Planning the Multi-Generational Family Vacation

Cinderella Castle at Night!

Cinderella Castle at Night!

There is nothing quite like taking a family vacation to Walt Disney World.  The excitement that comes with planning the trip is almost half the fun.  How long do I stay?  Where do we want to eat?  Should we do the Disney Dining Plan?  These are some of the questions that need answering.

However, there is a whole other dimension that gets introduced when you start planning a trip involving multiple families, and even multiple generations of people going.  Just like planning your own family vacation, the excitement that builds as you plan it with another family is perhaps even greater!  Here is a real life example involving myself, my wife and daughter, my niece and her boyfriend, my sister-in-law and her husband and daughter, AND my sister-in-law’s Mother.

Last year when my wife and I took our daughter to Disney World for her birthday, we also invited and brought along my niece.  That was an incredible trip, in part because our daughter didn’t know that my niece was coming until she showed up the day before our trip, and also because Steph hadn’t been to Disney in about thirteen years!  The trip was phenomenal, and while we were there, we took the plunge – we purchased our Disney Vacation Club at the Villas at the Grand Californian Resort & Spa!  Part of what made that purchase phenomenal was that we received double points, meaning the 220 we purchased were doubled, we banked them, and we have 440 to spend this year!  We already knew what we were going to do with those points!

Last year we tried to convince my sister-in-law’s family to take a trip with us, but with the economy the way it was, they declined.  This past September, we had a little get together with them and convinced them that they needed to come with us next year!  How could they say no when we would be able to book a two bedroom suite at Bay Lake Towers with our points?  That day in September, we decided that our vacation dates would be June 17th – 24th, 2011.

Planning Tip #1:  Select a date that works for all of you in the party.
We selected those dates because my daughter’s 10th birthday falls in that window. There is nothing quite like being at Walt Disney World when it is your birthday!
Now that we had a firm “Yes” that they would be coming, and a date that worked for all of us, I had to wait a little bit because I couldn’t make the reservation at BLT until it was 7 months out from our check-in date.  That was about two months away.
November 17th finally arrived, and with it, my telephone call to the Disney Vacation Club.  9:00 AM arrived, I dialed the phone, got an agent almost immediately…then was told that they couldn’t book my reservation because of the computer upgrades they were performing to the system.  I would be able to call back and make my reservation at 1:00 PM that afternoon.
At this point, my nerves started getting to me a little.  Would we be able to get the room we wanted?  Would we have to go to a different resort?  Would we have to change our dates?  I resolved to try and put it out of my head for the morning, and worry about it when I called back.  Unfortunately, I had a dentist appointment at 1:00 PM, so I wasn’t able to call right then – I had to call after that was over, about 2:30 PM.
When I called back, I spoke with a nice lady named Flo who walked me through the whole process.  They had a two bedroom available – Lake View – so I snatched it right up!  I gave her the names of all the adults, then all the children and their ages, and our reservation for nine people was set!  This brings me to my next tip.


Planning Tip #2: After your reservations are set, get together with all concerned to iron out additional details.
The next thing was to figure out some of the details that we needed to cover.  I had a list of four things to cover with Nancy:

  1. How many days of park tickets do we want to do?  We decided on six days, with park hopper, no water park option.  When planning, I went to the detail of documenting how much the tickets would cost for various days so that they would have as much information as possible.
  2. What sort of dining reservations do we want to make?  I outlined to them what it would cost if we elected to do the Disney Dining Plan or the Disney Quick Service Dining Plan.  In the end, we decided on one Princess Character Dining meal at Akershus, one non-Character meal at ‘50s Prime Time Café, and a third meal (location TBD) just for adults.
  3. We also mentioned a special surprise that Cindy and I are going to do for the girls: a certain treat that has the initials BBB – I’ll let you figure out the surprise!
  4. Lastly, we made the decision that we will drive down from NC in one day – it is about a ten hour drive.

In addition to those decisions, Nancy decided that she would get the tickets now.  There are some good reasons for this.  For starters, getting the tickets now will lock them in at the price that they currently are, which is good in case the price goes up.  Secondly, getting the tickets now will lock them in for the trip.  Thirdly, getting the tickets now will help them to have some things to include in the “gift” that they are giving their daughter at Christmas to tell her that they are going to Disney World!  And lastly, the tickets don’t activate the two-week window before they expire until the first day that they are used.
At this point, we are all caught up on what we need to do right now.  Later on next month, we’ll need to book our reservations for dining, and call to schedule the secret surprise.  Additionally, I’m going to read some of my friend Ken’s posts on things that Nancy’s Mom might like to do as an older Disney visitor!

Planning Tip #3: Communication, Communication, Communication

What it all comes down to when planning a family vacation involving multiple families is communication, communication, communication!  The more planning you do together, the greater your chances of everyone having a great trip, and enjoying every moment of it!

Planning Tip #4: Adding in the extra touches that make planning fun

One of the things that I really enjoy getting as a way of increasing the excitement of our upcoming trip is the Customized Maps that Disney offers.  These maps are an incredible reference, and a free keepsake that you can enjoy before and after the vacation.  Some other things to look into include getting your music together, looking at trivia books and other books on what to do at the parks, and researching the various changes that are occurring at the parks to see if any of the attractions are going to be closed when you are visiting.  What things do you like to do to get ready for your Disney vacations, and when do you like to do them?

Magic Kingdom — Mickey’s Toontown Fair

Magic Kingdom -- Mickey's Toontown Fair

Mickey’s Toontown Fair is the newest of the Magic Kingdom lands, and unfortunately, it is also the first of the lands to be closed.  Toontown Fair is the unfortunate casualty of the expansion of Fantasyland, and as a result, much of the land is going to be disappearing, if it hasn’t been closed already.  Because of this, if you are able to go, and haven’t been yet, now might be the best time to get down to see Mickey’s Toontown Fair.

The Fair was opened in, I believe, 1988 to celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday.  Originally, the fair was called “Mickey’s Birthdayland”, and was slated to be a short running expansion.  However, the guests loved it, and flocked to it in such numbers that it was decided to continue the fun, but with a few tweaks made along the way.

Some of the best things in all of the Magic Kingdom can be found in Mickey’s Toontown Fair.  For us, the best of the attractions are the following:

Since the Toontown Fair is the smallest of the lands, there isn’t as much to do here, however, the land has it’s own unique traits that give the “Fairgoer” a good time, and a lot to see.

The real beauty of Mickey’s Toontown Fair is in the details, and the story behind the land.  As I understand it, you won’t always find Mickey in the Toontown Fair, even though it would be a reasonable expectation to think that he would be there.  However, the thing that you need to keep in mind is that Mickey and Minnie’s full time homes are actually in Disneyland, not Disney World.  The homes that are in Mickey’s Toontown Fair are actually Mickey and Minnie’s vacation homes, so for this reason, when they aren’t on vacation, you won’t see them in their homes.

Additionally, although this is the smallest of the lands, the landmarks that are in the the land have an incredible amount of detail to them.  For example, did you know that Minnie’s Country House has he following things for you and your kids to enjoy:

  • You can sit on the couch or chair for pictures
  • You can press the play button on the answering machine to hear the messages left for Minnie — and there are a lot of messages!
  • You can bake the cake in the oven.
  • You can open the refrigerator to see all the selections of cheese that Minnie has.
  • You can pop popcorn in the microwave.

The details in the houses — both Minnie’s and Mickey’s — are incredible.  Mickey’s doesn’t have many things to do, it is more of a walk through museum type view, but despite that, there are a lot of things to see.  Take a moment to check out the kitchen that Goofy and Donald are working on, and take a look at all of the tools that there are in the garage!

Goofy’s Barnstormer roller coaster, which is how we as a family think of Goofy’s roller coaster, was Sophie’s first roller coaster at Disney World.  We rode it once, back in 2005, and Sophie was hooked!  We got off of it, and rode it again — and again — and again.  You get the picture.  In all, we rode it at least four times in a row, and we have ridden nearly every year since.  Now, though, our daring nine year old has progressed to Big Thunder Mountain, the Rock and Roller Coaster with Aerosmith, and other hi-intensity rides.

As a land, Mickey’s Toontown Fair is definitely the smallest, and some people think that it isn’t any big deal that it is being absorbed into the Fantasyland expansion.  However, to me, some of the biggest things that the Fair has going for it are the little things.  Being able to relax, to savor each part of the land, to just stroll like you would stroll through your own county fair at home.  Those are the things that make Mickey’s Toontown Fair special, and it won’t soon be forgotten.

I have no doubts that somewhere in the future we will see Mickey and Minnie’s homes.  Where they will be I’m not sure, but something will be done with them I believe.

Thank you for reading, enjoy the photos now and let me know what you think in the comments!

Mickey’s Closet

 

Mickey’s Bed

 

 

Mickey’s Country House
The back of Mickey’s House, with the garage
Mickey’s disaster of a kitchen renovation!
Minnie’s Country House

 

 

 

Goofy needs to take flying lessons!

 

Sophie and her Meemaw!

 

“The Thinker”

 

Mickey’s Kitchen

 

Pluto’s Doghouse

 

Mickey’s Garden

 

Sophie and Mickey

In the end, with Toontown Fair about to close, I’m going to miss it, and so are Cindy and Sophie.  I really think it will be worth it in the end, but it still is a bittersweet thing to go through.  That makes the pictures we have and memories we have all the more important, so thank you for reading.

Secretariat — The Greatest Horse, Immortalized

Yesterday Cindy, Sophie and I went to see Secretariat.  We have been seeing previews for it for a couple of months now, and I really wanted to see it to see how good it was.  The trailer we saw was great, and the story just captivated me.

So we get to the theater, and as we are watching, Cindy and I noticed that Sophie is barely moving.  She is so caught up in the movie that she can barely blink her eyes!

This movie had it all; sadness, uncertainty, humor, excitement, and thrilling, thrilling horse racing.  Seeing the races played out on the big screen led me to do a search to see if YouTube videos exist of the actual races, and they do!  Here they are below — enjoy!  The videos are in order of the Triple Crown — first the Derby, then the Preakness, and lastly, the Belmont!

When it comes to athletes, so many people write about this person being the greatest of all time, or that person being the greatest of all time. Shoot, Mohammad Ali claimed that he was the greatest of all time!  The debate rages on and on, of course, and certainly there is no way that it could ever be definitively answered to everyone’s satisfaction — but in my opinion, Secretariat stands right up there with all of the great horses in history, and with all of the “Greatest” athletes of all time, as well!

Taking Stephanie To Disney World, June 2010

This past June, Cindy, Sophie and I planned to celebrate Sophie’s birthday at Walt Disney World.  There were so many plans, and Sophie knew about all of them — where we wanted to eat, what we wanted to do, and where we planned to stay — but the one thing that Sophie had no idea about was that we had invited a secret fourth person to accompany us!

On Sunday evening, June 13th, at about 7:30 PM or so, our front doorbell rang.  Since I knew who was coming, I told Sophie to get the door.  As she did, she said, surprised, “Stephanie?”  When she saw that it was, indeed, her cousin Stephanie, she opened the door the rest of the way and gave her a big hug!

As we were all hugging Stephanie, Sophie whispered to me “Daddy, why is she here?”.  When she asked, I told her to ask Stephanie herself.  Steph answered, “Well, I heard you were going on vacation, and I thought I would come along!”

As soon as Sophie heard that, she gave a squeal of delight and wrapped Stephanie up in a great big bear hug!

We had a wonderful vacation planned!  It would all start with leaving on Monday, June 14th, and spending the night in Savannah, GA.  Additionally, we were to spend Tuesday night at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando Lake Buena Vista before checking in at Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter on Wednesday, June 16th.

But first we had reservations for dinner on the 15th at the Captain’s Grille, a seafood restaurant at the Yacht Club over by the Disney Boardwalk.  We decided to make reservations there because I was really in the mood for some crab legs, and also because my friend Beth used to be the hostess there!  Our food was so good, I would eat there again in a heartbeat!  After we ate, we walked around the Boardwalk.  We had always wanted to do that, but had just never taken the time to do so.  We enjoyed the Boardwalk immensely!  We looked in some shops, we bought some trinkets, we watched a man doing a magic show that was quite humorous, and we enjoyed the walk around the lake.

Disney’s Boardwalk as seen from across the pond!

Wednesday the 16th was quite an interesting day, to say the least!  We woke up normally, ate a quick breakfast at the Fairfield, and then packed the car and headed off to POFQ!  We had decided early on that we would check-in early, entrust our luggage with the luggage people at the resort, and head over to the Magic Kingdom to enjoy the day until our room was ready.  We had two things that we wanted to do that day.  The first was to take advantage of our preferred seating location for the afternoon parade, and the second was to make our dining reservations at The Crystal Palace.

However, after we dropped off our luggage, we decided to go inside to use the rest rooms before heading over to the park.  When we came out of the rest rooms, though, we started talking with a very nice lady about the one thing we had never ever looked into: the Disney Vacation Club.  She was talking with us, and in the course of our conversation, we found out that we could get four days worth of fast pass tickets for all of us just by taking a tour of the facilities over at the Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa.

We all talked it over, and decided that other than our dining reservations, we really could take some time to do the tour, so we decided to take her up on her offer.  A vehicle took us over for the tour, and we met a lady named Johanna, who took us around and showed us the resort.  She told us we were welcome to take a few pictures, so I did!  I didn’t take many, but here are a few that I like.

The fountain at Saratoga Springs

 

One of the train displays at the DVC location at Saratoga Springs.

 

A mural at the DVC location at Saratoga Springs.
After the tour, we sat down with Johanna to talk about the pricing for the Vacation Club.  After much talking, we realized that the money we had spent on our three previous trips would have paid for about half of what a Vacation Club membership would have cost, and to make matters worse, we paid two dollars more per night for our hotel at POFQ than we could have paid for a Savannah view at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge!  When we heard that, and then heard about the really special deals that they were offering, and learned what the monthly payments worked out to be, we decided to take the plunge and own a piece of Disney, all for ourselves!
 In the end, we were there for probably two hours, perhaps longer.  Because of that, we did miss the preferred seating for the parade, but we still made our dinner reservations.  Also, I split off with the girls and met the porter at our hotel room to take delivery of our luggage.
I was able to get that done and arrive at The Crystal Palace just in time for us to get seated!  This would be the first of our table service dining reservations, and also the first time for Stephanie to get the Disney character experience!  The Crystal Palace includes meet and greet sessions with Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore, and each time they come by, you can take a picture and get an autograph in your autograph book.  Take a look at some of the pictures we took that day!
Sophie, Piglet, and Stephanie
Sophie and Pooh

 

Silly faces!
I like to enjoy a breakfast at least once a trip while we are visiting at Disney World.  Usually we save all of our table service meals for late afternoon/early dinner, but on the 17th, we had reservations at the Cape May Cafe, which we had never eaten at before.
The Cape May Cafe is located at the Yacht Club resort, over again by the Disney Boardwalk.  This was the same resort where we had been for our Captain’s Grille dinner two nights before.  The characters at this buffet breakfast included Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy!  The food is one big buffet with Mickey Mouse waffles, all sorts of sweet pastries, all sorts of bacon and sausages, and of course, eggs (yuck!)  However, there was plenty to eat, so none of us went hungry that morning!  Take a look at some of the great pictures we took!
Steph and Minnie

 

Sophie and Minnie

 

Steph and Donald

 

The girls with Goofy!

 

Sophie’s Birthday Surprise — notice the card right by the desert?
After we finished breakfast, we took the water taxi over to Epcot.  One of the hidden treasures of Epcot is the ability to enter the park from the back entrance, over by the France pavilion in World Showcase.  The line is much smaller, and while I have seen it many times, I had never entered that way until this trip.
We spent the day first at Epcot, and then later on we hopped over to the Magic Kingdom.  One of the things we did was take the ferry boat ride across the Seven Seas Lagoon.  In doing so, we discovered that we had taken the following Disney modes of transportation:
  • Disney Resort Bus
  • Monorail
  • Water Taxi
  • Ferry Boat
  • Helium Balloon (Characters in Flight at Downtown Disney)
  • Vacation Club Van

Actually, the girls didn’t do the Characters in Flight until Sophie’s birthday on the 19th, but you get the idea.

You know, as I write about our Disney experiences with Stephanie this past June, it occurs to me that there is so much that we did on our vacation that there is no way that I can get all of the Magic down in a blog post without making the post about a three day job to get it down.  So, at the risk of disappointing my following of 10 on Networked Blogs, I’m going to show you the remaining parts of our trip via the pictures that we took.  I hope you enjoy!

The ghosts from The Tower of Terror!

 

Pluto with Steph and Sophie at The Garden Grill

 

Mickey and Sophie at The Garden Grill

 

He’s such a big player the girls had to have their pictures separately!

 

“And the winner is…Kermit the Frog!”

 

On Characters in Flight at Downtown Disney

 

Our lovely niece at Mickey’s Backyard BBQ!

 

Sophie is wearing her special “Minnie and Me” T-Shirt she created at Downtown Disney!

 

Sophie’s picture with Mickey and Minnie

 

We thought we were as wet as we could get — until it started pouring rain on top of it!

 

My only picture from “Finding Nemo — the musical” that turned out okay.

 

Our picture with Belle at Akerhus Royal Banquet Hall

 

Sleeping Beauty and the girls

 

Cinderella with the girls

 

Snow White with the girls

 

Ariel with the girls

 

Clownin’ around at the bus stop

 

Tink leading off the parade!

 

This parade is SO COOL — see it if you can!

 

Cinderella — and yes, she was looking right at me! (not!)

 

Pete’s Dragon — my favorite shot of the whole parade!

 

Mickey and Minnie riding with some lucky fans late night!  It was 12:06 AM on an “Extra Magic Hours” night!

 

As cool a shot of the Castle as I can get at night.  I’m quite pleased with it!

 

And in the day, still a nice shot I think.

 

Pirate Princess Sophie and her prisoners!

 

The Carousel of Progress — to this day one of my favorite attractions!

 

“Which way did they go, George?”

 

Even Georgette enjoyed the vacation, although all she did was stay in our room and read!

I always have a great time when we visit Disney World, and this year, with Stephanie being able to enjoy it with us, it was just that much more special!  We made so many memories, Stephanie is already “inviting herself” to come with us next time!  I say, the more the merrier!  Thanks for reading!

The Lands of the Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom is an incredible place to visit.  From a theme park perspective, it is almost like having seven parks all rolled into one.  The reason for this is because of all of the different “Lands” that you can visit.  They include the following:

Over the next several posts, I will take a look at each of these lands, outlining the things that my family has enjoyed from each place, and also taking a look at some of the things we haven’t done that we would like to explore.  Stick with “My Dreams of Disney” for some information you can take with you the next time you visit Disney!