Saturday, July 09, 2005

Halloween Party

One of the fun things we decided to do is attend Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party which takes place in the Magic Kingdom on about 20 different dates between September 30 and October 31. On the nights of the party, the Magic Kingdom closes down at 6:00 PM and only guests that have purchased tickets to the party are allowed to stay. The cost to attend is around $37.00. At the Main Entrance gate, your ticket is exchanged for an orange wristband identifying you as a party guest and you are given a small orange trick-or-treat bag. At 6:00 PM, regular guests are asked to leave the park, while party guests are herded over to Tomorrowland. During the next hour, the park is transformed into a kid-friendly Halloween Party. It is one of the most themed special events at the Magic Kingdom and provides an evening of great fun for adult and kids alike.

Here are some of the events that are scheduled throughout the evening:

Mickey’s Boo to You Parade (at 8:00 and 10:00 PM) – A fun parade of floats and characters you won’t see any other time. Disney characters in costume! Even Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet dress up in costume for the parade! About 10 minutes prior to the parade start time, Mr. Knickerbocker takes his place in front of the Liberty Bell and tells the story of the Headless Horseman. At the time he finished the story, the Horseman begins his gallop through the Magic Kingdom. Once the Horseman clears the entire parade route, the parade begins!

Adults and children trick-or-treat throughout the park in costume. At designated locations throughout the park, Cast Members give out treats. These special areas are marked with a Mickey Ear Pumpkin Balloon overhead.

Characters in Costumes – Characters in the meet and greet areas and throughout the park are in Halloween costume. This provides a unique photo opportunity.

Halloween Riverboat Ride – with strolling musicians, storytellers and character, this is always a popular show.

Main Street is transformed into an eerie sight with dark green and orange lights, pumpkins in the windows and shadows of witches and bats moving to and fro.

Complimentary Family Photo - get your picture taken with Mickey’s Halloween background and receive a free 4x6 in the mail.

Halloween Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks (9:15 PM) – Fantasy in the Sky with changes! Instead of Tinker Bell flying at the start of the fireworks, look for a witch on a broomstick near the end of the show. Awesome perimeter fireworks are also part of the show.

Attractions – most of the attractions are open.

A very few of the table service restaurants allow party guests to arrange a priority seating more than 90 days in advance. As soon as I learned that bit of information, I called Disney Dining and was able to secure a spot at the Liberty Tree Tavern at 6:50 PM, the earliest spot they had available at the time. Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Goofy and friends attend this character meal and they are usually dressed in Colonial garb. For the party, they will be dressed in Halloween costume. I think I would prefer to see them in their usual Colonial dress rather than in costume, but it will still be fun. I also would have preferred an earlier seating as this means we will be eating dinner with the party begins at 7:00 PM. I plan to call back at the 90 day mark when they will open up some earlier seating times.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Mother of all Guidebooks

"The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World," written by Bob Sehlinger, is by far the best guide book around and is jam packed with all the information you need to make the most of your trip. Since it isn’t sanctioned by Disney, you get good solid, unbiased information on every aspect of your trip. It covers everything including the best time to go, best and worst days to visit each theme park, detailed information on all dining options, tickets, hotels, attractions, entertainment, tips on where to get the best view for parades and fireworks, and much more. Although the author intended it to be a reference book, it’s a very entertaining read and many people (myself included) read it cover to cover.

I first became familiar with Bob Sehlinger’s wonderful guides almost 10 years ago when I purchased the 1995 edition of “The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland” on clearance at a bookstore. At the time, my mom, son and I had last visited Disneyland in October 1993 and weren’t planning any trips in the near future. However, the price of the book was very cheap and it looked interesting. Even though we had a great time on our trip in 1993, I learned so much from the book that it would have made the trip even better. So when we decided to go again during spring break in 2003, I purchased the current edition and read it cover to cover, at times sharing aloud funny passages with my family.

Of particular help in 2003 book was learning about the FastPass feature, which wasn’t available during our trip 10 years previous. We also made great use of the 2-day touring plan, one of several great plans outlined in the book. My son copied down the plan on a small index card and we carried it around with us as a reference. Being spring break, the park was rather crowded, although not nearly as crowded as it is during the summer. The 2-day touring plan enabled us to quickly see all the major attractions with a minimum wait in line.
As soon as I learned that we would be making the trip in October of this year, I purchased the Walt Disney World version of the Unofficial Guide from and waited impatiently for it to arrive. Once it did, I began reading; stopping periodically to mark important sections with purple Post-It flags. As I write this, I am almost all the way through and have gained such a vast array of knowledge, tips, and tricks, that I no longer feel overwhelmed with my lack of experience of WDW.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Six Days is Not Enough

The more I read and learn about Walt Disney World, the more I realize that while six days may be ample time to fully experience the Disneyland Resort in California, it seems like barely enough time to scratch the surface of all four Disney theme parks in Florida. It seems that the best thing to do is come up with a general outline of which parks to visit each day before we leave home, based on which park has the early and evening magic hours, the different parade and fireworks schedules, the table service restaurants we want to visit, keeping in mind the touring plans outlined in the unofficial guide. Once we arrive, we’ll concentrate on enjoying everything single thing that we are doing, without focusing on what we might be missing. Anything that we are unable to experience during this trip, can head up the list of things to do on the next trip, if we are so fortunate enough to be able to go back.

Since we have limited time, we plan to mainly focus on the attractions, shows, shops and exhibits that are unique to Walt Disney World and then, if there’s time, visit the things that are identical to their counterparts in California.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Refillable Mugs

One of the things I’m looking forward to is the refillable mugs that are offered at all the resorts. For $11.99 you can purchase a souvenir travel mug that can be refilled for free at your resort during your stay. Drink options include coffee, tea, hot chocolate, soda, apple juice and some type of slurpy beverage. Since the rooms don’t have coffee makers, I’ll be down at the food court every morning getting my morning cup of coffee. It may be entirely too hot to do this, but I’m also looking forward to getting a cup of hot chocolate at the end of the day.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Dining Plan

The primary reason we booked this trip and the thing that made it affordable, was the free Dining Plan that Disney is offering with our trip. This plan usually costs $35 per day and includes one table service meal, one counter service meal, and snack for each night that you’re booked at the resort. The table service meal allows you to select an appetizer, entrée, dessert and beverage. The counter service meal gives you an entrée (or combo meal), dessert and beverage. The snack is a choice of either a Mickey Mouse ice cream, a bag of chips, a piece of fruit, a small popcorn, a 20-oz bottled soft drink/water, or a medium fountain drink or apple juice. It will be plenty of food, more than we usually eat at one time. We are not in the habit of ordering appetizers with our meals and are usually too full to order dessert.

During our last two trips to Disneyland, we kept careful account of what we spent on meals and both times we averaged $26 per day per person. While we didn’t deprive ourselves, we also were careful with our spending. At the beginning of each trip, we stopped at the nearby grocery store and stocked up on cereal, snacks, pop, milk and juice. On most days we ate breakfast in our rooms before leaving for the Park. We would generally eat one big meal at the Park at either a nice table service restaurant or a counter service restaurant and then have smaller snacks throughout the rest of the day. Sometimes we would pick up dinner from the nearby Boston Market or El Pollo Loco and eat back in our rooms.

I seriously doubt that we could get away with $26 a day at Walt Disney World. Since we won’t have a car, we’ll have to eat all our meals at either one of the theme parks or at our resort. Even if we had to purchase the $35 a day meal plan, it would have been worth it.

Now with careful planning, we can get by almost exclusively using the meals provided by the Dining Plan. One evening, we spent a couple of hours reviewing all the table service restaurants and making a list of all the restaurants we wanted to try. Priority seating can be arranged 90 days in advance and I wanted to be prepared to call exactly 90 days before our trip.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Pop Century Resort

Since we didn’t want to spend a ton of money, we elected to stay at one of the value resorts. There are four value resorts at Walt Disney World; the All-Star Movie Resort, the All-Star Music Resort, the All-Star Sports Resort, and the Pop Century Resort. The Pop Century is the newest, having opening in December 2003. It’s a whimsical time capsule of 20th century pop culture. The resorts 2,880 rooms are set in colorful, decade-themed buildings depicting American life in the 1950’s – 1990’s. A second phase of the resort is under construction and will feature the 1900’s – 1940’s.

Each building represents a different decade and is decorated with massive icons from that era. For example, in the 90’s building, huge cell phones and computers decorate the grounds. There are also three pools, a food court, a shopping area, and an arcade.

The rooms themselves have either two doubles or one king bed and are decorated with accents portraying the decade of the building. Room amenities include an iron and ironing board, in-room safe, 25” TV, toiletries (with Mickey Mouse soaps), and dual line phones with voicemail and data port. Hairdryers and cribs are available upon request and refrigerators are available for a fee. You can also request a wake-up call from Mickey and his friends.

There are two different room types available, standard and preferred. Preferred rooms are located in the 60’s building which is the closest to the main building with the lobby, food court and bus stops. At the time we made our reservation, only preferred location rooms were available so that is what we chose. I’m really happy that it worked out that way. The resort itself is huge and anything I can do to reduce the amount of walking is great by me.

The shuttle buses run quite regularly from the resort to the different theme parks. From what I’ve read, the three All-Star value resorts all share a bus system, while the Pop Century has its own dedicated bus system. This means a reduced number of people trying to board the buses and fewer stops.

All in all, I think we made a good choice. From the pictures I’ve seen, this looks like a fun hotel to stay in and as long as there is ample air conditioning, we’ll be just fine.