Disney, Travel

My Favorite Places To Get Disney Tips

My post about Disney the other day got me thinking about just how many good places there are to go in search of tips, tricks and hints for the best Disney vacation ever. So I thought I’d do a little roundup of my personal favorites to get the 411 on Disney stuff.

My Favorite Places To Find Disney Info

Walking on Main St., of course, with matching shirts 🙂

Disney’s Cheapskate Princess

This isn’t really news, but Disney is expensive! The cheapskate princess has tons of ways to plan for and save cash on your next trip to Disney.

DIS Boards

This is a forum for all facets of Disney: vacation planning, WDW area resort and Orlando info, plus Disney Vacation Club, Disney Cruise Line, and Disneyland. Pretty much any question you have about Disney related anything you can find an answer to here.

The Disney Food Blog

This one is probably my favorite. We went during Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival so I used this one quite a bit to find out what I wanted to sample. I also used this to find a few food items within Magic Kingdom that did not suck. If you want to know about any type of food sold at WDW, this is the place to go.

Walt Disney World For Grown Ups

I didn’t actually get to use many tips from this site since I was traveling with the in-laws and we didn’t have too much time to get away as a couple, but I enjoyed perusing this one to see if there is really anything there for people who might not be super into Disney. So if you want a good place for date ideas or things to do without kids, look here.

WDW Prep School

I actually found this one via YouTube because before the trip my husband and I were addicted to finding out how to get the best value on the Disney Dining Plan. You can read in my last post on Disney what I think about the Dining Plan and why. Anyway, WDW Prep School is perfect if you are a noob to Disney travels (like I was just a few months ago).

And finally, last but certainly not least, you can check out my Disney themed Pinterest board.

Happy Travels, Mousekateers!

My Favorite Places To Find Disney Info

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Family, life, Travel

My TOP Pieces Of Advice To Take On Your Disney Vacation

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of pins for planning a Disney trip in my Pinterest feed. There are undoubtedly numerous resources on the ‘net for tips on the best possible Disney trip. The place is truly EXPENSIVE and most people don’t have the luxury of going multiple times, so naturally a lot of people want to make the most of it. And having just been for the first time as an adult with my own kids, I have a few pearls of wisdom for you.

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1. You can’t do it all. Let me repeat that: YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL. Yes, you spent a ton of cash on theme park tickets and you splurged on a Park Hopper pass, but seriously, give yourself a break. I read countless articles before going on our trip that advised taking a day off from visiting the parks just to relax by the pool or to visit the different resort hotels, which are a sight to see in and of themselves. I told my husband he was nuts to buy theme park tickets for all seven days we were there, but he did it anyway. And you know what? We burned out. I was ready to go home at day three. This is also partly due to the fact that we were also traveling with his family who we don’t get to see very often, so naturally my husband wanted to spend a lot of time doing what they wanted to do. But this leads me to my next point.

2. Don’t travel with a big group and expect to have your own plans or any private time as a family. It seems like the most magical place on earth would be the best place to meet up with rarely seen family members, but the fact of the matter is that if you are not willing to take a break (as mentioned above) there really is no time to spend together to catch up. I don’t consider traipsing around a stupid amusement park for hours on end to be quality time spent with Grandma and Grandpa from Timbuktu. Especially when some of your group is under five and hasn’t had a proper nap or night of sleep in six or seven days. It’s just not a good combo. So if you wanna meet up with your remote family members in Orlando, that is fine, but PLEASE DO take tip one to heart and take a day off for relaxing and maybe some good quality face-to-face time.

3. Do let your little ones determine what the plan will be for the day, and BE FLEXIBLE. Again, this is hard when you have a large group to deal with, but when it comes to your own sanity and the sanity of your younger travelers, realize that going back to the hotel to nap or swim might be a good idea, even if that means you “waste” money that you spent to buy the ridiculously over-priced park tickets. I’ve heard from a few Disney expert bloggers that the witching hour is around 3 o’clock and let me tell you, THEY ARE RIGHT. I was of the mind on our trip that since my son doesn’t get to see his grandparents and cousin very much that we would skip the naps and regular bed times. This was a mistake. Not only do I feel like it ruined my son’s good time, but it also made me feel like a horrible parent since I was also at my wits end and just NOT having a good time on this trip that was supposed to be such a grand old time. If you have older kids, then I think this is definitely not so much of an issue, since my niece was also traveling with us, but as an 11 year old, I didn’t see too many meltdowns from her. So basically, if you’ve got little kids with you, PLEASE, base your day on what you think their needs are, and if that means you have to send the rest of the crew off to have the fun while you take the little bambino back to the hotel, then by all means, DO SO. You will be refreshed enough that later you can meet up with your crew again and have an enjoyable evening, instead of dragging a screaming monster around like a miniature zombie in a cart.

4. Don’t waste money on a dining plan. Surely there will be a lot of naysayers to this tip, but let me give you my reasons for this. The dining plans are EXPENSIVE and I feel the value that you get for snacks and quick service meals is not that great. Table service meals are a different story and I do feel like as long as it isn’t a two-point meal, I think that getting a table service meal is definitely your best value in the dining plan. But the snacks are only about $3 a piece, and mostly consist of crappy junk food and sweets that no one has any business eating multiple times a day. At least, I personally didn’t want to fill up on copious amounts of sugar and other garbage when all my body really wanted was a good salad and a ton of fresh tasting water. Quick service meals are essentially FAST FOOD only, that come automatically with a desert. Let me tell you, after being forced to eat some nasty circus food, the last thing I want is a huge giant desert to go with it. A quick service meal value is about $15, and it mostly consisted of food I didn’t want to begin with. If I didn’t have the dining plan, I would have been free to purchase what I wanted to eat and drink a la carte, instead of feeling like I was just throwing cash in the garbage can if I didn’t order the biggest platter of garbage I could find, just to make up the fact that I pre-paid $60 for meals that are not that great in the first place.  So unless you love to eat copious amounts of crap for days on end, I’d really suggest spending your money on table service and buying what you want for breakfast, lunch or snacks throughout the day. I would have much rather spent the money we used on crappy quick service to buy the extra large bottles of water and maybe some overpriced fruit. Instead, I felt compelled to order the most expensive grease-ball things so that I could get the value out of my plan. There were even some days I didn’t use my snack or quick service so I ended up wasting a LOT of money on unclaimed food. Also, keep in mind that ALL meals on the dining plan are shared with your group. So if you take a trip like we did with five extra people, it becomes hard to keep track of who is getting what meal or snack. It’s already an expensive enough trip without wasting money on stuff you yourself are not going to consume.

4. Character meals are really, really valuable. If you do end up going with the dining plan, DEFINITELY make reservations for a character meal or two. Here is why. At a character meal, you get guaranteed time and autographs from your favorite characters, thus eliminating the hour long wait to see Mickey and Co. in the parks. Believe me, even with Fast Passes, you definitely will spend enough time waiting and waiting and waiting in line for rides and to meet beloved characters. So, with or without the dining plan, make that Character meal reservation! Your kids and feet will thank you for that.

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5. Beware the Magic Bands. I know everyone is all super stoked about these stupid bracelets and how cute they are and easy to use and whatnot. In theory, they should make it easier. However, in practice, they are worthless pieces of garbage. These bands supposedly make everything you need included right on your wrist: theme park tix, dining plan meals, room key, charging capabilities. Let me tell you, three out of the seven days I went to the parks, my “Magic” Band did  not work, and since I didn’t bring my Key To The World with me since I assumed the “Magic” Band would work, I literally had to have 39 employees helping me get into the park every single time. It took several days for my dining plan to work on my Band, and numerous times I was locked out of my room and had to take the bus 20 minutes to the front desk to have them reactivate it or whatever it is they did to the stupid thing to make it open the door. In a nutshell, the Magic Bands wasted a LOT of our precious vacation time, because not only did we have to argue to get into the parks and to use the dining plan, and waste time going back and forth to the front desk, but we also had to spend a lot of time in our resort lobby getting dining plan fees reversed, since some meals were paid for with money since the dumb Magic Bands were not actually linked to the ridiculous Dining Plan. (Just another reason NOT to prepay for your meals at Disney!) So if you get a Key to the World when you check in, bring that along even if you have the Magic Bands, ’cause let me tell ya, those Magic Bands are NOT so magical.

Honestly, I’m no expert on Disney, just a regular mom that noticed a lot of things that could have been better on this way expensive trip to Disney World. I spent all this time researching my trip and instead of following the advice given, I let my trip be ruined by not putting my foot down for the sake of my own sanity. If I had it to do over again, I’d take some of these things into major consideration, because in retrospect, even though my two (almost three) year old had a good time in general, I feel that the many thousands of dollars spent on this “magical” week could have been better spent on a few trips to visit the far-away grands, instead of a week of hurried frenzy that did not actually result in much quality time at all. Just try to make the most of it in terms of what is right for YOUR family, and don’t be swayed by the pressure of getting your money’s worth and pushing yourself to the limit.

To quote one of my favorite characters, “to infinity and beyond!” Go enjoy that trip, give yourself a break, and don’t forget to try and make it a fun vacation for YOU too!

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art, German Schtuff, life, Travel

East Side Gallery Berlin-Remnants of the Past

In case you didn’t know, I studied for two summers in Berlin, Germany at Humboldt University. (I actually kept a blog the second year and it still exists! Short but sweet, I lost momentum quickly since getting to the computer lab was sporadic and I wanted to be out in the city, not sitting in a stuffy room at Uni.)

Humboldt University Berlin, July 2008

The program was a cultural and linguistic immersion, four weeks packed with language classes, phonetics training, and cultural and extracurricular activities. Best two trips of my life, needless to say. And not only did I learn German, I got to know Berlin. It is a city with a rich, deep and painful history.

berlin at dusk

Size and population-wise, Berlin reminds me a lot of Chicago. Big, broad, busty, bold, with a river running through it. This is likely why I feel so at home there. But Chicago is much younger and was not destroyed by World War II and, probably most importantly, was never a focal point of Cold War communism.

The modern, reunited Berlin still carries the scars of a city whose transitions have caused literal worlds to be turned upside-down. Or right-side up, depending on what side of the wall you happened to be on.
As such, Berlin’s art reflects these scars, these revolutions.

One of my favorite things about my time in Berlin is the fact that I had plenty of opportunity to see such large icons of historical significance, such as what was left of the Wall at East Side Gallery. So I was quite sad to hear from a dear friend in Berlin the fate of this special section of the wall. I feel like a piece of my own past is there too, since my time in Berlin had such a profound impact on me.

The entire story of the wall is fascinating, from how quickly it went up in 1961 to how quickly it came crashing down one evening in 1989. Of course, all the reasons the Wall even existed were so wrought with tension that it is no surprise that after reunification die Mauer became a prominent canvas for political art.

die mauer

 

The largest open-air art gallery in the world, the East Side Gallery commemorates and remembers the extreme political tensions of two sides, East and West, and not just in the name of Berlin, the city, but as two sectors of the entire world. This is globalism before the Internet, folks.

die mauer 3

So it is quite sad to me that in the middle of the night sometime in March that contractors removed a section of the Wall in order to pave a road leading to an eventual luxury apartment complex.

Taking down what is left of the Berlin Wall for the sake of a capitalistic pursuit seems, so, well, American. I realize that great minds have likely planned every detail of this venture, and I am sure it wasn’t a hasty decision, given that this is Germany we are talking about, after all. But it also feels so wrong to replace it with fancy condos.

Sometimes I am hesitant for change. This is human, I think. Other times, I want to change everything. I miss Berlin, I miss the life I was planning to make there, I miss who I am and how I feel about myself there. Which is completely different than how I feel at home, stateside. Lately I’ve been feeling really nostalgic for that time I spent abroad and resentful that life changed so suddenly that I had to completely re-organize my plans to teach and study abroad for grad school. I love my family and I am still getting used to this motherhood thing, but I am so strapped for time I feel this part of me slipping away. So somehow this change in Berlin also kind of marks a symbolic end to my time there.

And that is why the removal of the East Side Gallery makes me tear up.

Berlin, ich hab’ dich Lieb!

My last days in Berlin. Hugging the Brandenburg Gate. Berlin, 2008

My last days in Berlin. Hugging the Brandenburg Gate. Berlin, 2008

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