PhotoPass+: The Pros and Cons

PhotoPass+: The Pros and Cons

PhotoPass+: The Pros and Cons

Who doesn’t want awesome pictures of their family vacation?  You’ve probably packed a camera, plus you’ve got your phone camera, maybe your spouse has one, too.  You’ll snap shots as you go, recording memories.  But sometimes you’ll forget to capture that iconic shot you meant to get.  Or yours will turn out fuzzy.  And worse, you probably aren’t getting everyone in that shot (who’s taking the picture?!)

Disney’s got a solution for that: It’s called PhotoPass.  And just in the last year, they’ve added the “plus” portion, as in PhotoPass+.  PhotoPass uses special cards that are scanned by professional photographers in the park each time they take a picture for you.  They are positioned throughout the parks, ready for all of those iconic shots.

 

To obtain those photos, you have a few options.

First, you enter the card numbers at the PhotoPass website to upload the pictures to your account.  Then, you can buy the photos for a (honestly, very expensive) price each.  The other options is to pre-purchase a PhotoPass CD or PhotoPass+ CD (also available as a digitial download), for a much better price, giving you access to every single photo that was taken by the photographers.

I decided to try PhotoPass+ on my latest trip to Disneyland.  The “plus” version includes not only all of the photos you have taken by the photographers but ALSO all of the ride attraction photos available (such as at Splash Mountain and Radiator Springs Racers) AND the photos taken at character dining locations.  At $69.95 when purchased at least 14 days before your vacation ($149 for Walt Disney World), this is an excellent deal.  That’s because a single photo download costs $14.95, ride photos are around $20, and the photo packages at dining locations can be upwards of $40.

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Yes, my husband is pretending to read a book.  No, I don’t know why.

Once I ordered it, Disney sent me a package that included my voucher for my special PhotoPass+ card, as well as a CD of stock photos and my special code for redeeming my free CD or digital package of downloads once I returned.

After arriving at my resort, I wanted to see if I could get my voucher exchanged for my card before my morning in the park – no need to waste time in the morning, in my opinion.  Knowing that one location to use this card is at character dining, I stopped into Goofy’s Kitchen to see about trading it in.  They could do a photo for me, they said, and give me a receipt to get it added to my card later, but they couldn’t give me a card at that location.  Darn.

The next morning was a park morning, and if you know me and the methods I recommend, there is no time to be wasted upon entering the park.  But I had paid for this card, so now I would just do my best to get there first.  The rope drop came a little early and I sped down to photo shop on Main Street.

I got to the door and – it was locked.  Nooo!  I looked up ahead and saw an internal rope holding back the crowds – it was not yet 9am.  So I sent my family up to the rope and told them I’d meet them at the first ride once I had my pass.  I, and a few other families, waited at the shop door.  And waited.

A janitor informed us it would not open until exactly 9am.  9am came, the internal rope dropped and my family went off to the first ride.  The shop door was still closed.  Five minutes later, the shop did finally open, but the cast member seemed unsure how to redeem the vouchers, so it took two employees to help those of us waiting.

Finally, I got my PhotoPass+ card (which is on a lanyard, but I’d not wear it on my neck – lots of people have lost it this way), and continued out to find my family.

The rest of our day was much smoother – using the card was easy (I had used regular PhotoPass cards in Disney World, the main difference here was that you only get one and can’t collect multiples).  We took some lovely shots along the way.

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sierra and cinderella

Having the card was a good reminder to take all of the opportunities for photos.  Where we may have blindly walked by something before, now we were looking for the photographers and stopping for some good family photos.  I really liked that aspect of the card.

We ran into one other issue the following day.  The only ride with a photo capability that ALL of my family wanted to ride was Radiator Springs Racers.  Therefore, this ride was going to be the one that partially made the “plus” in PhotoPass+ worth it.   We were lucky enough to ride this ride twice with almost no wait – once first thing and once later with a fast pass.  But both times, the camera wasn’t working, which meant no ride photo for us!  That was pretty disappointing.

On the other hand, we did enjoy a character breakfast at Surf’s Up with Mickey and Friends at the PCH Grill, and the photo package from that was great!  We got both the physical prints (two 8x10s and two 4×6, the larger photos in a cute cardboard frame), and the digital downloads.  That part of the deal was very worth it, as in the past we have declined to purchase the photos because of the price of the package.

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So would I get this package again?  Over all, I think the value is there if you plan ahead well to use it.  I think it will be more useful when we return to Disney World on our next trip, as there are more PhotoPass photographers and opportunities for pictures.  I enjoyed some of the photos we got from this trip, but some were definitely subpar quality.  You can see a few here that were not exactly fabulous:

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Mmm, yeah, I’m pretty sure those shadows completely ruin the effect going on there…  And the previous one is really really flashed out.

But most of the photos were much, much better quality!

If you think you’ll want some ride photos (and have family members who ride the “big” rides that have photo capabilities) and if you plan to do any character dining, you’ll easily find this package to be a good value.  Throw in all of the other photos you can capture on the way, and this is definitely a good way to capture memories.

 

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Polynesian Resort Review – Walt Disney World

Polynesian Resort Review – Walt Disney World

Polynesian Resort Review

Lobby of the Polynesian Resort

The Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World sits in the Deluxe category and is what many refer to as one of the “Monorail Resorts.”   The resort is spread out among several buildings, and the center focus is the beloved Volcano pool.  But what sets this resort apart is it’s extreme convenience, especially for families with younger children.

What’s so convenient about it?  If you’re spending time at the Magic Kingdom, you can get there and back in a snap.  The Polynesian lies on the monorail route, but what less people realize is that it also is right next to the Ticket and Transportation center, where the monorail hub is.  If you stay near this section, you can walk just a minute or two and hop on the monorail going directly to the Magic Kingdom or Epcot, as well as pick up the ferry between the ticket and transportation center and the Magic Kingdom.  You can also, of course, take the monorail on the longer route from the main monorail stop at the Polynesian, and you can also take the much smaller boats from the dock at the Polynesian to the Magic Kingdom.  All of these options mean less travel time and less wait time when heading in and out of those parks, at opening, for an afternoon break and at close.  Being able to get in and out quickly, if you want to take a break, is incredibly valuable for families traveling with children.  In fact, this reason alone is popular reason for booking this resort.

This resort also features two well loved restaurants on property, Ohana, which features a character breakfast in the AM and a family style Polynesian dinner, and the Kona Café, well known for the famous Tonga Toast at breakfast.

The Volcano Pool is a fun theme for all ages and features a zero-depth entry, which is perfect for young children.  This allows little ones to play and splash without being overwhelmed.  There’s also a (very small) water play area nearby.  The Volcano features a waterslide, which is actually much faster than I anticipated.  It’s a tunnel for most of the ride, so the combination of dark and fast means it may not be a good fit for very young kids or those afraid of the dark, but is otherwise a very fun aspect of the pool.  One thing I loved is that the pool is bordered by the “beach” of the lagoon, meaning you can step out of the pool and into the sand for some sand castle play or to lounge in hammocks or lounge chairs on the beach.

Volcano Pool at the Polynesian Resort

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Speaking of the beach, this is a prime location for viewing the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks without being in the huge crowd in the park.  You can see them directly across the lagoon, and the music is piped on to the beach so that you can enjoy the full experience.   There is also a small electric water parade that floats by nightly.

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The overall theme of the resort is lovely.  I love the tropical waterfall at the entrance and beautiful tropical garden in the middle of the lobby.   There are beautiful flowers along the winding paths inside the resort, as well as another small waterfall and stream area.  Disney always does an excellent job with themes, and this resort is no exception.

 

The rooms are nicely sized for a family.  Five can fit in these rooms, as they are equipped with a sleeper sofa.  The rooms were remodeled a few years ago, so feel contemporary and clean.  Each has it’s own balcony, something I always appreciate in a resort.

I’ve heard some people say that the resort is dark.  It’s true that the resort is painted in darker tones and that the rooms are furnished in dark woods.  However, none of the people I traveled with felt that this resort was too dark, either outside or inside.  It’s not bright and colorful but the décor matches the theme perfectly.

All in all, I could not have been more pleased with the Polynesian as a choice for my family.  The location wins hands down, and I love the tropical flowers and waterfalls all around.  Plus, having a beach to watch fireworks from is a major plus.   There are many great resorts within Walt Disney World, and I’d be happy to help you decide if this one is the best match for you.

 

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2013 Disney World Free Dining Offer

2013 Disney World Free Dining Offer

2013 Disney World Free Dining Offer

coral reef dessert disney free dining

YES!  It’s back, everyone’s favorite Disney World discount.   Free dining is being offered for Sept. 2 – 25, 2013 when you book a 5 night, 6 day Magic Your Way room and ticket package.  Why is this such a popular deal?  Well, let’s not kid ourselves – Disney restaurants are fairly pricey.  The dining plan at full cost already can be a good value, but when it’s free??  That’s a lot of savings.

Consider this:  You spend $12 on a quick service lunch, then sit down to dinner at a character buffet for $45.  Along the way, you get a tasty pastry at one of the bakeries for $4.  That’s $61 on food, per person, per day.  And with this offer, you’d get that for FREE.

September is a low crowd month, as well, so you reap the benefit of less people in the parks during your vacation if you travel during this discount window.  The peak summer crowds have passed as kids go back to school, which means if you can travel now, you get to enjoy all the parks have to offer with less time standing in line.

When you book with The Enchanted Traveler, you’ll not only get this deal but all of the other free services I offer.  This is my favorite deal of the year, so don’t miss it!

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Spotlight On: Whispering Canyon Cafe

Spotlight On: Whispering Canyon Cafe

Spotlight on: Whispering Canyon Café

Whispering Canyon Cafe

photo credit: Mike Miley via Flickr

There are what can seem like endless dining options in Walt Disney World.  But often, new visitors focus on restaurants inside the parks, forgetting about or not realizing there are some awesome options at the resorts themselves.  Got kids?  My kids absolutely adored Whispering Canyon Café at the Wilderness Lodge.  And getting there can be lots of fun!

What’s special about the Whispering Canyon Café?

So what’s so special about this restaurant?  First of all, it means taking a visit the gorgeous Wilderness Lodge.  With a geyser, waterfalls and a soaring lodge style lobby, it’s pretty amazing.  The Whispering Canyon Café is located inside, just off the main lobby.  Here, you’ll find a casual menu to please most anyone in your family.  But what’s really fun is that the servers here are lively and entertaining, playing around with you and messing with your kids.  They have a hobby horse parade for the little ones in the middle of your dining.  And if you want to see something really funny, just ask for some ketchup – trust me.

Whispering Canyon Café menu

And the food?  Delicious.  One of the most popular options is the all you can eat Family Platter, with your choice of three: Kansas City-style Smoked Pork Ribs, Herb-baked Chicken, Hand-carved Oak-roasted Beef Strip Loin, Citrus-crusted Market Fish, Western-style Sausage Sides for Sharing: Seasonal Farm Fresh Vegetables, Herb-crushed Yukon Gold Potatoes, Cowboy-style Baked Beans, Corn on the Cob.  You also get the dessert sampler with Whispering Canyon Chocolate Cake, Jalapeno-Lime Cheesecake, and Apple-Cranberry Buckle.

This restaurant is also well known for its milkshakes, and one of the best things about them is that they are one of the included beverages if you are on the dining plan, which is not true of most of the restaurants!

How to get to the Whispering Canyon Café

So what about getting here?  Easy.  There is a boat that will take you from the Magic Kingdom to the Wilderness Lodge!  This just adds to the fun if you’ve got kids in tow – a boat ride and a fun restaurant?  Win/win!  If you are coming from elsewhere in Walt Disney World, first take your transportation to the Magic Kindom, then go the boat docks to catch the boat over to the Wilderness Lodge.  But this is also a great choice as a lunch and afternoon break for a Magic Kindgom park day, or a nice little escape for dinner before re-entering the Magic Kindgom for some fireworks.  Or, end your day by heading over the to nearby Fort Wilderness Campgrounds for a campfire and some s’mores with Chip and Dale!

 

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Disney World Planning: Why The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Disney World Planning: Why The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Disney World Planning: Why The Early Bird Gets the Worm

Crowds at Disney World

Hoping to avoid some of the crowds? photo credit: rickpilot_2000 via Flickr

You want to experience Disney World to fullest, skip the crowds, avoid lines, skip the cranky children and have an all around wonderful time.  Yet, you hear people complain about how long they had to wait, impatient children and meltdowns, and you’re worried about how this trip might turn out.  Actually, there are many ways to avoid the famously long lines in the park and make your day much smoother, and today we’ll talk about one of those.

You see, it seems many people who travel to Disney World are of the mindset that a vacation means sleeping in.  Many people don’t arrive at the parks until after 10 or 11am, after they’ve leisurely gotten up and had breakfast and/or have also driven in from somewhere offsite.  What this leaves is a nice little gap in the opening hours for you and your family to get on the rides first.

To beat the crowds, I advise my clients to arrive 20-30 minutes before park opening at any of the four major parks.  If you do this, you will see a fairly large sized crowd waiting with you, but don’t worry – this crowd disperses quickly once inside the large parks and is nothing like the crowds that you will see later in the day.  The key is to use every moment wisely once you enter: now is not the time for shopping or eating a meal.  Head straight to the rides and save the browsing for a later part of the day.

You have about two hours, with the first hour being the absolute best for no to low lines, before the major crowds will start flowing in.  If you use this time wisely, you can accomplish a large amount of rides before lunch.  (I always give my clients a theme park touring strategy to better enable them to skip as many lines as possible, with a customized itinerary of rides).  By about 1pm, the crowds will be out in full force, and this is the time that most rides will have those longgggg lines you’ve heard about.  NOW you can shop, browse and eat and leave those long lines to the throngs of late arrivers.  Or, as I often advise my clients, head back to your resort for a swim, to shower and freshen up or take a little nap.

Once late afternoon and evening arrive, you can head back to the rides, as more people start leaving the parks again.  Many of them are now tired of waiting in all those long lines and have had enough.  But you?  You rode a bunch of ride this morning, had a great afternoon, and are now ready to go until closing!

 

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Disney Springs: Downtown Disney Expansion Announced

Disney Springs: Downtown Disney Expansion Announced

Disney Springs: Downtown Disney Expansion Announced

Disney Springs

Copyright Disney 2013

Disney has officially announced an expansion for Downtown Disney in the Walt Disney World resort.  If you’ve been to Downtown Disney in the past, you know it’s already got a nice selection of shops and dining.  But this new expansion will take to a whole new level.  Featuring new and unique shops and dining, an enhanced lakefront area and a bubbling spring throughout, this new expansion will double the number of shops, restaurants and other entertainment, resulting in a total of more than 150 establishments.

Disney Springs will be comprised of four neighborhoods.  According to Disney, those are:

  • The Town Center, which offers a sophisticated mix of shopping and dining along with a promenade where guests can relax, refresh and reconnect.
  • A colorful and thriving commercial district called The Landing with inspired dining and beautiful waterfront views.
  • The family-friendly Marketplace that will continue to delight guests of all ages by combining new experiences, such as an over-the-water pedestrian causeway, along with classic Disney favorites, including an expanded World of Disney store.
  • West Side that provides an exuberant atmosphere with lively entertainment, along with a series of new elevated spaces that provide both shade and an overlook to the activity below.

 

Disney Springs Marketplace

Copyright Disney 2013

Construction is scheduled to begin in April and will be completed in 2016.  However, the new areas will be opened in phases along the way.

I always recommend families make time to visit Downtown Disney during their vacations, but now with Disney Springs growing in such size, it may become a “must do” more often.  Find more details on the Disney Parks Blog and see more concept art.  What are your thoughts on this expansion?

 

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Is the Disney World Dining Plan Really Worth It?

Is the Disney World Dining Plan Really Worth It?

Is the Disney World Dining Plan Really Worth It?

Epcot, France Bakery

Photo by rickpilot_2000 via Flickr

The dining plans at Disney World profess to offer you a great value, but do they?  Is a dining plan the right choice for your family?  The answer is, for some people, the dining plan is absolutely a great value; find out here if you are one of them.

For the purpose of this article, we’ll be looking at the Standard Dining Plan.  We’ll look at the Quick Service Dining Plan and Deluxe Dining Plan another time.

There are two ways in which the dining plan provides a value.  First, there is a set cost for each dining plan.  The idea is, if the amount you’d spend normally would exceed the cost of the dining plan, then you will save money by purchasing it.  Let’s take a look at how this works:

The 2013 Dining Plan is $56.94 (peak season) per person per day.  This includes 1 quick service, 1 table service and 1 snack each day, plus a refillable resort mug.  To compare costs, we can look at some menu items to see what we’d be purchasing during our stay.  Let’s say we’re going to eat at Sunshine Seasons for our quick service today, the Princess dinner at Akershus in the Norway pavilion, and we’ll get ourselves a delicious Napolean from the France Pavilion.  I’ll pick the Spicy Cashew Chicken  at Sunshine Seasons for $9.99  , the buffet at the Princess dinner is $55.37 (price changes seasonally), and my snack of a Napoleon from Boulangerie Patisserie costs $4.50.   You can see we’re already at  $69.86.  We’re already over the daily price for the dining plan.  But wait – there’s more!  The dining plan includes dessert and basic drinks (soda, milk, tea, coffee, etc) with each meal, which we haven’t included with our lunch here (this particular dinner is a buffet and does included dessert) added in to our total, so there are more savings to be had.  Ok some of you are thinking there is no way you’d normally pay for dessert.  Fair enough, except, if it was more or less free, consider how fun it is to try new desserts everywhere you go!

Maybe you aren’t sure if you will always get savings with the plan or if some days you might just break even.  That brings us to the second way that the dining plan provides value: peace of mind.  Let’s go with that – what if you only break even?  Why have the dining plan then?  Well, if you are like many people, sitting down at expensive restaurants (and let’s face it, the Disney restaurants are expensive) while on vacation can lead to sticker shock each time you open a menu.  You may see an item you really want but then tell yourself you should order the cheaper item.  Maybe your husband always wants to order the most expensive steak and you tend to bicker over it (ahem…personal experience here perhaps…).  Having the dining plan means that you have already paid for your food.  When you sit down and you open that menu, it doesn’t matter what you choose – you can freely order whichever entrée looks good.  You can get any dessert you’d like.  You can get your $30 plate and he can get his $50. Or maybe, you’ll get that $50 plate now, too, because why not??  It’s already paid for, already done, and there’s no need to stress over the prices or experience sticker shock each day.   So the second value in the dining plan is peace of mind and reducing stress.  And in the end, shouldn’t your vacation be filled with as little stress as possible?

Not everyone needs the dining plan… those who eat very little, or those who really enjoy bringing their own food into the parks and perhaps cooking in a condo rental for dinner won’t find value in it, of course.  And you can certainly just pay as you go for each meal.  But if you’re on the fence and you’ve never tried it, give it a go and see what you think.  Once I tried it, I never wanted to go without it again!

 

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How Far in Advance Should I Book My Disney World Vacation?

How Far in Advance Should I Book My Disney World Vacation?

How Far in Advance Should I Book My Disney World Vacation?

Disney World Electrical Parade

If You Wait, Your Options Are Limited

I find that it’s very tempting for some people to wait until Disney releases a set of discounts applicable to their travel dates before booking.  However, doing this puts you at a disadvantage in some cases.  Disney World is a vacation that many people book far in advance, meaning that if you wait too long, you’ll have less choice of rooms and resorts.  Even more important, though, is the lack of dining reservations left when you book too late.

What’s Too Late?

So what’s too late?  I always advise my clients to book at least 6 months in advance when possible.  Why?  At 180 days before your arrival date, you’ll be eligible to make dining reservations.  Popular character dining and themed restaurants are often completely booked up right after this window of opportunity.  For some, this may not matter much, but if you know that your kids really want to dine with Mickey and friends, or you and your spouse really want that dinner at California Grill while overlooking the Wishes fireworks show, you definitely want be set to go at 180 days in advance.

Coming soon is the new MyMagic+, which will also best be used with some forethought.  One of the features of this new program is that you will be able to reserve times at a set number of attractions per day 60 days in advance.  Again, this means you need to have a reservation in place to take advantage of this.

There are several things that make this easier than you may think.   First, Disney only requires a $200 deposit on vacation packages, with the rest due 45 days before arrival.  This makes it easy to book far in advance without having to pay a lot on the spot.  Second, Disney also allows reservations to be moved to the new discount rates when they do come out, subject to availability (and if you are before your 45 day final payment window).  This means that if you are hoping for a free dining plan promotion, you don’t have to wait until it’s released to book your dates; you can book now and apply it when it comes out later.

Don’t Stress Planning Your Disney Vacation!

If the idea of figuring out your vacation so far in advance and tracking discount codes as they come out has you a little panicked, don’t worry: I’m here to help!  When I help you plan your Disney World Vacation, I recommend all of your best options, get it booked with deposit for you, and then I’ll carefully plan your itinerary using the least crowded parks each day, matching your restaurant choices to your days in each park, secure your advance dining reservations for you right on that 180 day mark (early in the morning, I might add!), and keep an eye on the discounts, getting your reservation moved to the new discount if it applies.   And, of course, I also offer theme park touring strategies and so much more!

So if you want to plan a vacation to Disney World, contact me early so we can get you the best experience possible!

 

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