Friday, July 30, 2010

Walt Disney World® Tickets & Planning Their Use....

OK we have our hotel selected, but to get some of the packaging rates we would need to advance purchase our tickets.

Now what ticket levels do you buy…access to a single park each day (aka Magic Your Way Base Ticket), access to allow you to go to one park in the morning and a different one in the evening (Magic Your Way with Park Hopper Option), access to theme parks and waterparks+ (Magic Your Way with Water Fun & More Option), a ticket that never expires…meaning you decided to skip a day and that ticket will be good for life and you can return another time to visit (Magic Your Way with No Expiration Option). And the more days you purchase whatever option you choose the cheaper the rate per day calcs out to be. Again it's all a little overwhelming...

We would be staying 4 full days & 5 nights, so we opted for 3 days where we could enter one park a day. Meaning we bought 3 days worth of Magic Your Way Base Ticket. This ticket would allow us to go to the Magic Kingdom in the morning, go back to our hotel for the 3 year olds afternoon nap, and return only to Magic Kingdom in the evening. This would also allow us to take one day off and enjoy the incredible amenities our hotel offers I mentioned in my last post. Speaking of hotel...your credit card looking hotel key is imprinted with everything, including your park tickets you just purchased. Keep a close eye on these...they open your hotel door, get you in the park, get your Fast Passes, and can be your currency if you tie it off to a credit card when checking in.

OK with tickets bought and hotel booked…now the overwhelming plan of attack. I had been told horror stories about hours of waiting or failure to ride the sought after Buzz Lightyear. By gosh I was spending all this money and wanted this to be pleasureable I would make this work, so I reached out to our travel agent with my anxiety. She pointed me to “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids” This book was full of information as evidence by its 480 pages built from comments and tips on Walt Disney World® from surveys of more than 12,500 families. And it's done annually. But there it was in the back…the Holy Grail for maneuvering around the parks. Iteneraries based on your childs age, who they were going with (parents or grandparents), how many days you were allowing per park, etc.. It told you when to see a show, when to get a fast Pass (Disney’s reservation system to ride something later in the days), when to head back to your hotel, suggestions on where to eat, etc.

My family mocked my purchase and reading of this book. But now they worship my decision. It worked like a charm. Following the steps my kids road everything they wanted, saw every show, made it back for naps, etc.. Riding back from a visit to downtown Disney on our park day off my purchase was doubly confirmed when a father of 3 who makes the visit annually said he has bought the book 4 years running and has never been let down.

So I got my family a great hotel and we got to see and do everything at the parks we wanted how about energy to make all that happen. Also known as food. Next a family of four didn't go broke eating at Walt Disney World®.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

DisneyWORLD here we come! - Lodging

Ok, this is a bit of a departure from my traditional truly active travel vacations, but think about it...Disney is definitely it's own classification of active only it can be.

We live in California where families take trips to DisneyLAND sometimes once a year. We have not been yet. But as we would be spending the entire month of June basing out of Indiana we decided this was our chance and probably our only one to visit DisneyWORLD. It also needs to be said our children’s paternal Grandfather who is a big kid himself has always said when we go he wants to go.

So who’s the leader of the club….???

That would be me as far as this trip was concerned. Now I plan multiple trips a year, write this blog, but Disneyworld scared me to death. I mean the complex has grown so much since I went in 8th grade a few years ago and Epcot was new. For perspective the cast members (Disney’s name for their employees) shared the following facts during our visit:

  • Disneyland can fit in DisneyWorlds Magic Kingdom’s parking lot and there would still be 2000 parking spaces available
  • Disneyworld is as big as San Francisco or 2X the size of Manhattan
  • Only 30+% of the Disneyworld-owned property is developed, another 30+% is for future projects and the remaining 30+% is protected.
Are you breathing hard yet? For me who likes trips to be well researched and go off with minimal issues I was near anxiety attack stage.

First I turned to my friends who had been there before, perhaps even multiple times. They gave me many websites for my reading/panicking pleasure such as:,, a complete guide to disneyworld

After reading several I found myself circling back to Small World Vacations, Inc as booking time neared.

The travel agent assigned to me helped me maneuver booking the right package for our group which would include 3 grandparents and our family of 4. She would also help me manage 2 hotel changes…1 on paper…and another mentally. I also price checked her quotes against Disneyworld's own on-line booking system and she definitely saved me some money.

So where to start with lodging...If you can afford it, and you should be able to as there are all levels of pricing, stay INSIDE the Disneyworld property. Some of the amenities this affords you are:
  • Extra Magic Hours: Early or Later access to the parks versus the general public that comes in from outside.
  • Transportation: To & From the Airport, Parks, nix the rental car and all the headaches of getting it and returning it
  • Luggage Transfers: With special tags we checked our bags at our home airport and didn't see them again until they were delivered to our room at our hotel. And on the return we checked them in at our hotel and didn't see them until we got to our home airport.
  • Access to Concierges: who know all the ins, outs, tips, etc to everything…from getting from point A to B to dinner reservations, etc..
  • And my kids favorite…a message from the big cheese himself, Mickey Mouse, welcoming you on your vacation. This was probably played on speaker at least 50 times during our stay
  • And much, much more including the incredible hospotality every cast member has down pat including the daily "Have a Magical Day" from our maid staff and hotel maintenance.
Speaking of hotels. Just inside of the Disneyworld massive property your selection is endless, from value resorts to the deluxe ones. We decided with our party of 7 it would be better to try to get us all into one room versus 3 separate rooms, so our selection was narrowed to properties that would have accommodations with 2+ bedrooms. We initially looked at the Tree Houses at the Saratoga, but eventually ruled it out due to the amount of walking required to get anywhere for the youngest and oldest in our party. Then we briefly entertained a 2 bedroom at the Saratoga, but opted out for its distance from the Magic Kingdom (as we have a 5yo & 3yo this would be our most visited theme park) and eventually landed at The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge.

Excellent decision! Magic Kingdom was a 5min boat ride away with boats every 20-30min. And a little insider tip here...if you have already seen the parade...head for the boat back to the hotel just before the fireworks. We were out in the harbor just as the fireworks started booming over the castle and our captain informed us with a sheepish grin "Folks we will have to hold here for oncoming traffic." And we enjoyed the entire display from a amazing vantage point. We would apply this same tactic just before the electric boat parade and again we would get to see the entire thing from the water almost right next to it. The farthest bus ride to anywhere was 30minutes more because we shared the buses with the Grand Floridian and Polynesian resorts not because of distance.

The accommodations were wonderful 2 huge bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, kitchen, living room, 2 decks, and laundry. The hotel amenities were wonderful as well. 1 large pool with a waterslide where every afternoon a cast members led fun games, crafts, etc for the kids. There was another smaller pool with bubblers located through out which was a bit quieter for the adults enjoyment. The Cubs Den provided free crafts every afternoon from 2-4PM. And you could book them as well for evening childcare for ~$10 an hour with dinner included. We also enjoyed free cookie decorating each afternoon at the Roaring Fork, the quick service, ala carter restaurant. Also on site was a arcade, bike & boat rental. Free nightly movies on the beach. The Sturdy Branches Health Club to work off the treats consumed at the parks. And if you ventured out to the boat dock at about 9:30PM you could catch the electrical light pageant. Forget something … on site was the Mercantile which had of course your Disney souvenirs, but also some food and toiletry items, which were not marked up too horribly.

We were very, very happy with this hotel. And if we ever did decide to return with our family of four we would certainly entertain staying at Fort Wilderness Lodge in their standard hotel rooms located in the building right next door.

OK, shew anxiety level coming down as room reservations were made...stay tuned my next installment will be tickets & dining/food

Monday, July 12, 2010

When Parent GOes without Child

We have left our children for 24-48hours before. And in preparation for this summer my husband talked me into going to Jackson Hole, WY for a 3 day ski trip without the munchkins this past February. So I would be emotionally ready with our 9 days away from them this summer.

Last year we started researching a trip to get away during his 8 week sabbatical which only comes every 7 years. During the last one, prechildren, we had done 3+weeks away on a multi-sport in Australia & Fiji. But now we have two little persons that not only carry half of each of us in their genes, but in their hearts. So even though we knew it would not only be good for us, but good for them and the grandparents with whom they would be staying 2 questions loomed large before me…how long can I leave them and how far away can I go?

Luckily I had an alter ego…a good girlfriend who did the trial run for me. She is a good friend, one of the inspirations behind this blog, mother, traveler, and basically a “me” with blond hair and a few less inches of height. In fact the alternate me even swapped due dates with me on our first children. She had her boy on my due date and I my girl on hers…10 days apart. She embarked on an adult only trip for 15 days to France last year leaving her boy with the grandparents. Now one other difference between us is she works every day and travels even ever so often for work, so when she said “15 was too long and France was too far.” I knew my destination needed to be a bit closer and my stay shorter. So with that we decided on Costa Rica for 9 days, including travel to & from.

Next decision…do the grandparents come to our home or take the kids to theirs? Our children only see their grandparents, who live half way across the country, every 3-4 months and their home once a year. So we decided to go with the grandparent’s home. The novelty of their home would buy them a couple of days of interest. The biggie for the decision though was having he grandparents on their turf. Where they were comfortable to drive, not only to places of pleasure, but to a hospital in case of an emergency.

So for 3 months we counted down the days till we would go to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Behind the scenes we were mapping out adventures for the kids while there once the house novelty wore off. The grandparents also hit the yard sales for 2 bikes and borrowed DVDs, toys, etc from other local grandparent friends whose grandchildren visit more frequently than us. And on our end at 2weeks out we packed a box of favorite toys, stuffed animals, etc and took advantage of parcel post and sent them ahead of us…so a bit of home could be waiting when we got there. In fact it arrived early enough Grandma took a picture of the stuffed animals awaiting their arrival on their beds and sent it over email. Now the excitement was at fever pitch.

We arrived in town 2 days before we were to depart again and spent time settling the kids in and shopping for their favorite snacks, foods, toothpaste, etc.. We also made a countdown calendar for our trip and hence our return to them. Each day showed what we would be doing or where we were so we would have a discussion topic when we spoke to them. Speaking of which…the Internet age has made that piece so much easier. Thanks to VOIP (Voice Over Internet Phone), Email, Text Messages, Cell Phones, and Skype we were able to communicate almost (exception when we were in the rain forest) using one method or another.

Our last step before departing which wound up being a massive one…that would work, but we would also learn from would be to prepare for an emergency. We left copies of our insurance cards as well as a letter stating the grandparents were given the right to make health care decisions in our absence. And here’s where I must take a deep breath.

Our trip and preparation was perfect. The first 7 days were wonderful for all. The kids enjoyed all their adventures and we ours. And via our modes of communication we shared pictures, video conferences, etc and discussed them all. Until Day 8. We had been in the jungle for 2 days and returned to hear our daughter was ill. Day 9 our last day we called to check in to find she had been taken to an emergency room. And within 2 hours we would learn she was being ambulanced to a children’s hospital for an emergency appendectomy. And here we are in Central America.

The grandparents were armed with the insurance cards and thanks again the modern age we were in constant contact to help make decisions regarding hospital choice, etc.. We even gave our verbal consent for the surgery over cell phone to the surgeon in Louisville, KY while awaiting our flight in San Jose. We had been 99% diligent in our preparation. The 1% miss was that last statement. Now as her condition was life threatening they would have performed the surgery without our consent. HOWEVER, in a less life threatening event had they not been able to reach us it may have been delayed. But you say you left a letter giving the grandparents rights. Well, to make the letter fully legal and actionable we should have had it witnessed and notarized.

I don't mean for this story to scare you or discourage you from GOing without your child. I believe it is healthy for all involved for these parent-only trips. My story is to only help ultimately put your mind at ease for the longer, farther trips. By sharing my 1% miss you can now be 100% prepared when you as a parent GO without your child.