Wednesday, September 26, 2012

[INFOPOST] Reasons Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party is Worth the Money.

Disney World's prices are not cheap. Sure there are some affordable options, but generally when people plan their vacations they don't look for special events that cost extra. Park tickets and hotel are expensive enough. This is understandable, and for the most part you're not missing much. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party was a bit of a disappointment for me but I'm glad I'm able to say I've been. With the Christmas Party they give you free unlimited cocoa and cookies, but the cookies and cocoa are heavy after a while (though they do warm you up when you need it). The parade is beautiful, but if you go to the park closer to Christmas you can see it (and Holiday Wishes) during regular park hours. So, the only exclusive things you're paying for when you attend the Christmas Party are the character meet and greets and the castle show.

This is not the case with Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.

If you're like me and don't do well with Universal's Halloween Horror Nights then this party is the perfect spooky celebration for you. There's free candy (no matter what you're age), tons of rare characters, an amazing parade that you can only see at the party, and a castle show full of villains that are very rarely seen. Plus, there's dance parties, attractions that are decked out to look extra creepy, and special photo ops (last year they had Cinderella's Carriage out for special photo op) that more than pay for the price of the ticket. Not to mention the cast members look and act like their having a blast and so many other guests turn up in outstanding costumes.

There's much fun to be had and many memories to be made. Now how can you best enjoy all of these perks?

First of all, your party ticket will get you into the Magic Kingdom at 4 PM. Use that time to ride attractions or eat dinner. The attractions are open during regular park hours so I would skip those from the hours of 7 to midnight. The one exception I would make is The Haunted Mansion because there is something extra special about sitting in a Doom Buggy on an extra spooky night at the Magic Kingdom. Plus, there's Madame Leota's sisters who entertain guests from the lawn of the Mansion while they wait in line. They're absolutely delightful.

Second of all, go to the second parade. The crowds are smaller and it's easier to find a spot to sit down. If you want a really good view (for you or your little ones) expect to be there at least 45 minutes before the parade. Use this time to regroup or eat, if you didn't earlier and I suggest finding a spot in Frontierland. The parade ends there first so you can move on to the next activity sooner. The same concept applies to the Villains Mix and Mingle. The later the show the easier it is to find a spot. There's usually one last show after 11 o'clock, that's the one you should go to.

And finally, meet the characters you can't find any other time. For instance, if you're a fan of the princesses or have a little one with a favorite Disney couple, the Disney Princes are out with the Princesses every night. The interaction between the Princesses and their true loves is not something you'll want to miss. There's also characters like Jack Sparrow, Gaston, Jafar, The Seven Dwarves, Mad Hatter and characters you'll find in other parks (but here they're in their very special Halloween Costumes.) Some of these characters require getting in line before the party starts (the Seven Dwarves can be a monstrous wait) and some of these it's best to wait until the party has been under way for a while (the Princesses and Princes won't be out until all the regular day time guests have gotten out of line so more than like these characters won't be out until 7:30 or so.) The best suggestion if you're a character hunter like me is to start in the back of the park and work your way forward.

Something you can't miss at the Halloween Party is meeting at least one major villain. After the Castle Show, Villains Mix and Mingle, the Villains have their own special meet and greet. These characters (with the exception of The Tremaines) are almost never out. Here you'll find Maleficent, The Evil Queen, Frollo, Dr. Facillier, Cruella DeVille, Captain Hook, and the Queen of Hearts. They don't have time to do autographs or talk very much but it's a can't miss photo op that you'll talk about for years to come. Get in line as soon as the shows over. The line's build up fast and the Character Attendants will cut them off when the meet and greet time is over. No exceptions.

And the very last thing that we can't forget, is HalloWishes. Now, first off, I'm not a fireworks enthusiast. I love them and I think they look amazing, but I don't go out of my way to view them. So I decided to skip HalloWishes at my first party and then I caught it later on the beach at Polynesian Resort (where they pipe in the music. They also do this at the Contemporary.) I enjoyed much better at a distance than I did up close, but that's not to say HalloWishes isn't an amazing fireworks display. If you're going to catch it make sure you find a spot with a quick exit to make it through the crowds and get to your next activity. But I definitely suggest skipping the massive crowd as it's uncomfortable and more than like your view will be obscured. If you can work it out catch the fireworks another night at the Contemporary or the Polynesian.

Anyway, those are my tips and suggestions for enjoying the Halloween Party as well as my reasons why the party as a whole is worth the price of the ticket. It's definitely one of my favorite Disney events, and I'm getting ready to attend for my third year in a row. I absolutely love it.

Because, as Uncle Walt said, "Adults are only kids grown up, anyway."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

[INFOPOST] Reasons to Stay On Property

I know so many people who have gone to Disney World and stayed at an outside hotel, and that's totally fine (I've done this before too.) Off property hotels work really well for large parties (the vacation homes in Orlando are surprisingly affordable to rent) or guests who plan to visit Seaworld or Universal more than Disney. But if you want to Disney World, I mean really do Disney World, and you have a party of 6 or less then the on property hotels and resorts are really the best way to go. You're close to the magic, you have complimentary travel to and from the parks, free parking at theme parks, extra time inside the actual parks before offsite guests, and amazing staff to make your stay so much easier.

The quality of the Cast Members Disney hires and trains never fails to amaze me (even after being a Cast Member myself). Everyone is extremely helpful and they want nothing more than to make your trip as worry free as they can. Plus, they're always up for more than a little fun. I've stayed at one resort at every level except for Deluxe. Value, Moderate, and Deluxe Villa. All three experience were extremely pleasant. The first Disney Resort I ever stayed in was Old Key West in a one bedroom villa. We arrived early for check in, but we were able to check in anyway and leave our bags with Cast Members and then head out to the parks right away. When we arrived back at the resort that night our luggage and our purchases from that day were waiting on us in our room.

That was my first exposure to Disney service. I didn't have to lug my bags anywhere and while shopping inside the park I didn't have to carry around my plastic bags filled with purchases. I could just have them shipped to my room and by the next day they would be there waiting on me. It was wonderful.

And then there was Extra Magic Hours. One of the best perks to have ever been thought up. Every day, one park has EMH. Sometimes it's one hour in the morning and sometimes it's up to three hours at night. At the end of this year, that extra three hours after closing is officially changing to two (which I'm sure is a great relief to Magic Kingdom CMs, who often had to work until 4 in the morning to restock and clean the park.) But those extra hours allow you to get a lot done that the crowded general guest hours may prevent you from doing. Plus, there's nothing like experiencing the Magic Kingdom at 2 AM. It's just a whole different kind of magic.

The transportation to and from the parks is an excellent perk as well. It saves a lot of gas and a lot of money. Not to mention you no longer have to worry about finding your car at the end of every night. The only drawback is waiting on the bus after park closing. Sometimes it takes forever to finally get on one due to the sheer number of people wanting to ride them.

The next time I stayed at a resort was during my College Program when my parents came to visit. We stayed at Coronado Springs. It's a lovely quiet resort with lots of beautiful theming. This resort is home to a lot of business conferences so you'll find there aren't many families staying here. But I really enjoyed the design of the lobby. It was gorgeous. This was the trip I discovered the free parking for resort guests. As a CM I received free parking anyway but to do so I had to show my CM ID. So my parents decided to drive instead of wait for the bus and I had my ID all ready to show the Cast Member's who take the money for parking, but he didn't need it. He saw the Resort parking pass and just waved us on through. It was the best surprise of the day for me because leaning forward from the back seat to the front driver side window was very uncomfortable and awkward. So from then on we had no fear of driving and no need to follow bus schedules. It was very liberating.

The last time I stayed on property was last October. I stayed at the Pop Century resort and enjoyed every minute of it. This time I was able to enjoy Magical Express, a flawless service, and the services of the CM's who greet at the front desks in the resort lobby. These two services absolutely made my trip. Michelle and I came from two seperate states but managed to end up on the same flight thanks to the genius of Southwest Airlines (who I highly recommend by the way. Their one way flights are more affordable than connecting flights most of the time.) Because of this we were able to use Magical Express, the bus service that picks you up at the airport and takes you to your resort.

Now, keep in mind that this is not a direct trip to your resort. The bus stops at other resorts in the area too. But when you sign up for Magical Express you're sent a booklet that contains your passes for the bus and directions to the terminal where you will be picked up. Essentially Disney has had a section of the baggage claim area sectioned off for bus queues. You show the CMs that are waiting your passes and then wait in the very first Disney queue of the trip for your bus. You do not have to stop and collected your bags unless you're being picked up super early in the morning or super late at night. Otherwise, lovely cast members will pick up your bags and transport them to the resort for you. You're sent special luggage tags to mark your bags.

The wait for the bus can be lengthy, but it mostly feels that way because you know you're just so close to the Disney magic. The cast members that are there to supervise this service try to make it go by as quickly as they can. They joke and entertain and try to keep you busy. There are buses that are decorated especially for the service, but there are also average yellow Mears transportation buses that pick up as well. While on the bus you're shown a video that highlights the advantages you'll be enjoying while staying on property (all illustrated with various Disney characters).

When you reach your resort you're told to head straight to check out because your bags will be brought to your room when they arrive. Check out was a very quick process, there was basically no wait when Michelle and I arrived at the Pop. We checked in and then headed to our room to take a break and settle in as much as we could. Not even a half hour after we arrived my bag was brought to our door. Michelle's arrived a little later and we were both a little worried about that, but Disney had it all under control.

Departing is just as easy as arriving. The day before you depart your boarding passes are sent to your room (provided you're flying with an airline that partners with Disney, Southwest does.) Your bags will be checked in for you and all you have to do is take your luggage to luggage services by the drop off entrance to the resort. You don't even have to check out of your hotel. You can just leave. Michelle and I took them our bags earlier that morning and then headed off to Downtown Disney until the scheduled pick up time we were given. This service saves guests so much time and effort and it really makes things worry free. I enjoyed every bit of it.

The other part of the trip that I found to be amazing was check in. The Cast Member that was helping us really paid attention and knew what we needed before we did. All I did was mention briefly to Michelle that we needed to go to the Ticket and Transportation Center and pick up the tickets we had a will call and he immediately had a suggestion for us.

We could pick up the tickets at the front desk as long as we had our confirmation numbers. I had mine so he was able to add my park tickets to my room key and then use a separate hard plastic key-card for my Halloween Party ticket. This made my life so much easier. We still had to go to the TTC for Michelle's tickets but it eased my mind to have mine in my hand when we left to check out our room. Plus having the tickets I purchased separately added to my room key left me with less to keep up with. I was really impressed with that Cast Member and how closely he was paying attention to the guests in front of him. It was truly excellent service.

And all of the above is why I encourage people to stay on property. You will not find any company more accommodating than the Walt Disney Company. They try their hardest to make things as convenient as possible for their guests because they know people really don't want to worry or think while on vacation. Isn't lovely to have someone do all the work for you, for once? I think so. And I haven't mentioned my favorite part...

Cast Members at the resort cannot accept tips unless they are servers in one of the restaurants. There's no risk of a bellman being rude to you because he thinks you tipped him too little. Or being rushed to your room because you're not expected to be a good tipper. No one to awkwardly stand around until they've received whatever tip they deem appropriate.

Not to say that some people do not truly deserve tips because some do, but in my experience, hotels with staff that expect to be tipped do not have good guest service. Yet another reason why, if possible, I try to work out a way to stay on property on my trips to Disney World. Disney cast members are so much nicer and work so much harder and yet they don't expect a tip. Now, that's a staff that deserves to be tipped and appreciated. Don't you think?

Monday, September 10, 2012

19 Days and Counting!

As you may be able to see from my nifty little countdown nametag on the right side panel there are 19 days until my next Disney trip! I am so excited! This year my friend Holly and my mother are coming with me and we're meeting my friend Bethany, who is currently on her second CP, down there! And this year I get to be there for a whole week! Saturday to Saturday! No quick (yet so fun) whirlwind trip this year! I get to relax a bit more this year.

My friend, Holly, has never really experience Disney World as a whole. She came with me when I moved to Florida for my CP but only got to halfway experience Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. This time around she'll get to experience all of WDW and then some. We're going to The International Food & Wine Festival and Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.

We'll be staying at Pop Century in a standard room and we have the dining plan! So we get to eat at a nice table service restaurant every night! Bethany and I have already made our reservations! I cannot wait because I've never been to most of these restaurants before! We're eating at Raglan Road, La Hacienda de San Angel, 50's Primetime Cafe, Liberty Tree Tavern, The Wave of American Flavors, Rainforest Cafe at Animal Kingdom (lunch), and The Crystal Palace (dinner).  I've eaten at The Wave and 50's Primetime, but none of the others! Michelle and I had a reservation for Liberty Tree last year but I had to cancel it due to time and budget.

I'm not sure which evening we'll be going to the party. We won't buy those tickets until the week before we leave. But I have reservations planned around either day that we might go. I already have a character plan of attack though! I'm going to try and meet characters that are unique to special events and parties and characters who's autographs I don't have yet. (Jafar, Captain Jack Sparrow, Suzy and Perla, etc. etc.) And of course we will stop and watch the parade, I will try and get my group to find a spot early so we can eat while we wait. I say forty-five minutes at most (any more than that is a waste of valuable character hunting time, haha).

Food and Wine I'm hoping to experience on Sunday morning while all the locals are at church. I learned last year that the lines are short and you can walk right up to the booths and order. I also plan to order at least three things I've never tried before (in addition to the Fisherman's Pie. I can't not get that.)

But for the most part we'll be winging it as to which park on which day. I know that whatever day we go to MNSSHP I would like to do Animal Kingdom since it's only open till 5 anyway, but that's certainly not set in stone. I'm mostly excited to be back there again. It may be crowded and hot, but something about it just breathes magic. Looking forward to another trip and seeing my friend Bethany for the first time in two years! I have missed her so much! It's going to be amazing!

And it's all just 19 days away!