice pools. The main pool, The Big Blue Pool, is in the Finding Nemo section. It is the biggest pool on property. There are smaller “quiet” pools in the Cars and Little Mermaid sections. We are in the Lion King section which is the only one without a pool. No coincidence it is the one where I was able to apply the free dining discount.

Can I go off on a little rant? I guess I can since it’s my blog. Feel free to skip ahead. I can’t stop you.
Instead of a pool, the Lion King section has the worst playground in the history of playgrounds. First, they themed it to the elephant graveyard. You know, the scariest place in the movie. The place where young Simba was forbidden to go. Where he was nearly killed by hyenas.

Seriously, who saw that scene and thought to themselves, “Lets make that into a playground!” It’s a playground made of elephant bones with all of the movie’s villains staring down on the kids while they “play”.

I put the word “play” in quotations because there really isn’t anything for the kids to do in this alleged “playground”. Disney did not see fit to include even a single slide. There is a small tunnel kids can run through and that’s it. There’s more to do at our local Disney Store. Whoever designed this “playground” has no business working for Disney.

Rant over.

Fortunately, we will be located centrally between the big Nemo pool and the smaller Mermaid pool. Last trip, Josie actually preferred the smaller pools to the main pool. It was not uncommon for us to get the quiet pool to ourselves (did I mention that the pool was just barely tolerable?). So I am sure that we will spend our first swim day at the Little Mermaid pool.

Kara is quite convinced that the mermaid pool will include actual mermaids. She is looking forward to swimming with Marina from Jake and the Neverland Pirates. So, that ought to be interesting.
So I’ll be at the pool with Josie and probably Kara too. She napped every day when she was one, but something tells me 3 1/2 year-old Kara will need to go to the mermaid pool with her sissy. Mom and Mindy can rest at the room or do whatever they want while I likely freeze in a Mermaid-themed water pit. When I feel hypothermia approaching (or Kara’s teeth can’t stop chattering), we’ll head back to the room to dry off and get ready for the rest of our day at the Magic Kingdom.

As I mentioned previously, the Magic Kingdom closes early on Nov 2 for the last Halloween party of the year. So there won’t be a lot of park time left after our afternoon break. If all goes according to plan, we should be back at the Magic Kingdom around 4:00. That will give us a couple of hours to finish off Fantasyland and Frontierland before the park closes.

Next up, Chef Mickey’s.
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Old 09-25-2012, 11:58 AM   #12
Earning My Ears
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 59

When we left off, we had returned to our hotel for a little r&r. For me, this most likely means freezing in a pool with one or both of the girls. With luck, Kara got a nap in. Hopefully we are in a position to return to the Magic Kingdom with our batteries recharged.

There really isn’t a strict plan to follow tonight. The goal for the day was to see and do all of our must-sees in two of the Magic Kingdom’s most popular lands. In theory, we could have knocked out the majority of attractions in Fantasyland and Frontierland in the morning before our break.

The park closes at 7 for a Halloween party. But we have dinner reservations at Chef Mickey’s at 6:45. I expect we will return from our break sometime around 4:00 which should give us a couple of hours to kill before we hop a monorail to the Contemporary Resort.

Both the girls love trains. But Kara in particular loves train rides ride now. As it turns out, a certain Mr. Walter Elias Disney loved trains too. So, we’ll probably hop on board the Walt Disney World Railroad upon our return.

The train has stops in both Frontierland and Fantasyland. So, depending on what we feel like doing, we’ll ride to one of these two stops. Since the plan was to do both of the Frontireland mountains in the morning, we’ll probably ride around to the Fantasyland station which would drop us off near the Storybook Circus.

That will give us a chance to either ride Dumbo or grab FastPasses depending on the size of the line. Odds are we’ll spend our time exploring Fantasyland. Besides Dumbo, there’s Mickey’s Philharmagic, Prince Charming Regal Carousel, and the Great Goofini to check out.

Time permitting, we could re-ride anything that was a hit that morning. Last trip, Josie would have ridden the tea cups until she couldn’t see straight. And since we’re in Fantasyland anyway, I might just ask around about soft openings for the expansion. You know, just in case.

If we exhaust our interest in Fantasyland, we could always go back to Frontierland for a few more attractions. The Country Bears Jamboree should have just finished a refurb. Rumor is the show is being trimmed down a little. The girls have never seen it, so they won’t know the difference. Hopefully, Disney will put a little spit and polish on this venerable attraction.

There’s also the possibility that the girls, rested from our afternoon break, will feel emboldened to take the raft ride out to Tom Sawyer Island. Maybe even explore some caves. But I seriously doubt it.

There’s also a couple more meet and greets on our MK checklist. Tiana is available in Liberty Square which is between Fantasyland and Frontierland. So, this could be the perfect time to pay her a visit.
If we somehow manage to exhaust both Frontierland and Fantasyland, we can always take a sneak peek into Tomorrowland or Adventurland before we leave.

Sometime between 6 and 6:30, it will be time to head over to the monorail. It’s generally recommended that you arrive for dinner 5 or 10 minutes before your reservation. I’m not overly worried about being seated at exactly 6:45, so if we’re having fun we may not bother arriving early. If we’re starving, we may cut the fun short.

Mindy and I had breakfast at Chef Mickey’s on our honeymoon in 2003. We enjoyed it, but we haven’t been back since. This will be the first time at Chef Mickey’s for Mom and the girls and the first time for dinner for Mindy and me.

The food at Chef Mickey’s is about what you would expect from a Disney buffet. It’s good enough to fill up on, but nothing to write home about. But like all meals at Disney, it tastes much better after you have exhausted yourself at the park.

The primary attraction here is being able to see the Fab 5 Disney characters all in one place without having to wait in line. The characters work the room one table at a time, so you have to be careful about precisely when you head to the buffet. You don’t want to miss Mickey or Minnie when they get to your table.

The kids love buffets. They feel like big kids loading their own plates. Josie will go up to the buffet line, put a spoonful of rice on a plate and then go back to the table. That way, she can make lots of trips to the buffet line. (I bet the dishwashers love her!)

Between Josie’s frequent trips to the buffet line and characters stopping at the table every 5-10 minutes, this stands to be a pretty crazy meal. But by the end of it, we should have met with all of the major Disney characters save for Cinderella.

When dinner’s over, it will still be early enough that we can head to Downtown Disney if we want to. Or we can head home for a good night’s sleep. We have an early morning ahead of us.

Next, an early morning.
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