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!

IMG_1553.jpg

So, now I'm introduced as an author- What???

"Mouse Ears for Everyone" was released this week. After years of work, the goal is complete. The crazy thing is, I just wanted to share information about traveling to Disney for families with special needs, a book was the easiest tool to do that. 

Kara Sewell fro Fox 19 Cincinnati

Kara Sewell fro Fox 19 Cincinnati

This morning I was interviewed on Fox19, a local station in Cincinnati. They were wonderful, even helped me with a major GPS fail. I was so lost that I arrived with only 2 minutes to spare before a LIVE interview!! So I was hardly settled when the introductions began- they called me a local author- WHAT??- that just feels odd. I love books, and authors are amazing people in history. I'm just a mom that realized there was an information gap and I filled it.

Truthfully, I would like to thank everyone for the very kind words, messages and help with spreading the word on social media. It all feels a little strange, but its also a lot of fun! 

Flowers from my family- The florist did a great job creating a "mouse ears" theme!

Flowers from my family- The florist did a great job creating a "mouse ears" theme!

If you live in Cincinnati I'd love to see you at the launch! I'm grateful the launch will give me an opportunity to thank everyone that has helped with this project. My family has been especially amazing (and talented!) March 3rd Lakota West 7:00. We will have snacks and plenty of books to sign! Please RSVP using the contact link- I don't want to run out of cake!

It's not only about the lines...

Too often when I tell people about my Mouse Ears for Everyone they focus on getting through the lines quickly. Yes, there are some guests at Disney that need help with the lines, but there is much more to it. 

Strollers as Wheelchairs

 

Many families have adaptive strollers for their family member that is necessary for more than just tired feet, or a sleepy toddler. These strollers are used as a wheelchair. They are often lighter weight, easier to work with, and less expensive than a wheelchair- but just as important!

As you can imagine there are A LOT of strollers at Disney World. So many that to allow them in the queues for lines or restaurants there wouldn't be much room left for people. So Disney has stroller parking throughout the parks. 

But what if you really need the stroller?

There is a special tag for strollers that you get at Guest Services. Simply answer a couple of questions about why you need the tag and they set you up. If you have the tag, the stroller can go anywhere a wheelchair can. 

TIP- The Liberty stroller designed for up to 100 lbs  and a height of 60" is available for rent at Kingdom Strollers. The Liberty has one step folding and will fit into Disney trams and busses. If you are staying at a Disney resort, Kingdom Strollers will have the stroller waiting at the resort for you. www.kingdomstrollers.com 

 

Service and Emotional Support Animals

Pets are not allowed at Disney Parks or in the resorts. There is a nice pet care center for day care or overnight stays. Visit www.bestfriendspetcare.com or call (877) 4WDW-PETS for information. 

However, if you have a service dog or emotional support animal of course they are welcome. There was recently a monkey at the Magic Kingdom. As long as you have your paperwork you are good to go.

 Here's the fun part- they can ride many of the rides! Now, they won't be riding Space Mountain, or even Peter Pan (because the ships fly) but "it's a small world", Spaceship Earth, Toy Story Midway mania and many others welcome your animal assistants.

Dietary Issues

Allergies for many people are not just annoying- they are deadly! Disney does an amazing job keeping you safe in all of their restaurants. For most situations all you need to do is check in with the host or hostess when you arrive and let them know your needs. Some situations are less common, if this is you please call (407) WDW-DINE discuss your needs with them and they will give you instructions based on your situation.

 

 

 

 

 So yes, "Mouse Ears for Everyone" does help families that have challenges with long waits- but for many it's about so much more. 

Hello

Hello, I'd like to welcome you to my new blog, and introduce myself.

This blog will mostly post about traveling to Disney World with a specific focus on people with special needs. But, I hope I can inspire you to travel as a family even if Disney isn't the right fit. 

While my dad was stationed in Germany- we were able to vacation in Switzerland.  

While my dad was stationed in Germany- we were able to vacation in Switzerland.

 

Vacations are important! We are so busy day to day that there isn't much time to be together as a family. On a vacation- It's just you. There is time to create memories and stories you will tell for the rest of your lives. My siblings and I still connect over family vacations, especially the ones where everything wasn't perfect. We laugh about my sister Emily getting sick in the car on Grandma, or being in Washington DC on Easter Sunday with no where open for dinner- so we ate cheese puffs and Easter candy (times have changed, now food is easier to find). We had cars break down and birds attack but all of that is part of the memories, and it builds on that foundation to create stronger bonds.

I say things don't have to be perfect, and I do mean that- but I also get that some things truly are critical if you live with a disability. Thankfully, the internet helps us know more than when my parents traveled with us (remember, no open restaurants on Easter back in the day). Now we can be prepared for just about everything because of all the information available to us, including my new book. (Please excuse the shameless plug).

 

As for Disney- Crowds, Heat, FIREWORKS... this might not sound like a great fit. I promise you will be surprised. There is something about the Disney magic that helps make it all work. Being immersed in the music, art, and world of the things you love helps calm even the toughest guest. Add to that the world class Disney customer service and their policies to attend to every guests needs, and it works! I'm not saying your trip will be just like your neighbors was, we all have different goals for our vacations, but you can have a wonderful time for everyone in your family!

So, Who Am I?

Hi! I'm Amy Schinner. Mom of 2 great kids, Ben and Meg. Ben is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He has lead me on a journey I didn't expect, but I embrace all it has taught me. My new path has created awareness, friendships and a passion for people that have to live life with more challenges than others. 

I am an advocate for people with disabilities, I chair the Walk Committee for Autism Speaks in Cincinnati, and I worked for Disney in my life before kids.

My family lives in Cincinnati where Ben and Meg are in school, my husband, Steve, and I attend a lot of cross country and track events- cheering for Meg and her team. And we enjoy museums, ballgames- more proof that I'm the eternal optimist, Cincy sports are tough right now!  and getting away to Disney World.

Thanks for checking in, I welcome comments and input and I hope you enjoy the site!!

Dinner at Minnie's Beach Party- Hollywood and Vine- Disney's Hollywood Studios

Dinner at Minnie's Beach Party- Hollywood and Vine- Disney's Hollywood Studios