Friday, July 31, 2009

Pro Tip 3 and 4

Tip 3

Bathroom breaks.

If you are bringing kids and your part size is more than three, you are going to spend a substancial amount of time looking for and using the potty. If you are not careful, it can monopolize your day. One way around this is to synchronize the potty. Whoever is the first person to need to go (and I would set this schedule with the smallest bladder) make a stop bit require that everyone go and evacuate whatever they have in there. Some kids will complain but the rule stands. As your party size increases this becomes more and more important.

Tip 4

Baby Care Center

Every park has a baby care center which provides large air conditioned spaces for changing babies with excellent theming and sanitized conditions. They also provide quiet rooms for nursing mothers, a small store to purchase baby supplies and high quality home styled high chairs for feeding babies. Further they have a TV room with classic movies playing, comfy chairs and a coloring table for siblings or older children who need a break. The center is seldom crowded and can be a welcome break when traveling with babies.

-- From the 999th ghost's mobile!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pro Tips 1 and 2

Pro Tips

Going to the parks has its advantages and disadvantages. First it’s an expensive endeavor unless you are quite careful and have cooperative children. One important advantage is that you wrack up some great ideas and rituals for going to the park. In my weekly Pro Tip Column, I will share with you one or two tips every Friday to help you build a great trip.

Tip #1:

For most of the year in Florida, you are going to sweat while you are at the
park. If you have children, this means trying to push lots of fluids to keep them hydrated while doing the same for yourself. Although most people know to bring in some water bottles, by the end of the day, when you are walking out to that huge parking lot, you are probably nearly out of all your provisions and anything your brought with you is now warm. Whether you are driving an hour to get back to Tampa or fifteen minutes to get back to the hotel, dealing with tired and hot children/adults can be tough. So plan ahead. ON the way to the park, pack a small cooler with some sodas, juice bags, water bottles and some ice or cool packs. When you return to the car and get everyone situated, you can then reward them with some icy cold refreshment for the ride back. Works wonders!

Tip #2:

It rains in Florida, a lot. Disney loves to break out the ponchos at every cash register the moment the drops start falling. Trying to keep every part of you dry is hopeless. However, there is one thing I would highly recommend you consider even if you using a raincoats and ponchos. Bring several sizes of zip-lock bags. Snack and sandwich sizes are great but a couple of quart and gallon would be helpful too. With all the cell phones, small cameras, and other electronics making their way into the parks nowadays, finding some quick protection for them is really important. Whether you are about to get soaked on Splash Mountain, or if you happen to catch a surprise wave at Pirates of the Caribbean, it is no fun to get on the ride and realize you are still holding your iPhone. So keep a ziplock in your back pocket and a couple of extras in your backpack.

If you are a regular you may want to invest in a waterproof bag specifically made for your device. You won’t have to worry at all and your device is still accessible while in the bag. Aquapac makes an assortment of waterproof bags for cameras and phones
that will still allow you to use your device while stowed. You will notice in the picture that the case on the right has a small bulge. This is for those compact zoom cameras to allow the extension of their lens into the bag without damaging the camera.
Whether you are going to use a ziplock or a dedicated waterproof case, it is always a good idea to get some desiccates to have on hand. Desiccates are small pouches that contain a water absorbing material that will dry out the inside of the pouch. Even if you place your camera or phone in a dry bag, you may find that once inside that
condensation will form inside the bag. The small pouch will keep the inside of the bag dry as a bone. Besides the obvious protection this offers it also makes it easier to get your phone or camera in and out of the bag.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Cool Club Cups

Not so secret, secrets!

This is the first of a multipart series on secrets in the parks. Most of these are not secrets at all, but having traveled with children through the parks, we have discovered some wonderful little tid bits that you might enjoy that are not particularly well known. Here is part 1.

The Cool Club

When going to Epcot, everyone needs to take some time to stop at the Cool Club. Located behind Fountain View in Innovantions West, Cool Club is one of the last stops you can have before crossing over into the World Showcase. It is across from the main fountain and has two entrances. If you are bringing a stroller through, only the main entrance has a ramp. For parents with children who can walk, you might want to note that strollers might be very awkward in this location.

The Cool Club is sponsored by Coca Cola so you will notice plenty of Coca Cola merchandise along with an assorted array of American Idol swag as well. However, the real fun is the variety of soft drinks from around the globe. There are several vending stations providing little sampling cups for you to try out as many of these little gems as you wish. The beverages go from ultra sweet to “how can they possibly drink this stuff”. Its a great spot to cool off and its fun for the whole family.

In fact, here is a great little hint. The first thing you should do if you have any child that is in a stroller is to grab a stack of those little cups. They are the perfect size for little hands and you can spend the rest of the day filling them with little snacks. When you stop at a restaurant you can break up their nuggets and put little pieces in each cup and play little cup games. I know it sounds ridiculous, but you would be surprised how handy those little cups become throughout your stay. We usually get a bunch and store them in the bottom of the stroller for using at other parks during our stays.

Now for the secret. In the back of the store they sell souvenir cups that you can have filled with their slushy drink. This is not unique to Epcot. They sell souvenir cups at several parks that have slushy drinks like the Lunching Pad at Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland. However the Epcot cups are unique and can only be bought at the Cool Club. They come with interchangeable feet and hats. They feature Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Stitch, and “Princess”.

What makes these cups great is that they are slightly insulated and very rugged. If you get there on the right day they will have bendy straws as well. The cups are exactly 22 ounces and have a separate screw down top to prevent spills. With their hat in place, they are almost spill proof. Trust me, my kids have tried. The base of the cups are tapered and fit almost perfectly into all of the stroller cup holders we have tried. In fact they fit very tightly in to the tray’s cup holder for my child so there is little chance it will fall out even when bumped by unaware *cough* rude *cough* guests.

Even better, the feet come off and make a perfect bowl for snacks and are wide enough that they won’t easily fall out of the tray of a stroller. My children, especially the four year old” love this and will often prepare her cup to receive her drink and snack. If you are renting a Disney stroller, the bases of the Mickey, Stitch, and Goofy feet are wide enough that your child can set the cup down between his legs and it will be very stable for most strolling around the parks.

Since they are 22 ounces all regular soft drinks that you buy in the parks fit perfectly into the cups, and can also be refilled with water at any water fountain. So as you go around the park you can pour your drinks into these and know that you have a nice stable cup that will help keep those drinks just a little extra cool during the hot summer and warm spring days. Although they are not cheap, around $8 for them filled with a slushy, they are very reusable and the kids like to have them. It solves the “which drink is mine” debate that inevitably ensues if you have more than one, and helps you push fluids on those kids to keep them hydrated.

I have asked several Disney employees to dispense a soft drink directly into the cups, but due to food dispensing laws, they all refuse. Be aware, Disney is experimenting with some free refill stations in Hollywood Studios and Epcot, but as a rule there are no free or discount refills anywhere in the parks. When I say that these cups can be refilled, I mean that you can purchase a drink and use these cups instead of the paper cups.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Zero to Hero

Zero to Hero

One thing you will notice about going to any Disney World Resort park is that it is filled with kids. They seem to be everywhere. I haven’t pulled up any rocks but I bet that if I did, there would be scores of little kids crawling around under there.

After a little exposure you will notice that some of these kids get connected with adults (or maybe the adults brought these kids in the first place) who knows. However, the adult-kid relationship begins to degrade the longer they stay and the hotter it gets.

I am fortunate that when the going gets tough in the parks, we can just pack up and go home and come back some other day. However, a lot of people who are here may not be coming back for a long while or worse, may never come back again. I really want people to enjoy themselves while they are here at the park, but not at my expense or the expense of their own children.

This blog is not how to have fun and manage your children at the same time. That has been covered in lots of other places. Check out the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids and other books for great tips. What I have for you here is how to be a Hero at Disney. This is what to do so that not only you have a great time, but you pay it forward so others around you have a great time as well.

First, you need to know that at present, I never go to the parks without a stroller (and you can probably deduce that there will be one of those afore mentioned kids in it) and in that stroller is a small cooler that fits under the seat. Hanging from the back of the stroller is a backpack (with a huge Ariel patch ironed on) filled with snacks, water, etc... This gives me the potential to become a Hero. If you aren’t bringing a bag with you, you are not going to be a hero.

There are three places where meltdowns occur that can really destroy a day. The first is the in-line meltdown, the second is the seated for parade meltdown, and the third, is the eating a meal meltdown. Any one of these can really detract from your day. There is nothing worse than having your family in line behind a family struggling to get their kids through the line without resorting to, “Do you want me to take you out of this park!” Or getting the perfect spot on Main Street for the parade and listening to that sniveling little whiner complaining about how board they are then watching that whiner yell at their kids for getting restless.

All of these suggestions came from things my wife and I started doing to satisfy our own kids. We simply started having enough for everyone. Most of the things we are talking about are very inexpensive, but do require that you are prepared before you travel to the park.

1. Bring Bubbles - We started finding the little bottles of bubbles that are often handed out at weddings and parties. They sell them in trays of 6 or 12 and they are usually at party supply stores and department stores (Target, Party Place). We bring six or more and dump them in the bottom of our backpack. When a child starts to have problems in line or waiting for a parade, we just pop one of them open and begin blowing bubbles. You should see how fast the mood lightens. Then, the moment the kid calms down, we normally had off the bottle to the child (with the parents permission of course) and all of a sudden you are a HERO.

2. Glow Necklaces - This one is relatively recent, but if you travel to any dollar store, or even places like Michael's or Target, you can find packages of glow necklaces for $1 or so. We buy two or three packages. They normally contain 10 or more strips of various colors. While waiting for parades, fireworks, etc... once it gets dark, kids get a little restless and parents get quite impatient. Not to mention every lit up Disney cart comes around and our kids start with the gimme gimmes! We started lighting these up and wrapping them around our own kids and handed them out to all the kids around us. We might have spent 3 bucks total but those last 15 minutes sure went by quick and again - We’re Heros!

3. This isn’t a new idea, but it is so simple and free. We tend to play the Fast Pass game. Since Fast Passes don’t really expire (meaning you can always use a Fast Pass any time after its starting time on the day its issued) we accumulate them all day long. Often when we decide to leave we may have a group of Fast Passes left over that we don’t use. Its always prudent to hand those off to a family that really needs it. You never have to look far to see that family that has no Fast Passes, no options, and no patience. Maybe not as big a hero, but still a nice pay it forward.

4. Dance in the park. Whenever a band is playing, singers are singing, piano player playing, grab your kids and start to dance. If you are really brave get a conga line started. Just go crazy and have fun. It is contagious and will most likely show others that there is fun to be had even if you aren’t on a ride or buying something.

5. Have a silly face contest. Enough Said.

6. I love eating different kinds of food, mmmmmm food. Nothing makes food taste awful like sad kids. They don’t get into food. To them food should be quick and sweet. If you are eating at a quick service then you have to get the kids sitting down somewhere while an adult goes to wait in line, if you are eating at a table service, there is the standard wait time until you get seated and then more waiting for the food. If you are character dining, you know that even though you are having a buffet (most likely) you aren’t leaving until you’ve seen each character and that can take over an hour on a busy day. So, dig inside my backpack and you’ll find 50 or 60 coloring pages all directly from the Magic Artist section of I print them out and keep them stocked in a folder (we actual store this in the car) but we also collect those little packets of crayons from different restaurants so that we always have a supply of crayons. Want to be a Hero, grab a stack and hand it to the table next to you with the crying baby, the sad and bored kid with his head down and the exasperated parents. Hero, absolutely free!

7. Lastly we keep a handful of ring pops in the front of our bag for our own kids. It can bring out a smile in the worst of times. I would not suggest giving candy or taking candy from strangers, but sometimes in the depths of despair, you may need to resort to this. Ask permission and make sure you have already been talking to the parent. Moreover, this works only when you have enough for your own children first.

Well, I hope you have enjoyed part one of How to be a Hero at Disney. Remember, there are dozens of things you should be doing to have fun at Disney, but these will make your experience so much better by lightening up the environment around you. This takes an average day at the parks and turns it into the commercials you see of the parks! Besides, you’ll never see these people again so ham it up and be silly. That always works!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Line Etiquette - Lineqeutte

Line Etiquette


I feel if you wait in lines at Disneyworld you’ve failed. Not that you won’t wait some, but if done right, on an average day, you can work that FastPass system so that your waits are small and your walk on time is short. However, no matter how well you plan you are just going to have to wait in line. Sometimes it’s the end of the day and all of the FastPasses have been handed out. Sometimes the ride doesn’t distribute FastPasses and is crowded. Whatever the reason, you suit up and get in line and tough it out. Yet, if your are like me, the wait in line could be improved if people around you would have some better linequette. You know, they need to have etiquette while in line. I have composed a set of rules that should be required reading especially for newbies who show up at the park.

Once you are in line, there is NOTHING you can do to make the line go faster. It is not up to you. So don’t complain, whine, or cry about it. If it is upsetting you to be in line, then please get out of line and rethink staying in the park.

There is no reason you should ever have to touch me. I promise I will move forward when the person in front of me moves a safe distance away. You don’t have to lean on me, push me, bump me with any part of your anatomy, or stand so close I can tell what you had for breakfast and the brand of soap you use, or don’t.

Why should you sit on the rail while the rest of us have to stand? For you to sit on the rail means, I have to negotiate your butt. Move.

If your entire party can’t be in line, don’t send a scout to “start” hanging out in the line while the rest of your clan goes for lunch/snacks/potty/whatever and then push their way to meet up with you. Arg!

If it is dripping out of your child, it is your job to wipe it before he smears it on something.

No Spitting!

If you are coughing, sneezing, or expressing any fluids of any kind, go ahead and provide that little bit of extra space between you and I, and cover that orifice.

If you are part of a tour group that requires you to follow someone with a flag while all 243 of you wear the same colored t-shirt, you should wait to get into the line until everyone in the park has had a chance to ride the ride . . . . . twice. If this is too much trouble then please go enjoy Universal Studios.

Your tongue should never get involved in a kiss; I don’t care how newly wed you are.

If you are too cool to be in Disney (teenagers mostly) don’t come.

It doesn’t matter how important that phone call is, if you have to conduct business, or gesticulate in a gross manner while on the phone in order to get your point across, excuse yourself and go somewhere else.

Now go to that park and remember, its not ok to laugh or stick out your tongue at the people in the standby line while you skip and play hopscotch through the FastPass line.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Spaceship Earth

Ok, I wasn’t going to do this, but every time I go to Epcot it hits me right in the face. I remember coming to Epcot the year it opened. I think somewhere in my archive I have the commemorative poster I recieved at the opening of Captain EO (Yikes!). I remember my first ride on Horizons (I chose space but everyone else wanted underwater). I loved playing with the pin tables in the Imagination Pavilion, right after a chat with the Dreamfinder. Of course I still find myself humming Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit.

I can take change, yet riding that new Spaceship Earth just really bothers me. Its not that the old ride didn’t need an update, in fact I love the Steve Wozniak reference, the 1969 moon landing reference is great, and I even like morphing cave drawings, but the new ride is just plain bad.

I was there during the soft launch and although they have made some subtle updates, I have already exhausted all of the possible “futures” they can offer me on the way back. The original was at least campy, but the new “return to Earth” section is not only disappointing, but its such a sad cheap ending.

Please Disney, make it better. Please Please Please!

p.s. I don’t mind the new Spaceship Earth Pavilion, that part is tolerable.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Independence Day Fireworks at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort

Ask any cast member at the Walt Disneyworld Resort which days are the most crowded and invariable the list will be the major holidays of the year; Christmas, New Years Eve, Easter, Thanksgiving, and July 4th, Independence Day. Of course the hottest and most miserable of these days has to be July 4th. Combining the peak season, with Disney’s affinity for amazing fireworks, plus the opening of the retooled Hall of Presidents and you can bet that July 4th, 2009 was going to be crowded like no other day! So what do a bunch of Disney lovers who can go any day that they want do, we decide that this would be the best day to visit the park.

Why you ask? Well, we have never seen the patriotic fireworks display that is put on by the Magic Kingdom Imagineers. Knowing about the nostalgic love that Walt Disney had for the United States you just have to know that their tendency to respect his wishes should make these the best fireworks ever.

We arrived at the park around 2 pm and figured we had several hours to enjoy the park. Did mention that we decided that July 4th would be just too crazy and since Disney World hosts the same fireworks display on July 3rd, that would be just as much fun with fewer park guests. So, knowing that their would be crowds, we prepared for a busy day but with an amazing finale.

When we arrived at the park, we found it to be busy, but not crowded, meaning the walk ways were not very full but some rides and fast passes required a bit of waiting. However, from 2 to 6pm we walked onto Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Mickey’s Philharmagic, and Aladdin's Magic Carpets. We picked up fast passes for Big Thunder at 2:30 PM that came due at 5:00 PM. So, by 6:00 PM we had ridden 7 attractions. Not bad at all for a late entry on a day we thought would be ultra crowded. In fact, even though the Hall of Presidents was officially opened that day, there were no crowds waiting.

So with that we decided to get some dinner real quick and then find a nice spot to watch the fireworks. We first saw that the Noodle Terrace was open, and since it is seasonal we stopped to have a bite. We had hoped that we might be able to see the fireworks from the Terrace, but someone had already reserved it for a party (Stupid VIP’s), so we took up residence on Main Street. We had barricaded ourselves a sweet little spot, which was going along well. We had scheduled potty breakouts for the kids starting at 8:00 and felt that we were strategically spaced between the Terrace bathrooms and the bathroom by Casey’s.

I left with the 4 year old at 8:20 just to find out that there was almost no way to return to my spot when we were done at 8:30. All of sudden the street was filled with people sitting down or setting up tripods. That would have been fine, but there were so few cast members that the areas that had been roped off for walkways were also completely barricaded. The staff had come by early to tell folks they couldn’t sit in a path, but they never came back and so people fully blocked all the paths. Therefore people resorted to simply pushing their way through the crowd while dragging their children along too. I finally made it back to my area, taking 15 minutes to move 20 feet, in order to watch a woman sit down in the space between my daughter and the person next to her. It didn’t matter that there was only about 2 inches between them. She fully sat on my daughter and when I fully and loudly objected she just turned and smiled while her friend made some calls to bring more people over. It was unbelievable.

Finally the fireworks began, and after sharing glow necklaces we had brought from the dollar store with the nice neighbors around us, we had a wonderful comfortable time seeing some of the best fireworks ever. They weren’t the longest, and didn’t have the most rockets of other displays I have seen, but they were definitely the best and most memorable. With the all engulfing and surrounding affect of Wishes plus the incredible synchronization to the music and the amazing lighting on the castle, the effect was simply awe inspiring.

Of course, disaster strikes at the most inopportune time. One of my kids chose this time to get sick to their stomach so my wife (she lost the coin toss) had to push her way to the bathroom. Knowing she wouldn’t make it back we assumed that we would meet up after the fireworks.

Now our original plan had been to stay put after they were done, but with my wife and I separated, I decided to try and make it to her after waiting about 10 minutes. Big mistake. As I tried to go south on Main Street, we found that it was shoulder to shoulder people. It was so crowded that people on either side of the stroller I was pushing were toucing shoulders over the stroller. It was unreal. They were rude and tired and unable to deal with the situation. Worse, there were no cast members within visual distance explaining where to go.

We found out later that we could not go south on Main Street, that they had opened up the cast member parking lot behind Main Street for egress out of the park. If we had known that the flow of bodies off of the street would have gone faster. To complicate matters, they had scheduled the parade to begin at 10:30PM after the 9:00PM fireworks and it was evening Extra Magic Hours.

So although it was the best Independence Day fireworks I had ever seen, the disorganized egress was disgraceful, especially for Disney. We caught up with a cast member later, and she admitted that there were some problems with the crowds on Main Street. As we walked the park later that evening, we saw signs all over that indicated the exit had been relocated to the East side of Main Street and they had added an extra exit out of Tomorrowland. It would have helped if cast members had been stationed more plentifully throughout Main Street to help move crowds and further they should invent illuminated arrows that the cast members hold above their heads to help direct visitors.

We will be back, but we won’t sit on Main Street.

Friday, July 3, 2009


I am getting ready to finally launch a real blog. I have been blogging about musing of my life for a while, but this is the first time I am really going to try my hand at this. I hope all of the components will be ready for a 4th of July, Independence Day Launch. My first post will be of the Fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom! Wish me Luck!