Monday, June 07, 2010

Disney Tips

Hubby & I went to Walt Disney World with my parents and 5 yr old nephew. It was a great trip. I visited several websites prior to our trip and almost got information overload. So, to save you some time, I thought I would put together some tips and hints to make your trip better.

1. Stay in a Disney Resort. They will pick you up for free at the airport and take you to your resort. And if you plan so ahead of time, you can skip baggage claim. They will send you yellow tags ahead of time to put on your luggage and will claim your bags for you. They will arrive at your resort a couple of hours later so pack essentials (including swimsuits) in your carry on.
Another advantage of staying in a Disney Resort is the free shuttles to the Disney parks. Also, each member of your party gets a keepsake Disney mug that you can refill for free at the resort food court as much as you want. Soft drinks, lemonade, coffee, tea etc.
Yet another perk is being able to charge things to your room and having your purchases sent to your room instead of wagging them all over the park.

2. Take advantage of the Magic Your Way packages and get the meal plan! We did the Quick service dining where each person got 2 snacks and 2 quick service meals for every night we booked. They are all pooled together so you can get them in any order and use anyone's card to get them. And let me tell you, they are worth it! The first night there we ate in Downtown Disney at Wolfgang Puck Cafe and if we had paid for it, it would have cost $95. The counter service meals include an entree, a drink, and a dessert (you can't get refills in most of these places so order the large drink). You get more than enough food. I printed out a list of eligible restaurants found here and took with us so it would be easier to decide. I was afraid that we would be stuck eating hamburgers & hot dogs all week, but there is so much variety and everything we got was delicious. We had two meals left over the last night bc Mark & I got stuck longer at Universal than we intended but we were able to trade them in for three snacks each. We also had snacks left over so we went to the resort food court and stocked up for the trip home. Snack options are listed here. So much to choose from!

3. Take advantage of the Extra Magical hours at several of the parks. If you stay in a Disney resort you can get to some parks earlier or stay later than the general public. Keep in mind that not all rides and attractions are open during the extended hours (you can find which ones are here ). I planned our park visits according to which days they had extended hours. The first day we got almost right on Space Mountain first thing. You can check the calendar here
for the hours. Also, look for which rides utilize the Fast Pass system and go there first. If the wait is not too long, hop in line. If the wait is long, get a Fast Pass ticket. Fast pass info is here. Everyone who plans to ride will need to use their park ticket to get a Fast Pass ticket.

4. Get the Park Hopper pass. This is one thing that I wish we had done. For us, Hollywood studios was not an all day park and I would have loved to have gone back over to Magic Kingdom or Epcot later that day. Without it, you are free to leave and come back to the same park on the same day but being able to hop parks would have been nice.

5. Take a water bottle to refill at the water fountains. And take some drink powder to mix in with it (like the powerade or crystal lite powders). Some of the fountains are filtered but most taste like tap water so the powder helps. And it's a way to save your snack credits for food and not use them up on bottled water.

6. Take a part of one day to visit Universal's Islands of Adventure, especially if you are a Harry Potter fan. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter section will be open June 18 and is a must for any Potter fan (my thoughts about that are here.) Admission to that section is included with your Islands of Adventure park ticket (around $78). If you do go, call ahead to schedule your transport (usually the night before) We used Mears. It was $18 each for round trip. One thing to keep in mind, though, their first pick up time from the park is 3:15 and you have to call at least 2 hours before to schedule your return trip. Had I known that ahead of time I might have done things differently since we didn't really want to stay until 3:15. There is a movie theater right outside the park in the City Walk area, so Mark & I watched a movie until pick up time.

7. Make sure to pick up a TIMES GUIDE when you pick up your park map. This will tell you when shows and character greetings are scheduled so you can plan your day accordingly.

Everyone has their favorites but here is a quick list of some must dos that we enjoyed:

Magic Kingdom
Splash Mountain
- my 5yr old nephew wanted to ride this from the moment he saw it. It was a lot of fun. We got a little wet which helped cool us off since it was so hot in the park (just got splashed a little, not soaking)
Pirates of the Caribbean Capt Jack has been added!
Space Mountain-This is a dark and wild roller coaster ride. I think Austin might have been scared at first but he said he liked it when we got off.
Walt Disney World Railroad is a must if, like us, you have a kid who is a railroad fan. It's a nice, cool ride around the park.
Haunted Mansion ghosts sit in your lap!
It's a Small World really cool dolls of the world sing to you as you take an indoor boat ride (but once you read Kingdom Keepers you'll never look at them the same way!)
Mad Tea Party fast spinning cups. The 5 yr old loved it.
Parade They have different parades at different times of the year. We saw the Spectral Magic parade. Very nice.

Hollywood Studios
The Great Movie Ride
you journey through many old movies and become part of the show
Indian Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular a 30 minute show featuring really cool stunts and how they are done
Muppet Vision 3D a 3D show featuring your favorite muppets
Star Tours a Star Wars flight simulator (unfortunately you don't end up in Endor, much to the disappointment of a kid who was on it when we were)
Toy Story Midway Mania A fast pass is recommended but this was a lot of fun. As you move around in your buggy you have to shoot at different things and try to beat your buggy mate (I won over Mark though he had better hit rate than I did)

Disappointments at Hollywood:
Studio Backlot Tour
the special effects with the tanker didn't go off and the rest of the tour, for me, just wasn't as interesting.
Journey into Narnia:Prince Caspian I was expecting more. It was a 15 min retelling of the movie with a few costumes and props thrown in. I hope they add more to this.

Spaceship Earth you travel through the big Epcot ball and at the end a little video is shown of your future using your picture. It's hilarious. Once you finish the ride stop by and have it emailed to you.
World Showcase visit several countries in one day. You can buy a "passport" and have it stamped at the different countries and you can have the kids make a mask and get something added to it at different stations as well
Soarin I didn't ride this one, but my parents and nephew did. They really liked it. They said it was like you were hang gliding

Animal Kingdom
Festival of the Lion King
It is not the Lion King Broadway show but it has some of the music and characters in a fun and high energy show.
Kilimanjaro Safaris a safari vehicle takes you through the savanna so you can catch a glimpse of elephants, giraffes, lions and much more
Conservation station take the Wildlife express train over to see some animals up close. Go early and you might get to see an animal being treated.
I wanted to ride Expedition Everest but no one would ride with me.
Finding Nemo the Musical a stage show retelling of Finding Nemo. The costumes and puppets are great!

Skip Primeval Whirl I thought it was going to be like the Tea cups but in roller coaster form. This ride slings you around way too much, way more than a coaster should. Austin & I both had headaches when we got off.

These are just a few of the tips and highlights from our trip. I hope you found some useful info here that will help you plan your trip

Helpful sites:
Walt Disney World Resorts

disney forum boards

Saturday, June 05, 2010

My journey into Hogwarts

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a huge Harry Potter nerd. I make no apologies for that and am not embarrassed one bit to admit I was GIDDY when I found out that Universal studios was using part of their park for Harry Potter.

Flash forward to this week. Even though it has not had its GRAND OPENING, they began letting people who had bought their hotel packages in for a couple of hours earlier this week. I was not one of those people but I kept hoping. Then they started letting the general public in (you had to buy a ticket to Islands of Adventure, of course, which I had already done).

Since I was staying in one of the Disney Resorts, I booked my transport over to Universal. We got picked up at 8:05 but with the other stops and people taking for.freakin.ever to get on the bus, it was a little after nine when we were let off the bus. Then I had haul tail to get to the park, exchange my ticket voucher for a ticket in, then sprint as fast as I could to the Potter area...still not knowing if I could get in.

Then I heard the magical words- Wizarding World is open until 10. We picked up the pace bc at that point it was 9:25. What I didn't know yet was that once you are in, you can stay, they just didn't let anyone else in after 10.

Walking in, the first thing you come to is the Hogwarts Express. Walking on through Hogsmead, all of the storefronts are decorated with great care. You can't go in every store, most are just for decoration, but there are several to see. And what's great- the receipts have the store names on them! I have some from Zonko's, Dervish & Bangs, Filch's someone on Twitter said- This is so surreal; like mixing fiction & reality.

Must sees & dos:
1. Stop by the Butterbeer cart and get a Frozen Butterbeer. It is a butterscotch-y flavored drink and is slushy. Also, pay the extra and get a keepsake mug (at least the first time) . Also, buy a Pumpkin juice for the bottle if for nothing else (it tastes a little like pumpkin pie and I am not a huge fan)
And take a picture of your first Butterbeer mustache!

2. Zonko's and Honeyduke's are connected on the inside. Go in and pick up a chocolate frog and many of the other Potter world goodies (canary cremes, Bertie Botts, etc) then walk through to the Pygmy Puffs. They are 12.95 and completely adorable. When you go to buy it, you have to name it first. Then they make you ring this huge bell and announce to the whole store the name of your puff. I named mine Lulu :)

3. Even if you don't want to buy a wand, go to Ollivander's show. It takes maybe 10 minutes. They let in about 25 people at a time. Ollivander chooses one or two people to see if a wand will chose them. He hands them a wand & tells them to make a bell ring once, then hands them another to do another task, then when handed the third wand the person is lit up,air blows around them, music swells (like what happens when Harry gets chosen by his wand). It's cool to watch. Then you proceed into the Owl Post & Dervish & Bangs where the wands, postcards, and other goodies are for sale. (If you want to skip the show, you can head straight into these shops.)
When you buy postcards they stamp them with the owl post postmark, but as far as I know, you can't mail them from there.

4. Go through the Hogwarts castle and ride the Forbidden Journey. (SPOILERISH) You take a walk through the greenhouses then the castle where you see the portraits moving and talking. When you step in to Dumbledore's office, he comes out to greet you and welcome you as muggles to the castle. (it's a video but it looks really good). You move on to the Defense against the Dark Arts classroom that Lockhart used in Chamber of Secrets where you hear people entering at the top of the stairs then Harry, Ron & Hermione come out from under the cloak and tell you essentially that if you don't move along you will be subjected to a History of Magic lesson from Prof Binns. Honestly, I was trying to take it all in that I missed most of what was said.
The Sorting Hat warns you about the ride (the regular same old dont ride if you're pregnant, ill etc but said in Sorting Hat rhyme) Then you get up to the ride itself. You sit four to a car side by side, separated by little walls. Your feet dangle and a harness comes down to strap you in. Then you are helped by Hermione & Floo powder out to the grounds of the castle. The ride itself is tamer than most roller coasters but you are still moved around, up & down, leaned back etc. as you "see" the grounds around you and follow Harry on his broom as he flies around. They way they projected this is amazing. It's part video and part animatronic (dragons, spiders, dementors, etc)
Go here to read an in depth review.
It was one of the coolest things I've ever done.
(cell phone pic- not the best quality) Dumbledore greeting us

Harry, Ron & Hermione
The Sorting Hat

When you finish the ride you end up at Filch's Emporium to buy even more stuff. Here I got a Hedwig puppet and a Gryffindor Potter shirt. You can also buy your picture from the Forbidden Journey ride, but like all of these types of photos, it is way overpriced.

Before you go through, you have to store all of your belongings in a locker. Even cameras unless they are thin enough to fit in the pocket behind you. We actually had to leave right before we got on the ride and put our camera up. We were escorted by a cast member so we were able to get right back on. It's free for the first hour and a half which was enough time for us to go through it. Since it wasn't at full capacity, I don't know how long it'll take to go through.

There are two other coasters that I was not able to ride. They shut those down soon after 10.

All of the workers in this section were dressed in Wizard robes or other school gear. You might also catch a quick show from the Durmstrang & Beauxbatons students.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter is not a huge area of the Islands of Adventure park but it is an absolute MUST for Potter fans. Admission to Wizarding World is included with your Islands of Adventure admission ticket (which is around $78). There are plenty of other things to do in the rest of the park.

I look forward to going back in November!

(more pictures are posted here)