How to support a small business while taking a trip to Disney World!

Even though the Disney parks are currently closed due to corona virus, I wanted to share a little Disney-related information. I know there are LOTS of families who have had to cancel Disney vacations, and I first want to say how sad that makes me. I know that Disney vacations (like any trips) are things you save for and look forward to for a really long time. Even though these sacrifices are totally necessary and worth it for the health of our world, that doesn’t mean cancelled plans aren’t a little devastating. ⁣

Today’s tip is to use a Disney Vacation Planner if you are staying on property. If you are staying at a Walt Disney World hotel, using a Disney Planner costs you NO additional money. In fact, they’ll often find you a savings that you wouldn’t have known about. Many of these Disney Planners are moms making money to support their families, and all of them are small businesses. One thing this crisis is teaching us is the importance of supporting small businesses whenever we can! Using a Disney planner is a way to support a person without spending any extra money! Talk about a win win!⁣

We’ve had great luck using Audra Owens – Travel Agent, A Time to Treasure Travel as our Disney planner. Planners can help you decide which resort is right for you and well as securing your dining reservations and fast passes. Planners can be as involved or as removed as you want in your trip plans, but I can attest to the fact that a good one can snag reservations that you likely wouldn’t get otherwise! ⁣

Plus, not only does using a planner support them, but if something goes awry with your trip, your planner will be there to work through the issues. Phone waits times with Disney can be super long, and your planner can make those calls for you. ⁣

If you’re going on a Disney Vacation anytime soon, consider supporting a small business and using the services of a Disney planner to make your trip extra magical!

First Haircut at Walt Disney World

Untitled Design(4)

Could there be a more magical place to get a first haircut than Disney World’s Magic Kingdom? I certainly don’t think so, and it’s remarkably easy and affordable to do!

Harmony Barber Shop at the end of Main Street (away from the castle) offers adult and kids’ haircuts, as well as a first haircut package. The kids’ cuts are around $18, and the first cut package is only $25 and includes the cut, a certificate, and Mickey ears that say “My First Haircut.”

We had my youngest son’s first haircut at Harmony Barber Shop and had a great experience! The stylists were kind and great with kids, and they had toys for the kids to play with if they were having trouble sitting still. We got some adorable photos, and my son still loves playing with his special ears!

Reservations can be made online at Walt Disney World’s website 180 days in advance of your visit. Note that the shop is quite small, they do not shampoo hair, and gratuity is not included in prices listed on the website.

Pirates League at Walt Disney World

Untitled Design(2)

Our family was so sad to learn that Pirates League at Walt Disney World is closing! They will permanently shut down on July 27th, so you’ve still got a few months to sneak in a pirate adventure, and we highly recommend you do.

Pirates League is located in Adventureland in Magic Kingdom and offers pirate and mermaid makeovers to kids aged three and up. It’s definitely a family favorite for our kids and we’ll miss it when it’s gone!

Why do we love Pirates League? Here’s the scoop:

  • While much of Magic Kingdom features princesses, Pirates League is perfect for little boys! A pirate hideaway, face paint, and a sword are pretty much a boy’s dream! But don’t worry–girls can also be transformed into pirates, or they can opt for a mermaid makeover.
  • The experience is so immersive! From the moment you walk in until the moment you leave, you feel like you’re really with pirates. All the cast members stay in character so well and make the kids feel truly special.
  • For an affordable price, you get an experience and souvenirs. The kids leave with a bandana, eye patch, earring, necklace and sword. (Mermaids get a hairclip, necklace and sash).
  • During the makeover, your kids get a bit of much-needed rest. Disney World involves lots of walking, so sitting in a nice cool space can give kids the little boost they need to get through the rest of the day. We like to reserve an afternoon makeover as a bit of a break.

If you’re heading to Walt Disney World before July 27, 2020, make reservations for Pirates League now. You can make them online, and they can be cancelled if your plans change. If you have multiple kids and are having trouble grabbing a reservation, try making one reservation at a time.

Let me know if you catch this fun experience before it ends!

10 Reasons to Get to Disney World for Rope Drop!

10 Reasons Not to Miss Rope Drop at Disney World

When you’re on vacation you might dream of sleeping in, but if you’re at Walt Disney World don’t do it! Getting to the park by rope drop (i.e. the time the park opens) is crucial in having your best possible Disney day!

When we go for several days we might not make rope drop everyday, but we try especially hard to arrive early on Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios days.

Here are the 10 reasons our family tries our best to arrive for rope drop:

  1. You’re at Disney World, so there’s no reason to drag around in your room! Get up and get going!
  2. Kids are in their best moods in the morning! No one is hungry or tired yet, and good attitudes equal good memories.
  3. The lines are so much shorter first thing in the morning! You can hit up a sought after attraction or several less crowded ones before most people even get in the gate.
  4. By the time the crowds start to arrive, we’re ready for our first snack break of the day–perfect timing!
  5. Arriving early allows us to leave for an afternoon break without feeling like we’re missing too much.
  6. The morning temperatures can’t be beat! Florida can be HOT in the afternoon, but mornings on Main Street are almost always pleasant.
  7. Arriving early gives you an excuse to try some of the delicious breakfast options Walt Disney World parks have to offer…hello Gaston’s cinnamon roll!
  8. Seeing the parks with fewer people around is magical! The morning is your best chance to get a castle pic with fewer people in the background.
  9. Arriving for rope drop at Magic Kingdom means you get to see the stage show that only happens when the park opens!
  10. Your kids are not going to be asleep anyway! Sure they’re tired from the day before, but if you think they’ll sleep in when Big Thunder Mountain is waiting you’re crazy. Use that morning energy to your advantage!

While rest is important, arriving at rope drop can truly get your day started in the best way. Try balancing early days with later wake-up times to find the formula that works best for your family to ensure your most magical vacation yet!

Guide to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party for Very Young Kids

IMG_2358

We recently attended Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party for the second year in a row, and while we loved it the first time around, this year was truly incredible! What was the difference? Planning! Like so many things at Disney World, a little planning can go a long way towards making the most of your time at the parks.

Having been to both the Christmas party and Halloween party at Walt Disney World, our family has decided that the Halloween party is our favorite. From the smoky feel in Frontierland to the characters in their own Halloween costumes, we love all that this party has to offer!

We took all five of our kids, ages 8, 8, 6, 4 and 1. Having been the year before, we tried a few new things that worked really well. Below I’m sharing what worked for us as a big family with little kids. I hope some of these tips help you have a a wonderful visit to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP)!

  • Consider skipping the park and having a resort/hotel day the day you are attending the party. While older kids can power through, young kids can really only enjoy so many hours of go, go, going. Last year we went to Epcot, took a break, then went to the Halloween party, which was fine, but I much preferred going only to the party. Our kids were fresh, rested, and ready to rock! Your party ticket allows you to enter Magic Kingdom at 4:00, so you will still have a good bit of the day to enjoy rides and characters. Plus, saving one day of park admission will go a little ways toward covering the cost of your party tickets!
  • Take advantage of the 4:00-7:00 window! The party doesn’t officially begin until 7:00, but they start asking non-party guests to leave Magic Kingdom at 6:00. For two years now, we’ve found the lines for rides start to really shorten around 5:00. Even major attractions like Big Thunder Mountain and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train tend to have far less than average wait times right as the park is transitioning to MNSSHP.
  • Make a plan! Review the party brochure before you visit and decide what your family priorities are. Is there a character that your kids REALLY want to meet? Is there a ride overlay that you just have to do? Your time at the party won’t allow you to do everything, so think through what’s most important before you go. For us, we knew we really wanted to meet Stitch, so we jumped into his line around 6:30. I grabbed hot dogs and we ate dinner while we waited (which worked out really well). Stitch started greeting people around 6:50, and by 7:05 we had accomplished one of our big goals for the night!
  • Also make a plan for which stage shows you want to see. Last year we skipped the villains stage show, but this year it was a must-do. Before we even entered the park, we knew the times of the show, parade, and fireworks, so we worked the rest of our evening around those set times.
  • Get your castle picture early! While you may love the idea of a night castle picture, remember that the Main Street area gets very crowded before parades. I recommend getting a family picture in costume around 5 or 6. The lighting is great, and no one has started stripping off pieces of their costume yet! You can always stop for a picture as you exit as well, but nothing beats a shot when the kids are awake and excited! Also, don’t be afraid to ask the photo pass person to take an individual shot of each of your kids. We have shots of each of them in their costumes in front of the castle, and they are true treasures!
  • Dress up! I know that dressing up is not some people’s thing, but I promise that almost all other families will be in costume, so NO ONE will be looking at you. In fact, you might feel more out of place without a costume! Even if you’re not a dress-up fan, your child will love the memory of wearing a family costume to Disney World.
  • Don’t worry about hitting all the trick-or-treat stations! There is SO MUCH CANDY at this party, and you can really collect plenty by hitting up 3 stations. Remind your child that you’ll trick-or-treat again at home, but that you can’t do rides and characters later.
  • Consider watching the parade somewhere other than Main Street. While Main Street is amazing, the Halloween parade has a different feel, and we really enjoyed watching it in Frontierland. My husband walked over to the route about 30 minutes before it started (while we viewed the stage show) and was able to score us front row seats! I don’t feel like we missed out at all by watching it there, and we were actually able to duck through the tunnel that connects Frontierland to Adventureland as soon as the parade ended and be the second family in line to meet Jafar!
  • Don’t push your kids too far. One of my number one Disney tips for families with very young kids is to know your own limits. You know all those kids you see throwing tantrums in the park? They’ve been pushed way beyond their limits! They’re tired and over it. While I understand the desire to get your money’s worth, know when it’s time to call it a night. For us, last year that meant leaving as soon as the first parade was over. This year we watched the fireworks from the top of Main Street, then we headed straight for the exits. Leaving before anyone lost it was definitely worth missing some of the attractions that we would have enjoyed.
  • Finally, on a very specific note, since we weren’t going into the park this year before the party, we booked a 2:00 late lunch at Chef Mickey’s. This was the best decision ever! It gave us character time (it’s our all-time favorite character meal), and it also allowed us to park and walk to the party. When it was time to go, we walked the short 10 minutes back to the Contemporary rather than dealing with the transportation center. This strategy would work for any party (as long as you could get a reservation), and was well worth the money for us.

762A2A78-3909-416C-AF99-17F7AF8AFFF5

Disneyland Paris- Tips from a Disney World Lover

Disneyland Paris

Our family loves all things Disney, and though Disney World will always be our “home park,” we were thrilled to visit Disneyland Paris this spring! I read everything I could find before our trip. Based on most articles, I was expecting to be a bit underwhelmed by Disneyland Paris, but friends, I was completely charmed.

First, the basics. Disneyland Paris has two parks–Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios. Disneyland is very similar to Magic Kingdom, and Walt Disney Studios is most comparable to Hollywood Studios. The gates to both parks are very close to each other (maybe a two minute walk), and outside the gates is Disney Village, which has retail and restaurants. If you are staying at a Disney property other than Disneyland Hotel, you’ll walk through Disney Village to get to the parks.

Much of what I read online recommended no more than 1-2 days at Disneyland Paris. Because our trip was in the off-season, Disneyland was offering a great deal on rooms and tickets, so we decided to stay 4 nights. We had five day park tickets and used every single day of our tickets, never once getting bored! I honestly don’t think two days would have been enough for us, at least not with young kids (all ages 7 and under). Yes, we were in Europe, and yes, there are lots of historical things to see…but we were also on family vacation and found our days at Disneyland full of joy and fun!

Below are some of our thoughts and impressions, what we loved, what we didn’t love, and what you need to know if you are planning your own trip.

E91C2501-D81F-4F3F-94A3-5D811E84E0A9

Know before you go:

  • As with any Disney experience, do your research BEFORE you leave home. Know the Fastpass system, the most popular rides, and any reservations you might need beforehand (hotel, dining, etc.).
  • When we visited (March 2019), Disneyland Paris was still using a one-at-a-time paper fastpass system, but they were also beginning to experiment with a pay-for-fast-passes system. Check online for the current status before your trip.
  • If you’re a Disney World or Disneyland California regular, realize that some things may be familiar but not quite the same. For example, we often utilize the Photo Pass system in Florida, but after researching Disneyland Paris’s Photo Pass, we determined that it was not economical for us, as they only offer photos at a limited number of character meet-and-greets.
  • Much of what I found online made me think that the park would be super low-key, with very few lines and very little waiting. We definitely did not find that to be true. We found the lines comparable to what you would see at Disney World, with some substantial wait times at popular attractions.

What we loved:

  • Everything! No really, we loved it. I cannot recommend Disneyland Paris highly enough!
  • We really enjoyed seeing characters that we don’t normally see in Florida. Minnie in a princess dress, Goofy in a beret, plus Spiderman and Captain America were huge hits for our kids!
  • Hearing the shows/characters speak French was really a treat. Most stage shows were done in a mix of French and English–you didn’t know exactly what was being said at all times, but you could always follow along.
  • We loved experiencing new rides! Some big hits were the parachute drop in Toy Story Land, Ratatouille, Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, Snow White (Blanche-Neige et les Sept Nains), Pinocchio (Les Voyages de Pinnochio), Crush’s Coaster, and the RC Racer.
  • Possibly even more fun than new rides was comparing the rides that exist in both Disneyland Paris and Disney World and noting the usually subtle differences. Things like an extra drop in Pirates of the Caribbean, an extra scene in Peter Pan, and a totally different feel in Small World were so fun! Oh–and Big Thunder Mountain, which is a family favorite, boards on the mainland but then goes underground to an island, which was very surprising!
  • The theming in Disneyland Park is very impressive. As you move from land to land, you are completely immersed in new decor and vegetation.
  • We stayed at a Disneyland property (Newport Bay), and we were glad we did! Being able to walk to the park (about 10 minutes) and getting to enter an hour early were super helpful.
  • The Disneyland Paris parade was EXCELLENT! It was short, but the floats were large and impressive. The fireworks were also a big hit. We found it easier to find a good viewing spot for the fireworks show, and because they didn’t use the ones that go really high, the show was a bit quieter for the kids.

E99F1D51-B4C2-42F2-9181-5EAC6BB04190

What we didn’t love:

  • Our biggest disappointment was character dining. In Florida we love character meals, so we immediately reserved dinner at Cafe Mickey. Although the kids loved meeting the characters, the food itself was very underwhelming (some was even bad), and the price was extraordinarily high. We were glad to experience it but wouldn’t necessarily recommend a character meal, especially if you are trying to stick to a budget.
  • We also found the park dining to be lacking. The quick-service meals we had were pretty bad, but we did have better luck with food from the carts in the parks. The best food we found was a croque monsieur food cart, a crepe cart, and a waffle with nutella on top!
  • While we enjoyed our hotel, we were surprised to find that it offered no casual dining or snacks. We had to walk over to Disney Village (about 8-10 minutes) and go through security to get anything other than sit-down restaurant food.
  • Walt Disney Studios closed early in the off-season (5 pm), which pushed everyone to the same park for the last few hours of the day. This closure felt a bit too early, even in March.

Some tips we learned:

  • While the park food was expensive and underwhelming, we did find a perfect breakfast spot–McDonald’s. There is a McDonald’s in Disney Village, and it has a bakery inside with fresh croissants, pain au chocolats, other pastries and even macaroons! For just a few Euros, our whole family could pick up a fresh pastry to start the day!
  • Another food trick we learned was to take advantage of the small convenience store in the train station. There is a train station located directly beside Disney Village, and the convenience store inside has great snack options.

As with any Disney trip, your experience at Disneyland Paris depends largely on your own attitude. Things will go wrong, you will wait in line, you will overpay for something, and your child will have a meltdown, but…..you’ll also get to hear your kids giddily describe Hyperspace Mountain. You’ll see their eyes light up when Darth Vader asks them who their trainer is. You’ll notice them smile the first time they hear Mickey speaking French. You’ll have a video of them exploring the dragon’s cave under the castle that you watch on repeat. And you’ll make memories that can’t be replaced.

9EFFABBC-C9A7-448B-BD93-994A8A1B2D50

 

Advice from A Disney Planner

STUDIO_DINEPMCHAR_20170715_403582394210

Planning a trip to Disney World or Disneyland is fun and exciting, but it can also feel overwhelming and a bit stressful. These trips are not cheap, and you want to make sure you use your time wisely while visiting a Disney property. I get a lot of questions from friends about Disney (since I’m literally obsessed and we go way too often), and I love offering my advice, but I thought hearing from a professional Disney planner would be helpful to many of you. 

Audra Owens is an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. She has planned several trips for my family, and she is an absolute joy to work with. Below she shares some insight regarding how best to plan a Disney vacation. She can be contacted at audra@atimetotreasuretravel.com, and she is on Facebook at Audra Travel-Planner Owens and instagram at audraotravels.

Q: I know you plan all kinds of vacations, but tell us about your role as a Disney Planner. How long have you been doing this and how did you get started?

I became a Disney vacation planner just a little over four years ago. The owner of my travel agency, A Time to Treasure Travel, was actually my family’s Disney planner for several years. I asked Tammy (our owner) how she began, and knowing my Disney experience first-hand, she offered me a job! It has been such a wonderful gift to learn from her and grow my love for family travel into this business.

Q: How many times have you been to Disney World? Have you been to other Disney properties?

I have been on 10 memorable trips to Walt Disney World. I don’t count in that number the day trips, where my family has stopped to spend a day in one of the parks before moving on to another Florida destination. I have also been to Disneyland, on two Disney cruise ships, and to Aulani on Oahu. An Adventures by Disney tour is on my bucket list.

Q: As you know, I planned several trips for our family myself, but now I LOVE having your help. Tell us some of the advantages of using a Disney planner.

I offer concierge travel planning services free of charge. I help find the perfect resort package to fit your family’s needs and budget. If discounts become available after you book your vacation, I work to apply the savings to your current reservation. I rise early to secure dining reservations and FastPass+, arrange transportation to and from the airport if you need it, help customize Magic Bands, and I am a valuable resource for asking questions as you prepare for your trip. Many of my clients are first-time Disney travelers. I also have quite a lot of clients who have planned their own Disney vacation in the past, who love handing over the stress of planning to me, so all they have to worry about is enjoying themselves

Q: When you’re helping someone plan their Disney vacation, what is the ideal time for them to contact you to start the process? What are the big dates that people should be aware of?

I love when new clients contact me early – at least 7 to 8 months in advance – so that I am able to reserve the best dining experiences for them 180 days prior to travel. Everyone’s job and circumstances don’t allow for that. I have planned fantastic trips with much less advance notice. The next big planning milestone is FastPass+. If you are a Disney resort guest, these can be reserved 60 days prior to travel. If you are staying elsewhere in Orlando, FastPass+ can be planned 30 days before each of your park days.

Q: If you could give people three tips about their Disney vacation, what would you say?

  1. Have a plan, but be flexible. Lines can be longer (or shorter) than expected. Timing doesn’t always work out exactly as you may hope, but if you can be flexible and adjust on the go, you will still have a wonderful time.
  2. Have realistic expectations. Don’t assume you can do everything in just a couple of days. With four theme parks, that’s a nearly impossible feat. Every time I visit Walt Disney World, I experience something new. In all my visits, I have still not seen it all!
  3. Enjoy yourself! Walt Disney created Disneyland (and Walt Disney World) as a place where imagination comes to life, and where families can spend time together. It’s easy to get wrapped up in where you “need” to be next as you tour the parks. Slow down. Let your kids linger and play. Skip down Main Street, U.S.A. Ride *it’s a small world* 16 times if that’s what your little one wants. Treasure your time together.

Q: One question I get a lot is what the advantages are to staying on property. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Staying on property is the best! If it fits your budget, I highly recommend it. All Walt Disney World resort packages include Disney’s Magical Express service to and from the airport and luggage delivery service (if you are flying), transportation to and from the parks, complimentary WiFi, online check-in, free parking at all four parks (if you bring a car), Extra Magic Hours, and Magic Bands for each member of your party. When you stay on property, we are able to make dining reservations for your entire stay 180 days prior to your arrival. (Off-site guests can make a reservation 180 days in advance, but they have make the reservations for each day separately, as 180 days before each day of the trip pops up on the calendar.) On-site guests are also able to reserve FastPass+ for their entire stay 60 days prior to arrival. (Off-site guests can reserve these 30 days before each day of the trip.)

Beyond all that, I adore being surrounded by Disney magic during my entire vacation. The magical experience from the resort to the parks to the restaurants…it is seamless.

Q: We took our middle child on his first Disney trip at 6 months, and our youngest first went at 9 months. In your opinion, are kids ever too young for Disney?

I do not think anyone is too young (or too old!) for Disney. There are many attractions and shows that children of all ages (and sizes) can enjoy. Your 9-month-old baby may not remember their first visit, but those will be memories that you cherish forever. There is nothing sweeter than a little one meeting or discovering their favorite character for the first time. A client recently shared a video of her baby boy cooing and grinning at Tigger as they dined at The Crystal Palace. I don’t think they had any idea he would enjoy Tigger so much. I know they will never forget it.

Plus, kids are free at Disney until they turn three! Why not take them young and take advantage of the fact that you won’t have to buy an extra ticket?

Q: What’s your favorite thing about a Disney vacation (I know it’s hard to pick just one)? Any favorite family memories you want to share?

I love the nostalgia and magic I feel when I visit Disney World or Disneyland. I feel like a kid again. My worries melt away. I love that I can spend time with my family and be silly, something I don’t always remember to do when “real life” gets busy. I have many family memories that I could share, but my greatest wish is for you to make your own!