Holidays at Disney

The holiday season is always an extra special time to plan a vacation getaway to Walt Disney World with family or friends.  Every year all of the Disney theme parks come alive with their own style of holiday joy with something special to share. This year, from November 28th through December 30th, visit Disney’s EPCOT where you will experience special holiday celebrations through the eyes of people around the globe. EPCOT’s World Showcase is transformed into a festive extravaganza, as guests experience the cuisine, beverages, music and stories of 11 different countries, each showcasing their unique holiday traditions.

In China, enjoy the Kalkouxiao cake and watch a Chinese Lion Dance.  Discover the story of Julenissen, the Christmas Gnome known for making trouble in Norway, and visit the Kringla Bakeri for traditional rice cream.  In Italy, learn about La Befana, the good witch of Christmas and take a taste of Panettone bread.  In Mexico, traditional dancers celebrate Fiesta de Navidad. In Japan dine at the Kabuki Café and learn about the Japanese New Year. Enjoy sweet seasonal treats like honey walnut baklava in Morocco and Pecan-maple bars in Canada.  The story of the first Christmas tree and the first nutcracker is performed in Germany.  Sample the Buche de Noel au Chocolate (Chocolate Christmas Log) and delicious glace au apin d’epices (gingerbread ice cream) in France.  Hot applejack cider is the specialty in the United Kingdom, and your holiday adventure would not be complete without a stop at the American Adventure where you will see Santa and Mrs. Claus, listen to the enchanted Voices of the Liberty Dickens Carolers, and discover the history and magic of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

Looking for a great place to stay?  EPCOT is conveniently located within walking distance of two top-rated Disney resorts, both of which are also part of the Disney Vacation Club.   Disney’s Beach Club is a New England-style resort with a shipwreck replica, lazy river, waterslide and plenty of dining options.  Disney’s Boardwalk is a Coney Island inspired resort with a large boardwalk overlooking Crescent Lake and plenty of fun, delicious dining and entertainment.  Disney’s Beach Club Villas and Disney’s Boardwalk Villas are also Disney Vacation Club Resorts offering luxury accommodations and plenty of amenities. Plan a trip to Disney’s EPCOT this holiday season. It will be like a magical trip around the world!

Optimize Time in the Park with FastPass+

Frequent visitors may already be aware, but Disney’s original FastPass concept was vanquished in January of 2014 when the new FastPass+ system went into effect. The FastPass+ is based on the same principle as the old system: reduce wait times for attractions through reservations. That’s  a concept everyone can agree on, and the best part is that FastPass+ is 100% FREE to any guest with a Magic Band or Magic Your Way Pass. As a DVC member, you’ll receive your Magic Band at check-in or have it mailed to you in advance, so all you need is the park ticket of your choice.

How it Works

FastPass+ allows you to basically reserve a spot at 3 attractions for each member of your party. Children under 3 do not need FastPass+. Using My Disney Experience or the FastPass+ kiosks, you can choose from suggested reservation times, or you can pick your own from a list of what is available. Your reservation is a 1-hour window during which you can board the ride/attraction with a minimal wait time. No other FastPass+ reservations can fall within that window. So, if you’re scheduled for Space Mountain between 3pm and 4pm, you can’t get a FastPass+ for the Haunted Mansion from 3:30-4:30. Also keep in mind that with FastPass+ you should still expect a 5-10 minute wait, but this will vary. Sometimes you will walk right on.

Plan to Plan Ahead

With the old Fastpass system, visitors would get to the park, sprint on over to the FastPass-eligible attraction of their choice, grab the reservation ticket, and then enjoy the rest of the park until the designated ride time. The problem with this was that by mid-day the most popular Fastpass attractions would be all booked up. FastPass+ addresses this problem in a few different ways, but the main one to keep in mind is that it rewards those who plan ahead.

As a DVC member staying on-site at a Disney resort, you can log into your My Disney Experience account online (or using the mobile app) and make your FastPass+ selections up to 60 days in advance of your visit. Your park tickets must already be purchased and linked to your My Disney Experience Account in order for this to work.

If you’d like, you could skip the planning stage and just make your FastPass+ selections at a kiosk in the park when you arrive. Keep in mind that the reservation slots of your choice may not be available. The kiosks can also get crowded, particularly in the morning. To us, that all amounts to wasted time at the park. That’s why we recommend planning ahead in order to optimize your time in the park.

You’ll be able to make up to 3 FastPass+ selections for each day of you visit the park, but they must all be within the same park. Yes, unfortunately, this is a major impediment to park hoppers, but it doesn’t completely count you out (more on this later). You won’t be able to use the FastPass+ more than once on the same attraction, and not all attractions are eligible. There are even some restrictions on eligible attractions. Epcot and Hollywood Studios have “Tier 1″ and “Tier 2″ FastPass+ attractions. You still get a total of 3 FastPass+ selections, but you can only pick 1 “Tier 1″ attraction per day. Your 2 remaining selections must be chosen from the “Tier 2″ list of attractions. All of this would be a lot to process as you enter the park. That’s where the planning comes in.

What You Need to Plan

So, you know which parks you’re doing on which days of your vacation. You want to see as many attractions as possible and spend a minimal amount of time waiting in line. You’re armed with a Magic Band, logged into your My Disney Experience account, and ready to make some FastPass+ selections. First thing you need to know is which attractions are FastPass+ eligible, so here they are:

Magic Kingdom

It’s a small world
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Enchanted Tales with Belle
Haunted Mansion
Jungle CruiseHaunted Mansion FastPass+
Mad Tea Party
Main Street Electrical Parade
Meet Anna and Elsa at Princess Fairytale Hall
Meet Ariel at Her Grotto
Meet Cinderella and Rapunzel at Princess Fairytale Hall
Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater
Meet Tinker Bell at Town Square Theater
Mickey’s PhilharMagic
Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor
Peter Pan’s Flight
Pirates of the Caribbean
Deven Dwarfs Mine Train
Space Mountain
Splash Mountain
The Barnstormer
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Tomorrowland Speedway
Under the Sea Journey of The Little Mermaid
Wishes nighttime spectacular

Epcot

Tier 1

IllumiNations

Living with the Land

Soarin’

Test Track

Tier 2 

Captain EO

Epcot Character Spot

Journey Into Imagination

Maelstrom

Mission: SPACE

Spaceship Earth

The Seas with Nemo and Friends

Turtle Talk with Crush

FastPass+

 

Hollywood Studios

Tier 1

Beauty and the Best

Fantasmic!

The Great Movie Ride

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster

Toy Story Mania

Tier 2

Disney Jr. Live on Stage

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

Lights, Motors, Action!

MuppetVision 3D

Star Tours

The American Idol Experience

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Voyage of the Little Mermaid

In Animal Kingdom

DinosaurFastPass
Expedition Everest
Festival of the Lion King
Finding Nemo – The Musical
It’s Tough to be a Bug!
Kali River Rapids
Kilimanjaro Safaris
Meet Favorite Disney Pals at Adventurers Outpost
Primeval Whirl

The next thing you’re going to want are park maps. It just wouldn’t make any sense to schedule Fantasmic, followed by the Extreme Stunt Show, and then head over to Tower of Terror. Unless you REALLY love walking. Realistically you’ll want to make sure that you’re traveling the least amount of distance between attractions. Do as many nearby attractions as you can before taking advantage of your FastPass+ window. To help you with that, you’ll want these nifty customizable Disney parks maps. If you’re not sure which attractions should take priority, check out these tips and touring strategies. Another great resource is the computer-optimized touring plan tool available from touringplans.com. Naturally, the worth of any touring strategy is determined by personal preference, so make sure you develop one of your own.

FastPass+ Tips, Quirks, and Restrictions

You’re not actually limited to only 3 FastPass+ selections; that’s just the limit on how many your can book in advance. Once all 3 of your FastPass+ selection windows have closed, you can make additional FastPass+ selections by visiting a kiosk. At this point you will only be able to make one FastPass+ selection at a time. This also applies across different parks. So you could schedule 3 FastPass+ selections in Magic Kingdom and then head over to Hollywood Studios after lunch and visit a FastPass+ kiosk there to make a selection. It’s not very convenient, but that’s what is available.

Even though the reservation window is 1 hour, Disney gives a bit a leeway. You can usually get in line 5 minutes before your official reservation, or 15 minutes afterward. Personally, we’re rather cautious and prefer not to rely on this extra time. However, it’s nice to know that you may not be forced to forfeit your FastPass+ selection if you get stuck in a line a bit longer than expected.

Whether you love or hate the new system, FastPass+ seems here to stay. It has a lot of great benefits when used properly, and it can definitely help you do more with your time in parks. Do you have any tips or unique opinions about the FastPass+? Let us know in the comments sections below!

 

Disney Dining Plans Explained

Disney is famous for making things easy on DVC members. The Disney Dining Plans,  however, are unfortunately an exception. You can get great deals and great food with Disney Dining Plans, but finding the right plan for you can be a bit confusing. It takes some persistence and concentration, but we’re here to break it down and make things simpler.

What are Disney Dining Plans?

Basically, Disney Dining Plans are pre-purchased vouchers accepted at certain restaurants on Disney property. Each member of your family is granted a certain number of credits per night based upon the dining plan you purchased. Instead of paying a check at the conclusion of a meal, your Key to the World card is used to deduct credits from your account. There are several different kinds of credits: quick service credits, table-service/buffet credits, and snack credits. Each of these will be explained in the dining plan outlines below. Keep in mind that credits are awarded per night, so if you do a 7 day, 6 night vacation, you’ll only receive meal credits for 6 days/nights.

Deserts at Disney World

What are the terms?

  • Children (ages 3-9) MUST order from the children’s menu when available
  • Everyone on the reservation must be included on the Disney Dining Plans for entire duration of your stay
  • Disney Dining Plans must be purchased 48 hours in advance of your reservation and payment is due at the time of booking
  • Dining Plans do not include gratuity at most dining locations. Exceptions include Dining Shows and Fairytale Dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table
  • Meal credits cannot be transferred to anyone not included on your reservation
  • Meal entitlements (i.e. Quick Service Meal, Table-Service Meal, etc.) cannot be exchanged for a Snack or Beverage entitlement
  • Purchasing a Disney Dining Plan does not ensure a seat. Reservations are still HIGHLY recommended for some table-service, character dining, and signature restaurants
  • Disney Vacation Club members are not eligible for Premium or Platinum dining plans
  • Children under 3 years old do not qualify. Food can be shared or purchased independently for young children

Not All Dining Locations Are Created Equal

For the most part, each meal cost 1 credit (see the individual plans below for details on what is included in a meal). But, there are some exceptions. A meal at Disney Signature Restaurants will cost you 2 table-service credits per person. These restaurants include: Jiko – The Cooking PlaceFlying Fish CafeCalifornia GrillCitricosNarcoosee’sArtist PointYachtsman SteakhouseLe Cellier Steakhouse, and The Hollywood Brown Derby.

Dinner shows will also cost you 2 table-service credits per person. These restaurants include: Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical ReviewMickey’s Backyard BBQ, and Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show.

Lastly, Character Dining at Fairytale Dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table will also cost 2 credits per person.

Disney Quick Service Dining Plan

This plan only includes meals at Quick service restaurants where there are no waiters to seat you. It’s the Disney version of “fast-food.” You walk up to a counter, place an order, pay (or, in the case of a dining plan, provide your Key to the World card), and then seat yourself. Gratuity is not typical at Quick Service restaurants. The Quick Service dining plan includes 2 Quick Service meals per person per day plus a snack and refillable mug.

Cost: $41.99 per aDisney Dining Plans Breakfast Buffetdult (ages 10+), $16.03 per child

Choose 2:

Breakfast – 1 juice, 1 entrée,1 single-serving, non-alcoholic beverage

Lunch – 1 entrée, 1 dessert, 1 single-serving, non-alcoholic beverage

Dinner – 1 entrée, 1 dessert, 1 single-serving, non-alcoholic beverage

Here is a list of all Quick Service restaurants eligible for dining plans at Walt Disney World.

Disney Dining Plan

This plan includes 2 meals per person, per day: 1 Quick Service restaurant, and 1 at a full buffet or table-service restaurant. The plan also includes 1 snack per person per night and 1 refillable mug.

Table-Service restaurants feature a host or hostess that will seat your party at a designated table and a server who will take orders and provide service. Payment comes at the end of the meal, and gratuity (not included in your dining plan) is typical. Reservations are also highly recommended.

Cost: $60.64 per adult (ages 10+), $19.23 per child

1 Full Buffet or 1 Table-Service Meal – 1 appetizer (Guests ages 3-9 only), 1 entrée, 1 dessert (lunch and dinner only), 1 juice (breakfast only), 1 single-serving, non-alcoholic beverage

1 Quick-Service Meal – 1 entrée, 1 dessert (lunch and dinner only), 1 juice (breakfast only), 1 single-serving, non-alcoholic beverage

Here is a list of all Table-Service restaurants eligible for dining plans at Walt Disney World.

Disney Dining Plans Salad

Disney Deluxe Dining Plan

This plan includes 3 meals per person, per day and they can be Quick Service,
Table-Service, or Buffet. Each person is also entitled to 2 snacks per day and a refillable mug.

Cost: $109.53 per adult (ages 10+), $29.86 per child

Snacks

Snacks are available at Quick Service restaurants, food carts, and some merchandise stores. Options typically include Ice Cream, a single-serving of popcorn or other snacks, a piece of fruit, or a beverage. Look for the purple Disney Dining Plans square on menus to indicate a qualifying snack.

Keeping Track

Keeping track of your meal plan credits may vary in complexity based upon your dining plan and the number of people in your party, but Disney does a pretty good job of keeping you up to date. Everything is tracked electronically, and your receipt from each dining location will indicate your remaining balance and how much you’ve used so far.

Are Disney Dining Plans Worth It?Disney Dining Plans Pasta Dish

The value of Disney Dining Plans really depends on your party, preferences and eating habits. For some people, it’s worth the price just to have dining paid and taken care of. For those of you (like us) who are concerned with getting the absolute best deal possible on the meals you’ll pay for anyway, check out this Disney Dining Calculator. We believe that this tool is based on 2014 prices, but it should give you a good ballpark. If you want pinpoint accuracy, you’ll just have to compare the Disney Dining Plans to the Disney restaurant menus that you’re interested in.

Which is the Best Disney World Water Park?

In the left corner, the ski resort-themed Blizzard Beach, which opened in 1995.

In the right corner, the tropical Typhoon Lagoon, which opened in 1989.

Which one will triumph through eight rounds of scrutiny?

Round 1: Water Park Theming

Despite the waterslides and pools, Blizzard Beach maintains the appearance of a ski resort, complete with snow, boulders, evergreen trees, and a ski lift leading to the peak of the 90-foot-tall Mt. Gushmore. Holiday music adds to the ambiance.

Blizzard Beach water park

Typhoon Lagoon water park

Typhoon Lagoon resembles a more conventional water park with palm trees and beach themes, though unlike your average waterpark, in the center towers Mt. Mayday, a watershed mountain topped with a stranded shrimp boat.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Round 1 Scorecard:

This round was pretty even. The Blizzard Beach theme is definitely more unique, and also a bit more inclusive, but Typhoon Lagoon’s theme spurred our sense of adventure and summer fun. Let’s call this one a draw.

Round 2: Pools

Melt-Away Bay at Blizzard Beach water park

Blizzard Beach’s Melt-Away Bay is 1 acre of gently undulating waves flowing from the waterfalls that trickle down from Mt. Gushmore. Tubes are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. It’s a great place for relaxing, though finding a chair by the pool is a challenge.

Typhoon Lagoon on the other hand, is home to one of the world’s largest wave pools. The intensity varies from gentle waves to 6-foot swells, so this isn’t the place to fall asleep floating on your back! Tubes are not permitted, but you can get surfing lessons here, which we think is way cooler.Surf Pool at Typhoon Lagoon water park

Round 2 Scoreboard:

Typhoon Lagoon’s Surf Pool is truly a world-class attraction. This one is a unanimous decision in favor of Typhoon Lagoon.

Round 3: Classic Waterslides

Blizzard Beach is probably best known for Summit Plummet – one of the fastest and tallest free-falling waterslides in the world. Riders plunge 120 feet, reaching speeds of 55 mph before careening along the remainder of the 360-foot-long run. This one is intense, so make sure your bathing suit is tied tight!

If that’s a bit much for you and your crew, try Slush Gusher, a speed slide that propels riders to 50 mph. There is also Snow Stormers, a series of slides that offer a milder trip aboard toboggan mats. Similarly, Tobaggan Racers is a mild race between 8 contestants down a 250-foot-long shalom-style course.

Typhoon Lagoon Water park slideThe slides at Typhoon Lagoon do not require as much courage. Humunga Kowabunga is a series of three 214-foot slides that propel riders through caves and dark tunnels. Additionally, the three Storm Slides whisk riders through waterfalls and caves before dumping them in refreshing pools.

Round 3 Scorecard:

Blizzard beach dominates this round with Summit Plummet heavily contributing to the landslide.

Round 4: Inner Tube and Raft Waterslides

Double Dipper at Blizzard Beach water parkDownhill Double Dipper is another highlight of Blizzard Beach. These 2 side-by-side slides allow riders to race against a competitor and reach speeds up to 25 mph. Then there’s also Runoff Rapids, a series of 2 open slides and a single enclosed slide. Unfortunately, riders are required to carry their tubes up to the start of this ride, but the burden is definitely worth bearing.

At Typhoon Lagoon you can’t miss our personal favorite: Crush n’ Gusher water-coaster. This is the waterslide equivalent of a rollercoaster. Crush n’ Gusher’s water jets propel riders up hills as well as down steep drops.

There’s also Mayday Falls, which is the highest and longest ride at Typhoon Lagoon, but certainly not the most intense. Keelhaul Falls is another option, and this is definitely the most mild of all the tube slides.

Round 4 Scorecard:

Crush n’ Gusher blasts Typhoon lagoon to a clear win in this round.

Round 5: White-water Raft Rides

Teamboat Springs is another of Blizzard Beach’s world-class attractions. It is the world’s longest family white-water raft ride at 1,200 feet-long and accommodates up to 6 passengers at a time.

At Typhoon Lagoon the whole family can hop aboard Gangplank Falls where 4 riders tumble through water effects and rock formations for 300 feet.

Round 5 Scorecard:

There’s no denying it — Blizzard Beach is the obvious winner in this round.

Round 6: Lazy Rivers

At Blizzard Beach you’ll find Cross Country Creek which circles the park and carries riders into a very cool themed cave.

Cross Country Creek at Blizzard Beach water park
Castaway Creek at Typhoon Lagoon water park

Castaway Creek in Typhoon Lagoon is 2,000 feet-long and a bit more serene than its counterpart at Blizzard Beach.

Round 6 Scorecard:

Both lazy rivers are great places to relax, but Typhoon Lagoon’s Castaway Creek had more of the mellow experience we love while floating around the park.

Round 7: Children’s Attractions

Kiddie Slide at Blizzard Beach water parkSki Patrol Training Camp at Blizzard Beach is the prime spot for kids who aren’t ready for the more intense slides. It’s basically a super-cool water playground with a few tame slides and a pool. Also in this area is T-Bar, a zip line exclusively for children under 60 inches tall and an adjacent waterslide.Kiddie Pool at Blizzard Beach water park

 

For even younger Blizzard Beach visitors, Tike’s Peak is a water play area for children smaller than 4 feet tall.

Typhoon Lagoon’s options are more limited. Ketchakiddee Creek is also for children under 4 feet tall and includes mild slides, music, fountains, waterfalls, a shallow pool, and play area.

Round 7 Scorecard:

Blizzard Beach takes this round by a hair. T-Bar is what really secured the win. We would love to see an adult version of this ride.

Round 8: Unique Features

There aren’t many waterparks out there with a chair lift. This one-way trip to Mt. Gushmore is definitely the most unique aspect of Blizzard Beach, but be aware that the line can get very long.

Typhoon Lagoon’s Shark Reef is a very cool experience that we highly recommend. If you’re an avid snorkeler or diver, this might not be up to your standards. However, if you don’t have a lot of experience exploring coral-reef environments, this is your opportunity to swim with live sharks and tropical fish. We thought it was a lot of fun, but the water was very cold!

Round 8 Scorecard:

Although the chair lift is a nice touch on the wintry theme of Blizzard Beach, we think that Shark Reef is a lot more impressive, and a lot more fun.

The Best Disney World Water Park Final Decision:

TYPHOON LAGOON!

It was close. Really, really, REALLY close, but Typhoon Lagoon edged out Blizzard Beach in the final round.

Truthfully, both parks are fantastic. You and your family will have a great time at either park. At the end of vacation, it’s all about having fun and creating memories, and both parks will help you accomplish that mission.

TRIP TIP: If you’re planning to visit either of these water parks, we highly recommend entering the water park with a set gameplan. Which rides are you heading to first? The most popular ones are best to hit early, but the park will empty out later in the day. Keep in mind that Central Florida is prone to severe thunderstorms in the afternoon, especially during the summer. Prioritize the attractions that you are most interested in, and map your route ahead of time so that time isn’t wasted at the park. Here are some handy maps for reference:

Blizzard Beach Water Park
Typhoon Lagoon Water Park

Have you been to Blizzard Beach and/or Typhoon Lagoon? What do you think about our Splash Showdown? If there’s something you think we missed, or something you don’t quite agree with, let us know using the comments section below. We love to hear from readers!

5 Easy Ways to Save Money on a Disney Vacation

Here’s something that you probably already know: between park tickets, accommodations, and transportation costs, a Disney vacation can knock a few digits off your bank account balance. What you might not know is that a few small adjustments can easily reduce these costs.

Here are 5 easy ways to make your next trip to Disney less expensive, less stressful, and more enjoyable.

#1 – Visit Off-Season

Disney parks reach peak visitor attendance during the summer months. If you’re visiting Walt Disney World in Florida, summer is also the hottest and rainiest season. Standing in line for hours enduring high temperatures, humidity, and possibly rain is no fun. So, opt for a winter trip, when Disney guests typically enjoy moderate temperatures. Depending on the weeks you travel, airfares  and accommodations tend to be less expensive during winter months as well. Take advantage of sites like CheapOair, or Kayak, which can help you secure the lowest prices.

#2 – Eat Outside the Parks

Food prices in the parks can be expensive, and feeding the entire family three meals each day is not cheap. Save big money by having breakfast before leaving for the park and keeping snacks on hand. If you’re staying at a Disney Vacation Club villa, you’ll have a kitchen complete with a microwave, stove, and refrigerator. Take advantage of these. Preparing even one meal each day could save hundreds of dollars over the course of your vacation.

#3 – Arrive Prepared

There are certain things that you will DEFINITELY need while trekking through the Disney parks. Purchasing these items before arriving on disney property will save time and money.

  • Sunscreen
  • Water bottles
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Hat or visor
  • A small backpack, purse, or other convenient storage item
  • Raincoat or poncho

#4 – Bundle Tickets

Multi-day passes allow guests to purchase park tickets at a lower rate than single-day tickets. You can also add Park Hopper Options to visit multiple Disney properties in a single day. Check out the full pricing details for Walt Disney World in Florida by clicking here, or Disneyland in California here.

#5 – Purchase  Season Passes

If you live close enough to visit Disney theme parks multiple times over the course of a single year, or if you’re an avid Disney visitor, an annual pass may be a cost-saving option. Annual passes also provide discounts on dining on merchandise. Pricing details for annual passes at Walt Disney World are available here, or Disneyland in California here.