Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What Happens When You Disney Bound

A few years ago, I discovered "Disney Bounding" on Pinterest and immediately wanted to try it. For those who don't know, "Disney Bounding" is dressing like a Disney character without going into full replica costume. This could range anywhere from dressing in the character's iconic colors to closely matching the character's wardrobe style.

In 2012, I decided to attempt Disney Bounding on a trip to Disney World with my family. I searched local stores for the right clothing pieces to recreate some iconic Disney Princess looks. I found a pink dress for Aurora and a green dress with a purple cardigan for Ariel, both of which were subtle Disney Bounding outfits. However, my most recognizable outfit was a yellow skirt, blue tank top, and red short-sleeve cardigan. No longer being a teenager, I was a little embarrassed to so closely resemble the iconic ensemble of Snow White at my age. But once I stepped out of the hotel room, I knew there was no turning back.

We ate breakfast at the Grand Floridian Café, and as soon as we approached the hostess' stand, she immediately asked if I was dressed like Snow White. I hesitated, assuming that she must have thought I was weird for wearing that outfit at my age, but to my surprise, she thought it was awesome. The hostess' opinion seemed to be shared by most of the other Cast Members I encountered that day. While other guests didn't take notice of my clothes, the Cast Members certainly did and made sure to tell me how much they liked my outfit.

One of the best benefits of Disney Bounding was the reaction I received from the Disney face characters, especially the other princesses. We spent the day at Epcot and met Princess Aurora, Belle & Beast, Aladdin & Jasmine, Mary Poppins, Mulan, Snow White, and several others. Each Disney Princess told my I looked just like their good friend, Snow White, and asked if I knew her. Snow White herself enjoyed pointing out the fact that we matched. I learned that Disney Bounding, especially when your outfit closely resembles an iconic character, can add to the interactions you have with characters, even for adults.

So if you're thinking about Disney Bounding, go for it. You might find that it's not for you, or you might find that you love the extra attention from Cast Members and characters. Plus, it makes for great photos!

Friday, April 1, 2016

What to Pack in Your Bag for the Walt Disney World Parks

(Image credit (bags): ebay.com and disneystore.com)

When spending the day at the parks at Walt Disney World, the last thing you want to do is tote around a huge, heavy bag. While Disney has made some progress in lightening your load by virtually eliminating the need for a wallet with the Magic Band, there are still several items essential to having a pleasant day at the parks (especially during the summer time). If you're traveling with other adults, consider splitting the items between smaller bags and sharing the load to help prevent one person from having an aching back and sore shoulders by the end of the day.

1. Magic Bands
EVERYTHING is connected to your Magic Bands, including your park tickets, credit card, Fast Passes, dining meal credits, etc. DO NOT leave these behind--EVERYONE in your group will need their Magic Band at ALL times. If your little ones won't wear them, keep them in your bag where they are easily accessible throughout the day.
(Image credit: micechat.com)

2. Photo ID
I would advise never traveling anywhere without a photo ID. At Disney World, it can serve as a back-up to the fingerprint scanners, and anyone wishing to purchase an adult beverage will obviously need to show their ID to prove they are over 21.

(Image credit: verifiedvoting.org)

3. Smartphone
You probably already bring your phone everywhere, but just in case you were thinking about going off the grid while at Disney World--DON'T. Yes, please refrain from checking your work email or taking selfies every 15 seconds for Snapchat; instead, spend time with your family/friend group that came with you to Disney World! However, you might want to download the My Disney Experience app and keep it with you in the parks to check on wait times, view the parade and event schedule, map out character greetings, update Fast Passes, keep track of dining reservations, etc.

(Image credit: readersdigest.co.uk)

4. Camera
I know you can always use your phone as your camera. But if you're using the My Disney Experience app all day and relying on it as your sole source for picture-taking all over the park, your phone battery will inevitably die right as you are walking up to meet Mickey Mouse or run out of storage halfway through the castle projection show (trust me, I know from experience). That's why it is always a good idea to have an actual camera, at least as a back-up. Whether it's a fancy professional camera or a little point-and-shoot, you won't regret having it with you.

(Image credit: amazon.com)

5. Sunscreen
Bring it with you in the summer. Bring it with you in the winter. ALWAYS bring sunscreen with you. You can still burn in 55 degree weather, and trust me, in Florida, you WILL burn. Make sure it is water-proof, sweat-proof, and a high enough SPF to effectively protect you. You really don't want to spend the rest of your trip to Disney World with painful, bright-red sunburn.

(Image credit: walgreens.com)

6. Chapstick/Blistex
Make sure it has at least SPF 15 in it. Just like your skin, your lips can burn, and it's painful. Protect your lips from the sun just as you would the rest of your face.

 (Image credit: painawayshop.com)

7. Sunglasses & Case
When it's sunny, it's really bright in Florida. When it's cloudy, it can still be really bright in Florida. Glare from the clouds and all the concrete in the parks can hurt your eyes too, so protect them. Without sunglasses, it can sometimes be so bright that it makes it difficult to see, especially in Epcot. And don't forget to bring a case for your sunglasses so they don't get scratched or broken when you put them in your bag to go on a ride.

(Image credit: sunglassesforsport.com)

8. Water Bottle
Always stay hydrated, or you're in for a difficult day. Bring along a water battle that you can continue to fill up throughout the day. You definitely don't want to pay for an expensive bottled water in the parks. For those who are not overly fond of the taste of Florida water, you might even want to consider purchasing a filtered water bottle.

(Image credit: walmart.com)

9. Ponchos
When you visit Disney World, it will rain. Not maybe, not possibly--it WILL rain (yes, I know there's still a chance it won't, but it's best to be prepared). Getting caught in the rain and soaked through at Disney World can leave you feeling miserable the rest of the day (again, I know from experience). Keep yourself dry with ponchos, and avoid paying an exorbitant amount for them in the parks by stocking up at Walmart or the dollar store for $1 each before your trip.

(Image credit: amazon.com)

10. Flip-Flops
One of the worst feelings is walking around all day in sopping wet tennis shoes. Your socks and feet are soaked inside your shoes, and you make a terrible squishing sound with every step. I have personally learned that keeping a pair of rubber flip-flops in your bag can be a lifesaver for those days when you get caught in a downpour at the parks. I'd rather let my feet dry out in the open air as I walk around than let them stay wet all day in soaked canvas and mesh shoes.

(Image credit: pinterest.com)

11. Ziplock Bags
Pack several gallon-sized Ziplock bags. They are great for storing wet clothes, bathing suits, shoes, etc. in your bag. They can also serve as an extra protective layer for phones, cameras, IDs, etc. when you're on water rides or get caught in the rain.

(Image credit: linguagarden.com)

12. Antibacterial Hand Wipes
Pack a small container of baby wipes in your bag. You'll find that you're not always near a bathroom to wash your hands before you eat, so cleaning up with an antibacterial wipe serves as a quick alternative (and makes you feel a little cleaner than simply applying hand sanitizer). They are also great for removing the inevitable stickiness that comes with eating ice cream or cotton candy.

(Image credit: pinterest.com)

13. Mini First Aid Kit
Great for treating small scrapes and big headaches. Yes, you can always find a Cast Member who will direct you to a real First Aid station if you really need it. But sometimes it's easier just to whip out some Neosporin and a Band-Aid and fix the problem right then and there without taking any more time out of your day (or leaving the hour-long line you've been standing in). Don't forget to include the Tylenol, Ibuprofen, or Advil!

(Image credit: amazon.com)

14. Pennies and Quarters
One of the cheapest and most fun souvenirs at Walt Disney World is the pressed penny/quarter. There are stations everywhere with tons of different designs, and it can be fun to try to collect them all. Make sure you have plenty of shiny pennies and quarters with you to take advantage of this great souvenir.

(Image credit: pinterest.com)

15. Pins and Lanyard
Collecting and trading pins can be another fun activity at Disney World. Many Cast Members have their own lanyards with pins that they will gladly trade with kids. Lanyards are available in all different colors and patterns in the gift shops for keeping track of your pins.

(Image credit: pinterest.com)

16. Autograph Book and Sharpie
If you plan on meeting any of the Disney characters at the park, make sure you bring along an autograph book and a Sharpie (this makes it easier for the characters to write--in fact, some will not sign autographs with a regular-sized pen). Kids love collecting autographs from their favorite characters, and an autograph book is something they can look back at long after you've returned home. Autograph books can be purchased in the parks, but you can purchase cheaper alternatives elsewhere before your trip or get creative and make your own.

(Image credit: pinterest.com)

Have any other can't-do-without items for your park bag? Let us know in the comments below!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How to Meet as Many Characters as Possible at Epcot

When most people want to meet Disney characters, the first place that usually comes to mind for meet-and-greets is the Magic Kingdom. While the MK is a great place to meet lots of characters, especially the Disney Princesses, it can often be difficult to actually meet the characters with ridiculously long wait times. Some of the meet-and-greets are treated like other attractions, complete with Fast Passes and timed queues. What many people don't realize is that Epcot plays host to quite a few characters as well, including some otherwise hard-to-find characters. With characters strategically placed all along the World Showcase, it can often be easier to meet some of your favorites at Epcot than anywhere else at Disney World. Here are some tips for maximizing your Epcot meet-and-greets:

1. Map it out
Think about where in Epcot you want to start your day, take a look at the park map and times guide, and plan accordingly. You don't necessarily have to base your entire day on character meet-and-greet times, but keep them in the back of your mind as you tour the World Showcase. Focus on the characters you want to meet most, then start your "journey around the world" at Mexico or Canada based on your character priorities. And don't forget to check for any meet-and-greets in Future World as well!

2. Arrive early (but not too early!)
No one wants to waste their entire day waiting in line to meet a character! But as with anything at Disney, a little waiting is required at each meet-and-greet. Characters in the World Showcase generally meet guests for a 45-minute period, take a break for about 15 minutes, and then return for another meet-and-greet session. My advice is to jump in line as soon as you see characters leaving their designated spot for their break. Most guests leave the area when the characters do, so joining the line at that time will usually put in you right up front. I've never had to wait more than 20 minutes to meet a character with this strategy (compared to wait times upwards of 60 minutes for the princesses at the Magic Kingdom--and make that 120 minutes for Anna and Elsa!).

3. Don't stress!
If you get too busy enjoying the shops, food, and scenery at one of the countries in the World Showcase and miss a character meet-and-greet, don't sweat it! Characters in the World Showcase usually have several morning appearances and several afternoon appearances. They routinely take short breaks between appearance times, and the character you missed will most likely be back in about 15 minutes. If you are trying to make your next character meet-and-greet, check your time guide for a later appearance time and circle back around. This works especially well if you start as soon as the World Showcase opens in the morning, giving you plenty of time in the afternoon to make any character appearances you may have missed earlier in the day.


4. Check out Character Spot
Tucked away in Future World at Epcot is a designated (and queued) character meet-and-greet area called Character Spot. While Fast Passes are available and sometimes necessary to meet the characters housed at Character Spot, there are times during the day when lines are exceptionally low and wait times are under 10 minutes. My husband and I reserved Fast Passes last year for later in the day and didn't even need them--the queue was only 5 minutes! Character Spot usually plays host to Mickey and friends, but has seen other characters pass through. Rumor has it that Joy and Sadness from Inside Out might be heading to Character Spot in the near future!

5. Consider Character Dining
If you want to meet even more characters and have a slightly more personalized visit with them, consider character dining. Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in the Norway pavilion offers the chance to meet several Disney Princesses during your meal. Instead of waiting in line, the princesses make their way around the restaurant to greet each table, take pictures, sign autographs, and share a brief conversation. Just be careful which characters you meet throughout the day if you plan to dine at Akershus. You wouldn't want your child to be confused when Snow White in Akershus doesn't quite look like the Snow White she just met in Germany!

Below is a list of all of the characters I have personally seen at Epcot along with their locations, followed by a list of other characters currently at Epcot.

Characters I have seen at Epcot:
Mary Poppins - UK
Marie (Aristocats) - France
Aurora- France, Akershus
Belle - France, Akershus
Beast - France
Aladdin - Morocco
Jasmine - Morocco
Snow White - Germany, Akershus
Mulan - China
Mickey - Character Spot
Minnie - Character Spot
Goofy - Character Spot
Ariel - Akershus
Cinderella - Akershus

Other characters currently at Epcot:
Alice - UK
Baymax - Character Spot
Daisy Duck - Friendship Ambassador Gazebo
Donald Duck - Mexico
Pluto - Legacy Plaza

Leave a comment below with any other tips, tricks, experiences, and observations regarding meeting characters in Epcot!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Why the Grand Floridian is My Absolute Favorite

The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa is one of the most famous hotels at Walt Disney World. It has been featured on many television shows, and I remember, when I was young, falling in love with the whole look and feel of the hotel when it made an appearance on Full House. Let's not forget the scene when DJ is walking down the main lobby stairs and sees Steve, who has surprised her by making the trip to Disney World after spending a few agonizing days apart during which she thought she saw him everywhere she looked, including as Indiana Jones and Aladdin (the character he actually voiced in the animated film). I have had the opportunity to stay at the Grand Floridian twice, and while the other Disney World hotels that I have experienced have been top notch, here are 8 reasons (in no particular order) that the Grand Floridian is my absolute favorite:

1. Atmosphere
As a Deluxe resort, the Grand Floridian is especially immersive. From the moment you drive onto the property, you are surrounded by the luxurious, Victorian atmosphere. From timely cast member costumes to exquisite hotel room furnishings, the resort makes you feel as though you have stepped back in time to a more simple yet elegant era. The atmosphere of the hotel invites you to relax, take a stroll around the grounds, and enjoy the beautiful Florida sunshine. Even after a long, busy day of running around the parks, the Grand Floridian truly allows you to unwind and rest up for your next adventure.

2. Architecture
I absolutely love taking the ferry back from the Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian and admiring the gorgeous white buildings and red roofs that populate the resort. The view from the Seven Seas Lagoon is breathtaking, and the architecture is just as beautiful up close, adding to the overall grandeur of the resort.

3. Music
Nothing says "Deluxe resort" like live music in the hotel lobby every evening, and the Grand Floridian is the most deluxe of them all. Whether it's the pianist on the main floor playing familiar Disney songs or the big-band style ensemble playing a variation of tunes, the live music sets the Grand Floridian apart from all other resorts I have visited.

4. Landscaping
Walking the grounds of the Grand Floridian after breakfast on a sunny morning or at sunset in the evening is one of my favorite things to do outside the Disney World parks. The grounds of the resort are so meticulously well-maintained, and the attention to detail in the beautiful landscaping really amplifies the luxury of the hotel.

5. Restaurants
The Grand Floridian boasts 6 table-service restaurants (one of which is character dining), 3 quick-service dining locations, and 2 lounges. It is also the proud home to the Four Star/Five Diamond awarded Victoria & Albert's. While the fine dining locations can be pricey, I have found that nothing beats a Mickey waffle breakfast in the bright and elegant (and, thankfully, affordable) Grand Floridian Café before heading off to the Magic Kingdom. It's easy to use up all of your Disney Dining Plan meal credits at this resort alone!

6. Service Quality
All of Disney World's Cast Members are trained to treat guests like royalty, but the service they provide at the Grand Floridian goes above and beyond. From the moment you step out of your vehicle, you are greeted by friendly Cast Members willing to help direct you, park your car for you, handle your luggage for you, etc. The front desk and concierge are always willing to help with whatever you may need, and we have been fortunate enough to receive a free room upgrade in the past (complete with a gorgeous view of the castle). My family and I have even received a golf cart ride back to our building after a long day at the Magic Kingdom. The staff at the Grand Floridian truly upholds the Deluxe resort designation.

7. Cleanliness
As you might expect, the Grand Floridian, in my experience, is spotless. From the rooms to the lobby to the pool deck, the absolute cleanliness of the resort proves its status as a luxurious Deluxe hotel, making you feel comfortable and right at home.

8. Location
You can't beat standing on the balcony of your hotel room and watching the fireworks explode over Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom! As one of the three hotels located on the shores of the Seven Seas Lagoon, the Grand Floridian is in a truly magical location. Guests can ride the monorail, take a ferry, or even walk to the Magic Kingdom! The resort is also very close to the Polynesian and Contemporary, so visiting these classic hotels during your vacation is a must. The Grand Floridian is even home to a wedding pavilion overlooking the lagoon with Cinderella Castle in the background, making it the perfect location for that special day!

Friday, March 18, 2016

5 Reasons to Stay at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel

When planning a trip to Walt Disney World, there are an abundance of hotel options in and around Disney World. While booking a hotel in Kissimmee or Orlando might be a little easier on the wallet, there are so many benefits to staying on-site that you can only get at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel.

1. Quality

Nothing compares to the Disney standard for quality service! Disney pays close attention to every detail and trains all Cast Members (employees) to represent the Disney brand respectably. Whether you're staying at the top Deluxe resort or the most affordable Value hotel, you can rest easy knowing that your room will be clean, the property will be well-maintained, and the service will be friendly and helpful.

2. Convenience

Staying at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel means that you are right in the middle of the action, within close proximity to at least one park and with access to free Disney transportation. Parking at Walt Disney World Resort hotels is complimentary for guests, and you always have option to drive from park to park if you prefer to do so. But why drive and fight the parking lot crowd when you can use Disney's transportation and get dropped off near the park entrance?! All Walt Disney World Resort hotels provide guests with free bus transportation to and from any of the Disney World parks. Three of the Deluxe hotels (Contemporary, Grand Floridian, and Polynesian) are connected to the monorail, which is a ride in and of itself and can take you to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, or the Transportation Center. Additionally, several resorts have access to ferry transportation to select parks.

3. Extra Magic Hours

Disney parks can be VERY crowded, especially during the mid-day hours. But did you know that as a Walt Disney World Resort hotel guest, you can stay in the park after it closes to the general public? Extra Magic Hours are available for select parks on select days to all Walt Disney World Resort hotel guests, giving you the opportunity to experience a much less crowded park for a couple of hours before the park opens or after the park closes to all other guests. I can personally attest to the benefit of Extra Magic Hours, having experienced wait times of less than 10 minutes for rides that consistently had over 2 hour long wait times during regular operating hours. I even rode the Rockin' Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios three times in about 20 minutes!

4. Dining Plan

The Disney Dining Plan is offered as an option with Disney's Magic Your Way vacation package when booking your stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel. While not for everyone, the Disney Dining Plan offers a level of comfort and convenience when planning your dining options for your Disney vacation. There are different types of dining plans, but the most common gives you credits for one snack, one quick service meal, and one table service meal per night booked at a Disney hotel. These credits can be used at virtually any Walt Disney World restaurant. Some "signature" restaurants require two meal credits, so making restaurant reservations does require a little research and planning. However, when used properly, the Disney Dining Plan can save you money, especially if you plan to eat at the pricier restaurants or have kids that will want a snack every day! Plus, it's definitely convenient to have your dining pre-paid and not have to worry about budgeting for meals during your trip.

Extra tip: Use your daily snack credit to purchase a muffin, cinnamon roll, fruit cup, etc. at your hotel for a quick breakfast before heading to the parks for the day.

5. Total Immersion

I almost named this point "atmosphere," but that one simple word just didn't quite fully describe what I wanted to say. Yes, other hotels outside of Walt Disney World can provide a fantastic and fun-filled experience with outstanding dining options, themed rooms, and amazing pools and water parks. However, the atmosphere you experience at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, especially at one of the more heavily themed Deluxe or Moderate hotels, truly pulls you in and immerses you in the full Disney experience. Kids and adults alike can appreciate the thrill and excitement of spending every minute of your vacation at Disney World rather than just the park operating hours. From breakfast with the Disney Princesses in a hotel restaurant and evening campfires with Chip and Dale, to the Hidden Mickeys in the carpet and the Disney towel origami left in your room by "mousekeeping," Walt Disney World Resort hotels offer that extra special touch to make your vacation truly magical!