Category Archives: resorts

A Pirate’s Life

Ahhhh, the fireworks.  Probably one of the most magical of elements that Disney has to offer.  It seems to be the culmination of everything Disney that you feel inside your heart.  From the sights of the glorious colors and the giant arrays of light, to the flashes of nostalgia as you watch memories of Disney productions flash before your eyes, to even the smells of the freshly lit fireworks blazing high in the sky, Disney really knows how to put on a show, and how to dazzle its audience in the process.

So what are your fireworks options?  Here is one of my favorite fireworks excursions that we have been able to experience.

Pirates & Pals Fireworks Dessert Voyage

This was an amazing experience that not only my children enjoyed, but my mother and I did as well.  We began our evening at the Contemporary Resort, heading downstairs to check-in.  The kiddos set off on a scavenger hunt for “treasure” while we waited for the party to begin.  While they were looking around, there were tons of themed decorations everywhere, really getting my son in the mood to be a pirate for the evening.  Think treasure chests, almost a “One Eyed Willie” scene from “The Goonies”.   I personally loved it.  After we checked in, we were all given bandanas to wear as well, and a little pouch full of “gold”.  Disney doesn’t disappoint with its packages.  They make sure that even though you pay a little extra, you definitely come out on top with what you are given in terms of experience and having something to walk away with.

When it was time for the party to begin, we arrived back and entered a room full of decadent sweets and enough drinks to quench the thirst of every adult and child attending.  There was music playing, lights flashing, and none other than Captain Hook and Mr. Smee dancing and carrying on with all the littles.  Everyone had the opportunity to have their photo taken with those two crazy characters.  When the photos were over, Hook and Smee began mingling with the families again.  Smee found his way over to my mom, who had on a “Smee” shirt, Hook found me and loved my “Hook” shirt and he gave my son a VERY hard time about his Peter Pan shirt, but all in good Disney fun, of course.

When the dance party had ended, we followed Captain Hook out to our “ship” where we sailed out on the “high seas” (aka Seven Seas Lagoon) and had the most roaring time with our captain.   Captain Hook and Mr. Smee stayed on land while we set sail, singing songs,  listening to pirate tales, engaging in some Disney trivia, and our captain made sure that every child attending got a prize from the treasure chest before disembarking.  As we were out on our boat, we were able to see a glorious version of the Magic Kingdom nightly fireworks show, and also hear it as well, as it was being projected through the speakers on the boat.  As we returned to the Contemporary, we were greeted by a very special guest:  Peter Pan.  I was able to keep this a surprise from my son, who at the time, was a huge Peter Pan fan.   Definitely worth the money spent on this trip and I would definitely do this one again.  While you don’t get as close of a view as some other shows will give you, the character experience was amazing.

When I think of this trip to Disney, this is one of the first memories to pop in my head.  First, it was my mother’s FIRST trip to Disney.  EVER.  And to have this kind of experience was beyond anything she could compare it to.  This really set the bar high for other experiences.  Great job by all cast members on this excursion.

Let’s make some magic together for your next adventure.  Contact me today:  debbie.lands@magical-vacations.com or go to my website to receive a custom quote.  Make sure to select Debbie in the agent drop down box: www.magical-vacations.com/debbie.lands

See ya soon, pals!

 

 

Bare Necessities

Deciding on where to stay during your trip to Walt Disney World can be a huge decision.  Even just deciding what type of resort to stay in can be a huge choice to make!

While I have discussed resorts before, I haven’t gone into great detail about the types of resorts and what to expect.  In this next section, I will go into some detail about what to expect from each level, the resorts in each one, and some key features about each tier.

Value Resorts

Let’s jump in with our Value resorts first.  All-Star Movies, All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, Pop Century, and Art of Animation are the five resorts in this category.  Here are some key features about this category of resort:

  • Fun, bright, kid-friendly, whimsical theme with large icons
  • Motel type rooms that open to outside corridors
  • Food courts and pizza delivery available, but no Table Service restaurants
  • Themed pools that do not include water slides
  • Large, spread out layout, which can mean a lot of walking to rooms and dining
  • Bus transportation only to all parks and Disney Springs (and only 1 internal bus stop)
  • 260 sq. ft. rooms with 2 double beds or 1 king bed
  • Most budget friendly of all of the categories
  • Art of Animation has themed suites and rooms can be around 575 sq. ft.

Moderate Resorts

The Moderate resorts are Caribbean BeachCoronado SpringsPort Orleans French Quarter and Port Orleans Riverside are the four resorts in this category.  Here are some key features about this category of resort:

  • Beautifully themed with lush landscaping
  • Rooms that open to outside corridors
  • Table Service restaurants (except at Port Orleans French Quarter), food courts and pizza delivery available
  • A main feature pool with a water slide and other quiet pools
  • Large, spread out layout, can mean more walking to dining but not as far to buses
  • Multiple options for on-site recreation
  • Bus transportation to all parks and Disney Springs (and many internal bus stops, except at French Quarter).
  • Boat transportation to Disney Springs is also available at Riverside and French Quarter.
  • 314 sq. ft. rooms (340 sq. ft. at Caribbean Beach Resort) with 2 queen beds or 1 king bed
  • Riverside and Caribbean Beach can accommodate families of up to 5
  • Themed rooms available at Riverside ((Royal Guest rooms) and Caribbean Beach Resorts (Pirate rooms).
  • Coronado Springs offers Junior, 1-bedroom, and 2-bedroom suites.
  • Middle of the road as far as expense for a room budget

Deluxe Resorts

The Deluxe resorts are Animal Kingdom LodgeBeach ClubBoardWalk InnContemporaryGrand FloridianPolynesianWilderness Lodge and Yacht Club are the eight resorts in this category.  Here are some key features about this category of resort:

  • Beautiful, unique, impeccable theming with elaborate lobbies and gift shops
  • Rooms that open to inside corridors
  • Table Service restaurants (including 1 upscale option) and Quick Service, but no food courts
  • A main feature pool with a water slide and other quiet pools.  Some even Adults Only
  • Non-bus access to at least 1 park (except Animal Kingdom Lodge which always uses buses)
  • On-site gyms, salons, and valet parking available
  • Amenities are similar to a nicer chain of hotels
  • Each resort offers a full slate of hotel services
  • Direct monorail access from the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and Contemporary
  • Direct boat access from Wilderness Lodge

Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts/ Disney Vacation Club Resorts

The Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts, sometimes referred to as the Disney Vacation Club Resorts, are:  Animal Kingdom Villas, Bay Lake Tower, Beach Club Villas, BoardWalk Villas, Boulder Ridge Villas at Wilderness Lodge, Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Wilderness Lodge, Villas at Grand Floridian, Old Key West, Polynesian Villas & Bungalows and Saratoga Springs. All ten resorts are sold as timeshares through Disney Vacation Club (DVC), but you can also rent the units directly through Disney’s reservation system, just like you would a hotel room

Theming is on par with the Deluxe resorts.  These resorts will also be located in the same area, just in different buildings.  So, if you are staying in the DVC at the Polynesian, you will still check in like you normally would for a vacation at the Poynesian.  Your building assignment will just be in a different area.

Rooms for DVC are as follows:

  • Studios:  sleep up to five and include a mini fridge and a microwave, along with some disposable plates/utensils.
  • 1 and 2 Bedroom Villa: 1 (sleep 4-5) and 2 (sleep 8-9) Bedroom Villas have full kitchens with pots and pans, including a living room.  Most have a whirlpool tub in the master bathroom
  • Treehouses:  at Saratoga Springs, have 3 bedrooms and sleep 9
  • Bungalows: at the Polynesian, have 2 bedrooms and sleep 8
  • Cabins: at Wilderness Lodge, have 2 bedrooms and sleep 8
  • 3 Bedroom Grand Villas: at Animal Kingdom Villas, Bay Lake Tower, BoardWalk Villas, Villas at Grand Floridian, Copper Creek Villas, Old Key West and Saratoga Springs can sleep up to 12.

Fort Wilderness Cabins/Campsites

The last of our categories are the cabins and campsites.  Here is a brief overview of how they work:

Campsites are divided into three categories:  Partial, Full, or Preferred.

  • Partial Hookup (electricity and water provided),
  • Full Hookup (electricity, water and sewer provided)
  • Preferred (electricity, water, sewer and cable TV hookups, plus a more prime location). Each site has a picnic table and charcoal grill. Most sites feel secluded because there are trees and bushes between sites.

Cabins provide their own type of theming and offer boat transportation to Magic Kingdom.

  • One bedroom with a double bed and bunk beds
  • Murphy Bed in the living room
  • Full Kitchen with all basic cooking utensils, pots, pans, and dishes

 

There you have it!  Here is your complete list of resort categories.  Let’s create some magic together for 2018!  Contact me today to plan your dream getaway!  debbie.lands@magical-vacations.com

 

 

 

 

For the First Time in Forever…..(Part 2)

Today I will be discussing “food” at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.  I could go on and on about this topic, for my palette waters every single time I think about particular desserts I have sampled or meals I have engaged in.  I have never once been disappointed in food that I have encountered while vacationing.

So what are the food options while vacationing at Disney?  Many.  Today’s blog won’t go into specific restaurant choices and things of that nature, but more so, helping you make the decision on whether or not choosing a dining plan is the right decision for your family.  Then, if you do choose a dining plan, helping you understand the differences and understanding better which would be the best fit for you.

No Dining Plans for Me!

Let’s begin with the option of not choosing a dining plan, which I have done before.  Even with this choice, there are many options and ways to experience food while vacationing.  Whether you are using a dining plan or paying as you go, you can make ADR’s (Advanced Dining Reservations) at 180 days out from your trip.  I highly suggest this if your family is looking to book some coveted character meals or there is a restaurant that is on your “to do” list.  Again, at Magical Vacations, we can take of all of this for you, so you don’t have to think about it!

Disney is gracious enough to allow food and drinks into the park, which gives people the choice to bring in their own snacks.  I have done this, and it is a fantastic option to have in my purse or my backpack.  Especially for those times when you are in between meals or waiting in line for a ride and just need a quick pick me up.   If you choose not to bring in your own snacks and drinks, there are food options to be found everywhere at the parks and back at the resorts.  Just follow your nose and it will lead you to one!  Prices are honestly better than what you would find at a professional ballgame or a concert and the food you get for your money is incredible.   If you bring your own water bottle in with you, there are many water fountains to be found for you to get a quick fill up as well, which saves from buying fountain sodas.  Let’s face it, we need that water on our vacationing days anyway!

If you made ADR’s as mentioned above, then you will have a little bit of comfort knowing where your next meal is coming from.  If you didn’t make ADR’s, you will need to make the decisions depending on what park or resort you are at, as to which dining location you will choose for your meal.  Choose wisely according to the time of day, as certain locations fill up quicker the closer you get to normal dining times.  If you didn’t make ADR’s, just keep in mind that you may need to allow some “wait time” to go along with your meals.  Even with quick dining options, there is a bit of a wait with the lines.

Also, many resorts have rooms with mini refrigerators, coffee makers, microwave ovens, and toasters.  It is a nice option to have for those who would like to have at least one meal in their room per day.  There are several businesses that delivery groceries right to Bell Services at your resort for a slight fee.  Again, a great option to have if you want to have a stash of snacks available to take to the parks with you or know that you want to eat every breakfast together in your room.   Room Service is also available and I can say, the pizza we ordered from the Polynesian this past summer might have been the best pizza I have ever tasted!

The best advice I can give to someone not using the dining plan or ADR’s is to be willing to be flexible.  You may really want to eat at a particular location, but it may be busy at the time that your stomach is growling, and you don’t feel you can wait 30 more minutes.   Make choices that won’t leave you hangry!  We all know what that feeling is like and it doesn’t make for a fun vacation!

Now let’s jump into the different types of dining plans for Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Dining at Disneyland with Vouchers

Disneyland offers a “Dine in the Magic” voucher system.  Guests pay in advance for dining that they anticipate they will enjoy while on their trip.  While it may not necessarily be a money “saver”, it does give you peace of mind that the food portion of your trip is taken care of.   Vouchers will expire at the end of the year and are non-refundable.

A slight difference between this plan and the one we will discuss at Disney World is that you do not have to purchase vouchers for everyone in your party and the vouchers can be for any length, not the exact length of your stay as it is at Disney World.  Also, ADR’s at Disneyland are 60 days in advance, a difference between this and the 180 days at Disney World.

There are four different plans and I will quickly discuss each one of those.

Donald’s 2 Day

  • Adult $106/Child $64
  • 2 Character Dining Vouchers, 2 Dining Certificates ($15 for adults/$10 children), and 2 Snack Vouchers

Goofy’s 3 Day

  • Adult $159/Child $96
  • 3 Character Dining Vouchers, 3 Dining Certificates ($15 for adults/$10 children), and 3 Snack Vouchers

  Minnie’s 4 Day

  • Adult $219/Child $132
  • 3 Character Dining Vouchers, 1 Premium Character Dining, 4 Dining Certificates ($15 for adults/$10 children), and 4 Snack Vouchers

Mickey’s 5 Day

  • Adult $272/Child $164
  • 4 Character Dining Vouchers, 1 Premium Character Dining, 5 Dining Certificates ($15 for adults/$10 children), and 5 Snack Vouchers

Please note: Child rates are for young ones ages 3-9 years old. Vouchers may be used at any Full Service or Counter-Service restaurant. Vouchers can not be used for alcoholic beverages, room service, holiday buffets, Downtown Disney restaurants, and merchandise.

Next, we will move on to our final point, the Walt Disney World Disney Dining Plan.

Dining at Disney World with the Disney Dining Plan

There will be some similarities between this plan and the one from Disneyland.  Dining plans offer peace of mind, knowing that if you have made ADR’s, you know where your next meal is coming from AND you don’t have to have extra cash prepared for anything except for gratuities at table service restaurants.  The cost of the dining plan was figured into the resort package.  Many people like the idea of knowing that it is already taken care of before they get to their vacation.  While you will still have to decide between what quick service meals you would like and what snacks you want to choose, knowing that you have particular types of meals covered on a plan allows families to decide just how much to eat at other meals.  The Dining plans are offered for those staying with their DVC (Disney Vacation Club) points or who purchased a Magic Your Way package.

Once again, remember that table service dining reservations can be made at 180 days prior to your vacation.  Take advantage of that option.  We missed Be Our Guest on the trip with my mother, and it was the ONLY restaurant that she wanted to go to.  During this particular trip, we booked everything at three months out, so instead of having 180 days, we only had less than 90 days and it was already taken for our vacation dates.

Here is a breakdown of cost for the 2018 Dining Plan options:

Quick Service Plan

  • Adults $52.49/Children $21.75 per night
  • 2 Quick Service Meals, 2 Snacks, 1 Refillable Mug per person

Quick Service meals to me are similar to fast food.  While it can still be a meal you eat together at the table, you order at the counter and pick up your own food.  The refillable mugs will be included with each package and are really great to have.  You can use them at your resort to get a quick drink to take back to your room, or as my kids would do, make several trips back and forth to refill!

Standard Plan

  • Adults $75.49/Children $25.80 per night
  • 1 Table Service Meal, 1 Quick Service Meal, 2 Snacks, 1 Refillable Mug per person

Table Service meals are just like eating at a regular sit down restaurant.  You have a server, they come and take your order, and gratuity is considered to be something given at the end of the meal.  The servers/cast members REALLY do a great job with their guests and always interact with the families in a fun way.  We have used this plan the most and feel it gave our family alot of flexibility with meal options.  Since we were given a table service meal each night that we were there, it allowed for great character dining experiences which my children still talk about.

Deluxe Plan

  • Adults $116.24/Children $39.90 per night
  • 3 Meals (any combo of table-service and quick service), 2 Snacks, 1 Refillable Mug per person

I always think of my husband when I think of the Deluxe plan.  His favorite part of our Disney trips has easily been the food.  We tried the Standard Plan once with him and he was still hungry, while I was very full and had not finished my food!  However, he could easily finish mine for me and fill up.  The Deluxe Plan is great for those families who come to Disney for the food.   They know the food is excellent and they want to take every opportunity to take part in each course!  It allows families quite possibly the most flexibility in their dining options because you have choices on your meals.

These are JUST the basics that cover the Dining Options.  There are so many other things in which I can cover to help you navigate your way through the Dining Plan choices, and I will in a future blog.  I know when I first learned about the dining plan, I was very overwhelmed!  However, I will gather some helpful tips and share those with you at a later date.

In my next blog, I will discuss what to pack in your backpack for a day at the parks!  If you have decided to make a magical dream come true, please contact me to let me help you make that happen: debbie.lands@magical-vacations.com

 

 

For the First Time in Forever….(Part 1)

There are so many questions for those that have never been to either Disney World or Disneyland before.  While it can be an overwhelming process, I am hoping to ease that for you with a blog series meant to help those who have never been, and have alot of questions!  For today, let’s discuss two big items:  First…….

Walt Disney World vs. Disneyland (California)

Walt Disney World, located in Orlando, Florida, spreads across over 30,000 acres.   Disneyland, located in Anaheim, California,  covers around 100 acres with the expansion of Star Wars Land.   The difference between the two in itself is mind-blowing to me!

Walt Disney World is home to four parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom) and currently twenty five on site resorts, ranging from value resorts to luxurious deluxe accomodations.

Disneyland is home to two parks (Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park) and three on site hotels.

One of my MV travel specialist friends best summed up how to decide between which park to vacation at:  Time.  What do you have time for during your vacation to Disney and what do you hope to get out of it?  You can easily squeeze in a great Disneyland vacation in 3-4 days, covering both parks, and have an amazing time.  It would allow you to spend around two days at each park.   Or, if you  have more time to spend, you could adventure to Disney World, and spend  8-10 days there, soaking in the Florida sun, while taking in all Disney World has to offer.

Next, moving on where to stay:

Resort and Hotel Options

As mentioned earlier, there are a variety of resorts available, depending on your budget.  To say that Disney vacations are only for those who have money to blow, is not necessarily true.  I, myself, have always felt that I have budgeted well for our trips, no matter where we stayed, and we have stayed everywhere from the value resorts to deluxe accomodations.    If you are flexible with your dates,  I can help you find that dream vacation in the resort of your choice!  Here is a short breakdown of resorts.  Keep in mind, there are many levels to each resort.   There are standard rooms, rooms for more than 5 guests, preferred rooms, rooms with a garden, pool, or standard view, villas (even treehouse villas!), and other options that will deviate the cost.

Disney World Resorts

Deluxe resorts are priced the way they are for a variety of reasons, but I’m going to give you my own personal story and why we chose a deluxe resort to purchase through Disney Vacation Club.  Deluxe resorts typically have better location and accessibility to the parks.  Remember my son, and his walking condition?  We needed to use a wheelchair and having a resort that was on the monorail loop of pickup and dropoff was a necessity for us, even if it meant paying a little more upfront.  It saved us time, which saved HIM time and fatigue from being on his feet.  So, on the monorail loop, we are just two very short stops away from Magic Kingdom.  On the other end, we are a three minute walk to the TTC (Ticket and Transportation Center) and could once again, take the monorail to Epcot from this location.   On top of that, deluxe resorts are all beautifully themed with fantastic decor and you truly feel you are swept off into another time, another place just by spending time at your resort.  Each resort has amazing food and gift shops, some offer beach access, and most offer truly unique character dining opportunities.  We have always agreed to spend a “day” of our trips just at our resort, relaxing, and taking in all it has to offer.  A day to reset our batteries, and to spend a day in the sun, letting the kids swim while we relaxed as well.  We felt it was our own private getaway, just being there.

Moderate resorts are typically priced middle of the road, although, certain times of year, there are only a few hundred dollars separating them between either the deluxe or the value, depending on when you travel.   Their amenities and proximities are nice and I have always been pleased with what I had when staying at the moderate resorts we have chosen.  Again, Disney never disappoints.  Depending on which resort you choose, while you will not be as close to the action as you are on the monorail loop, the moderate resorts offer some unique themed rooms (pirates, princesses, etc), amazing food, and family friendly pools for down time.  It may take a little longer by bus to get to your park destination of choice than what you would experience riding on the monorail, but again, being “middle of the road”, the experiences I have had, were always handled promptly and never alot of waiting.  These resorts are spread out, and can allow for some great outdoor and indoor activities, as each resort also has their own theme, as did the deluxe resorts.

Value resorts are the least expensive of the resorts at Disney World.  They offer over the top, larger than life, statues and replicas of favorite Disney characters.  When our children arrived for the first time at a value resort, the first thing they noticed where all of the enormous statues and replicas.  It felt very real and personal to them and reminded them of why they wanted to be on this trip.  We encountered great food, great swimming and, as with every resort we have stayed, fantastic service from Disney cast members.  Value resorts are the furthest away by bus from most locations, so while you are definitely saving money by staying here, you will spend just a bit more time each day geting to and from the parks.

The biggest and most important question you have to ask yourself when choosing a resort would be this:  What is more important to me/my family:  My time in the parks/proximity to my resort, or the value of the dollar I will spend?  Once you know that, choosing a resort is a much simpler task.

Disneyland Hotels

The Grand Californian is the “grand” daddy of the hotels at Disneyland.  It is the closest to the parks and has immediate access to California Adventure park.  It has more of a craftsmen theme, with lush woods and stone.  It has character dining, restaurants, an arcade, several pools, as well as a spa.  It has over 700 rooms and suites, including rooms that are handicapped accessible.  When it comes to cost, it is typically the most expensive of the three hotels.

The Disneyland Hotel is the original hotel of Disneyland California.  It houses more of a classic feel,  and has over 900 rooms and suites, including handicapped accessible rooms.  This hotel offers many types of themed rooms including:  Pirates of the Caribbean, Adventureland, Big Thunder, Mickey Mouse, and Fairy Tale.  Character dining is also available here, as well as many other restaurants and lounges.  There are several pools for the family, and the proximity to Disneyland is just a monorail ride away.  The Disneyland Hotel is the middle of the road in cost of the Disneyland California hotels.

Paradise Pier is also just a monorail ride away from Disneyland.  With over 400 rooms and suites, including handicapped accessible rooms, Paradise Pier is the most budget friendly of the three hotels at Disneyland.  With a unique roof top pool, character dining, and panoramic views of California Adventure, Paradise Pier is an amazing option with its beach themed rooms.

What I always found so magically intriguing was that Walt Disney himself walked on the grounds of Disneyland.  There is so much of him there.  The history alone makes the trip worth while.  While Disney World encompasses so many of his visions and what he also had plans for,  there is something quite magical about knowing that he was there, once upon a time, in Disneyland.

Please let me help you in making your dreams coming true and adding some magic to your world.  I would be happy to give you a custom quote to see what options would suit you best for your dream getaway adventure!

Email me at:  debbie.lands@magical-vacations.com

In my next blog, we will discuss Disney Dining Options!

 

 

 

I’ve Got Gadgets and Gizmos a Plenty

There are many of us out there, like myself, who find this time of year quite overwhelming.  I love the holidays.  I love the lights, the movies, the music, the decorations.  I REALLY love the food!  I love spending time with my family, reminiscing about the past, remembering our loved ones who are no longer with us, and telling stories about each other until we are laughing so hard we have tears in our eyes.

What I love the most, are the memories that are made.  Those are the things in life that you can not put a price tag on or place into a shiny, sparkly box.  The older I get, and the older my children become, I realize how quickly time passes us by, and I wish I could just hold onto those moments, like during the holidays, where everyone is so happy to be around each other, all sharing stories, living and loving life together.

A sweet guest of mine made the choice to not buy traditional “presents” this year.  She said her children want for nothing, they have everything they need, but she really wants to give them something that they can look back on year after year and say, “we did this together”.   So, we booked her family a cruise to Disney’s Castaway Cay, and she has created the cutest Disney scavenger hunt for them for tomorrow morning, as they open boxes and gather clues such as new beach towels, sunglasses, bathing suits, Disney movies, etc.,  to figure out their grand finale present.   She said she has felt so fulfilled knowing that her family will still receive “something” at Christmas, but she is truly giving them memories that will last a lifetime.  Together we detailed their flight in, where she will be spending one night at Walt Disney World before shuttling to Port Canaveral and hopping aboard the Disney Wonder to set sail for several glorious days and nights this spring.    This, she said, will be the kind of Christmas she will continue to give her family.  A memory making Christmas that allows for hopes, dreams, excitement, and love to fill her family’s bucket for the rest of their lives.

I have debated myself, year after year, saying “no” to presents and taking our family away for the holidays.  She has inspired me to make that happen.  Maybe it will be Christmas next year, or maybe for a different holiday or festivities in which we would normally celebrate with a variety of presents that our children don’t really need.  But the memories….that is what we truly hold onto.  That is what I want to give to my family….years and years of memories, that as we go through life, we have many stories to share and bonds to create, as we travel together, learning more about each other, and appreciating each other for who we are.

If this story has inspired you, please contact me, and let me help add some magic to your future holidays and celebrations.  It’s never too late to make memories.  debbie.lands@magical-vacations.com

I’ve Got No Strings

“I’ve Got No Strings to hold me down
To make me fret, or make me frown
I had strings, but now I’m free
There are no strings on me

Hi-ho the merry-o
That’s the only way to be
I want the world to know
Nothing ever worries me”

Oh my sweet, sweet son, Gabe.  He truly encompasses this song.  Never one to truly complain unless he is in immeasurable pain.  He was born with a condition called joint laxity.  To sum it up, his joints are very loose, making him extremely flexible.  While that is great in some ways, it isn’t great if it affects your hips, knees, ankles, and feet.  At this point, in his nine years, Gabe doesn’t require full leg braces, crutches, or a permanent wheelchair.  We have gone to therapy for six of his nine years.   Before I get too far ahead of myself, while Gabe was born with this condition, we didn’t “know” he had THIS particular condition until after a trip to Disney after he finished first grade.  Up to that point, Gabe spent time in physical and occupational therapy from the age of 1 1/2 to 6 1/2, being released at the end of Kindergarten.  At that point, we thought his only concern was tight heel cords, and after intense therapy for four years, he was finally in the normal range of motion.   He was released to go and play like any other child was able to.  Running was always difficult for Gabe, but he could still do it.  Now….let’s fast forward a year to the end of first grade.

It wasn’t until we did Disney last summer, when this Disney momma jam packed an entire day of walking and events,  that we realized just how much pain Gabe was consistently in.  He has a very high pain threshold, and never, ever tells us he is “hurting”, because, fortunately for him, he doesn’t experience pain until it is just unbearable for him.  But at that point, we have to find a way to ease his pain immediately.   We were at Disney for a week, but by the end of the second day, he was hurting pretty badly, and I knew we had to just slow way down and take things easy for him, allowing more frequent breaks than what a family would normally take during a Disney trip, making sure he had time to stretch out his legs and feet and plenty of time to swim (which is REALLY good for him).  By the end of the trip, he was tired, but no more so than what a normal 7 year old would be.

We returned home for our summer, and Gabe didn’t complain the rest of the summer about his legs or feet hurting.

We took a Labor Day trip to Disney with my mother, and it was upon that trip that we realized this problem was more intense than before.   Even though we scaled back on walking, since we knew it helped him during our last trip and because my mom has had knee surgeries , it still wasn’t enough.  He began to fatigue so much quicker than he had in the past.  I knew something was different than before.

When we returned from our trip, we called his therapy center to make an appointment with his orthopedic specialist.  We would have to wait two months to get in.   But during the waiting period, they gave us some suggestions on how to help him until we could meet with his doctor.  When our appointment finally came, we realized his leg flexibility and range of motion had actually begun to regress, which is why the pain suddenly came fast and furious.  This was the appointment when we were told that he had a more intense problem than first detected, and sometimes it just takes kids growing up, putting more weight on their frame, and becoming more active before some of these things become a concern.   During this appointment, he was fitted for night splints and orthotic inserts for his shoes.  It was a new beginning for us, as we would spend the next four months trying to figure out the right plan of action for him that didn’t create more pain, but in the end, we did.

We had to wait six more weeks to start therapy, and once we started in February of this past year, we jumped right in.  Gabe has always had absolutely wonderful therapists who are incredibly knowledgeable and tremendously kind to him.  After two months of therapy, lots of loosening and tightening of his different splints and orthotics,  in April it was discovered by his specialist that he had joint laxity, and from that point, everything began to make sense.  We began using a different type of orthotic, one that supported his ankle, foot, and arch better.  Walking became so much easier for him, and he didn’t fatigue as easy.  During the time of trying to figure things out, he would be completely exhausted two hours into the school day.  Thankfully, Gabe went to school where I teach, his classroom was right next door to mine, and his teacher is one of my best friends.  We worked very well together to keep Gabe as pain free as possible.

At the end of May, it was time for a week at Disney.  I had been in heavy discussion with his therapists about what would be best for Gabe and we all agreed that we should NOT cancel the trip, he should enjoy himself, and we should rent a wheelchair.  I called Disney directly and asked for their recommendations.  They gave me several suggestions and from there I truly just chose one to call.  I called Best Price Mobility and not only were they incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, but they made me feel very at ease regarding a situation that I knew nothing about.  We spoke on the phone a couple times before we arrived at Disney and each time, I never felt that I was an “annoying customer”.  They truly have great concern for their customers.

They had Gabe’s wheelchair ready and waiting for him at Bell Services when we arrived at the Polynesian that afternoon, and of course, in true Disney style, it was wheeled right up to him and he was helped into the chair and made to feel like a king.  He was even given a lei from the front desk.

Every single fear that I had about his mobility was taken away from that point on.  He was completely comfortable and EVERY SINGLE DISNEY employee that we encountered made all of us, but especially him, feel that he was the most important person in the room.  They opened doors for us when we couldn’t, they always spoke to him or made jokes with him, they kindly asked people to move in order for him to get through, and we were never treated as a nuisance when we had to get through restaurants or character interactions due to his wheelchair.  Gabe could walk on his own, and he did when necessary.  But to keep his fatigue down, we pushed him when possible, and he would exit the wheelchair to go onto rides, take pictures, go swimming, etc.

Many people have asked me questions about how we maneuvered through the parks, the monorail, the resorts, dining, and extreme crowds with a child in a wheelchair.  Honestly, it wasn’t a lot different than when we did it with a stroller as far as being difficult on my end.  The wheelchair itself was extremely easy to use and Gabe could move himself if needed.

As we got onto buses (which wasn’t often, I will be honest, as we stayed on the monorail loop), we very simply got in the handicapped line, and when our bus approached, we were seated first, where they strapped Gabe in, speaking to him, making sure he was ok.  They always offered me a seat first, but I always chose to stand next to him.  Someone else could use my seat.   Then, we were always assisted in getting off the bus, using a ramp getting on and off the bus.

The monorail line was pretty much the same.  They had a separate line for handicapped individuals, and we often would share with strollers.  They would seat us first, then strollers, and others, again, using a ramp.  I would stand with Gabe if the monorail was crowded, he would lock himself down, and we were off.

Getting in and out of elevators was pretty simple, and most were large enough that we were able to turn fully around inside of them.

Bathrooms were the only area of “concern”, yet it made me say several times, how much true respect I have for those who live this life everyday.  While there is plenty of room in the bathrooms, I really wish there was a way to invent an automatic door, which could be deactivated once inside, as this would make things a lot easier for the handicapped.  That was the only struggle we had, and luckily, he had me to help him.  Cast members that were near the restrooms, or even other guests, would help us.  It wasn’t a nuisance, but it made us realize how difficult others really do have it when it comes to a very simple task such as using the bathroom.

Swimming was easy for him as well.  We would push the wheelchair up to the pool, go into the handicapped accessible area, park near where we were laying our things, take off his orthotics, and Gabe would walk the short distance over and step into the pool!  There was always a cast member near our pool, who could assist us getting inside the handicapped accessible door.  If I haven’t said it enough, the cast members were fantastic.  Never a frown, never a complaint, always willing to help.  Every single experience was amazing.

When we would come to rides, we would either park it in a designated area, or he would remain in his seat for spots that have handicapped seating.  I always let them know that he didn’t “have” to stay in his seat.  I know that there are true handicapped people who need spots and I don’t want to pretend for one minute that he deserved their spots over them.  However, cast members would assure me that he was totally fine and everyone that needed a spot was taken care of.  Fastpass + rides were never a concern because he didn’t have to wait in line long, and again, we would park the wheelchair and walk to the fastpass line, or we would remain in the wheelchair and a cast member would take it to the ending spot.

The time that I really saw how amazing Disney treats those with mobility concerns was when we rode rides where we didn’t have fastpasses and the lines were LONG.  Really long.  They have designated paths for wheelchairs, and while we still had to wait in line, it wasn’t as crowded, we had room to get through the line with his wheelchair, and there was always a cast member or two willing to cut up with Gabe.  They would always ask us if he could leave his wheelchair for the ride, which we said yes, and they would take us to a certain point where we would wait, where again, another cast member would come over and speak to us, mainly to Gabe.

Gabe was never obnoxious about this.  That isn’t his personality anyway.  To know Gabe, is to know, that he is the child who apologizes for his mom having to push him in a wheelchair, for us having to go slower because of him, for us not getting to race to the front of the line because of him.  What he doesn’t realize is that because of him, we take things in so much better.  We see life at a slower pace, but we appreciate life for the beauty of the moment.  We don’t rush.  We enjoy each other and each thing that we do together.  If we miss something, oh well.  There will be something else waiting on us that we probably would have enjoyed even better.  We do things for each other.  We are kinder to each other. BECAUSE we slow down.  It was glorious.  It made me truly appreciate all the extra effort that Disney puts into treating everyone as if they are the only people in the park.

One particular moment that I think of, when I think of this past trip this summer, was when we were at Hollywood Studios.  We had about an hour until Fantasmic, and needed a filler.  We strolled over to see if we could make the Toy Story Mania ride.  As we were walking and pushing over, a family cut us off, causing me to have to yank Gabe’s wheelchair to the side.  Yes, we were walking slow, but not turtle speed slow.  I ended up bumping into a sweet young lady, and said I was sorry.  She just smiled at me and said it was ok.

When we got to Toy Story Mania, that family that cut us off was near the front of the line, and we were at the end, realizing that we couldn’t wait 50 minutes in line because we would miss our fastpass for Fantasmic.  We made a decision to leave and just as we were turning around, the girl I bumped into returned to me, with fastpasses for our family.  She was a cast member, said she felt bad that we had been “knocked over” and wanted to offer us something to help.  Of course, I cried.  I thanked her repeatedly, and asked what I could do for her.  She said nothing, except to enjoy them.

So we did, and we got right into the Toy Story Mania line, used those fastpasses, where I made sure to tell the cast members what she had done for us, asking them to please find a way for their supervisor to know what she had done (they assured me they would, they knew who she was), and we completed what was probably the most magical ride of the night.  My heart was full.  It is the true spirit of Disney magic.  Pay it forward people, it never hurts.

When our week was over, we left our wheelchair at Bell Services again, and Best Price Mobility picked it up for us. We were charged exactly as we were quoted.  It was the easiest process possible.

That is my experience with using a wheelchair at Disney.  I know there are thousands upon thousands of others.  But hopefully this one will help answer some questions that some of you might have regarding how easy it is for those of you who may have mobility concerns.  And just like little Pinocchio, Gabe has no strings tying him down.

Be Our Guest

“Be Our Guest…Be Our Guest…put our service to the test,”…..You know the classic lines that Lumiere sings in Beauty and the Beast.  Truly one of my favorite songs in Disney history.  A great song from a lovely movie.  I love how hard everyone in the castle works to show Belle how much they care and want her to enjoy herself.  They are over-the-top happy, going overboard with excitement, never a frown, never a fuss, and always willing to go above and beyond to show her how glamorous it can really be.  One of the main reasons why I wanted to work for Magical Vacations was because I wanted to help others plan the vacation of their dreams, and in doing so, I get to show others just how “magical” we can be, similar to the characters in the “Be Our Guest” song.  While I can’t promise the tricks they perform, I might be able to get you some of the “grey stuff (it’s delicious)”.  We do our absolute best to give our guests the best experience they can have, and all they have to do is sit back and let us do the work, while answering some important questions from us during the planning process.

So what is the big deal, you are asking?  Why should we use a Travel Specialist?

I’ve been in your shoes….thinking I could plan the trip of a lifetime on my own.  Honestly, I have done it.  On my own.  And it wasn’t fun.  It was stressful.  And overwhelming.  And I was not the most fun person to be around while planning these trips.  Even when planning the most magical trip to the happiest place on Earth.  I was afraid I was going to miss something, afraid I was going to miss a promotion, a special, pay too much, stay in the wrong resort, get the wrong tickets, buy the wrong dining plan, plan the wrong fastpasses, exhaust my children.  Ugh.  None of that sounds magical or happy.  I always felt I needed a vacation from my vacation planning.

Then I found Magical Vacations….the rest is history (if you want to read about that history, read my other posts).

I’m going to give you a few reasons why you should use me to plan your dream getaway:

  •  FREE:  When planning a package, our services come completely free!  My services are absolutely, 100%, no hidden fees, FREE!  There are so many things out there in which you hear that something is free, only to find out that there is a hidden charge.
  • CUSTOMIZATION:   Once I gather some required information from you, next I will collect some “helpful” travel information from you.  While it may seem tedious at first,  it is helpful to know about your family’s likes & dislikes in order to recommend the best resort/room options. There are so many choices – your input will be vital to narrowing down the options and creating the perfect vacation for you and your family.  I can also tell you, as a former guest who did this as part of my “pre-quote process”, THIS is what allowed my travel specialist to “know me”.  This will allow me to get inside your mind a little and figure out some special ways to make your vacation one that is beyond memorable.  

  • AVAILABILITY:  From the moment we first connect and discuss quotes to the moment you return home from your vacation, I am yours.  I can not tell you the peace it gave me, knowing I had my Specialist, just an email or text away, should something pop up during the months, weeks, or days leading up to our vacation.  Even MORE importantly I was able to contact her DURING my vacation when I had a few tiny questions.  We become your extended family, ensuring that you get everything out of your vacation that your heart desires.
  • REFERRALS:  We are a ‘referral’ only company, which speaks to the high importance we place on customer service to keep our business growing. So although our services are FREE, our customer service is our signature trademark.
  • THE MINNIE BOX:  Speaking of “signature trademark”, the Minnie Box was developed by the owner of Magical Vacations, as a “thank you” to guests for using our company.  As someone who has been a guest, received it, and opened it with her children, I can tell you, it is a very special “extra” and is a classy way of handling all of our guests.  Qualifying packages receive a Minnie Box.

Finally……

  • PEACE:  I’ve planned vacations on my own, and using other organizations.  Then…I let MV specialize my vacation for me.  It completely took my stress and worries away.  I was able to answer the necessary questions at my leisure, then was given a choice of options available based upon my answers (which, by the way, were spot on with what I would have chosen).  The hardest part for me had nothing to do with cost.  All seemed quite affordable for what I was wanting, probably because my specialist stayed within the price range that I gave her, which was wonderful.  The hardest part was that I was given three VERY affordable, VERY amazing options!  There was no stress over “I wish we could have option A, but we are stuck with option B”, or “I only have options that I can’t afford!”.  It was a win-win no matter what I chose.  Peace….and that’s how it felt as we planned and processed the remainder of the trip, and what I will give to you as we go through the process together!

You can contact me anytime by email to get the magic going!  All you need is a little faith, trust, and pixie dust!  debbie.lands@magical-vacations.com