Our Disney World Experience: Rides at Magic Kingdom and Epcot

We did it!  We finally completed our Disney World trip.  I had written about how we were planning a trip to Disney, along with some follow-ups along the way, and we finally completed our trip last month.

I want to share our experiences and thoughts, but since we did so much, I’ll do multiple posts.

Today is our first post.  Here I will talk about two of the four parks, concentrating on some of the rides and attractions. I’ll try to do a post every week over the next few weeks.  Hopefully this paints a full picture of our trip when all are complete.

Magic Kingdom

The original park and by far the most popular, Magic Kingdom remains the iconic experience of Disney World.  I checked some unofficial attendance history, and Magic Kingdom far exceeds that of any of the other four parks, and with good reason.

It’s awesome!

We spent various parts of at least four days there, and there was always something to do.  We repeated a few things, mb-2015-12-wdwcastlebut between all of the activities, rides, characters, and everything else, we still didn’t get to anywhere near the full list of attractions, though we did hit some more than once.

Some Favorite Magic Kingdom Rides

  • Barnstormer. The Goofy themed thrill ride was our kids first introduction to a ‘roller coaster’ type ride.  Since it’s so short (only about 30 seconds), it was a perfect introduction.  We figured if they didn’t like it, at least it wouldn’t last long.  As it turns out, there were no worries!  Our kids had a blast, and we quickly found out that the more thrilling, the better!  We went on this ride multiple times.  Though it’s short and sweet, it was one of our favorites.  My son declared this his favorite ride.  That’s saying a lot.
  • Mine Ride. Another thrill type ride, and much longer. In fact, this one seemed to slow down at least twice to let you think that you were done, only to have it pick back up.  Lots of twists and turns but nothing jarring. My daughter said that this was her favorite.
  • It’s A Small World. This is one of the most iconic Disney rides.  It’s much different (and better) than it was when I last went on it in 2008.  They definitely modernized it, made it a little more informative, and a little less repetitive.  It’s a very cool ride!
  • Pirates of the Caribbean. This ride has been modernized to bring in the Johnny Depp characterization.  It was a lot of fun…the second time we rode it.  The first time we went on, the boat that we got in (it’s a floating ride) had about 3 inches of standing water.  We ended up with soaking wet feet.  It must have been a fluke. When we went on again, the boat was bone dry, so the first time was obviously some sort of glitch.
  • Space Mountain. My daughter was too little for this one.  So, we decided to split up.  I got to take my son on this one.  He loved it!  It’s definitely still a classic and worth a wait in line.
  • Dumbo. One of the classic rides has been improved with a recent expansion of the Fantasyland area.  There are now two Dumbo’s, which doubled the capacity.  This is a classic ride that appears brand new, so you get the best of both worlds.  Very fun!
  • Under the Sea. This is a newer ride that tells the story of the Little Mermaid.  It was a very relaxing ride and done very well.  We really enjoyed it!
  • Railroad. On our last full day, we decided to do a marathon day.  Thus, we found ourselves  at the park nearly 14 hours.  At one point, we needed some downtime, so we got on the railroad and went around the park.  This took about 25 minutes.  It was made a bit more lively due to a frog that had come aboard, and was busy hopping around the outside of the car, not caring that the train was in motion.  One acrobatic frog!

We did so much more at Magic Kingdom, but these were some of the better highlights.

Rides At Epcot

We only spent one day at Epcot as a family.  We had originally planned on a half day addition, but ended up cutting it back, and nobody complained at all.

It’s a great park, but it’s huge.  It’s really two parks in one.  The nations and the learning areas could each be their own park.  So, plan accordingly!

There are a number of great things to do and see:

  • Test Track. Here you spend some time designing your own concept car during the first part.  Then you move along and take it for a ‘test drive’.  It’s a lot of fun, and the kids loved both elements.  This can get very busy.
  • Soarin’. This is one of my favorite rides.  You are taken through various parts of scenic California as if you’re flying.  You swoop in and through the Golden Gate Bridge, the mountains, the deserts, the beaches, and so much more.  It’s thrilling and relaxing at the same time.  I understand that Disney will be giving it an update soon.
  • Spaceship Earth.  No trip to Epcot would be complete without a ride inside the iconic Epcot ball.  It’s not a thrill ride, but very informative and fun.  The kids had a great time.
  • Mexico Ride. A few of the ‘countries’ have their own rides.  We stopped in for the Mexico ride, and I was honestly surprised and not in a great way.  While it was meant to be ‘fun’ with the Three Caballeros (featuring Donald Duck), I thought it was kind of tacky.  In fact, it was close to borderline offensive…and I’m not Mexican.
  • Living With the Land.  This was a floating ride.  On it you learn a lot about the Earth and ecosystems and how they fit together.  You also see science at work with things that Disney does and research that is going on.  It covers how humans can grow food and such without being invasive to animals.  It’s very educational for all ages.

Both parks were awesome and we had a great time.

Come back next week for the reviews of the other two parks, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Disney World Planning. We’re Less Than 2 Months Away

A few months back I wrote about how we had made the decision to take a family trip to Disney World later this year.  Well, most of the year has passed and we’re now less than two months away from taking our trip.  I’ve been bad with updates (a whirlwind summer with mostly great weather has a way of doing that), but wanted to check in with some updates and observations!

So, let’s take a look at how things are shaping up!

We Splurged

The first thing that I have to admit is that we made a change of plans that increased our budget and is a big splurge.

We decided to go with a deluxe resort which includes a ‘free’ dining plan.  This raises the cost of our total trip.  We’re OK with that, though.  Here’s why:

  • This is a rare trip for us. If you’ve been reading my blog you know that most of our trips are local.  A trip to Disney is something we’ve been thinking about for five years.  After, it’ll probably be another five years before we go again.  My wife knows people that go down there every year, sometimes multiple times!  Since we don’t do that, we felt OK with the extra costs.
  • Our kids LOVE animals. We are staying at the Animal Kingdom lodge, and we have a room where we’ll see animals right outside of our room.  Many reviews state that you walk out on your balcony and you can see zebras or giraffes or other animals.  Our kids could go to the zoo every day, so we know they will love this element as well as the cool themes within the room.
  • My wife;s  business supported the cost.– I mentioned in the original article that my wife had decided to fund the trip with money made from her Etsy shop, and even with the change we were able to do so, as her business did better than she’d projected at the end of the day.  So, while it certainly would have been great to have that extra money, we’re 100% fine with having the same amount of money at the end of the trip as we would have with the original projections, and getting what we hope is an awesome trip.

Travel

I’d been following airfares before the trip, and was happy that we got what appeared to be a great deal.  I’m mb-2015-02-disneysomewhat obsessive and have been tracking the fares ever since, and we appear to have booked with the single lowest fare available since we started tracking.  Our flight is the ideal flight for the time of day, and is about twice as expensive as what we paid for it.  The flights on either side of the time are still 20% higher.

We are also looking forward to avoiding having to pay for luggage costs as we paid for it with a Delta American Express card.

One thing of note, they did adjust the schedule a bit so that we’re leaving (and arriving) about one and a half hours earlier than when we’d booked.  We’re cool with that.

Planning Is Nearly Complete

Because we’re on the Disney meal plan, we had to plan out our schedule pretty tightly.  We had to pick what park we wanted to be at on which day, as we made reservations on certain days for different restaurants.  My wife did a lot of research on what restaurants have the best characters present and some of the ‘must see’ places, and we were lucky enough to get things planned almost exactly as she wanted.

We later were able to book many Fast Pass reservations, which also ties into our schedule, and allows you to get on rides with a lot less wait time versus standing in line.  You’re only allowed a certain number per day, so my wife did a lot of reading up on what rides and attractions would be the hardest to get into that our kids would enjoy, and so far, it looks like we have a good plan.

It’s Looking Busy…But That Could Be A Good Thing

We chose our time with one of the reasons that it is typically a less crowded time, as it happens to fall before Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is when things often pick up.  Because of the different promotions (including the meal plan), it appears that the crowds will be pretty heavy.

But, that could actually be a good thing.  Why?

Because one thing that often happens during less crowded weeks is that Disney will offer pretty short hours for many of the parks.  When reservations indicate higher crowd levels, they’ll expand the hours, which they have started doing. This will give us flexibility to either enjoy the parks longer, or take some time in the middle of the day to return to the hotel, rest, and head back out.  With much shorter hours, this wasn’t looking like a possibility, and this worried us, as our kids (and let’s face it, the grown ups) need their rest.

We Told The Kids

We’ve been planning this for a while, and this past weekend we finally told our kids about the trip!  My wife wanted to tell them far enough in advance that we could show them information about the park and start getting them used to the idea of rides, and really increase their excitement level.  We also want to make sure to prepare them for the idea of a plane ride, as my daughter has never been on one, and my son was on one when he a year old, so it’ll be a new adventure for him, as well.

My wife came up with some great ideas:

  • We got some balloons with Mickey on them.  We put them into a box that was taped shut.  When the kids opened the box the balloons floated out.
  • Mickey Mouse wrote them a letter telling them that they were coming down.  He wrote about some of the great things that have been lined up for them to do.  This includes the hotel, the parks, and some of the restaurants.
  • There is a ‘How Many More Days’ picture frame.  This has a piece of glass in front where we change the number each day with a dry erase pen.  Now the kids look every day to see how many days left!

Thanks To The Planner

If you’ve read through all this, by now you may have noticed a theme.  How many times have you read the words ‘ My wife’?  Answer: A lot.  She’s been amazing and has pretty much single handedly planned (and of course paid for) the entire trip.  She’s great at planning things that turn into wonderful memories.  Her attention to detail is amazing and will be so wonderful for our family.

So much love and thanks to her for all the work!

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Reducing Our Disney World Trip Budget

Recently, I wrote about how we are planning a trip to Disney World for our family later in the year.  I have been pretty happy about some things that have happened that are allowing us to reduce our budget by a pretty nice amount!

  • Waiting – When we first looked at tickets early in January, the tickets were $342 per person.  Since there are four of us that set our budget at $1,368.  We know people that travel regularly, and they told us that anything under $350 was a good deal.  Happily, the ticket prices declined several times.  We finally pulled the trigger at $268 per person, inclusive of all fees.  Total Savings: $296
  • Credit Card #1 – We don’t typically go much for reward based credit cards, but mb-2015-02-creditwhen I saw an offer while looking up flights, I couldn’t resist.  By signing up for the Delta Sky Miles American Express Card, and using it to pay for our tickets, we will get a $50 statement credit, 30,000 Sky miles (which is basically one free flight for the future), and we will each get one checked bag for free.  We had budgeted $200 for luggage ($25 per person per leg of the trip), which we can now knock off the list.  We just need to cancel the card after the trip, so that the $95 annual fee (waived for the first year) doesn’t kick in.  It’s already on my Google Calendar! Total Savings: $250+
  • Potential Credit Card #2 – My wife got an offer for a Disney based Master Card or Visa (I can’t remember which) that is no-cost, and once we make $500 in purchases, we will get a Disney gift card for $200.  We can simply transfer our grocery purchases for a couple of months to get to this amount.  We’d sacrifice 1% in cash back rewards, but the trade-off seems well within our favor.  We know we will buy souvenirs and clothing and other items, so this seems like a great way to save on some budgeted spending.  Savings: $200

So far, we are already at savings of $746 from our original budget, without downgrading anything!

The Only Concern

My only concern with this strategy is taking out two additional credit cards.  I think we’re OK, but I’d be interested in your thoughts.  Here’s my reasoning:

  • We are each taking out one card and not listing the other person on the card.  So, our credit report will each show one new card and one rise in available credit.
  • I plan on requesting a lowering of the credit limit on the American Express Card.
  • My wife will cancel the Disney based card as soon as we make the $500 in purchases and collect the $200 gift card.
  • We are not planning any re-financing or taking out of any new loans within one year, and within one year both cards should be closed.
  • At present, we each have a Master Card and we share another American Express Card, so the number of cards outstanding and our total credit limit seems well capable of handling these additions.

Readers, what do you think of our savings so far?  Any considerations or concerns in taking out two cards to collect the associated rewards?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Planning A Trip To Disney World

We have been talking for a couple of years about planning a trip to Disney World when our kids were old enough to enjoy it, and we have finally set a date and put the plans in motion.

Here are some updates:

When: Fall 2015

We are planning a trip for later in the fall.  It’s hard to imagine that we are planning something so far out, but honestly, that’s often what you have to do.

Where: Disney Property

We looked at a few options in terms of where we wanted to stay.  Our goal was to stay on Disney property.  I know many people say that renting a condo is a good way to go, but our plans are to avoid renting a car, and use the Disney transportation

Hotel: Disney or Not Disney

My wife and I took a Disney World trip in 2008, and we stayed at one of the value resorts, which is very simple.  It’s just a hotel room and not much more.  For our trip now, with two little ones, we wanted something a little bit more spacious and accommodating.  We did research and looked at two options:

  • Moderate Resort – It’s the next step up from a value resort, but not quite as luxurious (and not as pricey) as the aptly named Deluxe Resorts.  The advantages are that the transportation is included to and from the airport, the rooms are Disney themed, and they integrate within the Disney Meal Plan (more on that later).
  • Non-Disney Hotel on Disney Property – Costco offers a deal at the Swan and Dolphin hotels.  These are hotels located on Disney property, but not managed or operated by Disney.  I believe it’s run by Sheraton.  The pricing was better, but we would have to arrange our own airport transportation, the rooms weren’t Disney themed, and many people via travel site reviews indicated that the hotels are worn down.

In the end we decided to stay with the Moderate Resort.  Since this is a special family vacation that we won’t be likely doing but once every few years, we wanted to go for the Disney experience, and not just stay at what would likely amount to be ‘a regular old hotel’.

Where To Eat

Disney offers a meal plan that integrates with your hotel stay.  You get a sit down meal with many restaurants across all the parks and properties, you get a  counter meal, and you get a ‘snack’.  When my wife and I used this in 2008, we loved it.  Those who seem to have the greatest success are the ones who do their homework, line up where they want to stay, and make reservations as soon as possible, which we did last time and will be doing this time as well.  People who give it unfavorable reviews are often those who don’t make reservations, and then are unable to get in where they want to go, or face long lines if they just ‘show up’.  That won’t be us.

The plan isn’t cheap, but it’s nice to know that pretty much everything except alcohol and tips will be already paid for, and we want to do restaurants that the kids will enjoy.

Visiting The Disney Parks

mb-2015-02-disneyWe will be getting a park pass for a few days, and will be planning our trips to spend time at each park (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Adventures, and Animal Kingdom).  Disney offers a park hopper option where you can go to multiple parks on the same day, but it’s pretty expensive (it would work out to be $216 for our family of four).  We are not buying that up front, but the nice thing is that should we desire it, you can add it on for no additional cost at any time during your stay.

By booking early, we’ll be able to start looking at parks we want to go to, and on what day, and actually getting fast passes for various rides and attractions, I think 60 or 90 days in advance.  It’s amazing to me the amount of up front planning that you have to do, but they really seem to have streamlined the process and made it so that if you do the planning up front, you can spend more time enjoying the time while you’re there, versus having to worry about what you’re going to do next.

All Of This Is Already In Motion

We were referred to a travel agent who specializes in Disney World trips, and have put a deposit down to work with her.  The great thing is that the deposit is minimal ($200), and if we change our mind up until a few weeks before, all we lose is the deposit.

One thing we learned is that with Disney World, travel agents don’t get any real breaks in pricing.  This is different than when we used one during our 2007 Hawaii honeymoon planning, and the prices we got for many of the attractions and activities were cheaper than if we’d booked them ourselves.  But, there are advantages to using an agent:

  • The aforementioned ability to put a smaller deposit down
  • One-stop shopping.
  • Discount opportunities.  We are purposefully going during a slower time of the year.  As such, the parks and resorts are typically less booked, so Disney will often offer specials to attract more visitors. Sometimes they’ll discount or throw in the meal plan, or offer a particular resort type for a lower cost.  Our travel agent doesn’t get discounts, but they do get all notifications of such specials as they are announced, and if she sees any that would be advantageous to us, she will immediately make changes on our behalf, the same morning that she gets the discount information.

Travel

One thing that we aren’t using the travel agent for is travel.  We are planning on flying, and are pretty close to booking our tickets. The round trip tickets, as of the most recent check, are around $320 each. Price research shows that this is about the best we can expect to pay.  We just need to finalize the dates and book the tickets.  We will also have to factor in costs for luggage, currently at $50 per bag round trip, but you can pay for this at any time up to the trip.

Budget

I’ve mentioned in the past that my wife started an etsy shop a little over a year ago, and she’s been doing very well.  She designs digital invitations, wall art, and other material that can then be printed by the customer.  She’s been dedicating a majority of her income toward our family trip, so when we last crunched the numbers, the money is there for our trip.  This is great that paying for it is one less thing to worry about!

Overall

So far we are very satisfied with the planning we’ve accomplished.  There are still many details to go through, but committing to the dates and the park, and the travel are really big milestones that we’ve hit well in advance.  Hopefully the rest of our planning continues to be as smooth, and I’m confident that we will have a great trip!

Readers, have you planned a Disney vacation over the last couple of years?  Did you find that more planning up front led to less worries and more fun while there?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.