Category Archives: USA

Disneyland vs. Disney World

I just returned from several days in sunny California, exploring the original happiest place on earth with my Disney-loving third child. I encountered several people at church this morning and they all asked the same thing….”How is Disneyland different than Disney World?” It’s a difficult question to answer. In some ways, they are the same; in other ways, completely different.

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Resort Size: To put this in perspective for you, Disney World covers over 25,000 acres. Disneyland is just 500 acres. As a result, Disneyland just has a more intimate feel to it. Obviously, it doesn’t take long to walk between different park areas and because Disneyland, California Adventures, and Downtown Disney are all connected by a promenade it’s easy to walk between the different areas throughout the day without wearing yourself out. We were in the parks for almost 3 full days and easily saw and rode everything we wanted to, sometimes twice!

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A surprise visit from Donald Duck on Main Street, Disneyland

Character Meet & Greet: Because of Disney World’s size, character interactions have been regulated to waiting in line and posing for photographs. This does have its benefits if your child is set on meeting a particular character. Disneyland is much more spontaneous. You can be walking down Main Street and run into Donald Duck or Cruella Deville. This was always a fun surprise but also a bit frustrating if you happen to catch Mickey as he’s heading back to the clubhouse and is done with photos for the next hour.

 

Cast Members: Disney World attracts cast members (employees) from all over the world. This is partly due to their extensive college program which has US and International divisions. Cast members have their home city/country on their nametags and I’m always fascinated by the diversity among them. Disneyland, however, seems to pull their workforce from the local area for the most part. Almost every name tag I saw was a town in California. Cast members are almost always super helpful and anxious to help make your day magical!

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Monsters Inc., Disneyland

Rides: There’s been a lot of construction and renovation the last several years with the additions of Cars Land, Toy Story Land, Star Wars Land, and the updating of Fantasyland in Disney World that has changed the landscape, literally, of what rides you can find at each park. Rides seem to fall in three categories (which I just totally made up): twins, distant cousins, and no relation. There are multiple rides which are exactly the same in both resorts, too numerous to list, but the classic favorites seem to be similar both places. The main exception to this is Space Mountain. The Disneyland version has been updated to feature Star Wars and is hands down the winner. Disneyland also has some unique rides not available at Disney World like Monsters, Inc, and vice versa. Then there are the distant cousins that are essentially the same ride, but with different graphics and atmosphere: Radiator Springs Racers and Test Track or Indiana Jones and Dinosaur.

 

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Pixar Play Parade, California Adventures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parades, Shows, and Fireworks: Each resort has their own entertainment offerings and you won’t find the same parade or fireworks show at any of the parks. Maybe it’s because it was new and different, but I loved the Paint the Night parade and Forever fireworks show in Disneyland. But, I also love Celebrate the Magic in Disney World. You really can’t go wrong with either. California seems to be heavier on the Pixar characters in their parades so if your kids are big Woody and Nemo fans, maybe that’s the right park for you.

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Paint the Night Parade, Disneyland

Hotels: Disneyland has 3 hotels; Disney World has 28. We stayed in Paradise Pier in the Disneyland Resort and I’ll be posting a review of it later this week.

Transportation: There is no Magical Express in California but there is a shuttle service to and from John Wayne airport in Orange County and Los Angeles International Airport. Unlike the Magical Express, it will cost you and, depending on how many are in your group, it might be cheaper to rent a car. Be sure to factor in the cost of parking at the hotel. If you are staying in a Disneyland Resort hotel, it’s $18/day for parking.

More confused than ever as to which park you should visit? Sorry, I couldn’t pick one over the other. They both have their own unique vibe and advantages and you should probably visit both to form your own opinion! I haven’t had the opportunity to visit any of the international locations yet. Maybe one day!

Leave a comment and tell me your favorite Disney park!

Disney World Tips and Tricks, Part 2

In case you missed it, last week I wrote about several tips and tricks to save you time and money in the Disney World parks. This week, I’ve got some tips for planning and using points for your trip.

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When should we go? My standard answer to this question used to be “anytime school is in session”. That is no longer the case because the peeps at Disney are marketing geniuses and are the Jedi masters at getting people to visit the parks year round. April, September and the first half of November are usually good times to go but do a little research first. Marathons, cheerleading and dance competitions, or other special events can flood the parks, especially on the weekends. Avoid the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. These are the highest attendance weeks of the whole year and parks often reach capacity and close by mid-morning during these weeks.

 

Where should we stay? There’s no easy answer to this one so I’ll just give you the good and the bad of on and off property.

On property: Disney hotels are going to be a little pricier than off property, but factor in the fact that you get free transportation from the airport (Magical Express), in-park transportation and you don’t have to pay to park, it may even out. The downside is you can never leave Disney property and there’s no such thing as free breakfast at any Disney hotels.

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Disney does offer specials occasionally for a free dining program with resort reservations, usually during the slower times, which is when you want to go anyway. I’ve also found it’s easier to stay on property if you’re the typical family with 2 kids. Any family suite options for larger families are cost prohibitive, although adjoining rooms are an option. But, you’re still paying for 2 hotel rooms.

Off property: I have 4 kids and the bigger the kids get, the more room you need to spread out and the more bathrooms you need to accommodate teens who take a while to get ready. There are a ton of condos in close proximity to Disney. We rented a 3 bedroom, 2 bath condo this past summer for $1100 for 8 nights. Because we had a full kitchen, we didn’t need to eat out every meal and we were able to save our leftovers from restaurant meals to have for another meal later.

Keep in mind that off-property, you will need to rent a car and plan on paying $20 per day to park. For me, the money saved on food and lodging costs always seems to outweigh this disadvantage.

Where do I find condos to rent? Trip Advisor and Vacation Rentals By Owner are good places to look for a condo or home rental. Home Away and AirBNB are also good options.

What about hotels off property for points? All the major hotel groups are represented within just a few minutes’ drive of the Disney gates so if you’ve got points, you could easily have free lodging for the week. I especially like the Starwood Preferred Guest program since if you book 4 nights, the 5th night is free.

Are there discounts for park tickets? I have never found discounts of more than $10 per ticket that weren’t a time share presentation. My advice is to just accept the fact that this is the most expensive part of your trip and buy them directly from Disney and be done with it.

I’m also going to go ahead and address a question I get asked often since one of my daughters works for Disney: No, she cannot get you free tickets. If all 60,000 Disney World employees had unlimited access to free tickets, then hardly anyone would ever pay to get in the parks. As her family, we do have access to some passes but there are restrictions and limitations and half the time I visit, I pay for a ticket. So if you know someone that works there, please don’t ask them for tickets. It gets stressful after a while when you have constant requests for something you can’t provide.

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What days should we go to which parks? For the smaller parks, Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Animal Kingdom, the day you visit probably won’t matter as far as crowd levels go. I highly recommend a subscription to Touring Plans. This group has done nerd-level amount of research on crowd levels over the years and has recommendations for each park depending on your vacation dates. Typically, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday are the slower days at Magic Kingdom.

A subscription to Touring Plans also gives you access to their app “Lines”. Lines is a great tool to have in the parks for wait times that I find to be a little more accurate than Disney’s.

How can I save on airfare? If you’re sitting on a gold mine of airline miles, then theoretically you could fly your whole family to Florida for free, but most people don’t have access to enough miles to fly multiple people nor is it the best use of miles for a domestic flight. There are a lot of discount airlines that fly to Orlando.

Spirit, Jet Blue, Frontier, and Allegiant all offer inexpensive flights to Orlando. We fly Allegiant almost every time from Tulsa. It’s a direct flight and I’ve never paid more than $150 round trip for a ticket. There are a lot of other fees involved with discount airlines so do your homework and you can avoid most of them.

If you use points for your hotel stay and a discount airline, then you won’t feel so bad about spending money on the Disney tickets. If there’s something I haven’t covered, leave a comment and I’ll be happy to answer any questions!

Disney World Tips and Tricks, Part 1

A few months ago we took the family to Walt Disney World, mainly since kid #3 works there now and it’s the only way we could get all of the kids together at once. I’ve seriously lost count of how many times we’ve visited the happiest place on earth, but it’s a lot. Since Katie moved there last January, I’ve been 5 times and I’m sure this year will be a repeat performance.

Some of the family with our favorite Minnie Mouse

Some of the family with our favorite Minnie Mouse

During this summer trip, I posted several tips on Facebook. Below is a recap of those tips. I’ll follow up with another post with more tips and some FAQ’s. Be sure to leave any questions you have in the comments!

Disney Tip #1: Build in afternoon breaks in your schedule. Every one will be happier and enjoy the vacation more if they’re not exhausted, even the teenagers and adults. This is especially important if it’s hot outside.

IMG_0510Disney Tip #2: A rainstorm is your best friend. A lot of Florida visitors don’t realize that the rain will last about 20 minutes and will result in a mass exodus from the parks. Find a spot to wait it out and your wait times will be minimal for about an hour after it rains. Our Epcot rain brought a rainbow!

Disney Tip #3: Don’t underestimate the value of arriving before the park opens. You can usually ride 3 “headliners” in the first hour with no wait. Save your fast passes for later in the day when lines are longer or use them for parades and fireworks. The newly opened VIP viewing areas for the Electric Light Parade and Wishes fireworks are well worth a Fast Pass, but you’ll need to schedule them as soon as you can since there are a limited number available.

Disney Tip #4: You can get free ice water at any counter service restaurant in any park. And you can bring in drinks and snacks. We all brought in a water bottle and would refill throughout the day with the free water. Beats paying $3 per person per water bottle every couple of hours.

Disney Tip #5: PLAN! Disney is not the kind of place you can just show up and hope everything falls into place. Touringplans.com is a good resource (Approx $12 annual subscription) for checking crowd levels at different times of the year and can even help you decide which park to go to on which day of the week. It includes access to their app “Lines” which gives you wait times (that I find to be more accurate than Disney’s). We refer to this app throughout the day to help us decide what to do next. My Disney Experience is the official Disney app that can be used to make dining reservations, schedule your fastpasses, and view parade and character greeting times.

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Disney Tip #6: Take a break from Disney. Disney can be a bit of a sensory overload, especially for the little ones, so take a day to chill at the hotel pool or go to a movie or charter a sailboat in Clearwater, like we did!

 

 

Disney's Electrical Light ParadeDisney Tip #7: Magic Kingdom typically has 2 showings of the Electric Light Parade each night. There are 2 strategies to use this to your advantage. 1) Go to the earlier parade and watch fireworks, then hit all of major rides that you want to ride again or maybe missed earlier in the day. Most people will leave the park right after the fireworks and wait times are minimal afterwards. Or 2) Ride attractions during the first parade while everyone else is at the parade. This saves you from having to line up an hour before the parade and you’ll probably have a better view since the majority of guests will watch the first one. You can still take advantage of shorter wait times after the 2nd parade on the nights the park is open later. And you won’t mind being up a little later because you took a break earlier in the day.

The whole family with Mickey on my 44th birthday.

The whole family with Mickey on my 44th birthday.

Disney Tip #8: Go to Disney on your birthday. Nothing else will give you the illusion of feeling younger than you really are. Seriously. It’s hard to be bummed about hitting middle age when you’re hanging out with Mickey.

Disney Tip #9: Talk to Castmembers. They can answer important questions like where the closest bathroom is or where you can get a turkey leg. You’ll also get the chance to meet people from all over the world who actually enjoy their job.

Disney Tip #10: When leaving MK at a busy time, follow the signs to the Resort Monorail and get off at the 2nd stop for the parking lot or TTC in Disney speak (Transportation and Ticket Center). Everyone else will be in the regular monorail line going to the same place. There will be thousands waiting in the direct to TTC Monorail line and only a few hundred waiting for the Resort Monorail. You’ll have an extra stop at the Contemporary Resort on the way, but you’ll still get there faster, I promise!

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Click here for Part 2 in this series. Have a magical day!