Are You and Irma Scheduled to Visit Walt Disney World Together?

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So Hurricane Irma just upgraded to a category 5 storm and Walt Disney World is officially in the "cone of uncertainty". If things continue on this path a landing looks possible as early as this weekend.

What does that mean?

  1. The cone of uncertainty is the POSSIBLE track the storm could take. Hurricanes have a mind of their own- unfortunately it is impossible to have much time for planning because you never know for sure where it will land.
  2. A category 5 hurricane is as bad as it gets. The wind speeds, surge from the ocean or gulf, and rainfall are all at their most dangerous. Also expect tornados to nearby communities. Cat 5's are also typically very large and affect even more people.
  3. Walt Disney World is not on the coast, that does help, but in a storm of this magnitude it can still be dangerous inland as well.

What to Expect if the Hurricane hits.

  1. Power Outages
  2. Interruption in Water Service
  3. Extremely Slow Traffic
  4. Slow Reaction Time from First Responders
  5. Gas Lines
  6. Damage to your Car if it's in a Parking Lot
  7. Closed Air Ports

But I'm headed to Disney World?!?!

Here is the official Disney page concerning hurricane policies. 

https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/faq/hurricane-policy/

Questions I still had after reading the official policy. 

  • Unfortunately any re-scheduling or cancelling of a trip with full refunds can not happen until a WARNING is issued.
  • Warnings are typically not issued until the storm is about 2 days away (with a storm this strong maybe 3 days).
  • If you are using a travel agent that IS the same as a direct Disney booking.
  • Hurricane Season and Free Dining are the same time- If you need to reschedule the free dining is MAYBE still included. Availability is the key, another reason to make a decision and call as soon as you have a plan if you need to re schedule!

Whoo Hoo- here's my chance at experiencing a Hurricane Party!

Well, Maybe! I'll admit I've had a couple of fun nights waiting out a hurricane by candlelight, BUT we never had a hurricane party for a big storm- we left. At a hotel (even a Disney Hotel) there are some other things to consider.

  • Most rooms at Disney Hotels open to the outside. Only some deluxe resorts are entirely indoors and connected to restaurants and the lobby.
  • Nobody is in the parks- therefore EVERYONE is in the restaurants, arcades and lobby.
  • Getting snacks, water and beverages in the room will be a challenge. Grocery stores are bare!

What if we stay?

  • There is often special entertainment at the resorts if the parks do need to close.
  • The resorts have boxed lunches to help with restaurant issues (they're not great, or cheap, but they have them)
  • If the parks close, your tickets will be refunded (but not your room).
  • Disney has very good generators, but that doesn't mean they are 100% reliable, or that full power will be on.

Mickey's Not So  Scary Halloween Party

There is a party scheduled for Sunday the 10th. If the event doesn't happen there will be refunds given. If there is a hurricane warning issued and you chose to re-schedule, a refund is possible. Please remember to specifically mention this when speaking with your travel agent or Disney Reservation about re-scheduling or cancelling your vacation.

Tips for booking a vacation during Hurricane Season

  • Use a travel agent, then they can be on the phone for 2 hour hold times... I can suggest a great agency with practical experience for guests with special needs. www.exclusivetravelpartners.com
  • Be aware that the season is from August through November, most activity is in September and October- but patterns continue to change and become more intense.
  • Strongly consider trip insurance. Refunds and rescheduling only happens with a WARNING. Families with special needs can't always wait that long to take action. The risk of heavy traffic, being stuck in an airport, or being without essentials like electricity and water are to high.

Whatever you decide please be safe! 

 

 

 

 

Change is Coming to Walt Disney World!

Updated 7/17/17 to include MinnieVan accessibility.

Yesterday was the highly anticipated Parks Panel at D23. There are many big things planned, and some of them affect the parks in less than a month!

What is D23???  D23 is the bi-annual Disney convention held in Anaheim. Think ComicCon for Disney fans. There are 3 days full of panels and discussions covering animated films, live action films, celebrating Disney past and present and inducting the newest class of Disney Legends. Plus a convention floor full of vendors with fun Disney products.

Every year there were many rumors about the parks leading up to the official announcements. Some were true, others half true, some not at all. Then there were surprises, and sadly none of the announcements came with as much detail as I would like...

Magic Kingdom-

There are big changes here, but nothing looks to be in danger of leaving!

  1. Tron light coaster coming to Tomorrowland. This is a ride that is already in Shanghai and it's very popular, based on the 80's cult classic movie TRON. It will not be replacing anything, and from the concept art it appears that it will go over both the railroad and the path along Space Mountain to Fantasyland (a great area for running out some energy). You must transfer from your wheelchair to experience this attraction. Other accessibility details are not listed on the Shanghai maps.
  2. New theater near Main Street. A big beautiful theater designed to be like the iconic Willis Theater from Kansas City in the 1920's. This venue will be the home for world class entertainment similar to the shows currently entertaining guests at California Adventure Park in Anaheim. Where will it go??  I have seen guesses ranging from replacing the Exhibition Hall on Town Square (where Mickey and Tinkerbell are) to an area right behind the hall near the easy exit from fireworks beside the Confectionary (currently a backstage space not visible to guests).

EPCOT

There are many changes brewing and a long time favorite will be replaced.

All of this is concept- It's sort of hard to understand all of it- but it's pretty!

All of this is concept- It's sort of hard to understand all of it- but it's pretty!

 

  1. Future World is getting a new look. The entrance and much of the current aesthetic will be updated. 
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy will have an attraction. There really weren't any details about the ride- but it's sure to have a fun soundtrack! The Universe of Energy Pavilion will be the new GOTG location, meaning we will have to say goodbye to the current attraction starring Ellen DeGenerous, Bill Nye and DINOSAURS.- This closing will be SOON. August 14, 2017. If you have a fan of dinosaurs, prepare them. Walt Disney World will only have the intense ride DINOSAUR that is in Animal Kingdom for true dinosaur fans. Cute and funny dinosaurs that are not frightening are still also found in Animal Kingdom.
  3. Mission Space is being re-themed for a more timid audience. The green side, indicating it is less intense, will be different when it re-opens from it's current refurbishment in September.
  4. New Space themed table service restaurant. Details were not shared, but I am assuming it will be located in the East side of Future World between Guardians of the Galaxy and Mission Space. 
  5. World Showcase- China Pavilion will get a new film. This will be a seam free Circle Vision film.
  6. The French Pavilion will receive a new ride- Ratatouille! This is currently a popular ride in the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris, France (the real one). It is based on the Pixar film by the same name. The ride takes you through the kitchen of a famous french restaurant from Remy's point of view,so everything is really big while immersing you in sound, smells and action. The cars are shaped like rats and it is a trackless ride. I haven't ridden it yet, but fans that have are excited it's coming to Epcot. This attraction in France has cars that are wheelchair accessible and service animals are allowed.

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Much of the announcements for this park are just confirming what was already public- but there is a big change and some fun details to report.

This is the first ride featuring Mickey or Minnie (Sorcerer Mickey was in The Great Movie Ride, but he wasn't the star!)

This is the first ride featuring Mickey or Minnie (Sorcerer Mickey was in The Great Movie Ride, but he wasn't the star!)

  1. The Great Movie Ride is closing. The iconic Chinese Theater will still hold court at the end of Hollywood Boulevard, but the inside will have a ride starring Mickey and Minnie! Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railroad will take you into a cartoon! The style is based on the current shows seen on The Disney Channel with an original plot line and music. The ride function itself sounds to me like it's similar to Ratatouille with a trackless car. Hopefully that means it can be accessible too. We won't really know those details until it is ready to open, and no, they didn't give us an opening date. But August 13, 2017 is the last day for The Great Movie Ride.
  2. Toy Story Land is opening Summer of 2018. Explore the land built by Andy and his imagination. Ride the Slinky Dog Roller Coaster, a ride that will be comfortable for guests of most ages with a size and scale similar to Goofy's Barnstormer in the Magic Kingdom. Make the aliens "eternally grateful" as you join them in spinning while the claw attempts to make you the chosen one (inspired by the ever popular Pizza Planet)! With Toy Story Midway Mania having a new opening to complete this "land" it sounds like a fabulous time!
  3. Star Wars Land has a name- Galaxy's Edge! D23 unveiled a new model of this immersive new land. Galaxy's Edge will have interactions with favorites like BB-8 and R2D2 as well as many other creatures you will recognize from this beloved franchise. A specific opening date was not announced, but it arrive in the Orlando Galaxy in 2019 before the end of the Summer.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

I'm just kidding with this header. Animal Kingdom just had 2 big years adding a nightlife and Pandora: The Land of Avatar. i think it's set for awhile.

Transportation

Transportation is not typically as exciting as Park news- but with Disney everything can be magical!

Concept art for gondolas

Concept art for gondolas

  1. Disney's Skyliner- A new air gondola system will connect Epcot to the Caribbean resort, to Pop Century, Art of Animation and Hollywood Studio's. Fun concept art was released, but not many details. I know the modern urban gondolas have air conditioning, are wheelchair accessible and many even have wi-fi, but these features are all assumptions I'm making... My daughter Meg say's she and Steve, my husband are still taking the bus because they dislikes heights- Ben and I will wave as we fly over them!
  2. MinnieVans- No I didn't turn off my spell check. Disney is launching there own ride sharing service similar to Lyft or Uber with cute vans stylized like Minnie. This mode of transportation helps when you have a dinner reservation in a different resort, or the busses just won't get you there in time. UPDATE- The vans are now running. Speak to Guest services in the resorts or Parks to book a ride. Foldable wheelchairs and strollers are welcome. The vans can not accommodate electric chairs or EVC. The cost is $20/ride.
Aren't they cute? Ben loves the word play. :)

Aren't they cute? Ben loves the word play. :)

Resorts

Two very different resorts were announced!

  1. Star Wars Resort! This is a fully inclusive experience unlike anything else Disney has done before. This property is an attraction all by itself, not just a hotel where you sleep and maybe swim. You will experience this on days you do not go to the parks. It is fully immersive, that includes activities, costumes (even you) your meals and food. It is rumored to take 2 days to do everything, requiring a 2 night minimum stay. Obviously there will be MANY more details. As soon as I have them I will let you know! One very well educated guess from good contacts says is it will be located across from the Swan and Dolphin hotels where Fantasia Gardens is. Remember- the only thing announced by Disney was a fully immersive and unique Star Wars themed resort- the rest is well informed rumor (not usually my style to share but this seems like a decent exception).
  2. Riviera Resort will be a new DVC (Disney Vacation Club) property in the Epcot Area. It will be connected to the new Skyliner Gondolas and have a rooftop restaurant with views of Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios. Look for the opening in the Fall of 2019.

Yes, That was a lot!! The hardest part will be waiting for all of the magic to begin! As soon as I have updates I will be sure to post them!

 

This is What It's All About!

Ben was really hoping Chip and Dale would like his shirt!

Ben was really hoping Chip and Dale would like his shirt!

Disney is the brand that helps my family connect. In the modern age of busy schedules, personal electronics and traditional teenagers, connecting is not easy for most families. Add Autism and it's more of a challenge. Disney and all of it's synergy with Star Wars, Marvel and The Muppets are the key for us. The movies, music, parks and memories give us relatable topics to share when we are able to be together.

Meg is always trying on the silly hats! Mike Wazowski is a FAVORITE!

Meg is always trying on the silly hats! Mike Wazowski is a FAVORITE!

Connecting is hard. Ben is on the Autism Spectrum. He (we) are very lucky that he is able to be successful in many things, but relationships, conversations and affection do not come easily. Disney helps us make those connections. Little things like playing Disney music in the car, or seeing a movie he will enjoy with the rest of us gives us a place to start a connection. Bigger things, like being able to visit the parks and immerse ourselves in Disney AND get to spend dedicated time together, gives our family the tools to talk together about memories of past trips and plans for future vacations. All of us can laugh, remember and wonder together.

 

 

 

 

 

Ben's mission for this summer was to show Chip and Dale the shirt his grandma got him for Easter. So on the morning we were going to the Magic Kingdom, Ben has his shirt on and he is ready. When we are through the gates, instead of power walking to the first ride of the day we are waiting in Town Square for a few minutes to meet Chip and Dale. Ben just kept giggling, almost busting in anticipation!

Ben is HUGGING Chip!

Ben is HUGGING Chip!

Out they come, we waited patiently while another group met with them. Then it was our turn, as we approached they spotted his t- shirt. Boy were Chip and Dale excited! They spun Ben around and he HUGGED them. To say Ben is not a hugger is an understatement. Family and teachers learned long ago the different ways Ben would accept greetings and goodbyes, a raised eyebrow or thumbs up is high praise, but rarely was a hug part of the plan. But Chip and Dale- they are where it's at! He posed for me and the photo pass photographer. He was thrilled, and I didn't stop crying until we got all the way to Space Mountain.

Ben enjoyed the "Happiest Cruise in the World" 4 times this vacation!

Ben enjoyed the "Happiest Cruise in the World" 4 times this vacation!

 

Every vacation has new things we love to do, restaurants we want to try, as well as hit the favorites. This year we LOVED the Music of Pixar Live, where a live orchestra on stage AND characters bring the music of Pixar films to life at Hollywood Studios; the new fireworks show at Magic Kingdom "Happily Ever After" is AMAZING and we watched it in style with a dessert viewing party; Laughed at the Muppets in Liberty Square (we love the muppets and Meg is a new history major); plus this year PANDORA: The Land of Avatar, at Animal Kingdom had so much to explore we just kept going back. 

A group shot of us at Pandora. Ben doesn't love to "waste time" with pictures of just scenery! So we have many bad shots of all of us in front of the iconic landmarks of Walt Disney World...

A group shot of us at Pandora. Ben doesn't love to "waste time" with pictures of just scenery! So we have many bad shots of all of us in front of the iconic landmarks of Walt Disney World...

Cutest Droid in the Galaxy- and we think the girl is pretty cute too!

Cutest Droid in the Galaxy- and we think the girl is pretty cute too!

That was just one week of magic, we have seen Cars 2, Beauty and the Beast and visited the Star Wars: The Power of Costumes exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center. We listen to the soundtracks for Moana, Hunchback of Notre Dame and all of the Disney Classic music, and have laughed through countless videos, apps, and fun Disney themed entertainment.

This is what it's all about. We connect as a family, and Ben makes the connections he seeks out. Thank you Disney, for the pixie dust that connects us! 

 

 

 

 

I love to hear from my readers. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments, or you can e-mail be from the contact page. Thanks!

 

Pandora: The Land of Avatar

There is a new land at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Pandora: Land of Avatar is an immersive experience that brings you into the world of Pandora created by James Cameron in his movie Avatar. Yes, Avatar- No, it's not a Disney, Star Wars or Marvel film, however it is beautiful, it focuses on conservation (just like Animal Kingdom always has) and it fits well in the park. Bonus- It's beautiful, original and FUN!

What- Pandora is a whole new "land" in the park. Think Fantasyland or more specific to Animal Kingdom, Africa and Asia and Dinoland USA.  

It is a fully immersive area designed to make you feel like you have landed on another planet. The landscaping is a mirror of the movie Avatar, and at night it all glows with beautiful colors of light just like the movie. There are floating mountains, strange and colorful plants and two attractions that bring you further into both the Land of Avatar and the role humans play in both trying to profit from and then save this moon.

Where- In Disney's Animal Kingdom as you enter the park and pass through Discovery Island (and see the Tree of Life) merge left and turn in at the Pizzafari restaurant. OR pass the "Festival of Lion King" theater in Africa and there is a bridge that leads you to Pandora. You will know you have arrived when you hear a sound similar to cicada's, we didn't love that detail.

Attractions- There are two rides in Pandora, a traditional boat ride (think it's a small world and a new simulator ride. 

  • Na'vi River Journey- FastPass/ Must transfer to standard wheelchair then to ride/ Handheld Captioning/ Audio Description

See the world of Pandora as the Na'vi do in a stunning journey through a bioluminescent rainforest. You will see new creatures, plants and beauty while searching for the Shaman of Songs. 

This is a boat ride through a beautifully lit river with amazing landscape and some native creatures and then you find the Shaman of Songs, an audio animatronic of a Na'vi (the natives of Pandora). This is a slow, beautiful ride, the attention to detail, lighting and scenery, are amazing. 

Sensory Input- No Worries! This is a peaceful, quiet ride.

Bottom Line- Some will find this ride a bit sleepy. My son Ben, on the Autism Spectrum, LOVED it. My typical 17 year old said it was fine, but wouldn't wait more than 15 minutes for it. I was mesmerized by the details and the beauty. My interest might have been enhanced because I had just seen the movie. So it was interesting to see the plants that were so beautifully created for the film.

  • Avatar Flight of PassageFastPass +/ Must transfer/ Physical Considerations/ Assistive Listening/ Closed Captioning/ Audio Description

Height Requirement- 44"/ 112cm

Size Requirements- This attraction can be challenging for Larger Guests. Even if you are Tall but not Big use the sample seat at the entry and have a cast member help you to see if you will fit. I will describe the restraints below.

Ambulatory- This attraction is built like a simulated motorcycle. You will need to be able to straddle it and hold yourself up to experience it. I give more details in the ride description below. In addition to the challenging seats, the queue is quite steep, especially in the FastPass lane.

Fly on a Banshee just like the Na'vi do! It is a breathtaking flight over a stunning world!

Ok, this is the best ride I have ever been on!! The easiest way to describe it to other guests at WDW was Soarin' times 1000. If you haven't been to Epcot or ridden Soarin' it is a simulator or "screen" ride that takes you into Pandora. You will feel like you are flying with exhilarating drops and gliding threw the trees, then even a stop for the Banshee to catch it's breath. It is beautiful, exciting, truly breathtaking and you don't want it to end! 

The pre-shows are closed captioned.

The pre-shows are closed captioned.

To begin the attraction you are brought into a room for 16 where you view a film with an adorably awkward scientist explains how the Avatar program is helping with conservation and sort of describes how the creation of the Avatar's work. He matches you with your Avatar and then sends you to another room to understand the ride better. Then you are directed into the room with the simulators. If you haven't seen the movie, it is still not completely clear, but to enjoy the ride it won't matter.

Once you are in the simulator room you get on the simulator (straddling it) and wait for the restraints. They will push you into place if they need to, and a cast member might need to help you adjust. After the restraints are on there is sometimes a delay, then there are flashing lights- After those details just enjoy the most amazing ride!

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Sensory Impact- Caution- It isn't loud. There are a few intense times including a short bit where a predator is chasing you. A fear of heights or motion sickness could be triggered.

A few details

  1. The Seats- the seats are a virtual banshee, you must be able to transfer and support yourself. You can spread your legs and shuffle on if you aren't able to lift a leg over. it would not be a simple transfer. There is a sample seat at the FastPass entrance that you can see if it will work for you.
  2. Size- There are automatic restraints on your back and the backs of your legs. If you are too big or have very long legs, you may not fit. Please visit the sample seat at the FastPass entrance and ask a cast member to determine where the restraints would hit you and if you can ride. It is a LONG line to get there and not be able to ride.
  3. Flashing Lights- At the beginning there are flashing lights on the little screen of your simulator. If you are prone to seizures I recommend you look forward and possible close your eyes.
  4. Anxiety- There can be a delay in activating the simulators, and the delay is often after the restraints are on. Just know the delay is normal, relax and get ready for an amazing time!
  5. The 3-D Visors- The visors are large and awkward. The first time my daughter rode Flight of Passage she didn't enjoy it because she couldn't see it well (or at all). When we went back she tucked the ear pieces into her braids, that worked and then she LOVED it! We suggest bringing a headband to help hold the visor in place. 
  6. The Very Long Lines- Please FastPass this ride. Without a FastPass the line can be 4 hours long- no bathroom, or snack bar...  We did use DAS some times and at 10:30 at night the line said 2 hours, but was only an hour. But we chatted with many guests that did wait 4 hours OR MORE. 

Bottom Line- Don't miss it!

 

Where to Eat- The Satu'li Canteen is the local mess hall offering bowls with protein including chicken, beef, tofu and sustainable fish, a base of greens or grains and choice of sauce. Steamed Pods with hamburgers, and a kids menu with the choices above plus a hot dog or quesadillas. Then there are fun looking and yummy desserts.

There is plenty of indoor and outdoor seating.

There is plenty of indoor and outdoor seating.

I loved my chicken bowl. Meg enjoyed her hot dog, Ben and Steve did not enjoy their pod or quesadilla. Steve thinks frying the pods would help A LOT. Ben was bribed with chocolate cake to eat there (new places are a hard thing for him, especially if there aren't chicken nuggets). His review of the cake was - it's good, but not as good as IKEA's chocolate mousse cake. All 4 of us get kids sized meals or share an adult size. It's a good amount of food. 

Bonus- Drinks are refillable!

 

 

Ordering Online.- A cool new tool in Walt Disney World is online ordering. Instead of getting in line you find a seat, pull up the menu on the My Disney Experience App, order, and wait for your phone to tell you to pick up your meal. Disney makes it super easy because the moment you step in the door the menu and directions come up on the phone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REMEMBER- In Animal Kingdom there are no lids on drinks and the straws are paper, even on the moon of Pandora. I suggest bringing a cup you like!

Allergy menus are available - as always ask a cast member for help to ensure your meal is as safe for you as possible.

Bathrooms- There are accessible bathrooms and 1 companion restroom in Pandora at the bottom of the hill. If you need an adult changing table I suggest the not too far away first aid area near Creature Comforts (Starbucks) on the path to Africa.

Relief Area for service animals is just before the bridge leading to "Festival of Lion King" As you are facing the mountains it is the entrance to your right.

This is the totem for the Na'vi River Journey.

This is the totem for the Na'vi River Journey.

 

 

Signage- To accomplish the immersion goal, there are not signs for the rides. There is a totem of the blue Shaman at the front of the River ride, and a totem of a Banshee at the front of Flight of Passage. Of course there are still FastPass queues and currently signs  that inform you there are no bathrooms during the wait, signs explaining the sample seat, and entrance signs, so I'm not sure they met their vision on this point- but if you are looking for the rides, find the totems. 

 

 

 

 

 

Day or Night??? Should you visit during the day or night? Honestly any time of day is beautiful, new and exciting. During the day you can see more of the details, and it's easier to find excited family members that might run ahead. As the sun sets it all comes alive in beautiful illuminated color. You really can't go wrong. Plus, both rides are indoors, so your timetable won't effect those experiences. We went in the morning, then did the Kilaminjaro Safari, Everest, and the rest of the park. Went back to the room for a break, and then came back to do it all at night. Honestly, we love the nightlife at Animal Kingdom now, so we did it all again. My family is also big on park hopping, so a couple of times during the week we went back and forth to visit again.

 

Amy's Thoughts- I know the whole post has been my thoughts- but here's my summary. Pandora is a beautiful and fun addition to The Animal Kingdom. You don't have to be a fan of Avatar, you don't even need to watch it to enjoy this well done and FUN addition to the park.(However, I do think seeing the movie helps with understanding and appreciating some of the details.) Plan to spend some time exploring and getting photos. Everyone in my family enjoyed it, on behalf of the Schinner family, we would like to welcome the Na'vi to our Happy Place!

Using a Travel Agent- The FastPass Edition

Change can be hard- even change designed to make your life easier. This week proved to me that change can be good! 

I know exactly what I want to do on a Disney vacation, and I know exactly how to plan to make it happen. Including being on my computer at odd hours MONTHS before we are going. Here's the thing, I actually enjoy the planning part of the vacation. But this trip I am loosening the reigns and handing them over to a travel agent. 

Lesley Sawhook from Exclusive Travel Partners is handling the bulk of my planning. Yesterday we were exactly 60 days away from arriving at The Animal Kingdom Lodge. So- it was time to make the FastPass + reservations. 

For those of you that don't speak fluent Disney- FastPasses are reservations to arrive in a shorter line to access an attraction (either a ride or a show). For guests staying on property you can make these reservations as early as 60 days ahead and for guest staying off property you can make them at 30 days out. 

Ok, so here is how this worked. Last week Lesley and I discussed my family's plans. We talked about how early we arrive (rope drop) and the fact that we love to park hop. We discussed our thoughts on which Pandora ride we think will have longer wait times (we both agree we think the Navi River ride because their are no height restrictions, and 3D isn't something everyone loves...). She confirmed what we talked about, then I didn't have to think about them again!

This was a pretty quick conversation for us because I know what I want. If you are new to Disney, have special needs concerns or are using a DAS pass she will take time to ask and answer many questions to determine what works for your family.

Forward to yesterday. The magic 60 day mark! It was crazy busy for me- 2 speaking engagements and not enough time for everything in the day, but I didn't have to be on the computer at 7am making Fastpass reservations- Lesley had it covered! She sent me an email when it was done- and she got everything, including both Pandora rides and FROZEN. 

So far I couldn't be happier with my choice of using a travel agent- stay tuned for more updates!

http://www.exclusivetravelpartners.com  

Glossary-

rope drop- arriving a little before the park opens.

FastPass +- Disney's system allowing you to access some attractions faster.

DAS- Disability Access Pass- the system Disney uses for helping guests with  challenges that are not based on disabilities.

Pandora- Pandora, the Land of Avatar is a new section or "land" at Disney's Animal Kingdom. It is designed to immerse you in the Planet Pandora from the Blockbuster Avatar movie, opening May 27th.  There are 2 rides in the new land, Na'vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage, and FastPasses are available for both. They also both require transfers from wheelchairs- I will have more accessibility info as soon as I have it.

 

Bathrooms!

Travel and bathrooms have come a long way. When I was a kid, pit stops on road trips could be sketchy. If there wasn't a McDonald's nearby, you stopped at a gas station, they gave you a key, and you hoped for the best! Rest stops and even gas station bathrooms are much better now. 

As I sat down to write this blog, it amused me to think of how many memories I have with Disney bathrooms- not usually the first things people think about when sharing their vacation memories. First it was always important to my mom- she has a small bladder and we always say she could write a book on bathrooms. Her opinion of Disney restrooms has always been something she mentions when discussing a vacation there,

 When I was a high school senior, my class went to Disney for Grad Night. This was 1990 and I lived in the small tourist spot of Ft. Walton Beach/ Destin area (yes it was just a small fishing village and Air Force Base back then). Many of the kids I was with had never traveled, they hadn't even ridden an escalator before- but the toilets at Disney flushed automatically. They were so impressed that they kept sitting down and standing up- who needed rides?

Many years later, one of my daughters favorite spots at Walt DisneyWorld is a bathroom.  Rapunzel's Tower in Magic Kingdom is so well done, you don't even notice it's a bathroom at first- then you love that it's all just so pretty. There is even a new photo pass spot right outside the doors at night when all of the lanterns are lit. It's just so pretty!

So Why am I Really Writing About Bathrooms?

Bathrooms are not only a necessary part of life, but sometimes they are still challenging. 

Disney options-

  • Regular bathrooms- Clean, have handicapped stalls and changing tables for toddlers in all men's and women's bathrooms.
  • Companion bathrooms- Clean, private, gender neutral, higher seat for transfers.
  • Adult changing tables- For this you need to visit First Aid. They have private facilities and helpful nurses. There is no rush, so feel free to take care of any needs your family has in the cool, comfortable space. There are first aid centers at all 4 main parks and the 2 water parks. Disney Springs only has companion restrooms.
  • Baby Centers- Changing tables, nursing rooms, some have toddler sized toilets (Not all parks have the toddler toilets and they are not always convenient for a toilet training child. Consider a portable seat to use on a regular sized toilet.) 

Tips for Public Restrooms

  • Public restrooms are loud- use headphones.
  • Bring post it notes to cover the sensor for the automatic flush- little kids don't like the automatic flush as much as my high school class did. 
  • Please use the restroom that fits your needs. If you don't need a companion room, please remember others are waiting and often have issues that require urgency.

Shout Out to Orlando International Airport

As more companies realize their customers have needs beyond the ADA minimum they are stepping up. Orlando International Airport has 4 new restrooms with adult changing tables! After the first one was installed it became obvious there is a real need, and now each terminal is equipped. Thank you to them for using best practices and being ready for ALL of their guests! 

Personal note- All of this information was supposed to be in "Mouse Ears for Everyone". In the process of merging several drafts over time- it was left out. I apologize, becauseI know  it's important.  Please help share this information by sharing this blog. 

Using a Travel Agent - Pt 1

A screen shot of my plans on My Disney Experience app.

A screen shot of my plans on My Disney Experience app.

 

Time to Start Planning!

It's the time of year to plan my family's Disney Vacation, and today I did it in a way I never have before. I called a travel agent!

Since "Mouse Ear for Everyone" has been released, I have met a lot of new people. Thankfully, one of them is Lesley Sawhook, a special educator/Disney travel agent. Obviously we have a lot in common (and we both have kids running track). We had lunch and she introduced me to the world of travel agents. Did you know their services are FREE? 

I really love planning our trips- but I wanted to experience this service, to share with my readers. So, today the summer discounts were announced for 2017- I called Lesley. She quickly sent me quotes for the resorts that make sense for my family. 

I asked for resorts in the moderate tier. With her research she told me the discounts are not available at The Port Orlean's resorts, and Coronado and Caribbean have A Lot of Construction right now. So she sent me discounted rates for the Fort Wilderness Cabins and Checked Animal Kingdom (deluxe tier) for fun. It's our lucky day- Animal Kingdom and the Cabins are virtually the same price! I asked her about Art of Animation- it was $200 more!! 

Now that we had pricing info from Lesley- We are excited about Pandora: Land of Avatar, and the new Rivers of Light Show at Disney's Animal Kingdom, so after asking all of my family- 

We picked a location- Animal Kingdom Lodge!! 

All I did was send a quick e- mail to Lesley, and I quickly received an e-mail from Disney confirming I had a vacation on hold.

After that I had 3 days to call her to confirm and give my deposit. I'm excited, so I called her right away to confirm. 

  • She took my card for the deposit.
  • Made sure I understood the My Disney Experience App and gave me my reservation number.
  • She asked about any dining reservations we may need.
  • We set a date to discuss FastPasses (THAT SHE WILL BOOK) a week or so before the date for FastPasses. 

Bonus- Any trip valued over $3,000 with Exclusive Travel Partners receive personalized bags for the kids and a $25 Disney gift card.

Again- All of this service (including booking FastPasses and dining) is FREE!

 

 

 

 

Exclusive Travel Partners

Lesley and Tim Sawhook recently opened Exclusive Travel Partners, a travel agency that specializes in Disney locations. Lesley has been an agent at a different company for years, and she and Tim were ready to branch out on their own. As a new company they are not officially authorized by Disney yet (that takes two years) but Lesley and their team of agents have many years of training and experience with Disney travel.

Lesley's experience as a Special Needs Educator helps her know exactly what accommodations you may need, and she can help you with that. Right down to specific recommendations for dining, attractions and rooms.

As I continue with our plans, I will keep you updated. So far- I think using Exclusive Travel Partners is a great idea!!

Here is their website. www.exclusivetravelpartners.com 

Tips!

I believe travel agency's are a legitimate business and safe. BUT, I know there can be unethical people that run scams. Here's what to look for.

  • A Disney travel agent will only ask for a $200 deposit on room and ticket packages, or one night stay for just a room reservation- unless you are under one month from check-in.
  • You will receive an e-mail forwarded to you from Disney with a confirmation code.
  • Your confirmation card will work on the My Disney Experience web site or app. If it isn't working, call Disney. 

If a person offering to help you with Disney planning doesn't offer these things- Use Caution.

I will be updating our progress with each step of the planning!!

Strollers: The Good, Bad and Necessary

There is A LOT of walking at Disney World. A stroller is a necessary item for MANY families at Disney Parks. Strollers are great- they help you move faster through the park, they hold a lot of your stuff, they keep your kids from getting worn out, and many even block the sun from their faces. 

That said-  strollers can also be a pain- getting them in and out of cars, on and off busses, and navigating them around people in the parks. Plus- stroller parking!

Stroller Parking

Is this term new to you? Yes, it's just what it sounds like- A LOT of strollers all parked together like cars in one space.

Because strollers are all but necessary, there are A LOT of them in Disney Parks. So, there isn't enough space to allow strollers in lines for attractions, or in restaurants. If you can't take your stroller in with you, what do you do with it? Nearby will be a large gathering of strollers- add yours to it. There is usually a cast member nearby, often straightening the mass of strollers, but there is no guarantee of safety for your valuables left in a stroller.

How can I find my stroller in that mass of wheels? Some people buy balloons (making their young ones very happy) others make signs and tags that are attached to the stroller. I like the idea of using this craft as a way the kids can help prepare for the trip. Check out pinterest ifyou need inspiration.

If you use a stroller as a wheelchair there is a pass that allows you to NOT use stroller parking. See below for more details.

Renting Strollers

If you don't have room for strollers when traveling to Florida don't sweat it. Rentals are an easy fix, and not just the hard uncomfortable Disney strollers.

The first option is renting in the park- not my favorite. I think a Disney rental should be thought of as an emergency, like blisters or an unexpected nap from a little older child, not the main plan.

Stroller rentals are right by the entrances to the parks. 

Single strollers are $15/day or $13/day if you rent for multiple days 

Double Strollers $31 /day $27/day for multiple days

$100 credit card deposit is required. 

Don't let the term multiple days fool you- You still have to leave the stroller in the park, you just bring your receipt back the next day at any of the 4 main parks.

Disney strollers are not comfortable and are pretty awkward. Plus, they are for in park only, so there is a lot of time that you would be without one.

The next option is to use a stroller rental company. There are companies that just rent strollers for guests at Orlando theme parks. That's how necessary and sometimes challenging strollers are!

How does a stroller rental company work?- You call ahead, reserve a stroller that fits your needs, and they deliver it to your hotel and pick it up at the end of the vacation. The strollers are usually City Mini's (a great brand) clean and in good working order.

The total charge for a 1-3 night stay of the basic stroller is $40. For a 4-7 night stay it's $60 -again this pricing structure is total stay, not per day.

Recommendations 

My recommendation is Kingdom Strollers- "They are a DisneyFeatured Stroller Provider"- What does that mean? Well, they can deliver and pick up the strollers at the luggage room and bell services at Disney Resorts. You tell them when you are coming and leaving, they have it waiting for you. At the end of the vacation you simply bring it to the desk at the resort and drop it off. You don't have to have a set a specific time to meet them. This is a HUGE convenience. If the company isn't a Disney preferred they are not allowed to drop them off at a Disney resort.

When my parents treated all 16 of us to a family vacation at Disney, my sister rented from Kingdom Strollers, my brother looked for different deals (not a big savings really) and the difference in service was significant. 

Kingdom Strollers also has rain covers and cooler bags free with your rental. And Free Delivery and Pick up.

www.kingdomstrollers.com

Strollers for Special Needs

If you need a larger stroller I suggest the Liberty Stroller. It folds up to fit on all Disney transportation including trams and busses. Sadly the strollers are no longer being made. Kingdom Strollers still has them available. The rental is $90 for a 1-3 night stay or $110 for 4-7 nights (these prices are total- not per day!) The owner is trying very hard to keep them in circulation as long as he can.

Strollers as Wheelchairs

Any family using a stroller for a wheelchair (it doesn't matter what kind of stroller) can go to Guest Services or City Hall and ask for a Stroller= Wheelchair tag. It is a sticker for the stroller that let's Cast Members know you need to have your stroller with you. 

The only exception to this is Disney Busses. There is a safety law that doesn't allow a child to be in a stroller while a bus is moving. You must take the child out and fold the stroller up on Disney busses. 

Some families may need this for mobility reasons, others may be for developmental delays and helping the child stay where they need to be, or health and fatigue reasons. Just explain the situation to the cast members and they will get you all set up.

 

Did I answer all of your stroller questions? If not, please feel free to contact me in the comment section or contact page. Thanks!

 

Epcot in Bloom!

 

Epcot in Bloom!

Walt Disney World is always beautiful, but Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival adds even more magic! The flowers are bursting with amazing color, the outdoor kitchens are convenient and yummy, and the topiaries bring some whimsy to Epcot!

A personal note- Living in Cincinnati- we also enjoy seeing sunshine and beautiful color when things are still grey at home!

The festival is open March 1st- May 29th 2017

Cost- included with park admission (There is a guided tour that is an additional cost, check Disney's website for details)

Garden Rocks Concerts- Bands (often flat from the past) on Fri, Sat, Sun, and Mon nights. Check the Disney website for the schedule of entertainers.

Workshops and gardens- Seminars and Q&A with gardening experts are in Festival Center- in Future World between Ellen's Energy Adventure and Mission Space. These workshops are open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday's.

Topiaries

Topiaries of both classic characters and newer favorites add an extra interest to World Showcase and Future World. My favorites are The Crocodile and Bambi's friend, Flower, (yes, I'm a little old school). 

New for 2017 the main showcase at the entrance is Mickey and Friends with a May Pole, The 3 Caballeros, a panda in China and Figment in Future World. Sorry I don't have pics, my daughter is a high school senior and we are too busy to get there this spring.

 

Outdoor Kitchens

A VERY close second to the flowers is the food.

There are outdoor kitchens in kiosks added in many of the countries in the World Showcase, and an urban kitchen near Future World. The food is fabulous, and served and priced as sample sizes, my friend and I were able to share many dishes (allowing us to sample more).  Sample sized prices although less expensive than full meals do need to be budgeted- they add up fast!

My favorite were the salads in the Fresh Kitchens and the candied strawberries in the lotus house kiosk are AMAZING!

 

 

Sensory Impact

The only challenge was seating at the outdoor kitchens. Some of the areas had extra tables set up to eat at, many were standing tables, or no extra seating at all. There are many times when guests are using the tops of trashcans as tables.Finding accommodations if you needed handicapped seating, or a seat to rest and take a break is not simple. My suggestion would be to take your treat into a nearby quick service restaurant.

 

Playgrounds

There are 2 playgrounds available during the festival (I wish they were permanent) to give kids a chance to run around a bit. A pre- school sized playground near the Cars topiaries (near Test Track), and a music themed playground for kids that are a little older. just near the bridge into Future World. Shade is at a premium, but the sensory outlet is fun!

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