Everything Walt Disney World

Parks, Food, Resorts and More

Category: Disney Survival Guide (page 2 of 3)

Your Disney Vacation is Good Enough.

I often see people second guessing their vacation choices: Are they staying at a nice enough resort? Will the kids be disappointed by not getting some special treat? Should they pay for extra perks? The answer to these questions is pretty simple, because as corny as it sounds, every Disney vacation is fun and special, whether you stay off site at a Motel 6 or in a suite at the Grand Floridian. But getting to that answer, that’s the complicated part, because everyone wants that magical vacation, those perfect pictures, that little something more, and a lot of us make the mistake of thinking it comes with a high price tag.

The biggest culprits, I think, are parents, including myself. We’ve come to view little luxuries as necessary for our children’s happiness. Most of us weren’t raised that way, of course, even if our parents had the money. If we were lucky enough to visit Disney World as kids, we likely remember bringing in baloney sandwiches for lunch and staying at cheap roadside motels. But we don’t remember it bitterly: It’s with fondness—and maybe a bit of gratitude that we didn’t get sick–that we recall the smell of those sandwiches on a hot day, not disappointment. We had fun.

Today it’s totally different. We all feel the pressure to buy our kids the latest clothes and electronics, anything that will give them an edge. We live in a society where our kids can turn on the television and watch shows where spoiled teenagers are given cars worth more than most people make in a year; as the parents look on disappointedly, their little princess stomps her designer-clad foot because it’s not the right color. Surely when compared to that kind of excess, giving own children have an extra special vacation isn’t too much to ask?

Well, it’s not, if you can afford it. But if you’re wringing your hands wondering how you’re going to pay for tickets to a special event or all those souvenirs, it’s time to put down that credit card and look at what’s really important. The fact is, despite what you’ve heard, you don’t need a trip to Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, matching t-shirts for the whole family, and any number of perks that you can purchase. What you need is to realize that your child is going to love his visit to Disney World, regardless of what you spend.

The thing is, I don’t blame Disney for this trend. Most Disney commercials simply show guests having fun in the park. That’s it. You’ll rarely see an experience depicted that isn’t accessible to anyone with more than a basic ticket. Unfortunately, as much as I love Disney planning and message boards, I think they do a lot of perpetuate the idea that the only good trip is one at a deluxe resort spent throwing money around the entire time. That’s just not true. Clearly, I’d be a hypocrite if I told you that, all things being equal, I prefer staying at the value resorts or that I think a counter service meal is better than dinner at the California Grill. But the truth is, I’ve had bare bones vacations and I’ve had splurge vacations and I’d be hard pressed to tell you that one was better than the other. They’re just different.

Look at it this way. Disney park tickets are expensive, there’s no getting around it. But the value for your money is pretty extraordinary and once you pay that money, your trip just got as good as they guy paying thousands of dollars more. Just about everything you see in the parks is included in your price. You couldn’t possibly do everything on one trip if you tried and you certainly wouldn’t enjoy trying, believe me. With all that, why would you need to do more?

I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that everything at Disney World is magical. It’s sometimes hot and crowded. You will encounter the occasional grumpy guest, to say nothing of a toddler having a meltdown. And then there are those frustrating lines. But there’s something about a Disney vacation that makes you shut out the outside world that facilitates closeness with the people you’re travelling with. Maybe it’s just the fact that Disney resort TV is pretty bad and the internet service isn’t much better, but at some point, despite the sometimes frenetic pace of a Disney trip, you find yourself descending into that happy bubble where the most important thing is having a good laugh and getting fastpasses for Toy Story Midway Mania. You see it all around you. I’m a people watcher and it’s touching to see teenagers, sleepy at the end of the day, leaning on their parents on the bus or the happy smiles of an exhausted older couple who just spent an entire day running around a theme park, acting like kids. Tell me where else can you get that kind of experience?

And that, really, is what it’s all about. Your vacation is good enough because you’re spending it with people you care about. And that’s what your kids will remember.

A Definitive Answer, Kinda Sorta (Quick Service Dining Related).

A few months back I wrote this post about using Disney quick service meals on the dining plan. I intended it as a brief Q&A to answer the most common questions I hear about quick service meals. It generated a lot of hits, so I hope it helped some people. Unfortunately, it also generated some controversy on one of my favorite Disney message boards. Because of this, and because I didn’t want to make the moderators’ jobs any more difficult than they already are, I put up an explanation about my experience regarding the issue in question and explained what Disney told me and assumed the issue was over.

The other day however, someone was kind enough to link to my blog post on this subject again and unfortunately, this person got some flack for it. My first reaction was to take the post down. A Disney blog should be a happy place, right? I don’t really like a lot of controversy.  But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted a more definitive answer for myself.   I don’t want to cheat the system and I also don’t want to be embarassed while making an honest mistake.  Can you imagine how mortifying that would be?

Confused? Let me explain.

When I was in Disney World this past December, my family and I used the dining plan for the first time. I must have looked like the dining plan newbie that I was because the cast member explained everything in depth to me before I even ordered.  One of the things she clearly told me was that there is no difference between the children’s counter service meal credits and adult credits. I didn’t even think to question what she said, because she seemed very competent. During that trip, we occasionally used children’s credits for adult meals, mostly where the kids couldn’t find anything they liked on the children’s menu. After all, you can only eat so many nuggets, right?

I wrote about my experience when I returned which unfortunately, cause some drama. Any blogger loves getting linked, especially by someone who shares her passion about the subject. I was flattered. But at the same time, I didn’t care for being referred to as trying to “cheat the system.” I mean, I literally won’t use a fastpass after it expires, a fact which my Disney friends find very amusing, so you can imagine how this made me feel.  Worse, I didn’t like that someone who had read my blog found herself in the position of having to defend herself based on information I put out.  So I called Disney to find out what was going on. The first cast member told me that Disney doesn’t differentiate so you can order what you want.  Nonetheless, I was still a little unsure, so I called again. Same story.

I didn’t think any more about it until the other day when I started getting a lot of hits on that post. I followed the link and it went back to my favorite website again and it was the same old story: Someone linking to the post and getting some flack for it. So I set out today to get the final, absolutely super-dooper, extra definitive answer to this question: Can you use child’s quick service credits for adult meals?

Not even this former President knew the answer.

Now, I call Disney frequently, particularly when I’m writing for Chip and Co: We do a question and answer over there and many of the questions are complicated and can only be answered by talking to Disney directly. When you call Disney a lot with somewhat “unusual” questions, you amass a small stack of phone numbers that aren’t normally published. Since you have to work hard for these numbers, you hold onto them  because they might be useful  in the future.  Unfortunately, none of them were of any help today, so I did what anyone would do and called Disney Dining and after verifying the information with a cast member who answered the phone, I asked to speak to a supervisor just to be extra-sure. I’m sure the cast member thought I was a bit loony, but I’m willing to look like a fool. Hey, I care. Long story short, an hour and fifteen minutes later, up the chain of command, I got the answer. Are you ready for this?

Disney doesn’t differentiate between the adult’s and children’s quick service meals! There. That’s as clear as I can make it. And yes, it’s still somewhat confusing when you consider that the dining plan brochure does say that children have to order children’s meals on the plan. So, take that with a grain of salt.  In fact, take it all with a grain of salt.

Call me a hero, if you must.

I’m not recommending that anyone cheat the system, but I also find it difficult to actually consider this cheating when no less than half a dozen cast members, at least one of whom who is a supervisor, told me it was okay.  If that doesn’t help, look at it this way:  Disney is a very smart company. Any company that can make a grown-up believe, for just a minute, that Mickey is real and not some overheated college student in a costume, can do anything.  I really believe this.  If they wanted to differentiate between kids’ and adults’ meals, they could do it in the same way they do it with table service meals.  Trust me, try to pay for an adult meal with a kid’s table service credit and you will receive the Disney smack down of epic proportions! Okay, that might be an understatement. You’ll just have to pay out of pocket.  But you get the picture.

So what do you do?   Well, ultimately, this is a gray area and there are a lot of them in life. How you feel about it is your business.  Frankly, I don’t know what I’ll do the next time we go to Disney, since we rarely use the dining plan.  Probably double-check with the cast member first to make sure it’s okay.  The last thing I would do is to suggest that someone cheat the system and I don’t personally want to do it myself.  This is just relaying my experience, which now entails calling Disney and conducting a sort of Spanish Inquisition of Dining over there. So, let your conscience be your guide and if you hear anything, please let me know.

Do you have more Disney dining questions?  One of my favorite places to find answers is the dining board at Disboards.  There are boards for the dining plan, food reviews, questions, and reservations.  I also really like Passporter, which is has some of the friendliest posters on the web.  You’ll often find information on these boards long before you hear it anywhere else.  For a blog devoted to all things Disney food, check out The Disney Food Blog

For more news on possible changes, please read here. Latest update (March 11, 2012) here.http://everythingwdisneyworld.com/?p=203

Updates on Lines.

I did a post back in January about using Lines, from the Unofficial Guide and Tourings Plans, to get wait times on your phone. I get a lot of hits on that post and a few things have changed since then, so I thought it was time for a update.

First, Lines now has chat, so you can ask questions while you’re in the park and the guys from the Unofficial Guide or other users will answer them.  It’s a pretty simple format and very easy to use, so now you don’t have to walk around wondering where you can rent a stroller or how much a haircut costs in the Magic Kingdom.  I liked how this feature helps to create a community of users in the parks, just as the addition of user badges and the competition to be the top submitter for different attractions does. I checked it out the other day and it appeared that people were getting their questions aswered pretty quickly, either by the UG guys or from Lines users.

They’ve also updated some of the user badges, so if you’re submitting wait times, you can compete with fellow users to be the top submitter for indvidual attractions or just reach goals like “Star Tunnel:  Wait times for every attraction in Tomorrowland.”  Submit over 100 times and you have the honor of being an “Unofficial Chief Collector.”  Okay, so no one’s going to give you a t-shirt or even a free Waffle House T-bone, but it’s another fun thing to do while you’re in the parks and submitting times helps other users.  I found it especially entertaining while waiting in line.  Another update includes wait time predictions for the entire day and the next day; you’ll need to go the attraction you’re interested in and click on “see full forecast.”

Finally, now that it’s out of the testing period, Lines is no longer free.  The price, however, is pretty reasonable, particularly when compared to similar applications, none of which can claim to have chat answered by Disney experts. For $8.95 (slightly less if you own a current version of the Unofficial Guide), you can access Lines for 365 days as well as the entire Touring Plans website, including the crowd calender and touring plans for inside the parks. 

I’ll be using Lines and other Disney wait time applications when I go to Disney World in October, so I’ll be posting reviews and comparasons then. 

For more information, check out these podcasts:


WDW Today Podcast:  A Look at Lines.
Those Darn Cats #90:  Lines.


You might also like these reviews:


Lines:  The New Wait Times Application from Touring Plans by Theme Park Insider.
Disney World Lines and Touring Plans Review from Chip and Co.

Do You Need a Park-Hopper Pass?

When you buy your tickets to Disney World, you’ll have the choice of adding a park hopper option.  A regular base ticket allows you to visit one park per day.  You may re-enter that park as many times as you like during that day, but you won’t be able to visit another park if you use that same ticket.  You also won’t be able to use another day’s park admission for that day in order to gain admission to a second (or third) park no matter how many days you have left on that ticket.  The solution to this problem is to add a park hopper option to your ticket.

A park hopper is exactly what it sounds like:  It allows you to “hop” from park to park, all in the same day.  It costs an additional $52 per ticket and is good for all four major parks.  It’s valid for the length of the ticket, so the longer your visit the cheaper its daily use becomes.  When you add up the total costs for a Disney vacation, adding $52 to each ticket seems like a fairly small amount, but these days a vacation is a luxury for most of us and saving money where you can is important.  If I cut something from the vacation budget, it’s the first thing I cut.  Before you automatically get the park hopper option, think about how you visit the parks. 

A park hopper might be for you if you:

  • are the type of person who tours the parks “commando style” from morning until night.
  • are staying off-site and can’t take advantage of extra magic hours.
  • are on your first trip and want to see everything.
  • are on a short (less than 4 nights) trip.

 A park hopper might not be your best option if you:

  • have young children and won’t be spending a lot of time in the parks.
  • take a slower approach to the parks.
  • don’t stay in the parks late.
  • are on a longer trip and can tour at a slower pace.

Having the park hopper option doesn’t just mean you can change parks on a whim; it makes your planning easier.  For example, if you make a dining reservation for a restaurant located in a park, you can visit other parks that and not worry about it.  This is especially important when making your advanced dining reservations since park hours and extra magic hours (EMH) usually come out later than the 180-day mark. Without a park hopper, many guests schedule their park days around which days have the longest hours and/or EMH, giving them the most park time for their money.  Since you’ll likely be making dining reservations before you know what park hours will be, it can be a guessing game if you’re making a dining reservation in the park. 

If you don’t add the park hopper option, you’ll simply need to do a bit more research before your trip to ensure that you get the maximum use out of your ticket.  Don’t hesitate to make your dining reservations as soon as you’re allowed.  You an always change them later without a penalty, but if you’re trying for an especially difficult reservation (Cinderella’s Royal Table, Le Cellier to name two of the most difficult to get) don’t change it until you know you can get another one.  I’d probably lose some time in the parks before I’d give up a reservation I really wanted.  If you’re really concerned, search historic park and EMH hours online to give you an estimate of what you can expect and then make your reservations.  Finally, once you get official park hours from Disney, you can plan your trip to give you the most hours in the parks based on regular operating hours and EMH, if you’re staying on site.

A park hopper is definitely not a necessity.  It’s something that’s nice to have.  If you’re cutting costs, it’s probably the first thing you should think about.  The great thing is that you don’t have to add the park hopper option to your ticket when you purchase it.  If, after a day or two in the parks, you find yourself needing one, you can add it at your resort concierge desk or once you get to the parks.  If not, you’ve saved yourself a nice amount of money, enough to treat you and your family to a nice meal in one of Disney’s better restaurants.

Reader Email: What can you do on Disney property without a park ticket?

Dear Chris:

Are there things I can do cheaply on Disney property without a park ticket?  I’ll be in Orlando for a couple of days but am not able to buy tickets.

Thanks,

Gerrie K.

Dear Gerrie:

There are a number of things you can do on Disney property without a ticket, whether a ticket is not in your budget or you want to take a day off from touring the parks.  Here are a few very inexpensive things you can try:

1.  Resort hop. Literally one of my favorite things to do on Disney property outside of the parks.  Go check out all the great theming in Disney’s resorts.  The easiest way to do this is to visit the monorail resorts in the Magic Kingdom area or take the boat and visit the Epcot resorts.   All Disney resorts have quick service restaurants where you can buy an relatively inexpensive lunch.  One of my favorites is Mara at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Bring a book and read and people watch in one of Disney’s amazing resort lobbies.  Remember, you can ride Disney buses without a park pass. 

2.  For a little more money, you can have lunch or dinner at a sit-down restaurant at one of the resorts or downtown Disney.   Make sure you look at the menus on AllEars for prices before you make your reservation. 

3. Explore the Boardwalk.  Even if you aren’t a Disney resort guest, you can park at the Boardwalk Resort. Just tell the guard that you want to shop and eat at the Boardwalk.  The Boardwalk is great for people watching; you may even see a wedding at Sea Breeze Point.

4.  Go shopping at Downtown Disney.  This doesn’t have to be a budget-buster.  You can get a filling sandwich and drink from the Earl of Sandwich for under $10 and sit and people watch.

5. Have a quick drink at Raglan Road.  Perhaps the most themed restaurant outside of Disney parks or resorts, Raglan Road is one of those places that really shows you Disney’s attention to detail.  A live band plays most nights.

6.  Go for a ride on the monorail.  It’s free and it just happens to be the fastest ride at Walt Disney World.

7.  Go to Epcot for free.  Okay, so you’re not exactly getting into Epcot free of charge, but if you ride the Epcot monorail from the Ticket and Transportation  Center to Epcot, you’ll take a brief loop into Epcot.  The views from above during the Flower and Garden show are especially nice.

8.  Appreciate the artwork of Mary Blair, the Imagineer behind It’s a Small World, in the Contemporary Resort.  You’ll find a mural designed by her right as you get off the monorail.

9.  Walk from the Grand Floridian to the Polynesian on the path that links the two resorts.  Along with great views of the Seven Seas Lagoon and Cinderella’s castle in the distance, you’ll see the Disney’s famed Wedding Pavilion.  If you time it right, you can even see the fireworks.

10. Take a boat ride, either from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom, from Port Orleans Riverside to Downtown Disney ,or from Hollywood  Studios to Epcot.  If you get on the  DHS-Epcot boat, you can get off at any of the resorts they stop at and explore.

I can’t promise you that any of this is as good as visiting the parks, but it will give you a little of that Disney magic. Have fun!

Extra Magic Hours and Non-Resort Guests.

One benefit of staying at a Disney resort is that you can take advantage of extra magic hours (EMH) in the parks. Each day, one park opens an hour early or stays open three hours late for resort guests only.  When you arrive at the park for EMH, you’ll be asked to show your resort room key.  Guests who are taking advantage of evening extra magic hours will be asked to show their room key when they enter the park if they enter after closing time.  They’ll also be asked to show their room key when the enter attractions or restaurants.  You do not need to exit the park at closing and re-enter if you are already in an EMH park for evening hours, just show your key.

I was recently asked if you can remain in a park that’s having evening EMH if you’re not a resort guest. This is perfectly okay, but you won’t be able to visit any of the attractions or buy food.  If you’re already eating when EMH starts, you won’t be asked to leave and are welcome to finish your meal.  You’ll also be allowed to ride an attraction if you’re waiting in line when the park closes.   Unless it’s a ticketed event like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, in which case you’ll be ushered out of the park relatively quickly if you don’t have a ticket, you can wander around pretty freely or just sit on a bench and people watch.  You can also go into the stores and shop.

I like to avoid the rush out of the parks, so when I stay off site, I don’t automatically leave the park when EMH starts.  Instead, I usually sit and relax for an hour or so and then slowly make my way down Main Street, maybe doing a bit of shopping while the stores are less crowded.  As I understand it, the official policy is that non-resort guests can’t buy food once EMH starts, but I’ve done it.   I haven’t personally stayed the entire three hours of EMH, but I know people who have.

Bringing an Infant to Disney World.

Exhibit A:  Baby. He’s smiling because he can get into Disney World FREE of charge!

It happens more often than you might think:  A family plans a Disney vacation a year or more in advance. Deposits are paid.  Itineraries are poured over.  The kids are excited. And then, right in the middle of planning, they find out they’re expecting another child. Do they cancel their vacation or do they keep on planning?  While your first thought might be to cancel and reschedule a year or two later, the fact is that taking an infant to Disney World is actually quite easy.  Sure, you’ll have to do a little extra planning, but taking a member of the under-one crowd is actually easier than taking a rambunctious toddler who wants to run everywhere.  

Probably the biggest decision you’ll make when travelling with an infant will be your sleeping arrangements.  My thoughts?  Get all the space you can afford.   Even babies who normally sleep through the night may change their sleep patterns in an unfamiliar place.  If it’s just you and your partner, it’s not that big of an issue; you’re probably not getting much sleep anyway. But if there are other children in the room or if you are travelling with extended family, you’re going to want some space so that those who aren’t getting up at night with the baby can actually sleep.  I usually prefer to stay on site, but you pay a premium  for extra space on Disney property.  This is when an off site rental home or condo with a full kitchen and several bedrooms can be a great idea. 

By the time your baby was just a few weeks old, you  probably discovered that babies don’t travel light:  You need diapers, wipes, food, and an extra change of clothes just to drive to the grocery store.  Babies simply don’t vacation without a lot of  “stuff.”   The great thing about Orlando is that it’s super kid friendly, so you’ll find everything you need fairly easily, if not cheaply.  Most hotels provide cribs free of charge. Disney provides Pack N Plays at all resorts. They also have a limited number of cribs at some resorts.  Both Pack N Plays and cribs at Disney resorts are sturdy and in good condition.  Most rental homes will have a crib and a highchair for you to use, although it’s a good idea to check in advance, particularly if you’re renting from an individual owner rather than a rental agency.  If you need to rent a crib or other baby gear, I’ve had good luck with Orlando Crib Rentals.  I’ve also heard good things about Orlando Stroller Rentals (strollers only) and A Baby’s Best Friend.   All three are locally-owned companies with excellent reputations in the area.  Most stroller/crib rental companies have a three-day/$50  minimum and a 10-day cancellation policy.  All deliver to your resort, free of charge.  Try to make your reservation at least two weeks in advance.

Fortunately, you don’t have to drag all of your baby’s supplies with you on the plane.  If you have a rental car, the nearest Super Target from Disney property is at 3200 Rolling Oaks Boulevard, just off I-192/Irlo Bronson Highway.   If you don’t have a car or prefer not to drive, you can have diapers and other supplies delivered right to your resort from companies like Babies Travel Lite and Jet Set Babies.  Both offer convenient travel packages or you can customize based on your needs, but you’ll pay a premium for this service.  You an also order baby supplies from Garden Grocer, a company I’ve mentioned previously on this site.  I’ve used with them several times and think very highly of them.

As for getting around on property, I always take my own stroller, even if I’m flying. It makes getting through the airport and from the parks to the parking lot easier.  It’s also cheaper.  By the time you pay for a week’s rental, either through Disney or an off site company, you’ve likely exceeded the cost of an inexpensive stroller.  You can rent strollers in all four parks for around $15 a day for a single stroller, but I don’t recommend them for infants. They are too large for babies and are made of uncomfortable hard plastic.   You might want to consider bringing a lightweight sling or baby carrier that you can store in the stroller basket.  Not only will your baby appreciate having a different view and being close to you, but you can carry her more easily while waiting in line.  I even kept my Bjorn on during rides like It’s a Small World.  Since it’s often hot in Orlando, consider choosing a carrier made for use during hot weather.  Maya Wrap makes a sling for hotter climates or if you want your hands free, Baby Bjorn makes a mesh carrier

Probably one of the most difficult problems you’ll encounter is getting on and off buses and trams.  You’ll need to remove your child from her stroller and  fold the stroller to use the trams,  buses and the resort launches.  Disney drivers will wait for you to do this, but it’s a good idea to have a system down so you don’t hold up your fellow passengers too much.  You can keep baby in the stroller on the ferry, the monorail, and Friend Ships between Epcot and Hollywood studios.  Having your own car can alleviate some of the stress you might encounter trying to drag a stroller on buses, but it’s not necessary by any means.   If you’re really worried about getting around, consider staying at a monorail resort which gives you easy access to the Magic Kingdom or at one of the Epcot resorts, which will allow you to use the Friend Ships or walk to Epcot.   Be forewarned:  These resorts are pricey.

Practicalities aside, how do you tour a Disney park with an infant?  Well, it’s different. Forget the complete commando Disney experience:  You’ll only frustrate yourself trying to keep the pace you normally would.  Slowing down a bit can have it’s advantages as you’ll see and experience things you might normally miss.   This may be trip where you  find a quiet spot and perfect the art of people watching, a thoroughly enjoyable activity in the World. 

Obviously, infants are limited as to what they can enjoy in the parks. Even attractions that don’t have a height restriction can be inappropriate for infants, such as the Haunted Mansion. Nonethesless, all parks have several attractions most babies will find enjoyable.  In the Magic Kingdom, Winnie the Pooh and It’s a Small World are huge hits.  In Epcot, there are several slow rides that infants tend to enjoy, including the ever popular Living Seas with Nemo.  Hollywood Studios has great shows and I’ve seen many infants strapped into a baby carrier or sling on on Toy Story Midway Mania.   Keep in mind that strollers are not allowed in line without at Guest Assistance Card (for children and adults with disabilities) so you’ll need to park it in one of the many stroller parking areas you see around the parks.

You may want to avoid especially loud shows like Mickey’s Philharmagic. While there’s nothing scary in this attraction, it’s loud and can alarm even older children.  On the other hand, some rides that normally frighten toddlers are just amusing to babies who haven’t yet figured out that the scary old witch glaring at them is supposed to frighten them.  Let your baby’s personality be your guide in iffy situations like this.  Some seemingly innocuous rides are actually quite frightening for young children (i.e., Stitch’s Greatest Escape) so if you’re in doubt, ask a Cast Member.  Don’t forget that you can trade off baby watching duties with members of your party and still ride the attractions you’re interested in by using the “baby swap,” which essentially allows members of switch off parenting duties while the other rides without having to wait in line twice  Mouse Planet has a great article  that describes, by attraction, how it works. 

What to pack for a day at the parks?  Well, first of all, if you forget everything (which you won’t), you can buy supplies at the Babycare Centers located in each park.  You’ll pay slightly more than you’d pay outside the park and the selection is more limited (diaper sizes in particular), but should you forget some indespensible item, you can usually find it there.  If you’re not nursing, bring formula, a few bottles and some bottled water (although the water from the drinking fountains is just fine) and, if your baby is at that stage, food.  Sunblock for older babies is a must, as is several changes of clothing, diapers and lots and lots of wipes.  Even if you normally don’t use a stroller, consider using one in the parks.  I prefer not to carry a diaper bag in the parks.  It just gets in the way.  Instead, I store the bulk of what I bring in the basket under the stroller.  Remember not to leave valuables in your stroller and if you’re worried about stroller theft (exceedingly rare, but it happens), invest in a stroller lock.

It can be difficult to find quiet places for baby to nap and nurse in the parks.  In the Magic Kingdom, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority and Carousel of Progress are practically famous among nursing mothers as quiet, discreet places for baby to nurse.   The walkway that goes from Toon Town around the back of Tomorrowland has benches and  is often deserted.  Animal Kingdom has some lovely, quiet areas.  And Epcot, which is so large that it rarely seems crowded, has lots of benches around the World Showcase Lagoon where you can sit and relax.  On our last trip, my twins slept on the Friend Ship from Epcot to Hollywood Studios and there’s no denying that the monorail between Epcot and the Magic Kingdom is a great place for a quick nap.

One final thing. You’re going to love the babycare centers. They’re clean, comfortable and quiet and the Cast Members are great.  You can change your baby, allow them to safely crawl around and stretch their legs, nurse, and eat. 

Fast Disney Facts: What to do if you lose your park tickets.

You’ve paid a lot of money for your Disney vacation and then, you lose the key to the whole thing:  Your park tickets.  What do you do?

Well, if you’re a resort guest and you’ve had Disney put your park ticket on your room key, it’s as simple as going to Guest Relations (located inside every theme park) or the concierge desk at any resort and having it replaced.  Thankfully, all your information is in Disney’s system, so you’ll get a ticket back that has exactly the same information on it as the one you lost.  This is why I always have Disney put my tickets on my room key, even if I don’t buy the ticket through Disney and use a service like Undercover Tourist  instead.  Keep in mind that Disney will only add tickets they sell or an authorized dealer’s tickets to your room key.  If you buy tickets off site from discount brokers not affiliated with Disney, it’s highly unlikely they will add it to your room key.

If you’re staying off site, it can be a little trickier.  A cast member friend of mine who works in Guest Relations recommends always making copies of your tickets before you go to Disney.  I actually make three.  I put one copy in my luggage, one in my handbag, and I leave one at home.  It’s probably overkill, but it gives me peace of mind knowing that worst case scenario, there’s a copy of my ticket somewhere.    Your travel agent and reputable vendors will also keep records of the tickets they sell and work with the park to reissue another ticket, but this can be very time-consuming.  If you have your ticket information, all you have to do is go to Guest Relations and have it replaced. Disney isn’t technically required to replace lost or stolen tickets, but they always do so with proper documentation.

Finally, if you discover that you’ve lost a ticket with a non-expiration option on it when you get home, you can send your inforation to WDW.Ticket.inquiries@disneyworld.com to get a replacement ticket.

ETA:  Thanks to Julie for pointing out that you can also take a digital photo of your ticket. It saved her trip!

Getting Wait Times on Your Mobile Phone Using Lines from the Unofficial Guide.

No one  likes to wait in lines, but it’s almost unavoidable at Disney World.  Fortunately, there are ways you can cut down on wait times, the most obvious of which is to use a touring plan.  But this past fall, Disney fans saw the introduction of several new wait time applications and mobile websites which promise to further limit your wait times and change how you tour the parks.  One of these sites is Lines, which I used on my trip in December.  Lines is from the people behind The Unofficial Guide, so the wait times you’ll see are based on years of actual data and experience.  To get better numbers, you’d need to talk directly to the folks at Disney. 

While planning my trip I didn’t initially plan on using Lines because it didn’t work on my phone.  I have Verizon, so I hoped to use Verizon’s new Disney app, Disney Mobile Magic, but it was only available at the time on a limited number of outdated phones.  Ironically, the morning Touring Plans announced that Lines was available on Android phones, a phone which I had been thinking about getting, my own phone met an unfortunate demise at the hands of one of my toddlers.  Naturally, I did what any reasonable person would do under such circumstances:  Grabbed the kids, drove down the Verizon store, and plunked down my money on an Android, signing away two more years of my life to Verizon in the process. 

Lines currently works on Iphones, Blackberry phones, Androids, and Palm Pre phones.  Just go to the Touring Plans mobile website, sign up and you’re ready to go.  Right now, it’s free.  Lines gives you a number of things:  Attraction wait times; fastpass availability and return times; refurbishment and closures; park hours, including extra magic hours; and 10-day crowd projections.  Hollywood Studios, Disney Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and the Magic Kingdom are all included.    You can also submit wait times yourself. Until now readers of the Unofficial Guide could submit wait times via Twitter, but using Lines is so much faster and easier.  It probably took about 10 seconds to submit a time on my Android and a few more seconds more to add a fastpass return time.

Lines couldn’t be more simple to use.  It’s a very basic-looking  with no unneccesary graphics or information, so you see what you’re looking for right away.  This is a good thing when you’re in a hurry in the parks.  When you go to the main page, this is what you’ll see:

Once there, pick your park.  You’ll see a list of attractions in alphabetical order with their wait times posted.  Click or touch on the attraction you’re intested in and you’ll be taken to a page that looks like this:
This page will show you wait times, both from Touring Plans and those submitted by users, fastpass return times, estimates of when fastpasses will be gone and standby peak.   It also shows you when attractions are temporarily down.

On the upper right hand corner of your screen, you’ll see the word “time.”  Click on that and you’ll see a screen that allows you to submit posted wait times (not the actual time you spent waiting in line, but the time posted at the front of the attraction by  Disney) and fastpass distribution times.  Submit that and your done.  It’s so easy to submit times that I found myself putting times in  as I walked from one attraction to another (while pushing twins in a stroller!), or right before I entered an attraction and then when I left.  Even my seven-year old did it. 

So, are the wait times accurate?  I found them to be within minutes if not on target most of the time, particularly when augmented by times submitted by other users.  Lines doesn’t need these submissions to work, but it’s a nice bonus, especially on days when attendance levels are slightly off from projected levels, which happens on occasion.  Obviously, since the times posted by Touring Plans are based on past data, there is occasionally some discrepancy between what posters are submitting and what Touring Plans is saying the wait will be.  This happened on our last day there, the Saturday before Christmas.  If you follow Disboards or the Touring Plans blog, you know that park attendance levels were unexpectedly heavy starting that day, but there were so many users submitting times, we didn’t have any issues.  It’s a good indicator of how good the system is, I think.  So if you’re even slightly inclined to help your fellow park visitors while in Disney World, this is a good way to do it.

One of the strong points that Lines has going for it is that it isn’t based on GPS, so you can use it outside of the park you’re in.  This is actually the downside of Disney’s application, which only works in the park you’re currently standing in.  With three small children, it’s difficult for us to get to the parks at rope drop, so we often looked at times that people were submitting beforehand and based our choice of park on that.  It’s also nice if you’re in one park and want to park hop to another; now you can know if there are, for example, fastpasses left for Toy Story Mania and if it’s worth your time to go over there.    Really, if the mood strikes you, you can even check wait times back home, hundreds of miles away from Disney.  Personally, I enjoy annoying my husband by occasionally saying, “Hey, did you know the wait for Splash Moutain is 75 mintues and there are no more fastpasses?  No, you did not.”

I really enjoyed using Lines.   It was great not having to walk across the park to find out what the wait time for an attraction was.  We either went or skipped it, based on what we saw, instead of what we usually did, which is walk across the park, wasting time and energy.   It was also fun submitting wait times, even for a non-geek like me.   I especially liked that as the week I was in Disney went on, they changed the program a bit and started adding funny little titles to the top submitters at each attraction.  What Disney fan doesn’t want to be a “Galactic Hero” or a “Master of Both Space and  Time”?  Plus, we’re big fans of the Unofficial Guide around our house.  I think they do a lot for the Disney community, so it was nice giving something, however minor, back to them.   And, it was easy.

Lines doesn’t have other park information, such as parade times or restuarant information, although they do link to Steve Soares’ site (listed under the live shows).   Probably the most in-depth application for this type of information is the DisUnplugged E-ticket application, but it’s only available on Iphones at this time.  You can also check Disney’s mobile website even if you don’t have the  Disney application on your phone.

I highly recommend Lines.

Should You Worry about Stroller Theft at Disney World?

I hestitated to write about this because I didn’t want to contribute in any way to the rumors of “rampant” stroller theft at Disney World, but as a mom who goes to Disney with small children, my curiosity got the better of me:  Was there a growing problem with stroller theft at Disney World?  Anecdotally, there seemed to be more posts showing up on Disney boards in the last few months where posters reported that they personally had been, or knew someone who had been, a victim of stroller theft.  So I decided to find out for myself it stroller theft was really a problem or if it was just an internet rumor with legs.

What did I find?  Well, very little.  None of the local news outlets seem to have picked up on the story, nor have their been excessive warnings on any travel sites that deal with Disney, which leads me to believe it’s not very common to lose a stroller in the parks.  I did find this well-written blog post by a father whose stroller was stolen recently, but not much else.  What I did find was more word of mouth on message boards, the rumors about “rings” of criminals stalking higher-end strollers at Disney parks and doing a fast turnaround on Craigslist or the occasional story about the frustrated parent who “borrows” someone’s stroller for the day.  Of course, there were also people who reported their stroller stolen only to find out it had been moved by a cast member to make room for other strollers.

I’m not sure if this means that stroller theft is any more or less of a problem as it has been in past years or if the ability to post and discuss such incidences on message boards makes it seem like a bigger issue than it is. Regardless, it’s important to keep it all in perspective.  There are literally thousands of strollers being pushed around Disney World on any given day.  A good chunk, if not all, of those strollers will spend at least some time unattended while the owner visits an attraction or is eating.  And the vast majority of those strollers will stay put until the owner comes to claim them.

One thing all of these reports had in common was the feeling that it shouldn’t happen at Disney.  “It’s the happiest place on earth”, they joked.   How could someone go to a theme park and just ruin someone else’s vacation?   Others chimed in with safety tips, cautioning others not to “let your guard down” just because it’s Disney.  Solid advice, of course.  But here’s the thing.  I don’t let my guard down at Disney. What I do is, in some ways, worse:  I give up my cynical side, I step back and believe in the magic. You see that all the time at Disney, people who in their real lives are jaded or very serious losing themselves in the “show” that’s taking place around them.    And if you do that and something bad happens, well, it’s a lot more disappointing than if something happens at your local mall, even if it isn’t Disney’s fault.  Perhaps this too contributes to the feeling that theft is more common than it actually is.

I think my research indicates that it’s still extremely rare to have your stroller stolen while at Disney World.  Nonetheless, on my next trip, I’m falling into the better safe than sorry category.  A few ideas for keeping your stroller safe:

1. Buy a lock specifically made for strollers. 

2.  Pull the “disgusting bag of something” trick as noted in some guide books.   Basically, the idea is that you tie a plastic bag with a fake “dirty” diaper in it to your stroller handle. Thieves run away screaming!  Well, that’s the idea, anyway.

3.  Buy an inexpensive (possibly used) stroller; donate it after the trip.  You’ll help a mom in need and get a small tax deduction.

4.  Rent/swap a stroller. Some Disney message boards have “stroller swaps” where members swap out the same stroller over and over.  It requires little effort other than ensuring that you deliver or leave the stroller at the appointed place and time for the next swapper.  Most boards require that these swaps take place without money changing hands, although some swaps ask for small donations to keep the strollers in good repair.  You can also rent a stroller from Disney or from an off-site stroller rental.  Keep in mind that if you rent from Disney, your stroller is for in-park use only.  If you have a child that can’t walk long distances back to the parking lot, you might want to bring your own or rent one from off site.   If you rent off site, read the fine print regarding your responsibility in the event of theft; some companies will allow you to purchase insurance at around $25 for the length of the rental.

5.  One mom on a Disney message board had this clever trick:  She made an iron-on patch with her family’s name and photo on it and ironed it right on the stroller.  Others laminated nameplates and attached them with zip ties. The latter seems like it would be an especially good deterrent for the “casual” stroller thief who “borrows” your stroller for the day.

In this economy, it shouldn’t be a surprise that unscrupulous people will try to make an easy buck any place strollers are left unattended, not just Disney. While stroller thefts are highly unusual, a few precautions should ensure that your stroller stays with you.

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