Monday, July 28, 2008

Don't Leave Home Without Him

Who is 'Him', you might ask?

Tour Guide Mike

This guy single-handedly ensured my husband might go back to DisneyWorld. Why? Because in the two days we covered all of Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom that we could, our longest wait was a maximum of 25 minutes. Did you hear me? We were at Disney in peak season with what felt like EVERY Brazilian teenager on vacay and the longest we had to wait to ride the best rides they had to offer was less than half an hour AND that particular line moved so fast, that it didn't even feel that long (or was it because we were so busy bribing our youngest son to ride Big Thunder Mountain that time flew? For the record, he ended up with a spray bottle that also has fan attached for being so brave. Way to go W! Worth every bit of the $17 we paid). That was the only ride we really had to wait for. The rest we either walked right onto or had a 5-10 minute wait, tops.

Back to the point. I have three great friends who are lovers of the Mouse. All have 3+ children and all have been to Disney mulitple times, and two of the three have traveled sans children, I think. So when we planned our trip to Florida and we began to see that we might be able to squeeze in a few days at Disney, who did I call? Brandi, Leigh Ann and Michele. After they all three got over the fact we were only going to do Disney for 2 days (the HORROR) they all three told me to run, not walk, and log onto a little site called Tour Guide Mike.

Mike Hewell, aka TGM, was a VIP host for Disney for 5 years and now owns his own VIP tour company. His credentials are too long to list, but know he is a wealth of knowledge and because of this, his site offers date-specific, day-by-day Least Crowded Parks guides, sample park tours for each Disney park, customized list of the 'best of the best' attractions (age specific for younger children, older children or active adults), ability to add or delete any attraction, and recommended Disney restaurants. My most favorite part is that he tells you which rides to hit first and then others in a certain order. Basically, he gives you a game plan on the best way to get through the park....a type-As dream!

With his site, I was able to look at these days we would be in Disney, see that Magic Kingdom was a good choice for Wednesday and Animal Kingdom was least crowded on Thurdays (did I mention every Brazilian teenager was there with their tour guide and her flag-on a-stick?) and off we went.

Here are some things to consider that I learned from TGM and my Disney BFFs- Brandi, Leigh Ann and Michele:

*Be at the turnstiles of the park 15-20 minutes before opening

*If you are a first time visitor or celebrating a birthday, head to Guest Relations and secure your pin-on buttons for these. These buttons will often allow for certain privileges during the day.

*Lunch is recommended to be eaten early (10:45-11:00) to get ahead of the crowds and then ride more while they were eating.

*Head back to the hotel around 2 and swim and relax before eating dinner and returning to the park that night. The days are long, the nights are late and the mornings are early, trust me on this. And we were feeling it by day 2 because our bodies were still on Texas Time...which meant 6:30 was 5:30, yikes!

*Rather than chase the characters all around the park and wait in long lines for signatures, make reservations for Character Dinners at night. We ate at Chef Mickey and it was too much fun. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto were there and came to eat table to take pictures and sign

*There are lots of options regarding autographs. Autograph books can be purchased on property or you can make your own by going here and printing out the pages you need and binding them. This gals has created endless designs, check them out! Other choices are to take a pillowcase or a t-shirt for the characters to sign. Know that they will NOT sign a shirt that a child has on, so plan on taking an extra w/ a piece of cardboard inside for a hard surface. And last but not least, we took a photo matte and had the characters sign. It was a bit of a challenge to keep it from getting bent, but we managed. Your kiddo might not even be into this part of the trip, and I didn't think ours would, but when we were in the moment, they did like for them to sign crazy as it sounds.

*Bringing ponchos is a great idea. The Florida climate is known for its afternoon showers and we experienced that 2 of the 3 days we were there. The first day it passed quickly and we were good. The 2nd day was a massive t-storm and we had to bust out the ponchos and wear them in the park that night. The crazy thing is that rain doesn't keep anyone away. We were just all walking around in our ponchos like it was the natural thing to do. Let me also say that the poncho can be particulary helpful on rides like Splash Mountain or Kali River Rapids if you don't want a wet booty all day. Just tie it around your waist and you are good to go. 'Nuff said.

*Pre-paid Dining Plans are an option. This year the dining plan is $37.99 per adult (ages 10+) and $9.99 per child (ages 3-9) and will give you one of each of these per person (age 3 and up) per NIGHT (not per day) of you vacation: A snack-This can pretty much be anything less than $4. It can be a bottle of water, a soda, a box of popcorn, an ice cream, a piece of fruit, a cookie, a bag of chips etc. A counter service meal-This includes a combo meal, a drink and a desert. A table service meal- This includes an entree, a desert and a nonalcoholic beverage OR one buffet meal and beverage. It DOES NOT include tip. We went with this option and it was just struck me as odd how weird some of the kids' choice were. Not your typical kids meals, but perhaps that is the 'Westerner' in will not believe the amount of International tourist you will see. Update: Just found out from my good friend Leigh Ann that Disney went 'healthy' two years ago and that is the reason for the freaky kids' meals. Yes, the Food Pyramid police are alive and well in Orlando!

*Bring a backpack and take turns carrying it. Things to include:

Bottled Water (one per person, can refill)
Small packages of mix-ins for bottled water (Propel, Crystal Light, etc)
Hand-towel from hotel (to wipe off wet seats)

*Take advantage of the Fast Pass system. All guests who stay on property have this option and it is just awesome. We were able to ride Everest Expedition twice and didn't wait over 5 minutes.
There is so much more to tell, I am quite sure but I won't bore you with any more. We had a great first trip to the Happiest Place on Earth and made lots of memories there.

I am a reformed Disney vacation planner. I checked out and read all the books but ultimately, TourGuideMike and my friends offered the best info that shaped our vacation.


The Whitmarsh Crew said...

Girl, I know who to call when we take our first trip to Disney. It sounds like you guys had a blast. Can't wait to talk to you about it!