Change in Emotional Support Animal Policy!

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When I was researching Mouse Ears for Everyone: A Guide to Walt Disney World for Guests with Special Needs I double checked in December that Disney allowed emotional support animals in the resorts and parks. THIS POLICY HAS CHANGED!

While I was researching the new pet friendly resort policies I noticed new  language referring to service dogs. I called the parks today and they double checked with a manager: emotional support animals are no longer allowed in the parks. 

Disney defines a service animal as a dog or miniature horse that has a license and harness. 

If your emotional support animal is a dog, you have some options for keeping them with you while in the room. Disney has just announced a policy allowing 4 of their resorts to allow pet dogs. There are several regulations and a nightly cleaning fee, but it would allow you to be with the dog in your room. 

Dogs are welcome at 

  • Art of Animation $50/night
  • Port Orleans Riverside $50/night
  • Cabins at Fort Wilderness $50/night
  • Yacht Club$75/night

There is also the Best Friends Pet Care kennel on Walt Disney World property, they have day care and full kennel services, and they get great reviews.

Licensed service dogs and miniature horses are of course welcome and allowed anywhere the person they are assisting goes. There is no extra fee for the room with a service dog.

Cast Members will be checking much more carefully for paperwork because of the new pet policy. Just because you have done something a different way before- don't count on it in the future.

Doggone Crazy! 4 Disney Resorts Allowing Pets! UPDATED!!

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For the families that aren't complete without their pet pups, Disney now has a space for you! Four resorts are testing a pet friendly program. There is a nightly fee added to your room rates and there are several conditions, but they are welcome (and even get a goodie bag!). Disney has always allowed licensed service dogs and emotional support animals with proper paperwork at all of their resorts, and will continue to welcome them. Update!! Emotional Support Animals are no longer allowed at the Parks or resorts.

The resorts with dog friendly rooms and their cleaning fees:

  • Disney's Art of Animation $50/night
  • Disney's Port Orleans Riverside $50/night
  • Cabins at Ft. Wilderness Resort $50/night
  • Disney's Yacht Club $75/night

There is a 2 dog maximum per room. The dogs will need to be fully vaccinated. Please have the vaccination papers with you and be ready to show them if asked.

The pet friendly rooms will have easy access to relief areas. You will be provided with a kit at check in including bowls, a pet ID, a mat, disposable plastic bags, puppy pads and a map for dog walking.

Dogs must  remain on a leash and be supervised while in public areas. They are not allowed in Pool areas, Food and Beverage locations, Fitness Centers, and other restricted public areas. And just like at home they are asked to stay off the furniture.

 They may not be left unattended in the room for more than 7 hours at a time. If there are any noise complaints you will be called to tend to your pet within 30 minutes. 

Housekeeping will not service your room with an unsupervised dog. You may call the front desk when you are in the room to schedule a cleaning. There will be a Pluto door hangar provided to inform housekeeping that your fur baby is in the room.

The dogs are permitted on Disney's Magical Express and the new Minnie Vans only if they are in a carrier.

Pets are not allowed to visit the parks or Disney Springs.

If you are planning a day that will not allow time for you to tend to your dog there is a kennel on property with a pet-daycare.  www.bestfriendspetcare.com

The new pet policy is on a one year trial period. Reservations beginning October 17, 2017- October 17, 2018 will accept furry guests. I just tried to reserve a pet friendly room online and didn't see this option yet. I would call 1 407- 939-5277 to request a pet reservation.

Sorry- dogs are the only pets allowed. Cats and other furry or scaly friends will need to enjoy their own vacation somewhere else.

How Does This Affect My Service Animal?

In short- It doesn't! Service animals are still welcome everywhere, at no extra charge. However, I did just have a cast member share that they will be checking more carefully for paperwork to make sure the policy isn't being abused. Disney defines a service animal as a dog or miniature horse with a license and harness.

 

 

Dessert with a View!

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Fireworks are a beautiful and fun way to celebrate! Add music, amazing projections on Cinderella's castle, and Tinkerbell flying overhead with pixie dust and they aren't just fireworks anymore- they are a special experience that never fails to bring tears to my eyes. However, standing in a large crowd for a long time while we wait for them can take away some of the magic- or create a complete disaster. Disney has a solution, Dessert Parties!

Mickey Oreo Cookies were a big hit!

Mickey Oreo Cookies were a big hit!

Dessert Parties are a great way to relax, avoid the crowds, see a great show and indulge in fabulous treats just like  VIP! 

My family decided to fit a dessert party for the new show at Magic Kingdom, "Happily Ever After" into our vacation budget this summer, we were VERY happy with the experience! 

The Plan

While making our reservations, first I needed to decide which seating option was the right fit for our family. At the Magic Kingdom Fireworks Dessert Party there is priority seating and Plaza Garden seating. I think the Plaza Garden View is the best choice for a few reasons.

  • Cost- Plaza View is $59 or $35 for children (3-9)  Priority View is $79 or $47 for children
  • View- The Terrace View is further off center from Cinderella's Castle and has a more obstructed View.
  • Room to run- In the Plaza Viewing area there is a lot of room to move around, dance, or just enjoy having space.

Reasons to Choose Priority- 

  • You can remain seated at your table.
  • The tables are covered, so if there is rain you can keep your poncho in your bag.
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The day of our reservation we ate a late lunch and had a good snack before arriving at our dessert party. We skipped a proper dinner, not the healthiest parenting decision but it's vacation! In my weak defense, I thought there were more appetizers that would seem like dinner, I was disappointed to only find cheese cubes and fruit (not even crackers) so my plan was even less healthy, but my kids survived!

Tomorrowland Terrace. The Garden Party view eats towards the back. Priority seating is up front near the castle, but the buffet is the same!

Tomorrowland Terrace. The Garden Party view eats towards the back. Priority seating is up front near the castle, but the buffet is the same!

When we checked in at the Tomorrowland Terrace they gave us each a wristband and explained how everything works. Then they showed us to our seats with glasses of sparkling cider. 

I love this idea! 

I love this idea! 

There was a fabulous buffet with desserts, drinks- including my favorite Disney breakfast juice! Coffee, Hot Chocolate, it was cooler the evening we went and the hot chocolate was VERY good.

There were also stations to decorate cookies and make dessert kabobs on mickey mouse straws!

This cute guy has a dairy allergy. His favorite part was the gummies!

This cute guy has a dairy allergy. His favorite part was the gummies!

Food Allergies 

When you make your reservation call (407)WDW-DINE inform them of your reservation and which food allergies or dining need you have. They will create a special platter that is safe AND delicious just for you!

Show Time!

You are free to go to the viewing area any time you would like. We arrived at the party at the very beginning, so we were ready to move around about 30 minutes before showtime. There were party guests already getting spots right by the little fence for our best view, but there was plenty of room. Ben really enjoyed walking around and having A LOT of space! 

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The View- I was very happy with our location. We completely enjoyed the show and the only obstruction in our way was a light tower. It is in our pictures, but it didn't affect my enjoyment of a show that is so big, the tower was insignificant. If I was there for great pictures, I would have needed to be in the center of Main Street with the masses for hours before the show, that was not our plan. 

The show was amazing, we were comfortable, we were able to hang out in that space while the crowd thinned out before heading home for our Happily Ever After!

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More Thoughts on Dessert Parties. 

There are dessert parties for "Galactic Spectacular Fireworks"  and Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios, and a "Frozen" Dessert Party at Epcot for "Illuminations". We chose "Happily Ever After" because the crowd is most intense for this show. 

If you choose a party at Hollywood Studios or Epcot there is alcohol included.

If the fireworks are cancelled due to rain the dessert party is still scheduled. I would suggest bringing zip-locks and shoving in left overs if there is no show to get your money's worth!

Don't forget your headphones! Sadly, even amazing desserts can't reduce the noise level!

Overall, I think dessert parties are a great way to avoid crowds and experience an iconic part of a Disney vacation while being able to take a breath and completely enjoy it! 

 

Under Construction: The Caribbean Resort Episode

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The Caribbean Resort is going to be AMAZING! A new central building that will include the check in desk, waterfront dining and shopping. A moderate priced DVC (Disney Vacation Club, like a timeshare) resort and the new Disney Skyliner- connecting the resort to Epcot and Hollywood Studios by an air gondola! Add to that the best pool in a modern resort and a great theme it will be back to being my favorite moderate resort. But right now it is experiencing some growing pains!

What's Happening?

Construction is not a new thing at a Disney resort, and usually they do an amazing job at hiding all of the extra pixie dust. This job is just too big to be concealed. 

My family has stayed in a resort with construction and had very little disruption. We actually loved it because there were fewer guests, a discount on the room and a free gift! However, the Caribbean is overhauling just about everything AND adding a Skyliner stop.

During construction the Port Royale, where the food court, gift shop, arcade and concierge are is closed. There is a food truck, a merchandise truck for essentials, an air-conditioned tent with a buffet for all 3 meals and 3 rooms set up as snack bars. The pool is open, but with all of the construction it is not very peaceful. The pool bar is a walk up trailer and there are fences,  cranes and noise in every corner detracting from the view.

What Does This Mean?

So, with all of that going on sadly I need to update to my comments in "Mouse Ears for Everyone: A Guide to Walt Disney World for Guests with Special Needs". Until this project is at least mostly completed I can't recommend the Caribbean Resort. If you do decide to stay there (there are probably some good deals right now) then do NOT ask for Martinique. What was once our favorite area is now in the middle of all the construction activity. You are better off in Trinidad North for convenience, although it is a hike to the pool.

Timing- Disney no longer has a published end date for this project. My educated guess is it won't be ready until early 2019 in time for all of the traffic the opening of Galaxy's Edge (Star Wars Land) will bring.

The Good News

If you find a deal that is hard to resist, there is some good news. The noise is only during the day, food trucks can be fun, Disney has added extra entertainment in the pool area including live music and character visits, and there are fewer guests on the busses or in the pool right now!

Also- they moved the really cute, small Murphy beds to most of the available rooms. It should be pretty easy to get a room that sleeps 5, as long as the 5th person is pretty small.

Until we meet again...at the Caribbean in 2019

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.