As a follow-up to my “Best Guidebooks for a Disney Vacation”, here are some recommended apps and websites for your trip.

Apps I plan to use:

  • My Disney Experience– the official Disney app- good for tracking reservations for restaurants and rides, maps, show times and photo packages.
  • Universal Studios official App
  • Undercover Tourist Orlando– touring plans for Disney, Universal, and Sea World, ride wait times, maps.
  • Find My iPhone find friends.  Built in to your iPhone, if you accept friend requests you can track their location and show your location to them- hopefully this will help my daughter find us when we split up.
  • Pokemon GoPlants Vs. Zombies HeroesTetris– for waiting in lines for my very wriggly son.
  • Overdrive digital library.  I can bring a bunch of ebooks and audiobooks on my iPad, checked out from the public library.  I also plan to use the digital magazines on Flipster.
  • Google Photos– automatically upload photos to storage. (note, after I got it all set up, hubby switched us to Amazon Prime photos, so now we are doubling our backups!)

Websites:

If you have an app or website that helped you on a previous trip, put it in the comments!

 

April 1, 2017

A Guide to the Orlando Guidebooks

If you are considering a trip to Disney World, you should know that a little bit of planning and advanced preparation can make your vacation much better.  You should not read every single book out there about the trip, it will make you bonkers.  I have read them for you.  You’re welcome.

I like anticipating and planning, I find it enjoyable, especially when the snow won’t go away, the sky is gray, news is depressing and work is stifling.

I’m not paid for my opinion (but if you are interested in giving me money, I’m listening!).  I suggest you read over these reviews, figure out what book is right for you, then get it out of the library.  Bring the book along in your suitcase, sure, but don’t lug them around the park.  Use apps and the park’s map.  At the end of my reviews I’ll list the  books I plan on using on my trip.  Check back to see another blog on recommended websites and Apps I plan to use.

Frommer’s Easy Guide to Disney World, Universal and Orlando 2017 by Jason Cochran.

A comprehensive book that includes all the latest updates, but some of the descriptions of the rides and shows are as cynical and unappealing as the ones from the food critic in Rattatouie.  It is for a reluctant tourist who has been dragged into an Orlando experience, and mentions gritting your teeth through parades and skipping rides because they’re dated.  I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have kids, because height requirements are not listed, and he suggests preschool activities whenever he mentions “kids”.  The descriptions of food are also a bit snobbish.  He recommends jamming two parks into one day because there’s “not enough to do”.  He’s not all doom and gloom, he encourages people to talk with the experts, the craftspeople and the imported people of different countries who are there to share their culture.  He  says what each shops sells (besides the usual). The descriptions of the tours given by Disney World are detailed and clear, and include prices.  The book includes a full sized folded map of the area.

Birnbaum’s 2017 Walt Disney World

This is the officially authorized book, and it shows.  It has the licensed characters through-out,  and the descriptions can be described as “gushing”.  Magic bands are “technological wonders” and Extra Magic Hours are “a great value”.  I don’t know how all the volunteers are paid, if they are at all.  It would be cool to be one of their testers, if it meant free passes or hotel stays.  Because it is official, it has all the phone numbers, up-to-date details and lists of what characters are at what restaurants.  The book is designed to be used up, to rip out pages, write in the back.  What is noticeably missing is any mention of anything non-disney.  The 8 day planner only has spaces for Disney related activities like what fast-passes will be used, what park you are going to and so on.  The book has coupons in the back.  The only one that was tempting to me was the one for Basin (but this is a library book).  The book suggested both full day and half-day itineraries.  Some of the choices were a bit odd (see the safari in the afternoon, go to all the shows).  I would recommend this book to people who want to get hyped up and don’t plan on moving East of Route 4.  It adds in cruise information.  Were you planning on taking a cruise while in Orlando?  No?  Well, why not?  Now you have all the information!

The Unofficial to Disney World with Kids 2017

Here’s real people telling you real stuff, people who love going to Disney, but aren’t in Disney’s official pocket.  This version of the book is more than a list of rides and restaurants, it reads like a parenting manual, self-help guide and Yelp review.  A group of testers try everything and rate it based on interest and age.  Quotes from real people pepper the book. To give one example, they rented strollers from different vendors to see which ones had the best service, and talked about the advantages and disadvantages of having your own stroller.

They remind parents that their children will not suddenly turn into angels because you are on a special trip, give advice on handling meltdowns, following through with consequences and how to childproof a hotel room.  They cover the “take the kids out of school” controversy as well as the “off property/on property” debate.  What if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding? Should your child bring a friend?  Can grandparents survive taking the kids without the parents? They have suggested strategies for avoiding losing children (tattoos, anyone?). They rank rides based on small child fright potentials, discuss where to find characters in the parks, list restaurants and what they offer, and emphasize, over and over- DON’T SKIP THE NAP.  (I never heed the advice to go back to our hotel, but we do take a rest after my husband insists).  There is a brief chapter in the back about Universal Studios, Seaworld and everything else, but they do suggest readers get a more comprehensive book that they happen to sell.  They have touring plans for different scenarios, like parents with toddlers or teens splitting up from parents.  There are 6 itineraries for Magic Kingdom, and 4 each for Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Universal Studios.  They mention several times that you can have a subscription to their website/app to get more individualized, up to the minute plans.  That would be my only complaint, but they need to make money just like the rest of us.

Complete Walt Disney World 2016 by Julie and Mike Neal

Did I say Frommer’s Guide was snarky?  It is positively mild compared to the blaring opinions in this guide.  At first I thought it would be another “aw gosh” praise of all things Disney, since the Orlando locals said they were the only guidebook “honored by the Disney Company.”  But I got a hint of their free spirit when they called magic bands “dorky”.  Then they did not hold back on either praise or disgust as they rated rides and restaurants.  They give a 1-5

star rating and think of it like a movie critic rating- it’s not the budget or the hype, it’s the viewer’s experience that counts.  They gave the little Mermaid ride one star, but the carousel five.  They selected the “best of” in different categories in the first chapter.

The book emphasizes its photos, and there are some great ones.  Even the packing list has pictures.  The map of the entire Disney domain is odd, in that the two page spread puts North on the right.  This guide is wordy, a good pick for armchair readers who want history, factoids, behind the scenes details and just details in general.  Each ride has at least a page dedicated to it, and at the bottom of the page they list average wait times on a daily timeline.  The Animal Kingdom chapter has an extensive animal guide and where to find each species.  The A-Z chapter goes all over the place, and would not be the format I would use to provide quick information.  I noticed quite a few typos and strong opinions not necessarily shared by the average tourist.  One of the testing things they did was stay all day for a week at a value hotel during spring break to see if it was filled with carousing college kids (spoiler- no, not really).  No mention was made of anything West of Route 4- if an alien read this book they would think that there was just untouched wilderness beyond the borders of the realm of Disney.

MouseJunkies by Bill Burke

This book is hilarious, it makes me want to be friends with this guy.  Unfortunately, it was published in 2011, and his website doesn’t look like it’s been updated since 2014.  Still, this book is entertaining enough to read anyway.  Bill Burke and his fellow “mousejunkies”, people who have become addicted to Disney magic, describe the highs and lows of their hobby.

There is no mention of anything but Disney, and no option but to stay on Disney property.  Bill compares staying off property to walking on broken glass, and professes his fear of Orlando jumping snakes (no, not a real thing). Rides and shows are mentioned, including a funny description of two huge guys happily going on the Peter Pan ride, but the bulk of this book is a poetical love letter to the food and service.  He describes meals in heartfelt detail, including his quest for the best Bloody Mary, the careful treatment of guests with allergies, his inability to stop eating at the Spirit of Aloha dinner show, and a loving ode to Raglan Road.  His description of Dole whips made me give them a try, even though I don’t like pineapple (now a fan). For service, he talks with the tv host Stacy,  who gives (gave?) little segments on hotel tvs and vacation planning videos.  He covers basic information, but also his favorite benches at each park (“My name is Bill and I’m a benchaholic”). He describes an experiment with “drinking around the world”, where you have a drink at each country in the world showcase, cautioning you to not get stupid, abusive or sick.  He and his mousejunkie friends talk about non-park recreation like fishing, golf and spas.  They discuss the Disney Vacation Club points system. Serious addicts, they get their fix 2-3 times a year, with a few even moving to Florida to make trips easier.  He talks about the difference between going as an non-parent and as a parent, and commiserated about the misfortune of getting sick on your vacation.   He invents new words, like “Epcrotch”- the horrendous skin chafing you can get from the wrong clothing and excessive heat.  To top it off he shares many people’s “Lightning Bolt Moments”, the moment they fell head over heels in love with Disney.  I think my lightning bolt moment was when I went with my grandparents, and while everyone else was watching a parade, my grandpa and I  went on Big Thunder Mountain twice, feeling like we got away with something.

I want a new edition!

So what books will I bring?

I will bring the Unofficial Guide to Disney World 2017, Eyewitness Travel Florida, the Birnbaum Disney World guide for kids, and possibly a Harry Potter book (we are currently reading the Chamber of Secrets illustrated edition).

Maybe I should write my own guidebook.  I have a few weeks to do more research.  I want to know if I can tour the Be Our Guest restaurant if I don’t have a reservation, the best place to have a quiet time (low stimulation) in Universal Studios and Island of Adventure, where exactly is the best place to stake out for viewing the river lights in Animal Kingdom, and how to avoid being domineering over my family and instead make sure they do what they want.

 

April 14, 2013

To regain creativity, be a kid

Whenever you feel your creativity ebb, you should go hang out with some kids.  I worry that I am losing that sense of wonder, that awe in the world itself and all it has to offer.  I never declare a day “the best day ever!” anymore, or pause to really stop at look at something beautiful or unique.

We went to Disney World and my kids showed me that you shouldn’t talk yourself out of big ideas.  My son declared that he had “so fun” and that it was the best day ever.  My daughter explained that she hated “it’s a small world” because the world is huge and amazing, not small and petty (she really didn’t get what the makers of the ride were trying to get across, but that’s ok).  All these amazing things we saw, from giant displays to tiny details, took creative time, energy and care.  They started as a simple thought and were brought into life.  There was ephemeral art as well, works of culinary art that is created and  meant to be destroyed.  There was art in performances and transcendent customer service.  I need to pull inspiration from all of that art and creativity.  No matter where you are or what you do, it is possible to live your life artfully, to be creative in your day to day life, to think big ideas and small details and improve the world.

When I was 8 or so I used to play this game with another young dreamer.  We’d sit under a tree during recess and get pine tar on our clothes as we discussed in detail what we would do if we ruled the world.  His dreams often involved flying cars and lots of food, if I remember correctly.  If we ruled the world, there would be no math homework, we would live on a tropical island and play video games and we would have secret caverns and there would be world peace and we could move things with our minds.

Be brave.  Remember to keep thinking like a little kid.  Suspend your disbelief when you watch a movie.  Quiet down your inner critic when you have a big idea that might take a lot of work to complete.  Give yourself permission to fuss with small details that only a few would see.  If you are one of those few, it matters. Allow infinite possibilities. No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, a dream that you wish will come true.

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disney signEvaluation of Disney World Books and Advice:

MouseJunkies! (second edition) by Bill Burke   This isn’t as much of a guide as it is giving you permission to be goofy.  Or Donald Duck.  Bill relates hilarious anecdotes about favorite Disney foods, his “love affair” with the tv announcer and his not-so-secret addiction to all things Disney.  The segment about drinking around the world (at Epcot) was epic.  This was more entertainment than guidebook. My husband also read Disney After Dark and told me it was really funny but definitely not suitable for kids.

 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World  These people have got it down to a science.  If you can only buy/borrow one guidebook, this should be it, or perhaps their “with kids” version.

Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World by Susan Veness  This book relates back story and details about the history of the four park’s design and architecture.  This book is great for fans of “behind the scenes” and the “making of” extras in DVDs.  She gives specific instructions for looking for these hidden gems.   A supplemental guide, not recommended as your primary source of information.

I purchased the companion planner, and while it is a great souvenir/scrapbook, I now wish I had bought  Passporter’s planner instead.  The Hidden Magic Planner is organized by park, while the Passporter was organized by day, allowing me to put in other Orlando activities.  It also has prompting questions like “what was the best part of your day?  the worst?” I have a copy I bought back in 2004 that I packed with notes and memorabilia.

 DK Eyewitness Travel Walt Disney World and Orlando  These guides get outdated quickly.  This one from 2012 doesn’t have any of the new Fantasyland information.  The description of rides is sketchy at most, and the maps are vague.  The edition I’m reading doesn’t even have a map of Islands of Adventure.  It does have some great photos, something DK is famous for.

Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World For Kids This is written for kids, I would say the average 8-10 year old would enjoy this simple and straightforward book to include them in on the planning.  My 13-year-old daughter was not so impressed.

 Fodor’s Walt Disney World with Kids If you like planning a trip to a resort like an expedition to Kilimanjaro and you’re bringing along your kids, this is the book for you.  It rates each ride on its scare factor, which is important if you’ve ever lost the trust of your child at the beginning of a long week of rides.  Our daughter was afraid of dinosaurs for years after a few misjudged rides.  Good maps, good index.  I don’t have the book in front of me and it’s possible I’ve got it mixed up with another I’ve read, but I think this was the one that suggested training for going like it was an olympic event, building up to walking with your family for ten miles a day.

Since all of these printed guides go out of date (most of the ones that are labeled 2013 were written in 2011 and published in 2012), it is good to update with apps and websites.  There are thousands of small blogs dedicated to the sport of Disney vacations.  I enjoyed WDWprepschool.com. There’s the official website, which has improved since I used it in 2009.  They now have a way to store an itinerary, reservations and other details in one place and share it with the rest of your traveling party, and it is connected to a mobile App called “my Disney Experience”.  Strangely enough, there’s no spot to include your plans to go to Universal or Sea World. ; )

You can get Facebook updates from Disney, the Unofficial Guide and other large blogs.

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My personal advice for the best Disney World experience:

  • dress your children in bright, memorable clothing
  • wear sunscreen
  • hydrate frequently
  • take more breaks than you think are necessary
  • pick one priority item per person per park, and make sure you do those things
  • wear good shoes
  • stop and look for magic
  • be kind to “cast members”
  • shop little and shop late
  • always go to the left if there is a choice in directions
  • ask about the best place to view things before picking a spot for parades and fireworks
  • stop worrying about things- you’re on vacation!
  • be epic
  • write down funny things your kids say
  • get yourself in the picture- yes, everything is amazing, but you want you and your family in the shot!

Share your Disney do’s and don’ts with me!

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