Stories and anecdotes as we discover Disney's Vacation Club & Disney Magic
My first Disney Experience at age 29
When my sister first suggested that my husband and I, age 29 and newly married, plan to travel to Disney with them this year before Christmas, we jumped on the opportunity to spend some extra quality time with our nephew (age 6) and our niece (age 4). Patrick and I haven’t taken “the plunge” yet in terms of children, so we weren’t quite sure what to expect on a Disney trip with two adorable, but young children. To be perfectly honest, we both like our vacations to be busy but not jam packed, and my hubby was at first a little concerned about the early risings my sister had planned in order to get the best breakfast reservations. This was also going to be my first visit to Disney, so I really wanted to make the very most of the trip and I wasn’t sure we would be able to get to all the more exciting rides you read about online (i.e. the Tower of Terror).
Our budding concerns were really all for not…
While we did get to see and do a ton due to my sisters stellar understanding of the “Disney machine” (i.e. meal plan pre-bookings, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and pre-bookings for fast-passes etc.), she gave my husband and I a lot of flexibility in our afternoons to explore Disney on our own (in particular Epcot - which was awesome!) while she and her husband went back to the Pop Century hotel for naptime with the kidos. Most of the rides at Disney were also just fine for my nephew (with the exception of the Tower of Terror - which he found to be … well a little too terrifying). We just used extra fast passes/rider swaps for the rides my niece couldn’t yet meet the height requirements for (which were few and far between). The fast pass swap system was really great - especially when we took turns riding the Mount Everest ride in Animal Kingdom. It gave me time to fool around with my niece and explore the area around the ride with her. My husband had a blast watching us spiral down the mountain with her on the side lines during the next rider swap. The rider swap is really a great system because you never have to wait very long for the other members of your group to finish a ride.
My sister’s planning also meant that we never had to wait for a character show (i.e. story time with Bell) or any of the light shows (i.e. Fantasmic). I am usually the “planner” on group trips with friends, so it was such a breeze to be able to sit back and go with the flow and plans my sister had carefully laid out for us. Seeing as it was my first trip, she wanted me to get to see everything - but she was also careful about not over-planning (which we appreciated) so that we could take our time experiencing it all. We never felt rushed, though we would of gladly taken an extra day at Hollywood studios (we only had 5 days and there was a lot to see). My sister got us all tickets to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in Magic Kingdom and this was a great plan because, aside from the front row seats to a great parade, fireworks and all the free cookies and hot coco I could want, we got to stay in the park after hours (along with others who had bought the Christmas Party tickets) to ride the rides without any line-ups.
My biggest take away from this trip was the goofy fun we had with my niece and nephew, who were incredibly jovial the entire time (probably due to those afternoon pre-supper naps!). They made the trip incredibly memorable for me (and my hubby). While I had never been to Disney before, my nephew and niece had been once before at age 4 and 2, so they were so excited to share everything with me (especially Magic Kingdom - where I rode the tea cups about three or four times with my niece and would of done it a fifth time!). Another really cool phenomenon was experiencing my Disney favourites from childhood (i.e. the Little mermaid and Peter Pan) on the same level as my nephew and niece - we sang all the songs together word for word. It felt like we were sharing something truly special and definitely memorable. Seeing Disney through their eyes made the magic all the more real for me. In fact, we loved this family trip so much that we plan on going back with my sister’s family and my parents in tow for my mom’s 60th! It will be my mom’s first time at Disney this time around - and I know her experience will be as special as mine was because of the kidos.
See yah real soon Disney!!! :)
DVC – Researching is half the fun with Magic Melodies!
In this day and age of blogging, Disney travel planning websites and podcasts; one of my favourite research tools has become YouTube. This a great resource for all those who are on the fence about purchasing DVC and would like to have a clearer picture about what the resorts and room types look like; or for those who would like to plan their next trip at a resort that they haven’t yet stayed at.
Quick links to informative Room & Resort Tours
David’s DVC Rentals - https://www.youtube.com/user/dvcRequest/videos Fidelity Resales - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKIJ_4SnBvyxxEm06vBXOyg
Another of our little discoveries while fishing around YouTube is the incredibly cute and catchy “Magic Melodies” produced by the Disney Parks about the Disney Vacation Club. These little cartoons discuss the different benefits of membership, but it’s the little diddy that will get stuck in your head for days! We watched the series once with the kids, and they still ask to re-watch them from time-to-time.
On our last trip to WDW, we stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and the kids insisted that we needed to buy some raisin bread to eat while watching the zebras out our window – just like in one of the Magic Melodies videos!
Our favourite Magic Melodies videos
https://youtu.be/wspD_7F2rXw https://youtu.be/nHqgrxWk-t8 https://youtu.be/nZWEkYL_mT4 https://youtu.be/oLjVPd94bsQ https://youtu.be/_gvWZ1q69kI https://youtu.be/QsfB4OVsv0Q https://youtu.be/2ua2Xatwcvk
I’ll admit to it – I’m an overprotective parent. Like most people, my family is the most important thing in the world to me. I want my kids to feel safe, and want them to be able to ‘be’ kids for as long as they can. This might explain my new found love for everything Disney – on a Disney vacation, everyone is ‘allowed’ to be in awe of the Disney magic, attention to detail, and just be a kid.
The thing is, I’ve never been away from my kids who are now ages 6 and 4, save for a few sleepovers at their grandparents’ houses (5 minutes away). My husband travels often for business, which has its pros and cons. He’s been around the world on these trips, sometimes for a few weeks at a time. But while he was away, he could sleep sound knowing I was holding down the fort with the kids.
A few months ago, our best friends mentioned that they were starting to look into a trip out to Vegas, and would we like to join them? These are also our friends that we took our first family vacation with – and as you might of read in another post, it was to WDW. Both the hubbies had been to Vegas on numerous occasions for trade shows; but neither my girlfriend nor I have been. The larger question for me was, how would I feel comfortable being away from my kids?!?
Got on the phone with my sister and her husband who had joined us on our last Disney trip, and asked if they would be will to watch the kids for the week-end… Of course they would! They will be driving in the night before we leave, and spending the week-end in our house with the kids.
I’ve got to give it to my hubby. He knows my love of travel planning and figured out that the best way to get interested in a trip to Las Vegas would be to set me off on a planning quest. He outlined a few of his favourite hotels – The Cosmopolitan, The Mirage, The Hard Rock Hotel, Aria, The Linq and the Mandalay Bay, and suggested I check them out. It was a toss-up between the Mandalay Bay and the Mirage with the Mirage winning out. I liked the proximity to the centre of the strip and the entertainment options in the hotel and near-by.
With the hotel decided upon and travel dates fixed, we booked our flights. We’ll be 3 couples travelling together and managed to all get on the same flight!
Then it was planning the particulars. We set up a n on-going group message on Facebook between us and my husband set-up a Trello board to help with the planning. First was to look into the shows – Cirque du Soleil won that category, despite all of us being from Montreal. However, some of us had different interests and price points. In the end, two of the couples will be going to Ka and the other will be seeing O.
Next we decided that we would meet up for at least one meal per day during the trip. Each couple would pick a meal. We’ve decided on the Gordon Ramsey restaurant as our option; one couple picked Chayo at the Linq, and the 3rd couple picked a brunch for our last day.
As far as activities, some of us have ATVs and hiking planned and others have shopping and pool lounging on the agenda. We’ve left ourselves a lot of openings on the schedule, because what we all need more than anything else is down-time!
I know I’m going to miss my kids like crazy – but a short trip like this will keep me from going crazy! As one of my friends pointed out, mom’s need our batteries recharged from time to time too; and this will make me an even better Momma Bear!
How using a stroller saved our trip to Walt Disney World
On our last trip to Walt Disney World in December 2015, we were debating whether or not to rent a double stroller. Our kids were 6 and 4 at the time, and had stopped using a stroller eons ago. Our daughter actually refused to sit in the stroller on our previous trip (January 2014) when she was 2 years old and spent the whole trip walking! We were totally past the stroller phase – right? Wrong! Renting a double stroller was quite possibly the best decision of our trip for a plethora of reasons.
The first step, was to decide on a stroller for the trip. Our stroller at home is a single seat Baby Jogger City Elite model circa 2009. One of the features that drew us to this brand, was the ease of folding the stroller – with the pull of one handle, it folds up. Lugging our stroller through the airport and having the kids possibly argue over who would be allowed to sit in it, did not seem appealing. Instead, we opted to rent a double version of our stroller from Kingdom Strollers. The double version requires 2 hands to fold, but is still incredibly easy to use. It can also seat children up to 48 inches tall and up to 50 pounds in weight. Best of all, if you rent from a preferred Walt Disney World partner, your stroller is waiting for you for pick up at Bell Services of your resort!
There were a bunch of features of the rental stroller it-self, that benefitted us during our trip. Firstly, the children each had their own compartment to sit in. Anyone travelling with more than one child knows that at, at least one point on any given day, one child will not want to be ‘touching’ the other, and if said child is ‘touching’ other said child, whining and complaining will ensue… Separate compartments = less ‘touching’ crisises! Additionally, the sun canopies on the stroller had great coverage which on sunny Florida days, is a big bonus over the flat canopies of the park strollers, or an umbroller. The basket of the stroller also provides a great place to store non-essentials like a change of clothes and sweaters.
Most rental companies we shopped will also throw in a rain cover – get the RAIN COVER! On our first trip to Walt Disney World in January 2014, temperatures were almost at the freezing mark, and it rained, and rained, and rained. The rain cover on the stroller kept the stroller itself dry in the stroller parking, but also acted as a windshield, and helped the kids to conserve heat in their little stroller ‘bubble’.
The greatest benefit of the stroller for us however, was as a receptacle for napping children. Having the stroller saved our trip for this one reason. Despite going back to the resort for a mid-day break almost every day (we stayed at POP Century); the kids consistently fell asleep on the bus on our way back to the parks for dinner in the evenings. Some days one or both of them would wake up, but we had a few nights, where both of them slept through the ENTIRE evening, including supper. The seat backs of the stroller we rented reclined independently, and to almost flat. It also had a foot rest that could be put up to elongate the cabins of the stroller, allowing for more room for the kids to stretch out while they napped.
Having the stroller with us afforded us the freedom of continuing to tour the parks into the evenings, rather than having to rush back to the resort to put already sleeping children to bed. On one of our Epcot days, both kids fell asleep on the bus on the way back to the park for our supper at restaurant Marrakesh. Despite trying to wake them up a couple of times, they just wouldn’t budge. Luckily, Restaurant Marrakesh has bench seating as an option. We mentioned the sleeping children issue to the cast members at the podium, and they were able to seat us at a table with benches. Lying the sleeping kids on the bench, the 4 awake adults proceeded to have a lovely supper together! Also, we were able to tour places in the world showcase that I wouldn’t dream of entering with my ‘touch everything’ kids – visiting the Department Store in Japan and the Christmas shop in Germany. We watched Illuminations – my sister and I sipping on Green Tea Sake Slushies, while our hubbies drank warmed sake, all with the stroller and sleeping children parked in front of us.
Another occasion where the stroller benefitted us, was during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Both children fell asleep that night at different intervals – our daughter during the first showing of the parade, and our son after the parade and a couple of attractions. The stroller came in handy for establishing a buffer zone during the parade. We staked out a spot early on Main Street with a garbage can, backing the stroller up to the garbage can with about 2 feet from the curb to the stroller for us to stand. We grabbed a couple of hot dogs from Casey’s Corner and had supper waiting for the parade with the kids using the stroller as their seats and trays as their tables for dinner. After a round of hot cocoa, our daughter snuggled up in the seat closest to us and slept through the whole parade, with the other compartment as a buffer to the crowds behind.
Following the parade, we toured Adventureland and Frontierland. Did you know that you can carry a sleeping child in your arms onto the Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Carribbean?? We swapped turns riding Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain while one of us stayed with the stroller and sleeping child, munching on Snickerdoodles and hot cocoa! As his sister was sleeping, we let our son pick the attractions to visit. Our daughter woke up just before riding the Haunted Mansion, and my husband brought her to watch the second showing of the parade, while we were on the ride. Just after, it was our son’s turn to hop into the stroller to sleep. As our daughter was then wide awake, we then let her pick out which attractions she wanted to visit. One round of The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and four rounds of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups later, it was time to close out the party and head back to the resort.
One difficulty however, was trying to manage getting the sleeping children on and off of the bus at the end of the night. For the portion of our trip when my sister and her husband joined us, it was a no brainer, 2 of us would carry the kids, one would have the bags and one of us would have the stroller. This was obviously more difficult for the portion of the trip that we were just our little nuclear family. My husband and I would leave the stroller outside the bus, while we each carried one of the kids to a seat where they could cuddle into me, and he would go back to get the stroller. On one occasion, there were no seats left, so we waited for the next bus.
Other evenings, we watched The Main Street Electrical Parade and walked through the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights, all with sleeping children curled up in the stroller. The stroller was truly a trip-saver!
Link to Kingdom Strollers (we rented the City-mini GT double stroller)
Pirates & Cowboys Themed Day
On our last trip to WDW in December of 2015, we tried to include a few ‘themed’ days as part of our touring plans. We scheduled a Knights & Princesses Day, A Jedi Day, and a Pirates & Cowboys Day. One of the lovely aspects of a WDW vacation, is that it lends itself to being a super planner or a limited planner. Either way, you’ll have wonderful time no matter what! Theming a day out of the parks can also be a patience saver for those days when crowd forecasts are high.
For our Pirates & Cowboys day, we decided on the following itinerary:
- A character breakfast at 1900 Park Fare
- Pirate Adventure Cruise for the kids at the Grand Floridian Resort
- Touring Adventureland, Frontierland and Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom
- Dinner at the Hoop-dee-doo Revue
- We started the morning off with a breakfast reservation for 8am at 1900 Park Fare, with visits to our table from Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Mary Poppins, Alice and the Mad Hatter. The Mad Hatter is always a favourite of ours – he likes to joke around with us, and the kids love making funny faces with him for the camera. The restaurant is a buffet and has a very wide range of breakfast foods including an omelet station. I was a little disappointed however, that our son decided to go with a bowl of Cocoa Puffs for the his breakfast; but can’t blame him, as this was one of our last days, and we were all on food overload!
Then it was off to the Pirate Adventure Cruise which we had left as a surprise for the kids. After filling out a bit of paperwork; the kids were suited up with life vests, and the story telling began. Essentially, the story is that the two cast members are the granddaughters of a mischievous pirate who has buried his treasure somewhere around the Seven Seas Lagoon. They recently discovered a letter and a map that he left for them, and ask the kids if they would like to join them as pirates on their treasure hunt. As this is a kids only cruise, the information from our kids about the cruise and where they went was a bit jumbled. They remembered going to the volcano at the Polynesian resort and seeing a marooned pirate ship at Discovery Island; but getting more details out of the 6 and 4 year old was a bit difficult. They did come back to port with pirate bandannas and necklaces, and mentioned a snack and potty break along the way. The treasure map led them to a treasure chest hidden near the Gasparilla Grill at the Grand Floridian. It was very fun to be there to watch the kids’ excitement at seeing the chest and getting their ‘cut’ of the pirate booty!
Pirate Adventure Cruises sail from the Grand Floridian, The Carribbean Beach Resort, The Beach Club and Port Orleans Riverside; and are offered for children ages 4-12. Kids must be potty-trained. As we were staying at the POP Century Resort, and planned to visit Magic Kingdom for some park touring after the activity, we decided on the tour that starts at the Grand Flo.
While some websites might suggest adults getting a spa treatment at Senses while the kids are off on their Adventure; by the time the kids are boarded onto the boat and returning back to the docks 15-20 minutes before the end of the cruise to see the treasure unveiling, you only have a bit more than an hour. We used that time to go explore the Grand Floridian Shops and sit in the sun outside the Gasparilla Grill with a cup of coffee. The atmosphere of the Gran Flo is very relaxing, and we were happy to share some quiet time together sitting on a shaded bench and looking out over the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Then it was off to the Magic Kingdom. We caught Tinker Belle on our way into the park during the parade – no line! Then it was off to Liberty Square to go to the Haunted Mansion, followed by exploring Adventureland. We had Dole whips for lunch, a ride on the Magic Carpets, a trip to the Enchanted Tiki Room, and a meltdown by our daughter over Mickey Bars that lasted a good 45 minutes (which ate up our time for Pirates ironically). We ended with Splash Mountain, which was a nice way to finish our touring. I had been hoping to make it to Tom Sawyer island, but the crowds were quite large and it took us much longer than we had hoped just to maneuver through the crowds.
Next up was the Hoop-dee-doo Revue! We got in line for the Ferry over to Fort Wilderness, and changed the kids into their Western digs while we waited for the boat to arrive. When Disney suggests you leave an hour or more for transportation – listen. We arrived at dinner with just enough time to go to the restrooms and then be seated. The photopass photographers that are there to take a commemorative photo had already packed up, but were nice enough to still take a photo of us. The food and the show are wonderful. We were seated right beside the pianist and the banjo player, and had lovely conversations with them. Our server was awesome, and full of western puns. The sangria was yummy, and our four-year old daughter who is a picky eater asked for 2 helpings of the fried chicken! The show is very interactive, and the main characters walk all around Pioneer Hall throughout the course of the show, which gets all the guests very involved.
We took our time leaving the restaurant and Fort Wilderness knowing that the first round of Ferries would be very crowded. We ended up chatting with a family from England that was going to be in Orlando for 3 weeks! We found a play structure for the kids while we waited for the ferry queue to peter out, and then hopped the bus back to POP Century. All in all, a delightful, jammed packed, themed day!
Other suggestions for Pirate theming
- Dress up in Pirate gear – Dress-up the kids in their favourite Jake or Zarina gear!
- Make a reservation for the Pirates League in Adventureland
- Attend the Jack Sparrow pirate tutorial in Adventureland.
- Play the interactive A Pirate’s Adventure - Treasures of the Seven Seas that runs through Adventureland
- Take the Pirates & Pals Fireworks Voyage and meet Captain Hook, Smee and Peter Pan
Other suggestions for Pirate theming
- Throw in some Cowboy flair to your outfit
- Visit Woody and Jessie
- Make a trip out to Tom Sawyer’s island
- Catch the Frontierland Hoe-down in front of Country Bears
Planning a Knights and Princesses ‘themed’ day at Walt Disney World
One of the lovely aspects of a Disney vacation, are the numerous themes you can build into your touring plans. On our last trip, we planned a ‘Knights & Princesses Day’, in order to cater to our four year old daughter’s love of everything princess, but also made it a day of adventure and pretend for our six year old son! <–more–> One of the first things to plan is dining for your themed day. Mainly because most Table Service restaurants need to be reserved 180 days out. In our case, the rough plan was to spend the majority of the day in Fantasyland. We chose to dine for breakfast and lunch at Be Our Guest Restaurant, and at Cinderella’s Royal Table for dinner.
We were on the Disney Dining Plan, and what better way to use our quick service dining credits and start the day off feeling like a real royal, than at Be Our Guest Restaurant. The food was delicious for both meals, and the atmosphere of the restaurant is magical, although the kids were too scared to sit in the Beast area. One of the other perks, is that you can pre-order your meals through My Disney Experience, and then after you’re seated at a table with your RFID rose; your food appears with a server as if by magic! Although we’ve never dined there for supper, rumour has it that the Beast is there for a meet-and-greet.
For dinner, we were lucky to snag a reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table. Although it is two table service dining credits on the dining plan, we love the experience of dining in the castle! The design of the space and welcome by Cinderella, makes anyone feel like royalty. Our server Christopher was exceptional, and really made the children feel like a knight and princess. The little princesses are given magical wands and the little Knights are given swords. Both little boys and girls are given wishing stars for the ‘wishing ceremony’ held hourly. And the princesses! We had Snow White, Rapunzel, Aurora, and Jasmine visit us at our table during the meal. We all rolled out of the restaurant after our meals full as full could be!
Once dining was booked, we started looking at other options. There’s the Bibbidi-bobbidi-boutique that both girls and boys can partake in. Kids are given a princess or knight makeover. We found the add-on experience a bit pricey, but if you’re interested in seeing what it’s all about, follow this link.
Instead, we made prepping for princess day a mommy-daughter planning exercise. First, we needed the munchkin to decide on which princess dress out of her collection she wanted to wear for our Princess & Knights Day. She was torn between Snow White or Rapunzel for a long while, so I started You-Tubeing princess hairstyles for both characters. A wonderful resource for this is the You-tube channel Cute Girls Hairstyles. Using their videos as a starting point, I was able to come up with a Snow White hair-do and a Rapunzel hair-do that I could actually do myself. It was also important that it didn’t take too much time to prep in the morning before we left, and would last for the whole day, or was at least easy enough to re-do if it started looking scraggly. By mid-day however, the parks got very hot, and we changed our princess into a princess t-shirt.
For our son I started researching knights’ costumes. Most that I came across were very bulky, and in the hot Florida sun, I didn’t think he would wear them for very long. I needed something for him that he could feel comfortable in. During my research for this, I came across the site Mom Approved Costumes which has great stuff, but in the end we went with having a Knight t-shirt made through a vendor on Etsy. The t-shirt did the trick and was perfect for touring Fantasyland, and keeping him cool running around from attraction to attraction.
On a side bar, the grown-ups also had fun Disney-bounding; my sister loosely drew from Ariel’s sheet-out-of-the-ocean look; and I went with loosely-inspired Alice tea-party kind of thing. The guys gallantly dressed to coordinate with their spouses! My hubby wore a coral coloured polo which went with the roses on my blouse, and my sister’s hubby wore a pale blue t-shirt and navy shorts to go with her more nautical themed outfit. Along with the kids all dolled up, our pictures turned out great!
Next was to plan out our must-do attractions for the day. We booked Fast Passes for a visit to Fairy-Tale Hall with Anna & Elsa, along with the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Enchanted Tales with Belle. Also on the touring plans were The Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a small World, The Barnstormer, Winnie the Pooh, and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups. Also on our plans were a visit with Tiana, as well as watching the Festival of Fantasy Parade, but these were shelved in favour of returning to the hotel in the afternoon for a swim and a rest. The kids were so exhausted after dinner at CRT, that they slept in the stroller during the Main Street Electrical Parade, and all the way back to the hotel…
I can’t say enough good things about the Enchanted Tales with Belle. The Imagineering magic that goes on at the entrance is just amazing, and the kids love becoming a part of the story. Our son was the Beast , our daughter was a dinner plate, and my brother in-law and hubby were the suits of Amour. Even grown men, get in the spirit when asked to pose for a photo with Belle herself!
Planning a themed day or days, is an excellent way to add even more magic to an already magical vacation.
Why the Pirates League was awesome, especially with friends!
On our 2014 trip, one of the surprises for the boys was a tip to The Pirates League for a Pirate Makeover!
The Pirates League is located in Adventure Land in the Magic Kingdom, right next door to the Pirates of the Carribbean Attraction and accepts reservations 180 days out just like Table Service Dining.