Thursday, December 14, 2017

Our Top Tips When Planning a 2018 Walt Disney World Vacation - A Few things to Consider
by: guide4wdw - Collin

As many of you may know, we've spent around 20 years planning our personal Disney vacations and have had the opportunity to watch Walt Disney World grow and develop as new ideas and thought processes have come and gone. Of course, we don't know everything, and I wouldn't trust anyone who says they do, but we have learned quite a few things from our recurring trips and different vacation strategies. So, today we're sharing a large scale overview of what we do when planning a vacation and what has worked for us in the past time and time again. Along the way, we'll share some helpful hints on when to book,  how to get started, and quite a bit more which we hope will improve your vacation experience. 

When many first time guests decide to book a Disney parks vacation, many overlook the inevitable nature of the modern Disney experience. Today, there's very little room for guests to simply "wing it" on their first Disney vacation and successfully accomplish many of their vacation goals throughout their vacation. So, taking that into consideration, and the fact that many of you are repeat Disney guests, we're going to try and create a blend of information that can help everyone out in some way or another. 

As the new year rolls in, we'll try to keep this post as updated as we can as the year progresses similarly to how we've put out a few brief updates to our Updated: 2017 Discount Disney World Ticket Buying Tips - What is the Best Option For Your Situation? 

Disney changes incredibly quickly so there's always something new to add in the planning process and we're continually learning new and better ways to get the most out of the vacation experience. As always, a great place to start is by joining our Guide4WDW Community email list (and i'll send you a preview of my Disney Planning Book just for joining!) for genuine updates and special offers as they roll out throughout the year. Additionally, Disney themselves has a few unique special offerings for guests looking to plan as much as possible prior to their vacation no matter what your experience level may be. They've recently been pushing a free vacation planning video, but also be sure to utilize their free reservation planning services over the phone to truly get that level of personal service that Disney has become synonymous with. 

This article may be a bit tedious and a touch long winded, but hopefully it will help you out in some way or another. We certainly don't know it all, and Disney does change from day to day, but hopefully this will give you something to examine and build upon as your vacation approaches or you take the first steps in planning the vacation a lifetime. With all of that being said, we'll jump right into it and if you ever have any questions that aren't addressed or covered here, never hesitate to message me on Facebook (or any other social media avenue - we're on just about all of them). Honestly, don't hesitate to ask. I truly enjoy answering questions and it gives me the opportunity to address specific questions or to find answers to things I may have never considered myself. 

1. A Few Timeframes to Consider
Every once in a while I get the question from a friend or extended family member that goes a little something like this, "When do I want to go to Walt Disney World?" To be quite honest with you, there is no good answer to that question. The days of low crowd weeks and walk on attractions are unfortunately over. As technology has developed and become more and more precise Disney has found ways to monitor those "dead" times and find new ways to bring guests to the parks at less typical times. One of the best ways they've done this is by offering discounts during "unnatural" vacation traveling timeframes, but even more recently they have created special events and lengthened existing events to fill the gaps that once existed. 

Of course, I know that wasn't the answer you were hoping for, but there are a few other things to consider when choosing your Disney dates. First and foremost I would look into a few of the more prominent events that occur throughout the seasons at Walt Disney World. Each season has a way of welcoming guests into special events, but here's a few of the most popular events that occur in each season.

You see, there are a ton of events to consider working into your next vacation and many of these are truly wonderful events. Personally a highlight of my year is always the Flower and Garden Festival in the spring. The festival truly revitalizes the atmosphere of Epcot and brings a unique flair (and vast amount of food) to the World Showcase and overall theme park experience. However, the joy that experience brings to me, one of these other events may create for you. Additionally, I adore the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, but many guests prefer the Halloween Party. When it comes right down to it, it's all a matter of preference and what you want to see and do during your vacation experience. Thankfully Disney isn't a "one size fits all" vacation, so taking a moment to look over these special events and many others that appear throughout the year (believe it or not these simply scratch the surface of what is offered).

Truthfully, I would say to toss the idea of planning around the crowds out the window. At this point you just have to get lucky to catch the right day where the crowd levels are lesser than usual. If you're bound and determined to find a time where you might have the opportunity to avoid some crowds, your best bet is to travel at or around the time when schools start back to classes or possibly a week in mid to late January, but that window is becoming very limited. 

Last but certainly not least, you'll want to consider any big ticket attractions or lands that will be opening throughout the year of your desired vacation. I always tell guests not to bank on the dates set by Disney for new openings because they tend to change and sometimes drastically, but you'll definitely want to be aware of one major debut coming in 2018, Toy Story Land. The company has yet to give a definitive date on when the new area will officially debut, but we have been given a estimated timeframe of Summer 2018. Unfortunately that's a broad timeframe, but if tradition holds up, they'll likely try to get the area up and running by early June at the latest to take full advantage of the peak summer attendance numbers.

Additionally, we hope to see a new nighttime parade arriving at Magic Kingdom this year at some point, potentially a new nighttime spectacular at Epcot to replace Illuminations (which I'd hate to see go), and if you haven't already witnessed it first hand, Pandora is truly a must-see part of the magic that remains incredibly popular on a day to day basis. To learn more about it and all of it's incredible details I'd recommend taking a closer look at a few of our more in depth articles:

Of course some of this is simply speculation, but are certainly a few things and events you may want to watch for as the year unfolds.

In the long term, be sure to look out for the debut of Star Wars: Galaxies Edge in 2019 and the any accompanying resort openings and refurbishments that will be wrapping up in the timeframe following that big debut. Even further in the future, be on the lookout for big changes coming to Epcot in the coming years that could potential draw massive crowds. Many of you may want to participate in the upcoming debuts, but if you're looking to avoid sometimes chaotic crowds, I'd recommend planning your vacation before mid 2019.                      

2. Watch The Weather
For many guests, booking a vacation revolves highly around when the kids are out of school and trust me, I understand that one more than you may realize. I'm currently a college student, ave two elementary school teachers in the family, and have unfortunately faced the constraints of school scheduling for many years. 

Sadly that constraint typically leaves the warmer months of the year for traveling, but I will certainly caution you and urge you to consider the effects weather may play in your overall enjoyment of the parks. Summer is inevitably extremely hot in Florida. Unfortunately, that's just the way it is. However, I will never discourage anyone from visiting in the ridiculously warm summer months because it largely opens you up to a different vacation outlook. When we tour Disney in the summer, we go with a somewhat different goal in mind than our other vacations. Typically, a summer vacation means two things, shorter continuous timeframes in the parks and more time spent enjoying the resort. A summer vacation doesn't have to be difficult, but you'll certainly want to be prepare for the heat and take time to leave the parks and cool off at the pool or simply book a few extra dining reservations to escape the heat for even a brief moment. 

For those of you not facing those small constraints, or even if you are, try and consider a vacation in the early spring, winter months (as close as Florida gets to winter), or even potentially a late fall trip. The cooler weather will allow longer timeframes in the parks while still giving you the opportunity to enjoy the pool (typically) while avoiding the peak summer crowds and incredible heat Florida can encompass.

3. Buying Tickets 
To be quite honest with you, buying Disney tickets is more complicated today than it has ever been in the past. To explain everything in depth and help you avoid any ticket scams that are out there, we even shared an article about it that is being continually updated:

While it is a rather complicated process in buying the best ticket for your individual circumstance, the new system also brings with it some great options. You can buy a package from Disney or your favorite travel agency (we recommend Destinations to Travel), buy tickets in a stand-alone matter (just watch for expiration dates and cancellation), and can even catch a few deals from sources like the Official Ticket Center for extra free days and park-hopper upgrades. Personally, I see the park hopper option as a vastly important addition to any Walt Disney World trip. it not only allows you to return to that one attraction you loved or simply missed on your planned day in that particular park, but also opens you up to potentially longer park days due to the variation in hours across the different parks, and a vast variety of dining options for each day of your vacation. All in all, it creates a much more "free" Disney parks experience. We've tried it both ways and without a doubt I see the park-hoper as vastly beneficial if you don't have an annual pass. 

4. Picking a Resort
Picking a Walt Disney World resort is one of the toughest planning decisions and one of the most time consuming aspects of starting the planning process altogether. Disney currently owns and operates 24+ resort hotels (as they continue to build more) and each and every one of them have their strengths and weaknesses. 

The price point typically tends to be a selling factor for guests and in all reality you have to gauge your interest in the amenities and benefits of higher priced accommodations. Without a doubt, we enjoy staying deluxe and to be quite honest we truly enjoyed staying in a club level room on our last vacation. However, that isn't always an expense many guests are wiling to pay. I know many of you are thinking, "that's easy for you to say, you probably get discounts or are paid to do this." To be quite honest with you, our Disney trips are paid out of pocket and we make very little from this site, but we save up and pay extra for these experiences because of the benefit it brings to our style of travel. It's not out of the ordinary for us to set aside a day just to enjoy the resort, so as a result, the deluxe benefits tend to be our go-to option. Additionally, I can't remember the last time we've booked a vacation without utilizing a Disney special percentage offer or dining credit that is available to the public. If you book at the right time and are willing to put in a little bit of extra effort, you may be surprised at the rates you can find at Deluxe tier resorts. 

We don't always stay deluxe though. We've spent many trips at Caribbean Beach and even over at Port Orleans (which is a personal favorite). There's truly nothing wrong with any of the Disney resorts, but my largest piece of advice would be to find a way to stay on property. The benefits are vastly influential in the quality of your vacation, and typically the cost is quite comparable if you're careful about the dates you book and when you book. As mentioned in past articles, I understand much of this can be incredibly daunting for guests and it's one of the many reasons we recommend an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. Here's one such authorized planner that we've personally used and had great success with. If you're a returning guest, just like us, I understand it can be difficult to have someone else plan your vacation, but what I didn't realize at first is that a good agency will let you do as little or as much of the planning as you would like to do. As an added bonus, it also helps support the site without costing you anything extra. However, all things considered I never used a travel agent in the past, but it truly makes the booking experience that much easier, no matter what agency you choose to use. 

If a new rate pops up at a cheaper cost than what you originally booked, they can apply it right away (and often know about it ahead of time due to trends) without you ever having to worry about dealing with it yourself. It seems simple but can be quite helpful. 

Setting that aside, if you need any help picking a resort without a travel agent, here's a few of our articles that may get you on the right track: 

And an active discount you may want to look into:
For all intensive purposes, this is the easiest question for me to address on this entire list. If it is your first visit, or even if you're a seasoned veteran of the parks, I typically recommend staying at least 4 nights at Walt Disney World and for truly new guests I recommend no less than a 5 night stay. The reasoning behind that suggestion is quite simple. If you stay 4 nights, it will typically give you at least 3 full days in the parks. In that situation, if you plan your days carefully, you can successfully tour all four of the parks if you're willing to go sun up to sun down each day. 

Honestly, you can't experience all of Walt Disney World in one vacation and trying to do so will cause more headache than it will enjoyment. As I've mentioned before, and truly believe, I've been to Disney World an incredible amount of times over the years and I've come nowhere close to seeing and doing all that there is to offer. To be even more upfront with you, I wouldn't have it any other way. There's always something new to try and something new to experience which keeps so many of us coming back time and time again. (It's certainly a blessing to be able to return time and time again, but it definitely takes a toll on the wallet over the years. lol)

To really accomplish a lot in 3 full days, here is what I would do. First and foremost, you'll need a park hopper. Additionally, I would schedule two days to spend sun up to sun down in your two favorite parks (or what you think will be your two favorite parks). Then, on the third day, split your time between the two remaining parks. Personally, when we've been forced to travel this way in the past, we spend the two full days at Magic Kingdom and Epcot. The other day we'll split with Animal Kingdom in the morning and Hollywood Studios in the afternoon and here's why. 

If you get to Animal Kingdom early, you can ride about every attraction in the park by lunch time. You wont get everything done, but you'll get a full taste of the park before you head off to Hollywood Studios. Once you arrive there, hit as many early afternoon shows as you can and then proceed to the attractions after the shows have finished for the day. Once again, you wont get everything done, but if you're tight on time, this is often your best case scenario based on our past experience. On the other two days, you can easily accomplish a ton of attractions early on in the day at Magic Kingdom using the tips we shared in How to Ride 6 or More Attractions in 90 Minutes or Less: With Only 1 Fastpass+! and Epcot can be done effectively using our Our Tried and True "Epcot in a Day" Touring Plan. Unfortunately, these aren't perfect plans and you'll have to put your now spin on them but it's largely what has worked for us time and time again. 

Also, when planning your days, be sure to consider the dining plan in your cost analysis. For some, it's an excellent option, but for others it can and probably should be avoided depending on your unique situation. To get a better explanation of my thoughts on that, I welcome you to read Is The Dining Plan Truly a "Good Deal" From a Cost Perspective? - A Closer Look. Personally, we tend to avoid the dining plan unless it is being offered as a free option when booking (but you'll want to check if "free" is actually cheaper than what you'd be paying for the dining plan outright with a different resort-only stand-alone discount) simply because it tends to cost us more in the long run. Others find the convenience factor a huge bonus so you'll have to make your own educated decision based on your unique circumstances. No two Disney vacations are identical just as no two Disney guests are identical.  

6. Venturing Beyond the 4 Major Parks
If you have the time, or choose to make the time, to step away from the 4 main parks to experience something a little different, I highly recommend a few experiences. First, be sure to look into Disney's waterparks. Both Blizzard Beach (my personal favorite) and typhoon Lagoon are absolutely incredible waterparks that continually top the top 10 lists of best waterparks in the United States. 

If you journey beyond Walt Disney World, first check and see what it may be costing you to do so. Oftentimes adding an additional park day to your Disney ticket can be vastly cheaper than heading to Universal or Seaworld for the day. While you take that into consideration, there's one park I recommend more than any of the others (outside of WDW) and that is Discovery Cove. Recently we visited the property and were honestly blown away by the level of service and quality of the experience. I have absolutely no affiliation with the park in any way (Even though I wish I did! A couple free passes for Discovery Cove would be amazing. lol), and I would honestly put it next to any Disney park in quality any day of the week. Of course, as usual, that level of service comes at a price, and that price is not cheap. 

On average, a day at Discovery Cove will cost you $200 per person, assuming you opt out of the dolphin encounter which will bump the price up to or exceeding $300 (we opted out of that option). That rate does cover two meals and unlimited snacks for your day and additional access to both Seaworld and Aquatica on either side of your Discovery Cove day. Even with that in consideration, well over $1000 for a family of four is expensive by any standards. I can, without a doubt, say it was well worth it for our family and we'd go back again sometime. We even went as far as to write an unsolicited article about it here on our Disney site: An Honest Comparison: Discovery Cove From a Disney Perspective. I even bought a t-shirt at the end of the day and use the lanyard they provide as your "access" pass on a near daily basis as a name tag hanger. 

Wrapping Up
To finish things up here, I know this was a vast amount of information to take in all at once. There's a lot to consider when booking a Disney vacation or even returning to the parks for additional visits, but don't let that discourage you from experiencing something that could change your life and create memories that will stick with you forever. If you need help, reach out to me and I'll do whatever I can to respond as quickly and efficiently as I possibly can. 

Hopefully this article gives you a variety of resources and related information that will at least get you on the right track in booking your dream vacation. Disney has basically been apart of my life since the beginning, so sharing that experience with someone else is something that I not only enjoy doing, but hope that it will somehow inspire you to reach out to this Disney community and find friends and new people that you never thought you'd come in contact with. I've met friends through this website building process and met people I would have never come in contact with. It's great to see this community grow and we truly appreciate you being here with us! I hope you enjoyed this article and have a great rest of the day!  

Last but certainly not least, I ask you to share this article with a friend if it helped you out in any way. Your shares are honestly the only way we grow and they mean more to me than you'll ever know. Additionally, if you're interested in any of the links in this article, we do receive a compensation for any sales made, and that money goes right track into improving the site and continually building this dream of ours. We truly appreciate all of your support!              

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"A Closer Look" - Why I Am Beyond Excited For Toy Story Land's Debut
by: guide4wdw - Collin

Over the last few years, Disney has really taken the time to add new attractions and even an entirely new land (Pandora) to the Walt Disney World experience. However, I think there's one element of Disney's additions that is getting vastly overlooked, Toy Story Land. While the project was officially announced a few years ago, the project really hasn't receive the media attention I trull expected it to. Sure, Disney has released little videos teasing the area as it has been built over time and given us an "inside look" at the expansion, but when you really think about it, we know very little about little details of this project.

Of course, we have some of the "big picture" details about the large scale plan, but at the time being we don't have any menus for counter service locations, the details of potential stores or merchandise, ad we really don't have much of an idea of what to expect from the attractions. With all that being said, I still remain incredibly excited about this project and here's why. 

Toy Story has been a part of my life since the beginning. I know that sounds insane, but you have to realize a few things, and Disney really does too in order for this land to be as successful as it possibly can be. First and foremost, the Toy Story animated film debuted in 1995. Essentially what that means in the big picture of things is that anyone under the age of 22 has never known a world without that iconic animated feature. As many of you may know, I'm 21 years old. Taking that into consideration, I know many people in my age group that have appreciated and watched these movies their entire life. I couldn't even begin to tally the countless hours many of us have spent watching and rewatching this series. Even in 2010 when the most recent film in the series debuted, many of us returned to the theater eager to see the next installment in the story. 

You see, for many of us, Toy Story isn't simply a series but also a piece of our childhood that has grown into one of the most iconic animated films ever developed. As that iconic feature plays out on the largest stage in the theme park realm, Walt Disney World, I can guarantee you that not only I, but many others like me will be there to continue building upon the nostalgia that has arisen over the years. 

Sure, young children will adore this new land and adults will appreciate it's influence in the parks, but a large audience will be those of us reliving those memories of our childhood. Ironically, that's one of the many talents of the Disney organization. The Disney company, no matter if we're talking parks, resorts, or simply films, has a way of taking guests back to their childhood in a way that is truly hard to put into words. This expansion isn't simply adding Intellectual Property to a theme park, but rather a way of connecting with a generation of Disney fans in an entirely new way. To be quite honest with, that's why so many of us keep retuning to the parks. It's not always about the attractions, or even the food (as much as I love the food), but rather because of that very feeling of being a kid again and not having a care in the world for even just a brief minute. Those moments of pure enjoyment create some of the greatest memories of life and that's what the whole Disney experience is all about and the sole reason I am beyond excited for Toy Story Land's debut in the Summer of 2018.               

(Photos: Disney)

If you're like me and want to visit Toy Story Land, do me a huge favor and check out Destinations to Travel for your booking needs (quote request form below). Shannon and her team go above and beyond to make your Disney experience outstanding and we can't thank them enough for the return support they send our way. 

Need a good deal on Disney tickets? Be sure to check out the amazing offer on the tickets we recommend in our previous article - Updated: 2017 Discount Disney World Ticket Buying Tips - What is the Best Option For Your Situation? - from our friends at the Official Ticket Center. Once again, we truly appreciate your support. 

Last but certainly not least, if you want to be the first to know about special Disney discounts and stories like this one, be sure to join this Guide4WDW community! We truly appreciate you being here!  

Monday, December 11, 2017

It's Official: Wilderness Explorers Show to Replace Flights of Wonder
by: guide4wdw - Collin

After a bit of speculation (less than a month ago) that Flights of Wonder would be leaving Animal Kingdom, today Disney announced an official end date for the experience that many guests have grown to love over the years. Flights of Wonder, a show debuting a series of real birds replicating their natural (and sometimes unnatural) behaviors before the eyes of guests, will be getting replaced by a show that remains largely nameless featuring Doug and Russel from Pixar's blockbuster animated film "UP."

While we currently know very little about the show, Disney did mention that senior Wilderness Explorer Doug and Russell will be interacting with guests and winged creatures throughout the performance. 

Flights of Wonder will be coming to an end at the end of the month, December 31st, to make modifications for the upcoming shows debut. At this point in time, there is no definitive opening date for the replacement experience, but it will arrive in the parks in Spring of 2017.

In my own opinion, I've always loved the Flights of Wonder show, and while we overlooked it for years, it had become a small part of any day at Animal Kingdom. With that being said, it does appear as if this new opportunity may pull elements from the previous show and continue to build upon that entertainment concept. Hopefully this will be the update this show really needed. Of course, that is simply my opinion, so be sure to tell us what you think down in the comments on your favorite social media platform!

Animal Kingdom has changed drastically over the last few years and I wouldn't be surprised to see even more changes on the horizon. However, I think it's a move in the right direction. Pandora is vastly impressive, the new nightlife across the park is highly entertaining, and while the nighttime spectacle event Rivers of Light isn't quite what many hoped for, it still exceeds expectations in a way that only Disney can truly accomplish.  

As always, we appreciate you being here and if you're looking to visit any of these places in the new year, we recommend Destinations to Travel (quote request form below) for all your booking needs. To be quite honest with you they're the only group we personally use and recommend. Shannon and her team do help us out along the way but they truly have a way of making you apart of their family in the booking process and it makes all the difference.                   

Friday, December 8, 2017

Our Top 5 Holiday Themed Resorts At Walt Disney World for the Christmas Season

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Wherever you are, whether it be Walt Disney World or somewhere throughout the country or even quite possibly around the world, Christmas has largely become the "universal holiday." We all celebrate it in different ways and often for different reasons, but one element of the season always remains true, the fellowship it creates for friends and family without fail. Walt Disney World is perhaps one of the greatest places on earth to experience the magic of the Christmas season, but there's a few things you'll want to check out beyond the parks if you or someone you know will be at Walt Disney World this holiday season. So, today we're taking a closer look at our Top 5 Themed Lobbies at Walt Disney World and a few details you wont want to overlook. 

The Grand Floridian
As always, the Grand Floridian certainly lives up to its name and creates a grand experience for guests each and every holiday season. Of course, the atmosphere isn't always one that is a favorite of all guests due to it's quite over the top feel that a select few can find "stuffy." However, around the holiday season, the Grand Floridian transforms into a wonderful winter wonderland. From the piano playing in the lobby, to the band that plays throughout the day, the Christmas music that rings out coupled with some of the most beautiful decorations on property sets the mood for an incredible experience. Beyond the somewhat subtle decor scattered throughout the resort, an enormous Christmas tree is found in the heart of the lobby itself coupled with one of the largest gingerbread houses you've likely ever seen. 

As an added bonus, head over to the gingerbread house and you'll find a little store inside of the massive display serving up treats for guests of all ages. All in all, the resort creates one of the most elaborate Christmas displays you've ever seen and will likely act as a step back in time to a simpler Christmas experience of years past when the hustle and bustle of the holidays wasn't quite as overwhelming as it has become today. It's a place that you can sit back and relax while enjoying the simple pleasures of the experience and just enjoy a few minutes of pure holiday tradition.         

Wilderness Lodge
Moving a short ways up the road (less than half a mile), the Wilderness Lodge unveils a spectacle of holiday cheer that has been a favorite of mine for many years. As you enter the lobby, one of the largest and most elaborate Christmas trees captures your glance from the very first moment. The tree, towering in the center of the mutli-floored atrium, is one of the very largest on property, but beyond the tree the atmosphere lends itself to being warm and welcoming. The lobby features a classic fireplace decorated for the season, a gift wrap station, and an impressive display of holiday gifts. More than anything, the Wilderness Lodge has a way of taking you "home" to the fireside retreat many of us dream about. It's the perfect setting for the holiday and one that encompasses and creates lasting memories for guests of all ages. This resort simply captures a vision of mine of children and parents waking up on Christmas morning at the ideal place and the most picturesque setting imaginable. It truly is something you have to experience to believe, but there's just a warm, welcoming, and wonderful feel to the place that encompasses the spirit of Christmas.   

The Boardwalk 
Over at the Boardwalk, head to the lobby of the resort for a Christmas wonderland encompassed in a quaint atmosphere that captures an entirely different holiday experience. The scale of the Christmas trees is brought back down to a somewhat "ordinary" size but there's certainly nothing ordinary about the picturesque setting. The somewhat smaller and simpler lobby sets the stage for a casual area, with a very low crowd level, that you can walk through and glance at the ornaments adorning the many trees. In writing it sounds so simple, but as you stand there taking it all in, it's a simple aspect of Christmas that welcomes the festivities in a way that captures the heart of guests time and time again. Oh, and before I forget, don't forget to keep your eyes peeled for the potential of a special visit from some of the most iconic Disney characters, even possibly the one that started it all!    

The Contemporary
As one of the most iconic resorts on Disney property and one that has been there from nearly the beginning, The Contemporary displays subtle touches of holiday joy that aren't quite as elaborate as some, but still well worth visiting. This years main display features a large castle complete with Cinderella. The display takes on subtle hints of the iconic styling of Mary Blair and rivals the look of her elaborate work put into the It's A Small World attraction. The overall display is incredibly well done and one that also features a small area to pick up treats to carry with you or enjoy as you wander through the resort. Take a quick step outside, if you're visiting at night, and catch a unique view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks in the distance. Nothing quite rivals seeing the pyrotechnic displays from the Magic Kingdom, but this unique viewing opportunity is something that is certainly memorable to try at least once!     

Fort Wilderness
Last, but certainly not least, Fort Wilderness offers an ever changing display of Christmas decorations that changes as often as the guests come and go on their holiday vacations. The campground unveils an incredibly diverse variety of Christmas decor and you never quite know what to expect. Grab a meal at one of the amazing dining offerings on the property, and then walk (or even rent a golf cart to ride around in) around the property and take in the holiday decor set up and maintained by the guests themselves. 

If you're looking to check out the campground or grab a meal at Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue, Trail's End, or even Mickey's Backyard Barbecue, the simplest way to get there (other than staying there) is to catch a boat from the Magic Kingdom. The ride over is quite impressive all on it's own, but the simple journey across the water to take in the holiday festivities has grown to become a holiday tradition for many and one that I hope to experience first hand in the future. You see, even I haven't seen and done everything on Disney property, but I wouldn't have it any other way. There's always something new and different to explore, but what I can appreciate more than just about anything is the classic nature of the Christmas season at Walt Disney World.              

If you're a local or just visiting for the holiday season we hope this short article will help you create new experiences of your very own but also create memories that will truly outweigh any image or decorations you'll ever witness. Beyond that, we wish you all a blessed and Merry Christmas.  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Disney to Alter "Magical Extras" Voucher Delivery Beginning In The New Year

by: guide4wdw - Collin

If you've ever booked a vacation at a Walt Disney World Resort, you've likely received a variety of special little gifts in the mail regarding your vacation. For years the company has sent out a somewhat "promotional" packet of additional discounts for select locations on property, Miniature Golf vouchers, and free entry into the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex coupled with your stay. 

Fortunately, none of those special booking bonuses will be disappearing in the new year, but they will begin arriving in a new way. Starting January 1st, 2018 your Magical Extras and vouchers will arrive in the form of an informational insert/card in your MagicBand delivery box. 

The new card will feature a personalized name, party size, travel dates, and even a reservation number for your designated group. Just as before, the card will need to be shown in order to receive it's benefits.

Personally, I see this as a pretty good option for not only the guests but also the Disney company themselves. If you're already going to send out the information to guests why not create the greatest display you can for them when they open their long awaited MagicBand delivery. Maybe I'm one of the few but we typically use at least one of the discounted offers throughout our Walt Disney World stay and have used the miniature golf vouchers time and time again over at Fantasia Gardens. I know miniature golf is simple, but some of the greatest experiences at Disney stem from the simplest of experiences.

Disney creates these memorable experiences better than anyone else in the entertainment realm. Receiving that MagicBand package is becoming synonymous with the thought that your long awaited Disney vacation is finally getting close. 

In the rare case that you choose to do any of the following, your Magical Extras card will be waiting for you during the check in process: 
  • If you pre-engae with the My Disney Experience 10 days or less before your arrival date. 
  • If you book within 5 days of your arrival. (which I do not recommend trying) 
  • If you choose not to pre-engage with My Disney Experience or if you opt out of MagicBands altogether.
  • Or if you are staying at the Swan and Dolphin resorts, Four Seasons, or Disney Springs resort area hotels.

All things considered, I see this as a bit more convenient for everyone. It's not a huge change by any means, but something you may want to be aware of as you open your MagicBand packages. If you can't find it right away, check the area where the luggage tags are stored and you'll likely find the Magical Extras Card grouped there as well. Hopefully this helps you all out in some way, and I hope you have a great rest of the day!           

If you have yet to book a Disney vacation or looking for a place to start, be sure to check out our friends at Destinations to Travel (quote request form below). They just launched an entirely new guest loyalty program that rewards you with a unique surprise gift during your vacation simply for booking consecutive visits through them. Additionally, they're the reason we have this information to share here today and we can't thank them enough for that and the continued support Shannon and her team show us from day to day.     

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Three Vastly Underrated Walt Disney World Resorts You May Want to Consider for Your Next Vacation - A Few Thoughts

by: guide4wdw - Collin

Today, there are so many resorts on Disney property that it can be, and often is, quite difficult to narrow down the options and select the best resort accommodations for your unique situation. Don't get me wrong, nearly every resort on Disney property will rival just about any hotel chain across the nation, but I truly believe that a few Disney hotels are vastly underrated and largely overlooked by typical Walt Disney World guests.

Old Key West
The accommodations at Old Key West are some of the very best on property for the money in my opinion. As perhaps the most budget friendly deluxe tier resorts on property, Old Key West offers deluxe studios, one, two, and three bedroom villas that are some of the largest on property. In regard to the villas, they are the largest resort rooms on property for their designated one, two, and three bedroom tiers. 

Personally, I can only speak directly to the two bedroom villas because they are the only accommodations I've personally experienced at this property. However, I will say that the rooms truly are huge. The living room and dining area can easily fit 8+ guests without a problem, the villa featured it's own private balcony and dining area for four, and the views of the golf course were outstanding. As a result, this is one of my top picks for a semi-budget friendly resort for larger groups. In regards to a strictly price to square footage ratio, it is only truly rivaled by Saratoga Springs (below) when referring to the villas. 

One of the greatest strengths of the location is it's proximity and boat transportation to Disney Springs. With all of the updates that have occurred at Disney Springs and the new restaurants and shops that have debuted, the benefit of easy transportation via a 15 (or so) minute pontoon boat ride could be a huge factor for many guests staying at the resort. 

Old Key West was originally designed as a Disney Vacation Club Resort, and was even called the Disney Vacation Club Resort up until 1996 when it was renamed. As a result, a stay here is like entering a community and many guests (of which many are DVC members) decorate their balconies for the holidays and treat the resort as a bit of a beach vacation (partially due to the theming) surrounded by the joys of Walt Disney World.

For the price, especially when booking large groups, this is sincerely hard to beat for the money. The pool isn't ideal, being that it is fairly small, but with the growing nature of Disney Springs I wouldn't be surprised if this resort grows exponentially in popularity in the foreseeable future.                  

Saratoga Springs
Of the resorts on this list, I would have to say that this is my favorite. Honestly, I may even put it in my top 3 resorts on Disney property. Again, I have only stayed in a two bedroom villa, but the experience helped develop one of our best vacations in many years. 

The pools at this resort are outstanding. Featuring two main pools, guests are encompassed by slides and fountains designed for all ages while being just steps away from a pretty outstanding counter service location, The Artist's Palette. Beyond dining and recreation, the resort rooms are also quite large, and only slightly smaller than Old Key West when considering the villas. The theming, in my opinion is a bit more classy and has a slight "Grand Floridian-Esque" vibe to it that is welcoming but not off-putting. Additionally, this is the closest resort to Disney Springs and also offers boat transportation to that developing area that takes no longer than 10 (or so) minutes. If you're a golfer, as mentioned in our last article, this is the resort to stay at. The clubhouse for the Lake Buena Vista course is located on the property and only a few steps away from the main pool.   
(Tree House Villas at Saratoga Springs - Photo: Disney)

Saratoga Springs has a fairly elaborate history that precedes the resort itself. In the early 70's, Disney created The Buena Vista Land Company to develop the space that is now the Saratoga Springs Resort. A that time, the company had an elaborate plan to create homes and apartment style complexes to invite businesses and guests to purchase a piece of the magic as a vacation property. Additionally, the space was at one point intended to house cast members. Unfortunately, Disney overlooked a legal part aspect of the plan which forced them to reevaluate their original goals due to voting rights regarding the "citizens" who would potentially own the buildings. 

As a result, Disney developed this space, under the watchful eye of Michael Eisner, into the Disney Institute in the mid 90's. The institute program, which developed over time, welcomed guests to the property and taught them in different realms of Disney's elaborate business philosophies including animation, television, and many other avenues Disney has helped grow over time. In the end, the Disney institute moved away from the concept of a single physical location and the buildings were repurposed and added to in order to develop Saratoga Springs.

You see, this resort doesn't only have elaborate history, but also an ideal location and some of the best accommodations on property.                 

The Swan And Dolphin Resorts
While these two resorts aren't technically "Disney" properties, by all intesive purposes of this article, they really are. Disney allows Swan and Dolphin guests to book in the same window as onsite guests for fastpass+ selections, they use Disney transportation that drop off at the exact same locations as Disney resorts, and even have legitimate Disney merchandise in their gift shops. Personally, I see that as a huge part of the Disney experience. While you won't find any Disney theming out by the pool or even really in the resort rooms themselves, the location features a character meal called Garden Grove (which isn't all that popular) and even offers guest a short walk to Epcot and Disney's Boardwalk Resort. 

(Photo: Loren Javier

Perhaps the greatest element of The Swan and Dolphin resorts are their proximity to the parks. As some of the oldest resorts on property (recently upgraded and overhauled), these Starwood properties (under the Marriott International umbrella) secured a section of prime real estate directly backing up to Epcot and just a short boat ride away from Hollywood Studios. 

As mentioned, transportation is a huge factor to this resort being vastly underrated. Just like the Boardwalk and Yacht and Beach Club, the Swan and Dolphin utilize the same boat transportation to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Additionally, while utilizing Disney busses, your route to many parks features the identical route as the aforementioned resorts.

While all of that is great, the price is really the selling factor on this particular accommodation for us. On average you'll pay up to 20-30% less to book either of these two resorts when compared to Disney's own deluxe tier resorts. Additionally, if anyone in your family is a teacher, nurse, or AAA member you qualify for a deep discount if they will be traveling with you. 

However, there is one unfortunate factor to all of these excellent offerings and it is that the resort features paid parking and requires payment of a resort fee each night of your stay. Typically, all things included, it will add about $30 per night to the rate listed on their website or on other booking platforms. Occasionally, if you call the resort directly they will wave the fee, but it is a far from foolproof solution. Either way, this is an excellent resort that I've spent many vacations staying in with one of the best pool setups in all of Walt Disney World.                   

As always, if you're looking to evaluate the costs, gather more details, or simply need a friend in the booking process, I highly recommend Destinations to Travel. I don't recommend them necessarily because they compensate us for any bookings made (which we certainly appreciate) through our quote request form below or banners you see on the site, but because it's who we use and trust to better your vacation experience. Plus, it costs you nothing extra in the booking process and, as mentioned, truly does help us out along the way.  

Additionally, you may want to look into our Updated: 2017 Discount Disney World Ticket Buying Tips - What is the Best Option For Your Situation?. We just updated the list with a new ticket offer that can score you a free parkhopper upgrade!

We truly appreciate the support each and every one of you show us on a near daily basis. It's incredible to see, but even better to be apart of as we continually grow this Guide4WDW Community! Thanks for being here!  

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