Monthly Archives: March 2014

Magical Monday – The Four Parks of Walt Disney World

After much pondering and poring over my notes from the Agent Education Program, I’ve decided that the simplest way to begin sharing all this wonderful information is chronologically. I’ll be starting with the things I learned at the beginning of the week and gradually working my through, breaking it down into bite-sized chunks. Some of this may make you say, “Duh, Audra. I already knew that,” but I’m hoping there will be some “A-ha!” pieces in here for you, too. I know there were for me.

So…

In the beginning, there were four parks.

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Okay, that’s not even true. In the VERY beginning – October 1, 1971, to be exact – there was one park and two resort hotels.  The Magic Kingdom was the first park completed at Walt Disney World, and it is the most popular and well-known. Each of Disney’s four parks tells a story, and at the Magic Kingdom, the story is all about fantasy becoming reality. Whether you seek adventure, fantasy, or to venture into the future, the Magic Kingdom brings out the kid in you. There really is something for everyone here. I am a sucker for the nostalgic attractions – Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a Small World, and The Haunted Mansion. I love taking my kids on the very same rides I loved when I was their age.

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The second park to open at Walt Disney World, in 1982, was EPCOT Center, later shortened to just “EPCOT.” EPCOT is twice the size (land-wise) of the Magic Kingdom and is Disney’s park of discovery. EPCOT is separated into two very different sections – Future World and the World Showcase. I love EPCOT. I always have, even as a child when the 1980s computers couldn’t understand my Southern accent. It feels calmer than the Magic Kingdom. I love spending the morning riding Soarin’, Test Track, and Journey Into Imagination, then in the afternoon, slowly exploring the 11 countries of the World Showcase (especially the yummy food). Then, you can end the day sitting by the lake, watching Illuminations. Even though I do a lot more walking, it is relaxing to me in an unusual way.

There is a common misconception that EPCOT is not a good park for kids. This is not true. Everyone loves Soarin’. Test Track is one of Disney World’s best thrill rides, and also one of its fastest, topping out at 65 miles per hour. When the ride was reimagined a few years ago, Disney incorporated an interactive aspect where you get to design the car you will ride in while you wait. My eight-year-old has never ridden Test Track (he wasn’t quite tall enough on our last trip), but whenever we mention visiting Disney World again, it is the first ride he talks about. He really wants to design his own car.

Also in Future World, you can ride The Seas with Nemo & Friends and see Turtle Talk with Crush in the same building. This is a funny, interactive show where kids get to talk with Crush from Finding Nemo.

As you tour the countries of World Showcase, there are KidCot stations where kids can do crafts and create their own souvenirs for free! If you want, you can purchase a passport where they can collect stamps from each country as well.

Last, but certainly not least, there is Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure. You go undercover as a secret agent and help Agent P defeat the Evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz, looking for clues throughout the World Showcase. You can do this as a group, and each mission takes about 30-45 minutes to complete. So you see, there is plenty to do to keep children busy at EPCOT, encouraging them to learn and discover new things.

hollywoodstudios

The third Disney World park opened in 1989 – Disney’s Hollywood Studios. (You may have known it by a different name then. I won’t go into that crazy backstory here.) The story behind this park? Show business! When the park originally opened, there was a working production studio on site. I remember seeing a live taping of Mickey Mouse Club on the Backlot Tour when I was a kid. If only I had known then what I know now, I might have taken some pictures. 😉 There are a number of amazing shows here – Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!, MuppetVision 3D, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and Lights! Motors! Action! Extreme Stunt Show, just to name a few. Hollywood Studios is home to two of Disney’s most popular thrill rides – The Tower of Terror and The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. They’ve got Star Wars fans and Jack Sparrow fans covered, too with Star Tours, Jedi Training Academy, and The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Oh! And let’s not forget what may be the best Disney attraction to date – Toy Story’s Midway Mania! Even waiting in line for this ride is fun. You feel like you’re toy-sized!

Again, this park has a very different feel than the Magic Kingdom, but there is still something for kids of all ages here.

animal-kingdom

The fourth and largest park is Animal Kingdom, Disney’s park of adventure. Animal Kingdom opened in 1998. From the moment you step through the gate, you are encouraged to explore, immediately immersing you in adventure. There are multiple paths to choose from, and you decide how your Animal Kingdom adventure begins.

One of the most popular attractions here is Kilimanjaro Safaris, where you get to see wild animals up close and personal. As with the other three parks, there is something to entertain everyone here – thrill rides, shows, and our favorite, The Boneyard playground. You can even become a Wilderness Explorer here (you know, like Russell, from Up) and earn merit badges. There are over 30 activities throughout the park to engage your kids’ interest and help explore the different areas. This park is a favorite with animal lovers, as well as adventurers. There is an exciting new expansion beginning at Animal Kingdom, too…an Avatar area. I can’t wait to see how it progresses.

One last tip? Animal Kingdom, and specifically Kilimanjaro Safaris, is a great park to tour in the rain. The animals herd together, and you actually get to see more of them!

I cringe whenever a client tells me they want to skip a park, or when they tell me they don’t think their kids will enjoy EPCOT. Each park is very different, but you truly can find a way to enjoy yourself everywhere. If we’re planning your vacation together and you’re unsure what to do in a certain park, I will gladly make suggestions. 🙂

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Friday Five!

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This is new. It’s Friday. I feel like writing something, so I’m calling it the Friday Five. I may make this a weekly thing. I may not. We’ll see. I will limit myself to telling you five things. 🙂

1. My daughter is five. I couldn’t resist this one. She walked up behind me, so the number on the screen, and said, “Hey! That’s how many I am!”

2. On Monday, my newest nephew Henry made me an auntie again! It is times like this that I wish we lived closer to home. I have to wait until Easter weekend to meet him.

3. I have only had to watch/listen to Frozen twice this week. I think my mother-in-law bore most of the burden of excitement around this DVD release while I was away last week. It was a blessing in disguise, though, as I cannot even hear the first 15 minutes of this movie without suppressing sobs. I think this is because we saw Frozen in the theater the day after my grandmother died. The beginning of the movie is sad, yes, but I’m not usually this bad. Praise the Lord that it wasn’t Up we saw that day.

4. My little man’s birthday banner is still hanging in my kitchen. I might just leave it up until my birthday next month. I’ll start telling people I’ve decorated for myself early. 😉

5. I’ve been home almost a full week, and I am still dreaming about the Disney Dream. I may have to skip ahead in my chronology from last week so I can show it to you. The ship is aptly named. I really, really, really, really want to go on a Disney cruise.

Five things! I’m already done. Have a wonderful weekend!

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Run – It’s time to buckle down.

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I have really let myself go this winter. Neely no longer likes to play in the family room at the gym while I’m on a treadmill, and it has been hard to get over there most mornings. I try to use videos and do workout routines at home, but it’s really hard to be consistent. I can usually come up with something I’d rather do. Either that, or I get sidetracked doing something else and run out of time before I need to move on with my day. I have been exercising maybe twice a week – usually one run and one at-home workout.

I’ve really got to buckle down and get back to work. I did a pretty tough at-home workout on Monday, and yesterday, I wore myself out on the treadmill. I’m taking a day off today, but I plan to be back at it tomorrow. I have to get my cardio back to a good place, so I can start training for that half marathon I signed up for in November. November seems like it’s really far away right now, but I don’t want to let it creep up on me.

I’m writing about this here to hold myself accountable. I haven’t talked about running much lately, because honestly, I haven’t done much of it. I am really, really, really hoping that the weather begins to cooperate with me soon. It’ll be easier just to get outside and run than it is to drive to the gym, run, drive home, shower, etc. I’d really like to invest in a treadmill before winter hits next year. We’ll see how that goes.

For now, I’m taking baby steps. I’ve already run more this week than I did last week. I’d like to get two more runs in this week. Next week, I’ll probably stick to the same schedule, then start increasing the distance again the week after that.

What do you do when you’ve let your good habits fall by the wayside? How do you get back in the habit?

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Magical Monday – My Week at Disney’s Agent Education Program

Main Street at Night

Magic Kingdom’s Main Street at night is one of my favorite things.

After what may have been one of the busiest weeks I’ve had in quite some time, I’m back! The Agent Education Program at Walt Disney World is no joke, folks. I have learned so much. We toured parks and resorts, learned the ins and outs of Disney’s new My Magic+, saw the new Festival of Fantasy Parade in Magic Kingdom, toured New Fantasyland (no secret tour of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, sorry!), drove to Port Canaveral to tour the Disney Dream, and somehow in the midst of it all, we did our own park touring and exploring. I got to try a few restaurants I haven’t eaten at before, and I was able to see EPCOT’s Flower & Garden Festival in full swing. I didn’t get much sleep, and I did a whole lot of walking, but it was such a wonderful experience.

Peter Pan Float

Peter Pan’s Festival of Fantasy Parade Float

Everything I was able to do and see made it an incredible week, but I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I hadn’t been paired with the best possible roommate for me. Disney magic is for real, y’all. I don’t know how they knew to put us together. Thanks for being my buddy for the week, Kim!

Phineas & Ferb Topiary

Phineas & Ferb – One of many topiaries you can find as part of EPCOT’s Flower & Garden Festival.

Me & Goofy

Character selfies are a lot of fun.

I intend to start working my way through the pages and pages of notes and hundreds of photos that I took this week. Once I have everything organized, I’ll begin to share with you here. Magical Monday should be covered for a while. 🙂

Me & Mickey

Mickey came to celebrate our completing the week!

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Magical Monday – I’m going to Disney World!

WDW Today

By the time you read this, I will be on an airplane, headed to sunny Orlando for some on-site Disney training. I’m going to get smarter about Disney World, so I can pass my knowledge on to you. I am really excited about this opportunity, and I’m thrilled to be able to do this so early in my Disney journey.

I love helping all of you plan magical vacations for your family. I love that most of my clients so far are either friends, or have been referred to me by friends. I hope that this continues to be a successful adventure.

I’ll be reporting back on our next Magical Monday, but if you’d like a sneak peek of how the week is going, you can find me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. I will try to post updates and photos throughout my trip.

See you next week!

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Pokemon Birthday

DSC_0193We had a birthday here the other day. My little man turned eight! He is really, really, really into Pokemon these days. I know next to nothing about Pokemon, but thankfully, the Pokeball cake wasn’t too hard to pull off. Just pretend that white circle in the middle is fondant, too. I forgot to divide it and leave some white before I added the black food coloring, and I didn’t feel like making a second batch for that tiny piece. It’s a good thing I had white frosting!

DSC_0200I love Aidan’s face in this picture. He’s so excited!

DSC_0202Inhale…

DSC_0206Exhale!

This was also the first time we’ve hosted a sleepover for any of our kids’ friends. Oh, my goodness. I’m still recovering. These little guys stayed up until 1am and were alive and kicking by 8am. I have vague memories of being able to do that once upon a time. I wandered around like a zombie all day yesterday, and that was after I’d had a few cups of coffee. I think it’s safe to say I should not go back to college, or have another baby. I can no longer handle the sleep deprivation.

I hope everyone else had a restful weekend!

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Magical Monday – My Top Ten Disney World Tips

Once you’ve booked your hotel, made dining reservations, and picked out your Magic Bands, just thinking about your upcoming Disney World vacation can sometimes be daunting. Will we manage to do everything? Will my kids be able to handle all the walking? Are they going to be a nightmare to wait in line with? What should I pack? I have narrowed all of my Disney advice down to these ten tips that, if you choose to follow them, should help ease your mind and make your vacation more enjoyable.

This photo was taken outside Peter Pan's Flight during Magic Kingdom's morning extra magic hour. It pays to show up early. If I'd taken this later in the day, you'd barely be able to see daylight between the people on the walkway.

This photo was taken outside Peter Pan’s Flight during Magic Kingdom’s morning extra magic hour. It pays to show up early. If I’d taken this later in the day, you’d barely be able to see daylight between the people on the walkway.

1. Arrive at the parks at least 30 minutes before they are scheduled to open. I know this is your vacation. I know you’d really like to sleep in, but trust me on this. Arriving early gives you time to get tickets, rent strollers or wheelchairs, have your bags checked, etc. You’ll have time to ride several attractions with short lines before those who chose to sleep in even make it through the gate.

At the Magic Kingdom, you’ll get to see your favorite characters arrive at the Main Street train station via the Walt Disney World Railroad for rope drop. It’s a lot of fun.

2. Have a plan, but be flexible. It is best to have a general idea of how you’d like to approach the park, but if you’d rather ride The Haunted Mansion twice and skip The Hall of Presidents, do it! This is your vacation.

3. Wear comfortable shoes. I know that sounds like obvious advice, but trust me. Don’t buy a new pair of Chaco’s and break them in walking around Epcot – 300 acres of pain. Not that I know anyone who’s done that. Pack your most comfortable, broken-in sneakers. Your feet will thank you. If you decide to ignore this advice – pack band aids and blister pads.

4. Carry a backpack, especially if you have children with you. You can pack it with sunscreen, sunglasses, bottled water, hand sanitizer, cameras, ponchos, snacks, etc. Make sure everyone is comfortable wearing it, so you can take turns.

5. If you are traveling with young children, I highly recommend hitting up the dollar store, or the dollar section at Target, before your trip and stocking up on things that glow. Disney sells these during the parades and fireworks shows, and they can get pretty expensive…especially when you compare it to 12 glow bracelets for a dollar. Just be careful how you pack them. I opened a tube of live bracelets in the Magic Kingdom one evening and passed them out to all the kids around me in line for the Tomorrowland Speedway. I may or may not have embarrassed my husband. Those were some happy kids, though.

6. Bring your own costumes. You will see kids wearing them all over the parks, and you will pay a pretty penny to buy the same dress you saw at Target last week if you wait until you’ve arrived in Florida to purchase it. You can bring your own costume if you have an appointment at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, too. It will save you a lot of money, as the package that includes the princess dress is quite pricey. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique offers a knight package for boys, but if your little guy doesn’t want to be surrounded by fairy godmothers and glitter, you can take him to become a pirate at Pirates’ League in the Magic Kingdom. Another fun, free option is to sign the kids up for Jedi Training Academy in Hollywood Studios if you’ll be spending a day there. You’ll want to go straight to the ABC Sound Studio to sign your little padawan up when you enter the park, because Jedi Training Academy fills up quickly.

7. If you don’t want to spend the money on a package at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique or Pirates’ League, there are a few places in the Magic Kingdom where your child can be sprinkled with pixie (or pirate) dust for free. This is available at the Main Street Barber Shop, Sir Mickey’s in Fantasyland, or you can just ask for the sprinkling of pixie dust at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

8. Hidden Mickeys. These are a lot of fun to look for while you’re waiting in line for rides, exploring the park, etc. I married a man with low theme park endurance – this wasn’t covered in our pre-marital counseling. 😉 On our first trip to Disney World, I bought Steven Barrett’s book Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World’s Best Kept Secrets. We carried it everywhere, and his favorite part of the trip was hunting for the hidden Mickeys. This would also be great to take along if you have visited Disney World several times and want a new perspective as you’re in the parks.

9. The best, best, best way to see your favorite characters is to make a reservation for a character meal. Why? Because they come to you! When you find them in the parks, you have to wait in line. When you dine at a character meal, the characters make rounds in the restaurant while you enjoy your food. If you’re collecting autographs, be sure to have your autograph book ready with one of the big, fat pens (they’re easier for most of the characters to hold). If you want to see a list of available character dining experiences, check out this post from a few weeks ago.

10. Most importantly, HAVE FUN! Commit to have a no-complaining trip, and stick to it. Focus on being together and enjoying yourselves, and your vacation will be memorable no matter what.

Ready to plan? E-mail me: audra@atimetotreasuretravel.com

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Run – Wine & Dine, here I come!

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I registered for runDisney’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon yesterday, which means we’re going to Disney World!!!…..in November. Can it be November yet? Please? Not really, though, because I haven’t been running nearly enough to be prepared for a half marathon right now.

I am super duper extra excited! Is it too early to start making my costume? 🙂

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Big Bang Theory Understands

I stumbled across this video on Urban Running Girl‘s blog the other day, and with registration for Disney’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon opening in a few hours, it could not be more perfect. Go, go, go, go, go!

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Magical Monday – When should you start planning your Disney World trip?

I feel like I may be pulling one out of thin air today, friends. When I requested feedback on what Disney questions you wanted answered, nobody asked this one. To be honest, I was surprised, because it is the one thing I am most frequently asked by people who have begun thinking about planning a Disney World vacation.

“How early should I start planning my trip?”

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What I’d really like to say is, “As early as possible!” But of course, the answer is a little more complicated than that.

One of the things I (sort of) base my answer on is the fact that you can make your Disney World dining reservations 180 days in advance of your check-in date. For the most popular restaurants – Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Chef Mickey’s, ‘Ohana – this is an absolute must, especially if you’re traveling with a large party. It is sometimes possible to snag a reservation at these places less than 180 days from your trip, but it’s difficult. And most of the time, it’s going to be a really weird meal time – think 9:30pm for dinner. This just doesn’t work for most families with young children…or people who get grumpy when the normal dinner hour has passed and they still haven’t eaten, like me. To ensure that my clients get the dining reservations they want, I like to encourage booking as early as you can. I’m not saying I can’t get you a dinner reservation one month before you travel, but it may not be your first or even your second choice.

Having said that, when you book over six months in advance, there usually are not discounts available for your travel dates yet. (One exception to this are my military travelers – depending on the time of year.) You can choose dates to travel based dates when Disney has historically released discounts (example: free dining in the fall), and if/when a better rate becomes available for your trip, I can rebook it under the new rate. The bonus in doing this is that you have held a room at the resort you want, and we’ve already made sure you have reservations for the dining experiences you prefer.

Do you lose anything by making your reservation early and rebooking with a discount when it becomes available? No. When you make a package reservation at a Disney resort, you make a $200 deposit to hold each room. The deposit amount is one night’s stay if you are only making a room reservation (meaning you don’t need a dining plan or tickets). The very same deposit can be reapplied to the new reservation when I change your package to the discounted rate. The same cancellation policies apply, but you will not lose the deposit money.

I also get inquiries from people who know that they won’t be able to travel until next year sometime. There are a myriad of reasons – the kids will be the right age (this varies completely by family), you’ll be better set up to take time off work, you need time to save up the money. If this is you, don’t worry. While the exact rates for 2015 are not yet available, I will gladly work out a quote for where you think you want to stay, the dining package that suits your family best, and the park tickets you’ll need based on this year’s rates. These numbers will change some by next year, but it gives you a number to think about, something more tangible to save toward. Then when it is time to make that reservation, you’ll call me back and let me help, right? I mean, why wouldn’t you? It’s free! 🙂Signature-1

audra@atimetotreasuretravel.com

 

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