Friday, September 21, 2018

how i planned our thanksgiving break trip to walt disney world

The 60-day mark for my family's Walt Disney World Resort vacation was this past Wednesday, which means one thing: our Thanksgiving break trip is pretty much set in stone.

Today's post is going to be a little wordy, so finish any homework due tomorrow, grab something to drink, and come back to me-- today we're going to talk all about how I planned a trip to Walt Disney World Resort during Thanksgiving week for my family of four.

For context...

Every trip you plan starts with the context of your travel party.  In this case, it's my family-- my mom, my dad, my sister (17) and I.  We're the ultimate Disney World fans, but we each have different touring styles.

  • Mom: Does not want to wake up early enough for rope drop.  Which is completely fair-- she's a hard worker, so why shouldn't she sleep in during her vacation time?  She prefers to relax in the morning, spend an afternoon by the pool, and visit the parks at night.  Her favorite ride is the Haunted Mansion, she loves Winnie the Pooh, and of course: she loves Epcot.
  • Dad: Magic Kingdom's number one fan.  He loves Main St. USA, his dream is to hang out with Chief Smokey Miller all day long.  He also loves roller coasters!  His favorite ride is Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but he's also partial Test Track.  He's pretty go-with-the-flow, but he hates running around the park, so I try to condense everything into an easy tour plan for his sake.
  • Grace: Has her set-in-stone favorites, but she always gets excited for anything that's new.  She's totally psyched for Toy Story Land!  Ultimately, mom and dad stick together, and Grace does whatever they're doing.  She's probably the most laid-back of the group.
  • Me: The rogue one!  I'm in the parks all day from rope drop until I get tired.  When my family enters the park, I'll go join them, but when they're not around, I'm perfectly content exploring WDW by myself.

As a family, we have always had a specific order that dictates which park we visit when.  The first day is always Magic Kingdom, followed by Epcot, followed by Hollywood Studios, then finally Animal Kingdom.  I don't know when we started touring like this, but it's just based on our personal preference.  There wasn't ever any rhyme or reason to it.

Oh.  And we've only ever vacationed as a family in the summer.  With no special events or holidays in the mix, crowds at Walt Disney World Resort are relatively more relaxed in mid-July and August, when we typically visit.

So how did all of this context come into play when I was planning our first Thanksgiving trip?

The Planning

FRI NOV 24 2017 -- Picking our dates/resort:  We picked our dates over Thanksgiving break 2017.  That was over a full year before our check-in date for Thanksgiving 2018.  We normally love to plan summer trips, but there wasn't a date over the summer that worked for everyone, so our best bet was Thanksgiving. 

Picking our resort was a no-brainer.  We would book at the Polynesian Village Resort, our DVC home.  DVC members can use their points to book a vacation at their home resort starting 11 months before their check-in date, so we knew that we would have the largest success rate if we booked at our home resort as soon as our 11-month window opened.

MON DEC 18 2017 -- Booking our resort:  At 8:00 AM on Monday, December 18, a very sleepy Kaitlyn booked her very family's very first DVC stay for November 18-24, 2018.  I consulted DISboards to see if anyone thought I'd have trouble getting exactly what I wanted as soon as my window opened, and everybody said that they thought I'd be fine.  They were correct!  We were able to book the exact room we wanted for the exact dates we wanted.

DEC-MAY 2018 -- Planning our touring strategy: After I booked in December, I had until May to decide what parks we would be visiting on what days.  Remember how I told you earlier that we had a park touring plan we have been using since the dawn of time?  Well, for this trip, I had to toss that plan and come up with a new one.  Being that this is a trip that encompasses a Holiday break, I wanted to consult park experts to see which days of the week would be the best to visit each park.  I used online crowd prediction calendars to help me determine our schedule for the week.  By our ADR date, I had this touring plan for our vacation:

Sunday, Nov 18: Check In, Magic Kingdom/Disney Springs
Monday, Nov 19: Epcot
Tuesday, Nov 20: Disney's Hollywood Studios
Wednesday: Nov 21: Disney's Animal Kingdom
Thursday, Nov 22: Magic Kingdom
Friday, Nov 23: Free
Saturday, Nov 24: Check Out

I mostly followed the crowd prediction calendars, choosing days that each park would be the least busy.  Being someone who worked at Magic Kingdom on Thanksgiving in 2016, I was a little apprehensive to plan our Thanksgiving day there, but the touring calendar told me it'd be the least crowded park that day.  We also really wanted a Thanksgiving dinner on the monorail, so it was the most convenient park for our situation.

At first, I buffered in a "free" day on Friday so that we could go back and revisit any park we wanted to spend more time in.  Having a flexible "free" day turned out to be our best idea so far, and I'll explain why a little further down.

TUES MAY 22 -- Booking our Advanced Dining Reservations.  Tuesday, May 22 was our 180 day mark.  Your 180 day mark is very important, because it's the day your window for making ADRs opens up!  If you're staying on property, you can book your dining reservations starting 180 days from your check-in date, and book them for up to 10 days past that day.  So if you're staying more than 10 days on property, you'll have to book your 11th day ADRs on the 181-day mark, your 12th day ADRs on the 182-day mark, and so forth.  I digress.

I woke up an hour past our window had opened up, and was able to successfully book mostly everything we wanted.

Sunday, Nov 18: Check In, Magic Kingdom/Disney Springs
Chef Art Smith's Homecomin' dinner -- 8 PM
Monday, Nov 19: Epcot
La Hacienda de San Angel dinner -- 6 PM
Tuesday, Nov 20: Disney's Hollywood Studios
50's Prime Time Cafe dinner -- 4:15 PM
Wednesday: Nov 21: Disney's Animal Kingdom
Yak & Yeti Restaurant lunch -- 12:30 PM
Thursday, Nov 22: Magic Kingdom
California Grill Thanksgiving dinner -- 5:20 PM
Friday, Nov 23: Free
The Wave breakfast -- 10:00 AM
Saturday, Nov 24: Check Out

A few notes on what we booked:

  • We booked our dinner at California Grill first.  We want Thanksgiving Dinner to be special, so I recommended a nice dinner at California Grill, even though I knew it would be a hard-to-get ADR.  5:20 wasn't ideal, but it was the last time slot they had for dinner that evening, so I was happy to snag it.
  • 50's Prime Time Cafe was not our first choice of dinner for Hollywood Studios.  We really wanted to do the Sci-Fi Dine-In, since we always do 50sPTC.  There was nothing available for SFDI that day, which frankly shocked me.  I've been looking for SFDI ADRs ever since with no luck.

AUGUST -- Purchasing our Park Tickets.  We bought our Annual Passes in August to make sure we'd have enough time to link them up to MDE and make our FP+ selections when our 60 day window opened.

WED SEPT 19 -- Making our FP+ selections.  On the 60 day mark, you can start making your three daily FP+ selections for our WDW vacation.  Out of every single aspect of Disney vacation planning, FP+ makes me the most anxious.  Something is always bound to go wrong, and we really want to get on Slinky Dog Dash this year, so being awake at 6:50 to make FP+ choices at 7 AM sharp was imperative.  

How did we do?

Sunday, Nov 18: Check In, Magic Kingdom/Disney Springs
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad -- 12:55-1:55 PM
Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater -- 2:50-3:50 PM
Pirates of the Caribbean -- 4:00-5:00 PM
Chef Art Smith's Homecomin' dinner -- 8 PM

Monday, Nov 19: Epcot
Spaceship Earth -- 1:00-2:00 PM
The Seas with Nemo and Friends -- 2:05-3:05 PM
Test Track -- 3:40-4:40 PM
La Hacienda de San Angel dinner -- 6 PM

Tuesday, Nov 20: Disney's Hollywood Studios
Alien Swirling Saucers -- 1:10-2:10 PM
Star Tours - The Adventure Continues -- 2:25-3:25 PM
50's Prime Time Cafe dinner -- 4:15 PM
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith -- 6:50-7:50 PM

Wednesday: Nov 21: Disney's Animal Kingdom
Yak & Yeti Restaurant lunch -- 12:30 PM
Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain -- 2:10-3:10 PM
Na'vi River Journey -- 3:25-4:25 PM
Kilimanjaro Safaris -- 4:25-5:25 PM

Thursday, Nov 22: Magic Kingdom
Peter Pan's Flight -- 11:50-12:50 PM
Haunted Mansion -- 1:05-2:05 PM
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train -- 2:50-3:50 PM
California Grill Thanksgiving dinner -- 5:20 PM

Friday, Nov 23: Free
The Wave breakfast -- 10:00 AM
Slinky Dog Dash -- 4:10-5:10 PM

Saturday, Nov 24: Check Out

We did great!  We got almost everything we wanted, with a few exceptions...

  • We were only able to book Slinky Dog Dash for Friday, but honestly, I was elated that we were able to have a FP+ at all!  It helps that we were able to book in on a day that we buffered in just in case something like this happened where we'd want to revisit a park.
  • We tried to book Mine Train for check-in day, but there were no times available.
  • There were no Flight of Passage FP+ times available at all on our Animal Kingdom day.  It wasn't important enough that we'd want to revisit it any other day, so I just booked Na'vi for us.

The Bottom Line

Phew!  Didn't I tell you that would be a long update?  Here's what I want you to take away from today's post. 

When you're booking a holiday trip to Walt Disney World, consider these points:

  • Book your trip as far out as possible.  I recommend starting to plan your trip 12-14 months before you want to check-in.  Holiday resort availability at Walt Disney World dwindles rapidly, plan as far out as possible.  If you are booking a DVC reservation, you definitely will want to book your trip as soon as your 11 month window opens up.  If having very specific dates are imperative to your trip, the farther out you plan, the better your life will be.
  • Research everything.  Even if you think you know everything about Disney World, check crowd calendars for your trip.  Most calendars are based off of empirical data collected by knowledgeable annual passholders, and change from year to year.
  • Know your windows, book as soon as they open.  Get a good coffee maker, because you'll want to wake up as soon as your 180-day and 60-day window opens if you want the best success with ADRs and FP+ choices.  Learn your dates, write them down in your planner.
  • Be flexible and keep an open mind.  Even if you plan everything out months in advance, holidays are tricky.  There will always be a chance that you can't book everything you want for exactly when you want it.  If there is something you desperately want, like a Slinky Dog Dash FP+ or a reservation at Be Our Guest, there's a possibility you may have to book it for a different day of your trip, which may conflict with other plans.  Just keep your priorities in order and go from there.

And finally... remember that planning these trips are a labor of love!  I know that the extra money I spent on coffee during those days where I had to wake up at 6:50 to book a FP+ or resort reservation will be so worth it when we finally get to sit down at California Grill on Thanksgiving after a great day at Magic Kingdom.  And we are so, so, so excited for Slinky Dog Dash.  :)


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

lifestyle post: september favorites

September always marks a crazy month in my life.  Back-to-school szn can be pretty stressful, especially for college students who have to pick up their lives and move back to their respective universities.  Being thrown back into the world of writing papers, on-campus jobs and philanthropy work is a huge adjustment. 

People love to talk about the "little things" in life.  Most people will tell you that it's the "little things" that brighten up a dull day.  And I completely agree with them!  It's the little things in life that makes the stress and monotony of day-to-day academia bearable (for me, at least).  So my post today is about all of the little things I've been obsessed with this month.  There's pixie dust and pumpkin spice to go around, so grab a seat and your favorite mug.

Erin Condren

This is the really big one this fall, so I figured I'd start here.  When your entire life is based around class assignments, a part-time job, and sorority events, you need a planner.  Erin Condren has saved my life with the Academic Planner.   

Let's start with the basic dimensions: The Erin Condren Academic Planner is a 7" x 9", 232 page, spiral-bound book.  It's chunky, but it's short (much like myself), and fits perfectly in my backpack among my laptop, charger, and notebooks.  There is so much that I love about this planner.  Being that this is a planner specifically for students, the layout is perfect for keeping your academic affairs in order.  The first 10 pages are for writing down notes about projects and exams, the 12-month calendar is unlabeled (which means you can start right from September, which I really loved), and even the weekly layouts are clean and crisp.  In typical Erin Condren fashion, the planner comes with a sheet of stickers in the back labeled for tests, projects, study groups, and more that you can stick on your monthly layouts.

I've been living in this planner.  I'm obsessed with it, I open it up and show it to everyone who will let me.  I think I just love the Erin Condren lifestyle?  As soon as I moved back into my dorm, I bought more accessories from their website.  One of the reasons I really enjoy Erin Condren is because it caters to my ~*~ natural gemini desire ~*~ for customization and change.  There are so many interchangeable covers, customizable stickers, and other accessories on their website that you'll never be bored with your planner again.  Invest in the Erin Condren life here. + Starbucks

Lip Smackers

At my school, anything you can find at our campus Starbucks-- mugs and apparel included --can be purchased with your meal plan money.  That makes it wise to get to the Starbucks on campus as soon as it opens on select days, because you can find a limited quantity of great finds, like the + Starbucks line of products!  I didn't know was partnering with Starbucks until I visited the Starbucks on my campus the day it opened for the semester.  I was thrilled to see the collaboration between my favorite coffee provider and one of the trendiest lifestyle brands on the market!  I've been all over pink this year (see also: my dorm), so I was drawn to this notebook and pencil pouch like a magnet.  The "sweater weather" design is the perfect blend of subtle and quirky.  I love it so much that I went back and bought that double-walled traveler the next day!  The entire collection is a must-have for anyone who loves fall and isn't afraid to show it.

Recently, I've been trying to make Lip Smackers a thing again.  Scrunchies, plastic chokers, and retro Nickelodeon t-shirts are in, so why shouldn't Lip Smackers follow suit?  Not only are they vintage and adorable, I was surprised to find out this week that the scent stays on your lips for a shockingly long time.  My favorite right now is the Oatmeal Cookie lip balm, it's the perfect fall flavor!  I also adore those glosses pictured above.  And of course-- no Lip Smacker is as iconic as the Dr. Pepper lip balm.  They're not expensive and they pair perfectly with a Lisa Frank folder, so please join me in my valiant quest to make Lip Smackers a staple in backpacks everywhere again.

Coffee Cozies

Coffee cozies are the perfect accessory for fall, and I'll tell you why.  I never go to class without a Starbucks drink in my hand, whether it's a a hot Salted Caramel Mocha or an iced PSL.  Coffee Cozies kill two birds in one stone.  If you're taking a hot drink, you have a reusable alternative for a wasteful cardboard sleeve!  If you're taking an iced drink, you can slide one of these on your cup and carry them around without worrying about the condensation getting on your hands!  They're the ultimate, functional accessory for a season that's too cold for iced tea in the morning and too hot for hot chocolate in the afternoon.

I have two favorite retailers!  Jacques and Gus Gus up there were purchased from Wonderland Treasure Co, and Maui was purchased from BLH Stitches.

While Starbucks is the topic at hand...

Custom MiCo Creation Cup

I really, really wanted a custom tinkerkait Starbucks cup, but I was in between a few sellers.  Ultimately, I am so glad I decided on MiCo Creation!  For starters: take a look at that clean-cut holographic vinyl!  The design couldn't be more perfect, nor could the quality of my project.  But more importantly, I had an amazing customer service experience with this shop.  I gushed about it on my IG!  Essentially, when I first received my cup, USPS had handled it so poorly that it was cracked everywhere and unusable.  When I messaged MiCo to see what we could do, Claudi sent out a new product with no questions asked and was so sweet about it.  She went above and beyond, and I can't wait to continue supporting her and her business!

If you need a custom cup (spoiler alert: you do), head over to MiCo Creation.

Mario Badescu Skin Care: Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs, and Rosewater

The day after I moved back into school, my roommate (hi, Austin!) stopped me mid-makeup routine to generously offer a spritz of his Mario Badescu facial spray.  He claimed it primed makeup, set makeup, refreshed makeup, moisturized and calmed the skin.  At first, I was skeptical because I'm v. picky with the primers and setting sprays that I use.  But since I had forgotten my favorite setting spray at home, I decided I would give it a chance.  Ya'll... this spray means business.  I was working a 6-hour shift outside greeting new students as they moved into their dorm buildings, and I was so worried that my makeup would melt off.  It didn't budge thanks to Mario Badescu's spray of wonders.  I bought my own spray the next day at Urban Outfitters for the low, low price of $7 and I can't believe how much I've used it already.  I set my makeup with it every day.  I spray it on my hair once I step out of the shower and my hair smells like a rose garden all day.  I spray it on my face after I moisturize at night.  My skin has been feeling amazing for the past two weeks, I have a bottle of $7 setting spray that outlasts the $25 one I was previously using, and I have Mario to thank.  Get yourself to Urban and buy this spray ASAP.

... I bet you're surprised to see me posting on a Wednesday!  Don't worry: I'll be back Friday with another Walt Disney World related content piece for you.  But I want to know... how do you guys feel about surprise lifestyle posts once in a while, just to break up the Disney and update you guys about my life in Manhattan?  Let me know in the comments below, and of course-- tell me what your favorites this month are!

Friday, September 14, 2018

the 4 souvenirs I buy every time I visit walt disney world

Ever year, my family makes the thousand mile journey from New Jersey to Orlando, FL.  Walt Disney World is always changing, and we always have new things to do and try on our annual visits.  However, some things never change.  In the past four years, I've found myself buying the same four souvenirs every single trip.  It's a habit I've gotten into, and it always gives me something to look forward to and plan around!

I buy these four things every year because they're the perfect combination of things I need: they're functional enough to carry with me every day, but nostalgic enough to remind me of all the fun I had on my most recent trip "around the World."

A little piece of me is always left in Disney World... but carrying around these little pieces of Disney World makes the distance a little shorter!

#4- My Favorite Body Scrub

Image result for basin sugar scrubs
image courtesy of pinterest

I'm a sugar scrub fiend.  I love the way it makes my skin feel after I step out of the shower!  My favorite scrub comes from one of my favorite stores in Walt Disney World, Basin.  I like the Basin White at the Grand Floridian, but their flagship store at Disney Springs is cute, too!  These high quality scrubs will set you back at around $35 a jar, but they're massive and last me until I can get back to WDW again.  Basin always produces high quality products, and these scrubs are no exception.  My skin always feels amazing whenever I use Basin's blend of salt, shea butter, and luxury oils.  I purchased one as a gift for myself during my DCP, and found myself buying one right before I left Orlando in January 2017... then one again on our August 2017 vacation!

My favorite scent is Peppermint!  Not only does it remind me of Christmas time, but it's so revitalizing.

#3- A New Disney Vera Bradley Zip ID Case/Lanyard

Admittedly, I was never the biggest fan of the Vera Bradley for Disney Parks collection.  In fact, I've never been a big fan of Vera Bradley in the first place.  On my August 2015 trip, I bought a wallet from there that I didn't really love.  However, on my August 2017 trip, I fell head over heels in love with this Zip ID Case and Lanyard.  Look at the little Mickey silhouette carabiner!  With my student discount, I paid about $38 for both pieces of the set.  I use this lanyard every. day. of my life.  It's so cute, and it holds everything I need before I run to class!

Because Vera Bradley isn't the best quality, it has started to show quite a bit of wear-and-tear in the year I've used it.  But I don't mind.  I'll be back year after year to buy a new one!  You can only get the Vera Bradley for Disney Parks collection at the Vera store in Disney Springs, so if you're going to DS on your next trip, be sure to budget enough time to visit the store.  You won't regret it-- every employee there is the sweetest.

 #2- A New Keychain


Keychains started off as something I would buy every year, but not intentionally.  In 2010, I bought a Mickey Mouse one (that said 2010).  In 2014, I purchased an Ariel one to remind me of my favorite princess.  In 2015, I purchased a Tinker Bell one so that I'd always have my favorite pixie with me.  Throughout my college program, I bought, like, forty.  And finally, on my latest vacation trip, I bought a Polynesian Village Resort one because that was the trip where the Poly became my family's "home" resort, and I always wanted to carry a reminder of my home with me everywhere I went.

Keychains are awesome because they're inexpensive, you can find them almost anywhere at Walt Disney World, and you can find almost anything on them.  If you made a special memory on your trip, you can find a keychain to commemorate it.  That's why keychains have become a staple in my souvenir budget-- I can carry my favorite memory from every trip in my pocket wherever I go!

#1- Something Unique

Disney World has a lot of hidden stalls, stores, and kiosks all around the park that sell things you won't find anywhere else in Disney World.  Remember last week, in my post about all the apps you should have on your phone before you go to Disney World, when I talked about buying a souvenir you liked as soon as you saw it?  Well, every year, I find one of the smaller stores and do exactly that.  Last year, I bought a piñata.  A unicorn piñata, to be exact.  She's really tiny, and she sits on top of my dorm desk!  I found her at one of the stalls you'll find in the Mexico pavilion of the World Showcase.  She was handmade in Mexico, and she's only sold on property in one location.  If you tried to look for her on the Shop Disney Parks app, you wouldn't even find her!  

Buying something unique or even strange every trip is something I highly recommend doing.  In a Disney World full of mouse ears and mouse t-shirts, find the unicorn souvenir that nobody else has and make that purchase its own special memory.  Here she is, thriving on my Manhattan dorm desk.

Do you have a traditional purchase you like to make on your annual vacation?  How about a souvenir you're dying to buy on your next trip?  Let me know in the comments below!  


Friday, September 7, 2018

my favorite disney resorts at each level

Disney confession time: I cringe a little bit whenever I hear someone discussing the hotel they've chosen and describe it as "just a room to sleep in at the end of the night."

When you're planning out your Walt Disney World Resort vacation, you're obviously going to want to maximize your time in the parks.  Disney vacations aren't cheap, and even if you're there for a whole week, you're not going to get everything done.  From an overly-excited planner standpoint, you may think that your days are going to be filled with Theme Park magic from 8 AM-12 AM, with a short break from 1 AM-7 AM to crash on a bed.  The reality is different.  You're going to be spending a lot more time at your resort than you think.  For starters, consider the travel time it takes from your room to the transportation hub and how long you'll be waiting for said transportation to arrive.  Consider the needs of your travel party-- will a larger bathroom make things easier on your party of 5, or do you have a baby that might need extra space for a crib?  Finally, what are the odds that at some point during your vacation, someone in your party will want something to eat or need to buy something before the day has begun/after you're all settled into your hotel room for the night?

My point is that no matter how much your party is planning to spend in the park, your Resort hotel rooms are, at the very least, a little more than "just a room to sleep in at the of the night."  Every hotel on Disney property has its pros and cons, so I'm going to break down my favorite resort at each of the four Disney resort hotel levels for you.

The Disney Value Resorts have been a popular choice among families since they were first introduced in 1992.  The operative word here is value: going to Walt Disney World is expensive no matter how you slice and dice it, but Value resorts are objectively the cheapest on property.  My favorite Value resort is Disney's Pop Century Resort.

Image result for pop century resort
image courtesy of wikipedia

Let me start off by saying that there are problems at all of Disney's value resorts.  Because their price point makes them among the most accessible hotels on property, you sacrifice a lot of time and sleep when you stay here.  Each resort has a lot of buildings, and the buildings are spread out across a very large campus.  It could take you 10-15 minutes just to walk from your room to the hotel lobby.  Due to the popularity of the resorts, there is constant foot traffic around the resort.  This makes getting a good night's sleep difficult, as there's usually a lot of sound just outside of your hotel room, whether it's a crying child or just a luggage cart rolling by.  Of course every resort on property has its pros and cons, but these specific problems seem to be rampant at the value level.

With all that being said, I have a soft spot for Pop-C.  While the All-Stars have the lowest rack rate, they also draw the largest crowds and I don't like the design of their rooms.  Personally, I don't think the Art of Animation Resort should be classified as a value resort-- the resort is very expensive, even for the non-family suite Little Mermaid rooms.  Art of Animation certainly has the most immersive theming, but if you're on a budget, I really don't think it's worth the extra money per night.

Pop Century is the perfect medium.  Not quite as upscale as Art of Animation, but a step up from the All-Stars.  I love their newly renovated rooms, which offer a modern design styled with the same room technology used at Art of Animation.  I'm also a big fan of the Pop Century food court, Everything Pop, which hosts a large variety of stations to serve you hot food as fast as possible.

Admittedly, I'm not an expect on the Moderate resorts.  The moderates have a very business-class feel to them, and for good reason.  Coronado Springs and Caribbean Beach Resort are where employees set-up shop for a week of business conferences at the mouse house.  My favorite Moderate resort is Port Orleans: Riverside.

Image result for port orleans riverside
image courtesy of disney parks blog

I think it's worth saying right off the bat that I couldn't be paid to stay at Coronado Springs and CBR right now.  The construction going on at both resorts are so noisy and obstructive, there's no way I'd be able to stay there for a week and not get at least a little annoyed.  Caribbean Beach Resort has it really bad right now-- the food options are mostly outside, with a tent that hosts a breakfast buffet and a few food trucks.  I cannot imagine paying $172/night to stay there.

I don't think you can really go wrong with either Port Orleans: French Quarter or Port Orleans: Riverside, but my personal preference lies within Riverside.  At Riverside, there are warm beignets to eat and entertainment from Yehaa Bob.  French Quarter has a nicer pool, but they lack dining options.  Riverside also tends to see better discounts throughout the year, so you may be able to pay significantly less than you would for it's nearly identical twin sister.

I may be biased... but my favorite Deluxe resort is absolutely Disney's Polynesian Village Resort.  I mean, my family wouldn't own a contract there if we weren't so in love with it!  First of all-- I think all of the resorts on the monorail line are special.  My family loves Magic Kingdom, so we always appreciate having such fast and reliable transportation to get us there.  I think the dining options at the Poly are great, too.  We've never had a bad meal at 'Ohana, Kona Cafe, or even Cap'n Cooks!  I also want to mention that the Polynesian Cast Member team is an incredible group of people.  Everyone there is so friendly.  Every trip, I feel like I encounter a new CM who goes above and beyond in customer service.  The ambiance, the food, the people, the smell of the lobby... Disney's Polynesian Village Resort is home to me.

I do have to give a shout out to what I think is the best Deluxe Villas resort, Bay Lake Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort.  The Contemporary is a very close second on the list of my favorite Disney resorts on property.  They have some of the best dining options in all of Walt Disney World, and the hotel layout is brilliant-- everything is all in one building, so you never have to stray too far from anything!  Bay Lake Tower is a gorgeous, modern building with one of the coolest pools on property.  It's also home to the Top of the World Lounge, where Disney Vacation Club Members can watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks.  Finally, one of the biggest draws to Bay Lake Tower is it's proximity to Magic Kingdom: you can walk from BLT to MK in less than 10 minutes!

Image result for bay lake tower
image courtesy of undercover tourist

I have some very strong opinions on Walt Disney World Resort hotels, but as always, I love hearing from my readers!  Whether you agree or disagree with me, talk to me in the comments below.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

disney says "see ya real soon" to single-use plastic: everything you need to know

First it was Starbucks, then it was McDonalds, and now it's Disney's turn: the Walt Disney Co. is committed to eliminating plastic straws and stirrers at their theme parks and on their cruise ships.  

Last year alone, Americans used 360 million straws a day, making them the 11th most found trash in the ocean.  Now companies are taking a stand against plastic straws, with initiatives to ban the single-use plastic spanning around the globe.  Historically, the Walt Disney Co. has exhibited a passion for conservation and care keeping of our planet.  Walt was a renowned animal activist and conservationist, which paved the way for Disney's Animal Kingdom.  DAK is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums-- which means that the zoological theme park at Walt Disney World Resort has exceeded standards in education, conservation, and research.  This makes Disney's announcement to completely eliminate plastic straws and stirrers by 2019 supplementary to their long-standing history with conservation efforts.  Disney Parks Blog wrote that the parks have also pledged to reduce the amount of plastic shopping bags at their parks and on their cruise lines, offering reusable shopping bags for "a nominal fee" instead, and will also be transitioning to refillable in-room amenities rather than single-use bottles.

You may be sitting there thinking, "Awesome!  Disney is committed to saving the turtles... but, what does this mean for me as a Parks guest?"  To which I say, don't worry.  Let me explain what you can expect in your future Walt Disney World Resort vacation (and what I suggest you do to help accommodate these changes!)

So first things first: no more plastic straws or coffee stirrers.  Disney has pledged to eliminate them by 2019.  Plastic straws, stirrers, and cup lids have always been banned at Disney's Animal Kingdom for the safety of the animals that call the park home, where paper straws were the norm.  Of course, Disney probably won't be using paper straws everywhere as a permanent solution.  Paper straws are a hassle for a lot of people, as they get soggy if they're left in a drink too long.  They're also not an ideal solution for disabled people who rely on plastic straws to drink independently.  Therefore, Disney will probably be spending some time reviewing all of the alternative straw options they have and developing the perfect solution for their parks.  If I had to take a guess, I'd say it's safe to assume that at some point, paper straws will be incorporated throughout the park until they figure out a permanent solution, with plastic straws still available for guests who need them.

Consider bringing reusable straws with you when you're vacationing to Disney.   Amazon has a few options for you!  You have these stainless steel ones, some nice silicone ones, and some reusable plastic ones.  I personally really enjoy the stainless steel ones.  Not only do they bend like plastic straws, but they come with little brushes so you can easily clean them at the end of the day!

Disney is also reducing the use of plastic bags in their parks.  So when you buy merch in the parks, you'll have the option of purchasing a reusable shopping bag.  This is a policy that the Disney Store implemented back in April in honor of earth day.  If you don't want to purchase a reusable bag at the counter, try carrying reusable bags with you.  Any type of reusable bag will do, but if you go to Target, Wal-Mart, or even your local dollar store, you're sure to find really cute plastic grocery totes with Disney characters on them.

Finally, Disney has pledged to make the switch from single-use toiletries in their resort guest rooms to refillable toiletries.  If you've ever stayed at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel, you may be familiar with this sight:


So many guests throughout the year have loved collecting these little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and body wash from their resort bathrooms!  H20+ is Disney's signature line of in-room toiletries and spa products.  They always have the nicest scents, and their lotion leaves my skin feeling so soft!  It's no surprise that so many guests are upset that they will no longer be able to collect these tiny mementos and bring them home at the end of the day.  In the continued effort to cut down on single-use plastic, Disney will be opting to replace single-use bottles with refillable wall dispensers of product in their resort room showers.  Cool!  Unlimited shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion!

I recognize that some people may not welcome this change because it means you won't be able to take the single-use bottles home anymore.  Many guests enjoyed taking home the H20+ products as a reminder of their time at Walt Disney World.  If you desperately need to take home a bottle of your favorite H20+ product, you can find their full line for sale at your resort hotel merchandise location 😊


big announcement: i just launched a brand new resource all about the disney college program!

and now, i humbly present to you: kait's comprehensive, unofficial (free) guide to the disney college program.