In October my girlfriend Melissa and I went to visit my daughter who is interning with the Disney College Program at Walt Disney World. The week was filled with laughter and all things Mickey. If you want to enhance your vacation, I highly recommend the following tips from our trip.
1. DISNEY’S MAGICAL EXPRESS TRANSPORTATION: This is a complimentary roundtrip airport transportation and luggage delivery for guests of select Walt Disney World Resort hotels. First we checked our bags, leaving from the Sacramento International airport, and upon arriving in Orlando, skipped the baggage collection and took a very nice bus to our Walt Disney World Resort hotel. Our bags were delivered to our room within 3 hours of checking in. After the vacation was over, we received our boarding pass and checked our luggage at the hotel, bypassing airport check-in completely. Fabulous perk to staying in one of Disney’s resort hotels. Disney really know how to treat their guests – even before you arrive!
2. KEYS TO THE KINGDOM TOUR: A 5-hour behind-the-scene tour of Magic Kingdom, sounds like a big time killer; however, if you are fan of Walt Disney, this is a must do activity. Our tour guide, Claire, brought Walt’s vision, innovation and creativity to life, while giving fun trivia and little-known facts. The audio headphone system was comfortable and easy to hear as we walked around the park. I believe she could have talked to us for an additional 5 hours – and I would have enjoyed every minute. From the history of Walt secretly buying Florida swamp lands that would, after 2 years of preparation, break ground on the Magic Kingdom, to the inspiration of the Jungle Cruise ride, everything was so interesting. Look up on all the rooftops and you see thousands of lightning rods (as it rains practically every day), keeping guests safe at all times. The tour included a private luncheon, along with immediate access, with history, to the Jungle Cruise and Haunted Mansion. We toured the underground tunnel system where Cast Members, deliveries and even garbage services are transported below guest’s feet as they wait in line for their favorite attractions. Secret Mickey’s were pointed out along the route, and a tour of the storage building where parade floats are stored, repaired and prepped for the daily parades. Price: $79. Reservations required (only 20 people per tour at 3x’s a day). Book the same day you make your airline reservations! A special bonus at the end of the tour is a Keys To The Magic Kingdom pin that is only given if you’ve gone on the tour. I had a cast member ask where I got my pin and I told him only 60 are given out a day if you take the tour! PHOTOS WERE STRICTLY PROHIBITED ON THE TOUR. Melissa’s parents, Wally & Pam joined us for a few days and this was a highlight of their trip.
3. VOLUNTEER TO BE IN SHOWS: At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there are two shows where you can be part of the action: Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! is a stage show that Haily volunteered and was given the task of being a bazaar customer while Indiana Jones actor simulated a scene from a movie. She also volunteered, along with Melissa and I, at the Studio Backlot Tour to perform a short scene from a movie Harbor Attack. A director guided us through our scene, we spectacularly acted our parts in front of a live audience, and then the scene was edited into a short movie that we all enjoyed on the big screen. Price: free with admission to the Hollywood Studios park.
4. MICKEY’S NOT SO SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY: The highlight of my trip was this event! On select nights starting in September and running through October, the Magic Kingdom comes alive with all things Villain. If you follow the event schedule (7 p.m. start – 1 a.m.), you will see everything during this 6 hour party. First is the stage show in front of Cinderella’s Castle, where all the Disney Villains sing and dance, then join the crowd for a “Mix and Mingle.” The best parade I’ve ever seen at any Disney park, Mickey’s Boo To You Halloween Parade, follows the stage show. After the parade, we focused our attention again at the castle for a light and fireworks show called, Happy HalloWishes: A Grim Grinning Ghosts’ Spooktacular in the Sky, which is based on the Haunted Mansion and features Halloween-related music from the Disney library of animated films. Dance parties with characters, trick-or-treating, live action ghosts at the Haunted Mansion are also featured to make the party come alive! Price: This event held at Magic Kingdom, sells out so buy your tickets as soon as you make your plans. $62 for adult; $57 for children. This is a private event for ticket holders. If you are at the Magic Kingdom during the day, and don’t have a ticket to the party, you will be asked to leave. You will get a wristband upon entering (starting at 4 p.m.). Kids and adults are encouraged to dress in costume, which is only allowed for guests during this event.
5. EPCOT INTERNATIONAL FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL: Let’s eat and drink our way around the world! This annual fall event was also a favorite of ours. Over 25 countries serve authentic samplings of their food and drinks, with casts members from those countries serving the food. Even though we ate and drank all day long, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Chefs de France. The Chef from Disney’s Ratatouille movie stopped by our table for an enjoyable interaction. The signature crème brûlée finished this French nouvelle culinary experience. Price: The Food & Wine Festival is included with your Epcot admission ticket; however, each of the food samplings and beverages are individually priced. Chefs de France restaurant, where we enjoyed the 3-course menu, was price $40 per person.
6. DINE-IN THEATER: The AMC movie theater in Downtown Disney highlights a fork & screen dine-in theater. We watched the movie, Gravity, in oversized chairs while enjoying delicious food and cocktails. Fork & Screen offers reserved seating with upgraded seats, a personal call button and seat-side service. Select from an extensive menu of favorites like burgers, sandwiches and pizzettas, while you watch your immersive movie on the big-screen.
7. BE OUR GUEST RESTAURANT (AT BEAST’S CASTLE): In Magic Kingdom, the ONLY thing Haily really wanted to do was go to the Beast’s castle for dinner. I had tried to get reservations since August and there were no reservations available until after January 2014! However, the day we were at Magic Kingdom, we were walking by the castle around 2 p.m. and I asked if there were any cancellations. YES, there was and we were sitting in the ballroom that evening for another French dinner! Three elaborately themed rooms duplicated from the Beauty and The Beast movie really immerse the guests in the story. One room features a framed picture and the rose that changed when the thunder is heard. Snow falls outside the picturesque windows, and the Beast makes an appearance during the dinner, and poses for pictures in a special room. Price: $25 per person. This was truly a fun experience.
8. TYPHOON LAGOON: I was excited to hit the water park. As a mom, I’ve been to water parks, but never participating in the fun. I was always the person holding everyone’s crap – I mean, watching the towels, cell phones, money, etc. This trip was sans kids, so I was going to let loose. We had so much fun at the water slides, wave pool (which actually was hilarious and unexpectedly fun), swimming with sharks and fish (I didn’t do), and walking around barefoot in a tropical paradise. Haily and I even took a much needed nap in the sand. I truly felt like I was on a tropical vacation and the park was beautiful beyond words. Of course, Disney knows how to create the illusion like no other.
9. PHOTOPASS+: Where to capture all these wonderful memories? Of course, we have our cell phone cameras, but really, nothing beats purchasing the PhotoPass+ service where all professional photos throughout all the parks are uploaded online and a DVD disc is created of your trip. I recommend going on-line, at least two weeks before your trip to purchase the PhotoPass+, as it is discounted when ordered in advance. You can add borders, captions, and download photos for print. Our photos are treasured memories and this is definitely worth the extra cost. Price: $169, which includes over 400 Disney stock pictures!
10. CELEBRATE SPECIAL OCCASIONS: Melissa and I celebrated our 50th birthdays while at Walt Disney World. Upon arriving at the hotel, we were given oversized birthday buttons with our names largely printed on them. Cast members everywhere, and I mean everywhere, from the bus drivers, bellhops, waiters, ride attendants, store clerks, etc. are trained to wish you a happy birthday. It was rather fun to be celebrated all week. We laughed and I must have said Thank You a thousand times that week. In Epcot, it was entertaining to learn each country’s Thank You, and repeat it back to cast member.
Other fun adventures I would highly recommend was the entertainment in the Ragland Road Irish Pub in Downtown Disney, which featured lively Irish rock, ballads and pub favorites entertainment, while the fleet-footed dancers perform traditional jigs.
The dueling piano bar, Jellyrolls, at Disney’s BoardWalk, was very entertaining. The audience is encouraged to sing along, and Melissa and I even got on stage to entertain the crowd! We met up with Haily’s roommates and partied like we were 23 again!
A final, fun event was the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review, a dinner-theater at The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, a two hour show set in the Wild West which included dancing, singing and zany vaudeville comedy. The dinner was an all you can eat BBQ hoedown.
After all the fun and entertainment we had, the best part of the vacation was visiting my Disney Princess, Haily. I couldn’t get enough hugs and kisses. Melissa and I were thrilled to be a part of her magical college internship. We will forever remember the wonderful memories we made in Florida.
See you again real soon!