April 22, 2012

Using a Disney Planning Chart

Time to get geeky and talk about using a Planning Chart to plan your next Disney vacation! This will save you LOTS of time and you'll know just what to do and where to go while at Disney World... never having a dull moment of "what should we do next?"

I came across a publicly shared google doc [no longer available] by Gredel S. which was a great foundation and starting point for filling out a planning chart. It includes a daily itinerary of which parks to visit and where and when to eat (include those confirmation #'s!) I revised it to include with attractions to see (abbreviated), "must sees," park hours and the suggested "best parks" (least crowded) to visit each day. That's the beauty of this chart, you may add, delete and edit it as much or as little as you like to fit to your preferences. (Click on the chart below to view a larger version.)
Having everything on ONE sheet of paper makes it easy to fold up and stick in your pocket or bag - and you can print up extras to hand out to the other members in your traveling party.

Making a planning chart 'forces' you to look at the park maps and get familiar with the layout of each park. This ends up being a very good thing, as you'll know right where to go and you won't be standing around looking at a map feeling lost (which is a large waste of time). It will also solve the problem of "Where should we eat?!"

Plan as much as you can ahead of time, but don't try to plan every single minute of your day. Give some wiggle room. There may be a wait-time for an attraction that is just too long - skip it and come back to it if time allows. Also take time to look at the details; watch the "street entertainment," search for Hidden Mickey's, talk to Cast Members... don't rush your trip ~ you might miss something!

Did we stick to our plans? Nope! If we saw a restaurant we wanted to try more than what was scheduled, we scratched our plans and went with spontaneity! We also chose different parks to visit on our last day than what we had originally planned. These are just plans after all, it's okay to make changes along the way.

Bottom Line: Know ahead of time what park you want to visit, which attractions are a "must see" for that day, and where you want to eat. Let the rest of your day just "happen"... see Characters, enjoy other attractions/shows, and pay attention to the details.

Feel free to access our version of this Disney Planning Chart via Google Docs. When using Google Docs just go to File>Make Copy, give it a new name and you'll be able to edit it to your liking. If you would like a clean start, here is a copy of a Blank Chart.

UPDATE:  Both of the Disney Itinerary Planning Charts were updated with improvements on December 4, 2012. It can now be downloaded as a Word document as well.

Characterpalooza! One of Disney's best-kept Secrets!

Updated Jan 22, 2015. Historically, Characterpalooza took place inside the Magic of Disney Animation building. When it returned from it's seasonal hiatus in March '13, sets began occurring near Echo Lake and on the Streets of America. In 2014, it met on New York Street (Streets of America.) Information for times and locations have been updated below. As of Sept. 28, a new location for Characterpalooza has been reported - near the exit of Tower of Terror!

Characterpalooza occurs almost daily at Disney's Hollywood Studio's, but have you ever heard of it? I'll be honest, I hadn't heard of it until just a few months ago. It is an unadvertised Character meet and greet session (never shown on a Times Guide schedule) that takes place near the exit of Tower of Terror. For 1 or 2 half hour sessions in the evening, many characters (including rare ones) make an appearance!

It's always a SURPRISE as to which Characters will appear for Characterpalooza, which is where the "palooza" comes from. The most common Characters to appear are Stitch, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, Snow White, Pinocchio, Gepetto, and the Queen of Hearts; but many times a more "rare" character or two get thrown into the mix. (Not even Guest Services can tell you "who" is going to make an appearance at Characterpalooza!)

The timing and number of Characters to make an appearance depends on the following show times for Fantasmic that evening:
  • If Fantasmic isn't scheduled, Characterpalooza will NOT occur.
    • Characterpalooza does not occur on Star Wars weekends either.
  • Historically, Characterpalooza has gone on a Winter Hiatus for November and December (ie. No Characterpalooza appearances even if a Fantasmic show is scheduled.) But it's in full swing for January 2015 and beyond!
  • The number of sets for Characterpalooza depend on how many Fantasmic showings there are that day. The best way to check if Characterpalooza will occur during your trip, is to check out these calendars that Kenny the Pirate has created. (Scroll down to the section "When will Characterpalooza occur during my trip?")
We were able to hit Characterpalooza back in 2012 (pictures below). Jafar, Rafiki, Mary Poppins with 2 Penguins, and Chip & Dale greeted everyone during the first set. The 2nd set of Characters consisted fo: Jasmine and Genie, Pinocchio and Gepetto, the Wicked Queen (from Snow White), and Meeko. Two nights later many of the same came out, but some different ones that we saw were: Pocahontas with Meeko, Captain Hook with Mr. Smee, Mulan and Goofy. Hitting the outdoor Characterpalooza in 2013 - we met Pocahontas & Meeko, Belle, Max, Pinocchio and others.

HINT: Be sure to have an Autograph Book with you to experience some extra fun and make more memories! Here's our Favorite Autograph Book idea.

This is a great opportunity to meet a bunch of Characters that are relatively rare, and with short waits!

April 21, 2012

Visually Impaired Girl interacts with Mary Poppins

When we first began visiting Walt Disney World, we'd try to squeeze in as much as possible. This meant racing from one attracting to the next. But have you ever slowed down? Even sat down? You might just witness a bit of Disney Magic happen right in front of you! Here's a bit of magic that unfolded right in front of us (in April 2012).

While waiting in line to meet and greet several Disney Characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios, there was a family in front of us with a Blind daughter (about 18 year old) also meeting the characters. The parents positioned their daughter next to Jafar and she looked in the direction of their voices to smile for a picture. I felt bad for this blind girl; Jafar does not hug or speak during character interactions. This girl was merely standing still listening for the camera to click, making a memory for her parents but none for herself...

That all changed when Mary Poppins and two of her Penguins arrived! Mary Poppins is a "face Character," meaning she's allowed to speak to her guests, and boy did she speak to this Blind girl. I watched as Mary held a conversation with her, this girl was smiling now and conversing back. Then, Mary took the girls hands and placed them on her dress. Mary let the girl feel her corset, and the stitching on her skirt, and even lifted her foot to let the girl feel her shoes! Mary was describing everything to the blind girl while she guided her hands over the details. Then, Mary took the girls hands and placed them on Mr. Penguin's head! She felt his eyes, cheeks, beak, bow tie and fuzzy shoulders. The blind girl was beaming! She was then guided to stand in between Mary and the Penguins. The blind girl's parents took a picture - another keepsake for them, but this time... a lasting memory and quite the experience for herself!

Next time you're at Disney, be sure to slow down from time to time. You just might experience an extra dose of Disney Magic!

April 18, 2012

Surprise Fast Passes!

While touring the Magic Kingdom on Monday, we saw that there was a 40 minute wait for Peter Pan's flight.  Our rule of thumb is *Never get in a line that has a wait longer than 20 minutes.*  If the wait is longer than 20 minutes, grab a fast pass!  So, that's what we did... but much to our surprise, the Fast Pass kiosk also gave us "Surprise" Fast Passes to Mickey's PhilharMagic!

Disney has been distributing these Surprise Fast Passes for several years now... but this was our first time receiving one.  Sure, it was for Mickey's PhilharMagic which had a low wait time; and sure, it was likely done to help manage crowds; but it was a fun surprise none-the-less and we used it!  Unexpected treats such as these just add to the magic of Disney!

April 12, 2012

We're flying to WDW for $5 each (roundtrip!) Wait... what?!

You read that right.  We're flying direct to Orlando (and back) for $5 each!  How?  Southwest Rapid Rewards!  Rack up enough points, and use those points to "buy" free flights.  The quickest way to build a vast amount of points right off the bat, is to sign up for the Southwest Airlines VISA.  I have always been too cheap to pay an annual fee for any credit card, but this offer was too good to pass up.  With the sign-on bonus, you get 50,000 points (worth $833 in free travel) after you charge $1,000 to your new card.  The annual fee is $69, but you also earn a 3,000 point yearly bonus which nearly offsets the annual fee.  This '50,000 bonus points' sign-on offer guarantees atleast 2 free flights, but some people are able to get 3 or 4 flights from the 50,000 points based on the flights they choose.

UPDATE (July 18, 2012):  This offer isn’t quite as good as it has been in the past, as you’re now required to spend at least $1,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account in order to earn your bonus (compared to earning the bonus on your first purchase - as was the requirement when this offer was previously run.)  To HELP you reach that $1,000, consider buying Disney gift cards at your grocery store.  You can use the gift cards to pay off room charges, buy meals, purchase souvenirs, etc.!  Plus, you may earn gas points with the gift card purchase at your local grocer.

So if it's a Free flight, why are we paying $5 each?  It's a 9-11 security fee that all airlines must charge due to government regulations.  But hey, a $5 flight is still a great deal!

The Southwest Rapid Rewards program is free for anyone to sign-up.  And you don't have to have the credit card to earn points, there are other ways.

Bottom Line:  If you fly domestically in the US, the Southwest 50,000 point credit cards are worth a closer look.  You get $833 worth of flights on Southwest for just the cost of the annual fee.  (And you don't have to fly to Orlando - this offer is good for all Southwest Airlines destinations!)

April 11, 2012

My favorite Autograph Book idea...

Update - June 2014: The latest edition of the Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters was just released on June 3, 2014! It is now hardcover, which could make the conversion process into an Autograph book a little more pricey. Pictured below is the 2010 edition, which can still be purchased in paperback...

I must say, the Disney Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters makes the best Autograph book ever! Every page is in color, it shows a picture of and gives a brief description for each character, and there's plenty of space for the Disney Characters that you meet to sign their page!

I'll admit, I got this idea off of the DisBoards, and it's been fantastic using this as our Autograph book!  I bought the book from Amazon for about $16. I then took it to Staples where they tore off the binding, put on a spiral bind, laminated the front and back covers, and I had them slip in a few blank sheets of card stock for any extra characters we found that didn't have a page (all done for less than $8).  Here's how it turned out:

And just look at how a page looks after it's been autographed!

Autograph books from Disney World cost $18+, and that's for a book of plain blank pages (but it does come with a pretty cover). This "encyclopedia" is so much more fun - the Characters love looking at "themselves," and will often provide extra fun interaction with it. The only 'negative' about this book is that it can get quite heavy carrying it around all day in the parks - but if you're pushing a child in the stroller, toss it in the stroller bag!

Hint: You can also make your own autograph book if you want to do things cheaply. Any sized book, large or small, with blank pages will do just fine. Slap on some Disney stickers and you're good to go!  Characters will sign just about anything - picture frames, pillow cases, t-shirts and more. So if you're into collecting Character autographs, get creative!!

Extra Fun: Buy these Sharpie Retractable markers to make autographing a breeze for the Characters, and colorful for you!

By purchasing The Disney Junior Encyclopedia of Animated Characters through our affiliate links, the price does not change for you, but we do earn a few cents which helps keep this blog running and provide you with additional hints! Thanks!!

April 10, 2012

A Disney Countdown Calendar adds to the Fun!

Part of the fun in planning a Disney World vacation is having a Countdown Calendar!  Many people make paper chains and cut off 1 link each day; the shorter the chain gets, the closer they are to their vacation!  Other countdown calendars are numerical, whether made by magnets or flip-chart like the one pictured below.  A good friend of mine, Jocey Zeidner, made this Countdown Calendar for us - what talent she has!  And what excitement we have knowing we're so close to arriving at Walt Disney World!