Walt Disney World & World Travels

While I haven’t been out to Disneyland yet to see this, the video is beautiful!  Really makes me want to get out there as soon as possible.

World of Color Disney California Adventure

If you’d like to see it in person, call or email Second Star Travels for a no-obligation quote.  There are some great deals for Disneyland vacations available right now and World of Color is a great reason to go!

http://www.secondstartravels.com

On our way to the Magic Kingdom on our recent trip,we made a detour and stopped by Disney’s Polynesian Resort for a snack and some good coffee.  It’s such a beautiful resort, I thought I’d share some pictures.

There are a lot of ride time applications available  for free or for a small fee.  I was curious how some of them worked and if they were worth the money.   Today you get a guest posting from my 13 year old son.  While on our recent Disney trip, I gave him a job; download the Verizon-Disney Mobile Magic application and test it for the week.    Here is his report on it:

Mobile Magic

Mobile Magic is an  application for Verizon phones created by Disney and Verizon to show accurate wait times in the park that you are currently in.  Mobile Magic is a very simple application to use.  We found  that the app was always right compared to other applications out like Ride HopperRide Hopper (a free, social reporting application) was very random, it could have wait times with-in 5 minutes or it would be 2 hours off.  Mobile Magic was always right in all four parks on wait times but that’s not all the application can do!  The app can help you find your favorite Disney characters  or locate a restroom or dining or whatever you will need.  Overall, Mobile Magic was a great application to have while we were on our trip.

One of my problems with it was that it was very slow, it could take a while to load when you are at a resort with good cell service, and it took forever to load in the parks with not as good cell phone service.  Is it worth the money?  I say it is, besides the loading problem I found that the application was great.  I think it is worth the money.  It was great you could wait in line for one ride and right after say let’s go get fast passes for Space Mountain.  It would give you fast pass return times and the wait time.  It would also show you a map of the park which is useful when finding food. Again, I think that the application Mobile Magic is worth the money every little bit.

Thank you Jason for your review!   A few extra things to know;  the cost is $9.99 for 180 days of access.   You do need to have a cell phone that can access the internet and data charges are separate.    Data usage does add up, especially when playing games or trivia while waiting in line for your favorite rides or on the bus ride to/from the parks.  Tip: add a monthly data package instead of paying per MB, then drop the plan when you get home from vacation.

As a former Disney Cast Member, I’ve always refused to go to that “other park”, they were the enemy, opening Universal Studios the summer I was on the College Program at Disney.   Now that I’m more “mature”, and with the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter; it was time to give in and spend some time at Universal.

Our vacation happened to line up for the week of the grand opening of Harry Potter.  I knew the park was going to be packed beyond packed so I did what any good travel agent would do and researched my options.  The three Universal Resort Hotels offer what looked to be the answer: a Universal Express pass that allows you to skip all of the lines on participating rides AND gains you early entry in to the park.  I also knew that you could buy a head of the line pass, but at $60-$87 per person per day, it made more sense to look at staying on site and getting all of the resort benefits.  I also learned that the pass you can buy, is not exactly the same as the one included for resort guest.  The “bought pass” is only good for 1 day, and can only be used once per ride/attraction.  The resort guest Express Pass is good from check in through check out and can be used multiple times on the rides/attractions.   The three resorts are all owned/run by Loews Hotels, a company known for very nice, deluxe hotels.  Loews Royal Pacific, Loews Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Resort.

I ended up splurging a little and booked a night at the Portofino Bay Resort.   This is a beautiful resort, that is built to be reminiscent of a sleepy seaside village, Portofino, Italy.  The rack rates are a little bit pricey, but there are some good deals to be had and the benefits of staying on property are well worth it!  A quick overview of resort benefits:  Universal Express Pass (good from check-in through day of check out), good for multiple uses, 1 hour Early Entry into the parks (makes all the difference in the world if you want to get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), complimentary transportation to the parks by boat or bus, room charging privileges, and priority seating at certain restaurants.  That can be very useful!

Our stay at Portofino Bay Resort was a little unusual; we were only there for 1 night during the middle of our vacation, so we didn’t get to enjoy the resort as much as I would have liked to.  We arrived and checked in at 8am.  Check in was very quick & easy.  We were given our room keys (but not the room number as it wasn’t ready yet).  The room keys work as your Universal Express Pass, with a bar code on there that is scanned at each ride.  Our luggage was given to bell services, the car handed off to the valet and we were given directions out to the boat that would take us to Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure.  We were so excited about getting to the parks, that we might not have seen a whole lot on the way to the boat but what we did see was absolutely beautiful!  It felt like we were in an Italian seaside town.  We made our way to the boat dock and I noticed a few things right away that I was impressed with: there was a canopy area with benches and fans.  On a super hot day, that was really appreciated!

We spent the day at both parks; Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure and took advantage of another resort benefit, early entry into the park.  We went straight back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and when we showed our room keys we were sent a different way and straight in before the park “officially” opened.  I’ll write about Wizarding World and all of the rest of the parks in other posts, but for now I’ll just say WOW!!!! The Universal Express pass allowed us to skip the regular line for most rides in the park (very few don’t have an express line) so we were able to get a lot done in a short amount of time.

After a very full day visiting the parks, we went back to our resort looking forward to having some dinner & pool time.  I had received a call on my cell phone early in the day informing me that we would need to come back to the desk for new room keys, so that’s where we went as soon as we got off the boat.  We recieved our room information and a porter got our luggage and gave us a tour of the resort on the way to our room.  The service was wonderful, but I did feel that the room was 6 miles away from the desk.  The room was actually in a very good location for convenience to the pools.  We had a view of the villa pool from our room, which was very nice.  Standard rooms are 460 square feet (good size!) our deluxe room was 490 square feet with 2 queen beds and a (requested, not guaranteed) sofa sleeper.  The bathroom had separate shower & tub, super soft cotton robes and the 13year olds’ favorite thing a telephone in the bathroom.   The room was beautiful and the beds were the most comfortable beds ever!

We got settled, changed into our bathing suits and headed to the pool to relax and have dinner.  Yes, you read that right we were going to have dinner at the pool.  There is a pizza place, casual restaurant next to the Beach Pool.  However, they were closing as we got there so we went to Sal’s Market & Deli (on the other side of the resort).  Ordered pizza & salad, and brought it back to the pool to eat.  Sat at a table overlooking the pool and the movie by the pool (Harry Potter that night), it was very relaxing and the food was excellent.  The pool area was very nice, lot’s of tables, lot’s of chairs & chaise lounges.  There is a sandy zero entry area, several hot tubs, a kids pool and a Roman Aquaduct Slide.  My family loves slides, and rates all of them.  This one was allright, but not great.  It was slow and the pool was not super warm.  The hot tub was very warm and felt great after a long day in the themeparks!

Next to Sal’s Market, they sold gelato.  As a treat, Jon & Megan went and got gelato for the 4 of us to enjoy while we watched the poolside movie.  Super creamy & very rich, the gelato was excellent!  The poolside movie was a great idea, but not executed all that well.  The blow up screen kept deflating because they couldn’t keep it plugged in close enough to the pool (cord was too short).  It was fun, but almost funnier watching the screen deflate.

After a wonderful nights sleep on those super comfy beds, we checked out and headed back to the parks.  The “boys” went ahead and managed to get in for early entry, my daughter & I were a few minutes late and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter had a 4 hour wait at 9am when it opened.  We used our Universal Express passes (good for both check in & check out day) and rode some other rides while the boys spent more time in Wizard World.  After another full day of parks, we rode the boat back to Portofino Bay, collected our luggage from bell services and the valet pulled the car around.  While we waited on the car, another of the valets offered and brought us bottled water.  A very thoughtful and appreciated gesture!  That was a great way to leave, on a high note.

I can honestly say that I will go back, and next time I might need to check out the Royal Pacific or the Hard Rock…..

Here are some pictures of the Loews Portofino Bay Resort and our room:

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Wow, that was an exhausting week, but it was fun and really exciting!  I was able to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter during the opening week, go to both Universal parks, check out a new (to me) resort, and all 4 parks at Disney World.  I’m ready for a vacation from my vacation 😉  I have lot’s of stories & pictures to share.  I’ll be writing separate posts for different parts of the trip, and will have some “guest posts” to give everyone a different perspective.  Please if you have any questions, drop me a note.  I love to get feedback!

Today I’ll keep it short.  I just want to remind everyone that it really gets hot in Florida during the summer and you can’t underestimate how that will affect your trip.  Dehydration happens much faster than you would think possible and heat exhaustion and heat stroke aren’t to be messed with.  I learned a great lesson from Fairy Godmother many years ago and it’s really true; if you notice that your princess or prince has gotten grumpy at the happiest place on earth; they’re already dehydrated.   Grumpiness is a BIG sign of dehydration, followed by lethargy & the blahs.  They may not even think they’re thirsty.  Get them to drink something, anything.   Take bottles of water into the parks with you (it’s fine, Disney allows it), refill them throughout the day using the water fountains.  Now, I’ll admit Florida/Disney/Orlando water sometimes tastes a little different than it does at home.   No problem!  The solution are those single serving packages of kool aid, gatorade, lemonade, etc.   1 little package into a 16 oz bottle of water and ta da, something yummy to drink that keeps you hydrated.   If you don’t have water bottles with you and don’t want to keep spending $$$ on water, sodas, etc; go to any quick service or snack location that has fountain beverages and ask for a cup of ice water.  Disney will give free cups of water if you ask, it’s not bottled water but it’s free and that ice cold water will taste just fine when you’re melting in the parks.

Take breaks from the heat, stay hydrated and you’ll have a fun & safe summer day at Disney.

Thinking it’s time to take the kids to Disney World?  Easy right?  Of course, but this isn’t just your run of the mill trip, it’s Disney World.  There’s a lot of planning to do.    You have to research the resorts….and the different types of resorts: Deluxe, Moderate, Value and Deluxe Villas.  What time of year should you go, and how much of a difference does that make in price?  What about crowds?  If I go at a lower priced season, should I upgrade my resort?   Then once you pick your resort or at least resort type; you think about when & how long of a trip.  What kind of tickets (Magic Your Way Base Tickets or Park Hoppers) and do you add the water parks or not?  Oh and then someone at work mentioned that their cousin just got back from Disney and had some special dining thing.

That’s about the point that many people decide their kid doesn’t really need to go to Disney World and they’ll  just go back to the beach for their annual family vacation.

Don’t give up on the idea of that magical Disney vacation!  It’s a special trip, and deserves to be planned carefully but it doesn’t have to drive you crazy.  There are tons of books available at book stores & at libraries.  Of course there are roughly a gazillion Disney fan sites with information.  My recommendation with the fan sites is that like all things in life, moderation is the key.  A little bit of info is good, but too much can make you insane.   Of course, I always recommend finding a travel agent that specializes in Disney travel.  Check around, you’re not likely to find a difference in price (Disney trips cost the same booked direct through Disney or through an Authorized Disney Travel Planner) but you want someone that is a graduate of the Disney College of Knowledge and has a lot of experience planning Disney trips and personally traveling to Disney.

With my clients, I like to start with the vacation planner that Disney sends out.  I show them the different type resorts, and the individual resorts in the categories.  If they love to fish, want a calm but pretty resort, not too expensive; I might focus on Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside.  This Moderate Resort even has a good old fashioned fishin’ hole.  The client that wants queen size beds, nice restaurants, maybe a fitness center and wants to be close to the parks would be a perfect fit for a Deluxe resort.  Now we just find the one that appeals the most.  It really comes down to personal preferences, a great resort for 1 person may not be the right fit for another.  This is your vacation, pick the resort that fits you (not your cousin, or next door neighbor).

Next we’ll work on when to travel.  Most of the time, you’re going to have a specific time of year in mind because that is what works best for your schedule.  As a Disney travel planner, I’m going to help find the best deals available at that time and the least crowds for you.  If you’re interested in certain events, I’ll make sure that you don’t miss out on Star Wars weekends or the International Food & Wine festival by a day or week.  If you’re considering several different times, I’ll be able to identify the pluses & minuses of each for you.  For young children, going in the early/mid fall (after school has started) or early/mid-spring (before school gets out) are great times to go.  The crowds (and prices) are lower, and the weather is very comfortable.  Teenagers generally can’t miss as much school due to exams and High School athletics, so you may have to go at a busier time of year.   You may think that going in July will be awful, but it can be a great time to take teenagers.  Teens love to sleep in, we all know it so it’s easier to work around it.  The parks will be packed with small children during the day and it will get hot.  The parks tend to empty in the evening (especially after a rain storm) and the parks are generally open late (sometimes until 2 or 3am), the perfect time of day for teens.  My point is, even if you’re going during the busiest week of the year (Christmas), there are ways to plan your days so that you can enjoy your vacation, not be miserable.

Once the resort and dates are picked, the real fun begins.  This is when you start looking at park schedules and making your dining reservations.  I know what you’re thinking, “we don’t know what we’re having for dinner tonight, how do I know what I’m going to want in 180 days?!”   One of the the things that helps me with that, is the idea that this is a special meal; not just Tuesday night dinner.  Knowing that you’re going somewhere where you’ll be eating with Cinderella or at an African Lodge makes a big difference; at least for my family.  I like to look at the park hours and start planning which day(s) I want to go to each park.  Then based on that, I start making the advanced dining reservations.  I  know that if I do want to eat with Cinderella or have dinner at LeCellier in Canada at Epcot; I need to make those reservations 180 days out.  These are popular places, and with the popularity of the dining plan you can’t just walk up to most restaurants and expect to get a table at all, let alone without a 2 hour wait.   There’s that Dining Plan again, the one your cousin mentioned after their trip.  Disney offers several dining plan options.  These dining plans allow you to pre-pay for your meals while you’re at Disney World.  It’s a great way to budget your trip, and it’s convenient.  I’ll write about the dining plan details in a seperate post.  Once I get the “most important” reservations made, I fill in the rest of the schedule making adjustments as needed.

Having someone that has been to Disney World multiple times and knows the parks & resorts to help you plan your trip will make it much easier.  Just remember, this is a vacation, not work!   Do the proper planning before you go and then relax & enjoy your magical vacation.

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