Halloween and Christmas Parties

Walt Disney World, every year, hosts two parties: Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, in September and October, and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in November and December.  Both parties take place at the Magic Kingdom.  Today’s blog is going briefly discuss what goes on at these parties and when we get closer to the events, I’ll go into more detail about tips and strategies to maximize the enjoyment of going to these parties.

First, both of these parties are “hard ticket” items which means that guests have to purchase tickets IN ADDITION to any park tickets already purchased.  Also, these events only take place on select nights.  On these nights, guests who have tickets to party may enter the Magic Kingdom starting at 4 pm where they will be given a wrist band for Cast Members to see in order to gain access to attractions and meet-and-greets.  The party officially starts at 7 pm and Cast Members start moving non-ticket holders out of the park and the party comes to a close at midnight.

Starting with the Halloween Party, these are the nights when it will take place:

September 1, 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 21, 23, 26 and 28

October 2, 3, 5, 9, 10, 13, 16, 17, 21, 23 24, 26, 28, 30, and 31

Advance Sales Ticket Pricing

September Dates: $62.00+tax ages 10 & up; $57.00+tax ages 3-9

October Dates: $67.00+tax ages 10 & up; $62.00+tax ages 3-9

Advance Sales are available for all the dates in October except the 10th, 17th, 24th, 30th, and 31st where same day ticket pricing is available.

Day of Event Ticket Pricing

September Dates: $68.00+tax ages 10&up; $63.00+tax ages 3-9

October Dates: $71.00+ tax ages 10&up; $66.00+tax ages 3-9

October 31st: $77.00+tax ages 10&up; $72.00+tax ages 3-9

Annual Passholder and DVC Member Discounts

Ticket discounts are available for Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club Members for all the September and select October Dates (October 3, 10, 17, 23, 24, 26, 28, 30, and 31 are excluded from the discount) $58.00+tax ages 10 and up; $53.00+tax ages 3-9

With the dates and ticketing out of the way, what does a guest for their $60+ dollars.  Let’s start with the map:

Not So Scary Party Map
Not So Scary Party Map

There is something for everybody: trick or treat trails for the kids and kids at heart, spectacular themeing, specialty food and drink treats, a Halloween Parade and a special showing of Halloween themed version of the Wishes Fireworks Show, and appearances by rarely seen characters.

My family meeting the Seven Dwarfs
My family meeting the Seven Dwarfs

Two of the most popular meet and greets are the Seven Dwarfs (as seen above) and Jack Skellington and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas.  This is also one of the nights where the Disney Villains are out in the parks (seen below).

Disney Villains
Disney Villains

The villains are seen mainly in the parade and one of the many dance parties that occur throughout the evening.  The usual suspects (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, etc.) are also out in the parks available for meet-and-greets in costume and at dance parties during the event.

My family has gone to the Halloween Party twice during our visits to Walt Disney World and we have enjoyed both visits.  We learned a lot from that first time.  The most important thing we learned is lightweight costumes that are breathable are a must.  It is still hot AND humid in Florida during September and October.  The last thing a guest wants to do is start shedding layers of a costume off and trying to find a place to store it while in the parks.   The other thing we learned is: If there a certain character that a member of your party wants to meet, find where the meet-and-greet is going to take place and get in line early.  The wait time will only grow throughout the night and the characters may only be out for a short time.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

Timing of the Christmas party is the same as the Halloween party: ticket holders can enter the park starting at 4, non-ticket holders are ushered out starting at 7, and the party is over at midnight.

Very Merry Christmas Party Dates:

November 7, 10, 13, 14, 16, 20, 21, and 30

December 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, and 19

Advanced Sales Ticket Pricing

Advanced Sales Pricing is available for all dates EXCEPT: November 21 and 30; December 5, 12, 18, and 19

All dates except those listed above: $67.00+tax ages 10 and up; $62.00+tax ages 3-9

Day of Event Pricing

All dates (except December 19): $71.00+tax ages 10 and up; $66.00+tax ages 3-9

December 19: $74.00+tax ages 10 and up; $69.00+tax ages 3-9

Annual Passholder and Disney Vacation Club Members Pricing

All dates except the dates listed above in the advanced sales ticket pricing: $62.00+tax ages 10 and up; $57.00+tax ages 3-9

Like the Halloween Party, here’s the map for the Christmas Party:

Christmas Party Map
Christmas Party Map

The Christmas Party is very similar to the Halloween Party in terms of what takes place. They both have a special parade and version of Wishes, holiday treats are available throughout the park, the characters are dressed up in Christmas attire, and there are rarely seen characters out in the parks.

There are two main differences between the Halloween Party and Christmas Party are: 1) Cinderella’s Castle is covered in Christmas lights and it snows on Main Street during the party.  Both can be seen below.

Snow on Main Street
Snow on Main Street
Cinderella's Castle Lit Up for Christmas
Cinderella’s Castle Lit Up for Christmas

The most well-known character that appears during the Christmas Party is Scrooge McDuck.  Like in the story, he’s not giving out any of his money….sorry!

Scrooge McDuck
Scrooge McDuck

The Seven Dwarfs also make an appearance at the Christmas Party.

Seven Dwarfs Dressed Up For Christmas
Seven Dwarfs Dressed Up For Christmas

The same rules, from the Halloween Party, apply for meeting these characters: find out from a Cast Member where the special meet-and-greets are taking place and get in line early.

The parade that takes place during the evening is one of the must-see events of the party.

Opening Float of the Christmas Parade
Opening Float of the Christmas Parade

The parade proudly announces that this is Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade.  The parade continues with floats showing the various Disney characters in Christmas attire.  And the parade wouldn’t be complete with an appearance by the “Big Guy.”  No, not Santa.  But MICKEY!

End of Christmas Parade
End of Christmas Parade

 

If a person is planning a trip in the second half of the calendar year and asked me which of the two parties is better party to attend, I would answer the Christmas Party.  Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Halloween.  The combination of heat, humidity, and getting dressed in a costume makes it even less appealing.  Now, November and December when the weather is a little cooler, the humidity isn’t as oppressive, and I get to celebrate Christmas.  That’s a home run!  My best tip for the Christmas Party is to bring extra layers of clothing.  It can get chilly in November/December at night in Florida and packing a jacket or sweatshirt to keep you warm can go a long way in making your party more enjoyable.

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The Basics of the Walt Disney World Dining Plan

In the first post, I talked about the Free Dining promotion that Disney is running throughout the fall.  However, I didn’t go into a lot of detail about the dining plan except for the savings that a family could have in using the promotion.  This post is going to go into more detail about the dining plan and more specifically the dining plan at Walt Disney World.

To the average person making their first trip, the Disney Dining Plan (DDP for short), can be overwhelming.  There are lots of options.  Lots of categories for meals.  Will I be able to use all my credits?  And so on.  Yes, the DDP can be overwhelming….at first.  Just take a look at the standard brochure that Disney gives up discussing DDP.

2014Dining

There is a lot of information in the brochure and a guest would need to take some time to sit down and read it.  When you get to your room for the first time, who wants to sit down and read that?  Not very many people.  It usually gets pushed aside under “I’ll read it later,” and it never gets read until the guest gets home from their vacation.

There are three categories of food at Walt Disney World: a snack, a quick-service meal, and a table service meal.

A definition for all three:

A snack: A snack is something can be purchased at either a snack cart or a quick service restaurant.  Examples of snacks are a 20 oz. bottle of soda or water, a scoop of popcorn, 12 oz. coffee, or a bag of pre-packaged snacks.  Typically, if it costs under $5, it counts as a Disney snack.

An example of a snack menu:

Snack Menu
Snack Menu

A quick-service meal: A quick-service meal is exactly what is says.  It’s a meal where a guest goes up to the counter, orders their food, and waits at the counter for your food to be ready.  The only exception to this is Be Our Guest where for easier queue management a guest orders their food from an electronic kiosk and then goes to find a table.  A Cast Member will bring the food to your table.

An example from Columbia Harbor House:

Columbia Harbor Quick Service Menu
Columbia Harbor Quick Service Menu

A table-service meal: Very easy to define.  A meal like going to out to eat at restaurant.  Guests are seated at the table, menus are brought to them and guests are waited on by a Cast Member.

An example from Coral Reef Restaurant in EPCOT:

Coral Reef Dinner Menu
Coral Reef Dinner Menu

Disney, for purposes of the DDP, allocates the number of snacks, quick-service meals, and table-service meals based on the number of NIGHTS in a stay.  For example, a family that has a four-night and is on the standard dining plan, each person in the family will get 4 snacks, 4 quick-service meals, and 4 table-service meals.

Starting in 2013, Disney also included the price of a refillable mug in the Dining Plan.  So each person would receive a refillable mug.

When a guest adds the Disney Dining Plan to their resort stay (guests staying off-property can not take advantage of the dining plan), the guest has three packages to choose from: quick-service dining, regular/standard dining, and deluxe dining.  Here’s a breakdown of what’s included in all three packages.

Quick-Service dining (per person): 2 quick-service meals (per night), 1 snack (per night), 1 refillable mug (per stay)  There are NO table-service credits included in the quick-service package.  The cost per night of this dining package is $41.99 for guests aged 10 and up; $16.03 for guests aged 3 through 9.

Regular/Standard dining (per person): 1 quick-service meal (per night), 1 snack (per night), 1 table-service meal (per night), 1 refillable mug (per stay).  The cost per night of this dining package is $60.04 for guests aged 10 and up; $19.23 for guests aged 3 through 9.

Deluxe dining (per person): 3 counter or table service meals (per night), 2 snacks (per night), 1 refillable mug (per stay).  The cost per night of this dining package is $109.53 for guests aged 10 and up; $29.86 for guests 3 through 9.

Note: gratuity is NOT included in the cost of the table service meals under the regular/standard and deluxe dining plan.  This comes “out of pocket” and can be charged back to the room.

Reminder about the gratuity
Reminder about the gratuity

At the end of every quick or table meal, a guest will get a receipt with the prices for everything order, typically, zeroed out and at the bottom will be reminder of how many credits they have remaining on their stay.

Receipt example
Receipt example

For snacks and quick service meals, there is no distinction made between “adult” snacks and “children” snacks.  They are all lumped together.  For table service meals, however, they do make the distinction and the credits are broken down into “adult” table service credits remaining and children table service credits remaining.

One Credit and Two Credit Table Service Meals

Within the table service meals, the majority of the meals cost only one table-service credit.  However, there are some meals because their cost and/or popularity will cost the guest two table-service credits.  Those restaurants are:

Jiko – The Cooking Place (Animal Kingdom Lodge), Flying Fish Cafe (Disney’s Boardwalk), California Grill (Contemporary Resort), Citricos and Narcoossee’s (Grand Floridan Resort and Spa), Artist Point (Wilderness Lodge), Yachtsman Steakhouse (Yacht and Beach Club Resorts), Le Cellier (Canada Pavilion in EPCOT), Monsieur Paul (France Pavilion in EPCOT), The Hollywood Brown Derby (Hollywood Studios), Fulton’s Crab House and The Dining Room at Wolfgang Puck’s Grand Cafe (Downtown Disney).

There is also one character meal: Fairytale Dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table which will cost guests two credits.

Three dinner shows: Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, Mickey’s Backyard BBQ, and Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show will also cost guests two credits.

All room service meals and pizza deliveries will cost guests two credits.

Making Table Service Reservations

Disney strongly recommends making reservations for all table service meals.  Guests can start making reservations at 180 days from the start of their vacation.  Does it seem odd to know what you are going to eat on vacation but not know what you are going to eat next Tuesday?  Yes, it does.  But this planning is necessary.  Reservations, for some restaurants, fill up very quickly.  The best plan of attack, in my opinion, is use the table reservations as your day-by-day planning guide for the parks.

This is what my family does.   If we have an evening table-service  reservation at Hollywood Studios, we may choose to go to another park in the morning.  Then, we would return to our room after lunch and recharge by the pool in the afternoon.  Then head to Hollywood Studios before our reservation and try to ride an attraction or two before having our dinner reservation.  The opposite would hold true for a morning table service reservation.

But overall, my best advice for making dining reservations is to make right on the 180 day mark.  This provides the guest with the best chance of getting reservations they want at the time they want them.  Ideally, the guest should have a prioritized list of restaurant ready to go when making reservations.  This provides the guest with back-up plans if Plan A should happen to fall through.

Hopefully this article provides the reader with some insight to the complicated world of the Disney Dining Plan.

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Disney Ticketing (Past and Present)

Walt Disney World and Disneyland have gone through a massive evolution in ticketing since the two parks open.  At first, you paid a flat admission and then bought books of tickets like at the county fair and the rides were grouped by attraction level.  Most people know these as the old “A-E Tickets.”

Old Disneyland A-E tickets
Old Disneyland A-E tickets

When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, they also used the old A-E Tickets.

Walt Disney World E-Ticket
Walt Disney World E-Ticket

The more popular the attraction was the higher ticket level it received.  These attractions on the E-Ticket were some of the popular attractions when the park first opened. As the parks evolved, it became easier to have just a single park admission which covered all the attractions in the park.  People didn’t have carry around books of tickets.  They had just one ticket and that covered everything in the park.

A Variety of Disney Passports
A Variety of Disney Passports

Disney called these Disney Passports and it was valid for one day or multiple days.  All the passports in the picture above were for one day.  If you wanted to visit multiple parks in the same day, you had to buy a passport for each park.  There was no “park hopping.”  Also remember, at the time, there was just Magic Kingdom and EPCOT in Walt Disney World and just Disneyland in California.  There was no Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s California Adventure.  This was in Disney’s mind the most efficient way to do ticketing.  As more people wanted to “park hop,” Disney responded with an early version of the park hopper:

An Early Park-Hopper Ticket
An Early Park-Hopper Ticket

This ticket gave a person unlimited admission to both the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT.  As you can see, they called it the World Passport.  It also required a person get their hand stamped if they left a park but wanted to return to either park in the same day. Hand stamping was the next thing to go as Disney introduced the Key to the World Card for on-property guests and a credit card swipeable paper ticket for off-property guests.

First Generation Key to the World Cards
First Generation Key to the World Cards

These are first generation Key to the World Cards and each resort on Disney property had their own style of card.  Some people would intentionally stay at different resorts so they could “collect Key to the World cards.”  To standardized things, Disney introduced the second generation Key to the World Cards:

2nd generation Key to the World Card
2nd generation Key to the World Card

Now reach the present, Disney has phased out the Key to the World Card and moved everything to their new program: The Disney Magicband.  This wearable band works as your park ticket, room key, charging privileges.  Basically, anything that person needs for their stay is now on this wearable band.

New Magic Band
New Magic Band

Now moving through all these different technologies and investing in new parks, attractions, resorts, and upgrades didn’t come cheap.  Some of those costs were passed along to the consumer.  When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, admission to the park was $3.50 plus the cost of the ticket books for the attractions.  Ticket books were eliminated in 1981 and admission to Magic Kingdom was $9.50 which quickly rose to $17 in 1983.  It took until 2002 for one-day tickets to cost $50.  In 2014, the cost of a one-day ticket for the Magic Kingdom now costs $99.  We still haven’t crossed that $100 threshold but I could see it happening with the 2015 ticket increase. Now, let’s take a look at the ticket options available to someone going the parks in the near future: Standard One-park/day tickets – Walt Disney World These tickets must be used with 14 days of first use.  They can be bought for a little as one day and as many as 10 days. For just a one day ticket: Magic Kingdom $99, All other parks $94 If you buy a multiple day ticket, it’s one price starting at $188 for a two-day ticket to as much as $354 for 10 days worth of tickets. For children aged 3-9, the one day Magic Kingdom ticket is $98 while all other parks are $93. Multiple day tickets start at $175 for a two-day ticket and go to $334 for a 10-day ticket. The biggest increase in costs are over days one through four (costs for guests aged 10 and over): one-day ticket $99 (Magic Kingdom), $94 (all other parks) two-day ticket $188 three-day ticket $274 four-day ticket $294 After the fourth day, the price increases $10/day up to the 10-day limit. There are two options which you can purchase for your standard tickets: Park Hopper and Water Parks and More.  You can purchase both options for your standard tickets. The Park Hopper gives the guest the ability to visit multiple parks within the same day.  If a guest doesn’t purchase this option, the guest is limited to one park per day.  This option is relatively inexpensive at only $60 whether a guest purchases a two-day or ten-day ticket.  The $60 cost is the same. Same applies for the Water Parks and More options.  This option gives the guest the ability to go to Disney’s two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), the DisneyQuest Interactive Theme Park in Downtown Disney, play Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course, a round of mini-golf at either Winter Summerland or Fantasia Gardens miniature golf course.  This also $60 per ticket.  However, if you are staying four days, then the guest has four available visits to the above locations. Finally, a guest could combine the two options for $86 per ticket. Annual Passes – Walt Disney World A guest, if they plan to make multiple visits within the same year, can purchase an annual passes.  There are two types of annual passes a guest could purchase: A Standard Annual Pass: Provides a guest with access to all four parks with park-hopping privileges.  Complimentary parking at Walt Disney World Resorts, quarterly newsletter, discounts an limited-time offers on resort stays, merchandise, and dining.  This annual pass is $634 for 2014. A Premium Annual Pass: Provides a guest with everything that a standard pass does.  In addition, a guest has unlimited access to the attractions featured in the Water Parks and more option for a standard ticket.  This annual pass is $754 for 2014. Standard Ticketing – Disneyland Resort Ticketing for Disneyland is a little different from Walt Disney World.  There are only two parks: Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure.  However, a guest can still purchase a one-park per day ticket or a park hopper.  Tickets for adults start at only $86 for a one-day ticket or $131 for a one-day park hopper ticket. Disneyland has Magic Morning option for purchase which gives early access to Disneyland Park on Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday.  This option can only be purchases on ticket lengths three days or longer. Annual Passes – Disneyland Resort There are three types of annual passes available at the Disneyland Resort 1) Deluxe Annual Pass: Provides 315 days admission to the Disneyland Resort.  There are 50 blackout dates.  This pass costs $499 without parking or $638 with parking in 2014. 2) Premier Annual Pass: No blackout days (365 days of admission) and includes parking.  This pass costs $669 in 2014. 3) Premium Annual Pass: Admission to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts.  Acts a Premier Annual Pass at Walt Disney World.  Available for purchase only at Disneyland ticket counters, Guest Relations at Walt Disney World, and Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World.  This pass costs $979 in 2014. There’s a brief introduction to ticketing both past and present at the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts. Thanks for reading!

What’s New

Just this week, Disney has announced the completion of a new ride and three new items around Walt Disney World.

The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train has been completed and will open to the public starting on May 28, 2014.  There could be soft openings between now and the 28th but nothing is guaranteed.  The Mine Train completes the New Fantasyland construction project.  The project added a second Dumbo ride, Under the Sea – a Journey of the Little Mermaid, Ariel’s Grotto (an Ariel meet and Greet), Enchanted Tales with Belle, the ever popular Be Our Guest Restaurant, the Barnstormer roller coaster, Pete’s Silly Sideshow where guests can meet Donald, Goofy, Minnie and Daisy in vintage county fair attire, and the Princess Fairytale Hall where guests can currently meet Anna and Elsa from Frozen, Cinderella, and a rotating fourth princess (usually Rapunzel).  It was quite the expansion project and took over two years complete and attractions opened in three different stages.

A preview of the Mine Train ride can be found here (courtesy of Theme Park Review): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9A4vjeYLcXw

 

If you are a Disney Visa cardholder, you are eligible for Free Disney Dining on a select dates in the fall.  This promotion will be available to the general public starting on May 7, 2014 for stays booked before August 8, 2014.  Since it’s a new blog and I haven’t talked about it yet, here’s the scoop on Disney Dining.

First of there are three levels of Disney Dining Plans:

Quick Service Disney Dining Plan: 2 counter service meals (per night), 1 snack (per night), 1 refillable mug (per stay)

Price per night in 2014: $41.99/adult, $16.03/child aged 3-9

Standard Disney Dining Plan: 1 counter service (per night), 1 table service (per night), 1 snack (per night), 1 refillable mug (per stay)

Price per night in 2014: $60.64/adult, $19.23/child aged 3-9

Deluxe Disney Dining Plan: 3 meals at your choice of counter or table service (per night), 2 snacks (per night), 1 refillable mug (per stay)

Price per night in 2014: $109.53/adult, $29.86/child aged 3-9

If you stay in a Value resort like the All-Star Resorts or Pop Century, your stay qualifies for Free Quick Service Dining.  For stays in Moderate, Deluxe, or Villa Resorts, your stay qualifies for the Standard Dining Plan.  This promotion is what made my family take their first Disney vacation.  For a family of four (2 adults, 2 kids) that stay for six nights at a Moderate resort, it can save that family $958.44 using this promotion.  That’s quite a savings.    This is Disney’s most popular promotions and each resort that is eligible (All Star Movies, Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter, and 3-bedroom villa are not eligible) only has a select night of “Free Dining” rooms are they fill up quickly.

Disney is bringing some nightlife to the Animal Kingdom park with the introduction of “Harambe Nights” for the summer.  This show will run from June 7, 2014 to August 9, 2014.  The evening starts with a reception featuring appetizers, wines, beers, and soft drinks.  After the receptions, guests will be brought into the new Harambe Theater for a new show, “The Lion King in the Wild.”  This show will feature celebrity narrators, a live orchestra, along with dancing and sings in a 55-minute stage show.  After the show, the night moves back to Harambe Village for a street party where the guests can participate.  The night ends with dessert.  The event runs from 7:00-10:30 pm.  General admission tickets are $119 for ages 10 and up and $79 for ages 9 and under.  Floor seats are $134 for ages 10 and up and $94 for ages 9 and under.

The last bit of new information is a nod to Disney’s past.  Disney’s Polynesian Resort will be reverting to its original name Polynesian Village Resort Hotel.  The name change is part of multi-year reimagining project which includes the addition of Disney Vacation Club villa and bungalows, guest room renovations, renovations to the pool and the Grand Ceremonial House.  The resort will also see the addition of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto which will feature tiki-styled drinks and polynesian-themed small plates.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for reading.

 

Introduction

I’d like to welcome you to the first of what will be many posts about a well covered topic….Disney.  Most specifically, this blog will cover the two resorts in the United States….Walt Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California.  This blog will help give people an understanding of what there is to do at the parks, what will be coming to the parks in both the near and far off future, tips to best navigate your way through the parks, etc.

My plan is to post something new every day during the week with the occasional blog post on Saturdays and recaps of the week’s posting on Sundays.  Disney is a place that is always changing so coming with new material everyday should not be a problem.

A little about myself: my name is Tim Brooks and I live in upstate NY with my wife of 14 years and our soon-to-be nine-year old daughter.  I spent the early part of my career out of college working in sports information at the University of Delaware and then Allentown College.  After leaving Allentown College, I did some freelance work and then taught sports management at Lehigh-Carbon Community College and then The College of St. Rose when we moved to upstate NY for my wife’s career.  After my wife gave birth to our daughter, I decide to stay home with her and put my career on hold.  Now, that she is almost nine years old, I volunteer at her school while keeping the house in order.

When our daughter was four, we made out first trip to Disney to take advantage of a Free Dining promotion.  We stayed at the Contemporary Resort – a place that I always wanted to stay when I was a child.  We loved it.  We could walk to Magic Kingdom.  Take the monorail to EPCOT.  The bus could get us to Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom.  We tried to do as much as we could in our short five-day stay.  As we were leaving, the bus was driving past EPCOT and our daughter starts blowing kisses to Spaceship Earth and saying,  “I love you ball.  I’m going to miss you.”  My wife started crying and at that moment, I knew we would be coming back.

We joined the Disney Vacation Club about a year later and have made five trips since that initial visit five years ago.  We have fully become a “Disney Family.”

A Blog for All Things Disney Created by a Dad