Disney Planning Tools, How We Prepare

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Obviously a Countdown App!

We’re officially 40 days out and the excitement is mounting! At this stage in the game, all of the planning and scheduling we wanted taken care of in advance is done.

Rob and I really enjoy the planning stages, in some cases almost as much as the vacation itself. Planning helps build anticipation and gives us specific things to look forward to. I understand that some people like to leave a lot of their trip to spontaneity, and I think spontaneity has its time and place (ha..irony). Respectfully, Disney is not one of those places.

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Dodging 3pm summer rain storms with a beer in ‘Germany’ at Epcot!

My father-in-law, also a planner, introduced me to Disney Worldfor the first time and I am so grateful that he did. For that first trip we only had 1 full park day and he wanted to make sure we got the most out of it. He had strategically mapped out the best route around the park, made sure we rode every ride (this was before the My Disney Experience App, where you can now reserve Fast Passes in advance, none-the-less), and still make it to our 7:30PM dinner reservation in ‘France’. Perhaps, this is where my pre-planning-bias was born.

It’s one thing if you live in or near Florida and can visit Disney World all the time. If that’s the case, it doesn’t really matter if you have set plans before arriving or not. However, as an out-of-state visitor, I really want to make sure that we get the most bang for our buck in the most magical place on earth, during one of their busiest seasons. Especially this year with soo many new and exciting things happening!

That’s where Disney’s planning tools really come in handy.

DisneyWorld.Disney.Go.Com, Plain and Simple

Let’s start from the beginning. Disney World’s home page is an obvious and user-friendly place to start. For us, this is where our magical journey begins (Could I be more cheesy? Yes, buckle up). The website makes it really easy for users to compare prices for resorts on-property. We really enjoy staying on property because of the convenience. Yes, it’s more expensive generally, but also worth it not to fight our way through busy parking lots.

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Not Models.

The entire user interface is extremely engaging and easy to use. It is also the place where the proverbial drinking of the Disney ‘Kool-Aid’ begins. All it takes is just one picture of a smiley model family in Mickey Ears riding Dumbo, maybe eating a Mickey ice cream… hook, line, and sinker.

Once we choose a resort, we select our ‘vacation package’. Meaning we add-in park tickets for however many days we plan to visit the parks. Usually, we visit the parks for fewer days than we’re staying on property. This is where you can add in meal packages as well, but we prefer to have more freedom in our dining choices.

My Disney Experience 

This may be my favorite tool of all. You can access your My Disney Experience account from your computer and phone. I visit this page often throughout the planning stages…like, almost daily (Note: There’s no need for this, I’m just excitable).

You can manage your entire trip through My Disney Experience. This is where we make our dining reservations, fast pass selections, check wait times, get park maps… the list goes on. If you wanted, you can plan your whole trip on the app, including booking hotels and park tickets.

This is dangerous for us and has in the past led us to make spontaneous hotel reservations (i.e. trips to Florida from New York) on whims… Uh oh, but PJ… you said spontaneousness and Disney don’t mesh. True, but My Disney Experience allows you to add plans to your spontaneous adventure.

I love having access to My Disney Experience in the parks. If we want to change our fast pass selections, or if we’ve used all 3 of our fast passes and want to make more, we can do it from anywhere in the park. So easy.

Guest Services Page

Ok, real talk. I have been to Disney World every year since my first trip in 2010, sometimes twice a year. I have visited the DisneyWorld.Disney.Go.Com website multiple times for every single visit since… and only this year did I discover the Guest Services page. This strikes me as the type of page that you really only find out of necessity, which is exactly how I stumbled upon it.

Because we are visiting Orlando for a wedding, we will be traveling with a suit and bridesmaid dress is tow… and because Orlando/the wedding is the last leg of our trip, we imagine those garments are going to need some freshening up before the big day. Luckily, Disney offers dry cleaning services, but the hotel websites are pretty vague about the details. Disney’s guest services page helped with filling in the blanks.

This page is super useful for finding out general information on where you can find ATMs, how to complete an online check-in, find resources for guests who have Special Needs, and where the Nikon Picture Spots can be found around the parks (a service I have obviously been in desperate need of)!

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Maybe the only picture of us with the castle?

Seriously, get a Countdown App.

I think mine is called ‘Countdown for Disney’, but we use it for just about every trip we go on. There’s just something about a countdown app that adds to the excitement for an upcoming vacation.

There’s plenty you can choose from and many are free to download. Just do it, it’s fun.

YouTube & Streaming Videos

I don’t know if we use this as a ‘planning’ tool per se, but we always look up vlogs and videos on Disney and Universal before we go. It’s a great way to see what’s new at the parks. YouTube is a great resource to find out about new restaurants or construction updates from people who live in the area and visit the theme parks all the time.

Vlogs are also a great resource for finding out information about the surrounding areas, if you need a break from the park (I’ve heard rumors that these people exist, but I don’t know any thank goodness). A YouTuber – see ‘The Tim Tracker’ – is how we found out about Cowfish at CityWalk, which is now one of our favorite restaurants.

Before I really got introduced to the wonders of YouTube & vloggers, Rob and I would watch Disney Parks, Behind the Scenes videos on Netflix. Buyer beware, the song is catchier than Small World and will immediately get you excited for all things Disney. It’s that Kool-Aid again. Unfortunately, they’ve since been removed from Netflix, but you can still find them on Amazon.

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As mentioned in previous posts, Rob and I are just a traveling duo of adults. If you’re traveling with kids or if you’re traveling in bigger groups, Disney also has some really excellent planning guides and resources on their website, including a Moms Panel.

Ok, so now you’re fully equipped to go an plan your own Disney adventure. See you at the margarita cart in Epcot!

Summer, I’ma let you finish, but…

I am a summer baby, through and through. I never want summer to end. My fellow New Yorkers think I’m crazy for thinking that this 90 degree, 90% humidity we’ve been living in for the last several weeks is paradise, but I love it.

That being said… Universal Studios Orlando is working some special kind of magic on my brain and making me wish so hard that it was October already!

Recently they announced the final of the houses for Halloween Horror Nights 26 and I am about as excited as a human being can be before spontaneous combustion occurs. I can NOT wait for it to be October!

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Jack’s Got Your Back – Halloween Horror Nights 25

Orlando seems to be one of those vacation destinations that people often roll their eyes at. Sure, there are plenty of things to do for families and for kids, and the various theme parks certainly have skilled marketing experts who are hired specifically to let you know just that. But I have only ever been to Orlando as an adult and every single time it drags me in and leaves me wanting more.

October is one of my absolute favorite times to visit Florida in general, but without question my favorite time to visit Orlando.

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There’s a lot to say about the fall in Orlando. The weather is starting to cool, the crowds are thinning out, the decorations are unmatched, and Horror Nights…

This will be our third year in a row going to Horror Nights and I feel like it only gets better from one year to the next. It’s also possible that last year was exceptionally good because of the 25th Anniversary, but we have high hopes for HHN 26.

Over the last couple of weeks, Universal has been slowly releasing the themes for this year’s houses, the last of which was announced just yesterday. The list includes: Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Exorcist, Walking Dead, Halloween, Krampus (!!!), and American Horror Story – to name only a few.

Luckily, Universal has thought of everything and has strategically placed liquid courage carts around the scare zones and houses so that I don’t chicken out and run for the hills (It’s Florida, PJ.. there are no hills).

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Liquid Courage before getting chased by Walkers! Delicious & necessary

For us, the best thing about Horror Nights is the production value. This is not your ordinary neighborhood Haunted House (although, some neighborhoods are certainly excluded from my visual of corny rubber masks and create legit terrifying experiences). The make up and costume designs are worth the trip, even if haunted houses and Halloween aren’t normally your ‘thing’.

The scare actors at Universal are top notch. Again, you will find no cheese here. They don’t just chase you with chainsaws, grunting. They interact and engage with visitors and really get them involved in the whole production. You, the visitor, become part of the whole experience.

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Bayou of Blood Scare Zone – HHN 24

This year, I think I’m most excited about the following things:

  • Krampus house – I insanely feel this connection to the Krampus story. Not because of the movie, but because of how deeply I fell in love with Bavaria last December. I obviously, don’t expect much cultural authenticity – I do, however, expect a truly terrifying interpretation of the Bavarian anti-Santa.
  • The Repository – a virtual reality experience, that you can add on to your HHN tickets for $49.95. I’m not sure if we’re really willing to spend that much for the experience (translation: I’m trying to convince hubby), but it sounds incredible. (description found here)
  • Extra houses! Again, we’re fairly new to the HHN game (this only being our third visit), but in the past there have been only 7 houses, this year there seems to be 9! We better invest in some excellent insoles for our shoes.
    • Actually… this is worth a little side bar. If you do go to HHN, be prepared to walk, a lot. Every time we’ve gone, we leave barely making it back to the car. This, unfortunately, is not an exaggeration. Do yourself a favor and sit from time to time and invest in really good shoes. You’ll thank me later.
  • Wizarding World of Harry Potter as a potential holding zone – If you buy a park ticket for the same day as your HHN tickets, you are allowed to “Stay and Scream”. This allows you to stay in the park while it closes for visitors without HHN tickets, in holding zones. It also allows you to have access to the houses right when HHN opens for the night, so you often beat some of the early crowds. Holding Zones are scattered throughout the park and are often near places where you can grab a quick bite or have a drink while you’re waiting for the park to clear out. Last year, Wizarding World was available as a holding zone. We lucked out and the whole area was practically empty.We easily found a bench to sit and enjoy some Dragon Scales (beer). Definitely one of my favorite parts of last year’s trip to HHN.
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A totally empty Gringotts!

Of course this list changes constantly as they release new announcements and updates and as my brain wanders from one point of excitement to the next.

So, Summer, I’ma let you finish, but… October better hurry up!

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Straight cheesin’

How to Train Myself That a Weekend Trip is Enough

Checking back in after nearly 8 months…

Hi guys!

We have a lot to catch up on, it seems. Once again, sorry about my negligence. Let me fill you in on what’s been happening in my life since January.

Shortly after my last post (Jan of this year..yikes!), I was hired for my first full-time job out of grad school. Hurray! It’s an incredible position, at an amazing institution, with some lovely human beings. But now, I have to learn to adapt to a schedule where I’m allotted 2-weeks vacation time, and a few personal days here-or-there – you know, like a normal person.

To say nothing of those looming other restrictions – budgetary ones. Occasionally, being a home-owner means you have to part ways with some hard earned money for less than fun, often unforeseen, expenses. The hubs and I had some unexpected repairs that needed tending to, while simultaneously saving to buy somewhere new. Adulting is hard.

So, now I’m faced with the task of learning to scratch that pesky travel itch under much more restrictive parameters than in the past. Teaching myself that, sometimes, a weekend is enough.

Canada Day in Toronto, Fourth of July in NY.

To avoid using any of those precious vacation days, Rob and I have been trying to utilize any and all built-in long weekends.

Fourth of July weekend we headed north to celebrate our friend’s 30th birthday in Toronto. My first time ever visiting our neighbors to the north!

Three days was a perfect amount of time to see some sights, relax, and chow down on some local eats (poutine and steaks all day, err’day!).

We flew in very late Friday night and spent all day Saturday and Sunday in Toronto, before driving to Niagara and eventually home on Monday. Initially I was concerned that our weekend would be too jam packed full of things to do that we wouldn’t get to really enjoy everything, or we’d be too tired to really appreciate it. This, thankfully, was not at all the case. We had such a wonderful time! This trip definitely made me realize that weekend jaunts up north (or south for that matter.. *hint hint, Rob*) are just as worthwhile and enjoyable as longer trips.

Enjoying a delicious Pilsner at Steam Whistle Brewery, Toronto

Sunbathing on the roof of the Hyatt – great views of the CN Tower

 

Took a Waterways Cruise to Toronto Island – Absolutely gorgeous!

 

 

Birthday Libations in North Fork Wine Country.

Next up was my birthday! The hubs planned an incredible weekend for us in Long Island’s Wine Country. I’ve lived in New York all my life and I never knew such a place existed. If you’re able, go check it out someday. Great wine with beautiful views. We will definitely be returning someday – I suspect sooner than later.

A little extra planning was involved on this one – and the hubs delivered! He researched and researched to learn what some of the best ranked wineries were, and which vineyards fit our specific tastes and interests. Croteaux Vineyards (specializing in Rosés) and Lieb were two of my favorites. Luckily, I don’t need to wait for my return to North Fork to restock – both sell their wines online!

Me & the Hubs at Croteaux Vineyards drinking out favorite – Merlot 181

Enjoying conversation, wine flights, and snacks at Lieb Vineyards.

 

I mean… Is this not the most beautiful table? Yum!

So now we’re convinced and there will be many, many more weekend trips in the future and I can’t wait to share them with you!

Thanks so much for reading, and if you have any suggestions of weekend trips from NY, please share!