Archive for January 2014

Memory Maker - What? How?

Friday, January 31, 2014

We are just back from a magical five night trip to Walt Disney World. I am feeling completely overwhelmed with organizing all the photos, reviews, tips, and the general play by play of what I am sure will be THE trip of the kids' childhood. I am hopeful that all of this will prevent me from a massive breakdown over the fact that the trip is OVER. Steve is acutely aware that I am already having fantasies about our next trip and to his credit, he is beginning to accept that I intend to go back again and again and again. Forever. One thing is for sure though, I am relieved that we pulled off the surprise and I am no longer experiencing pre-trip anxiety at 4am every single night.

Speaking of the surprise, here is how it went down: Spoiler alert, our six year-old did not believe us.





I think I can safely speak for Steve when I say that this trip was simply boiling over with magic. The kids had an absolute blast and it was so much fun to watch them enjoying it all. Truthfully, there were moments when I was clearly the one having the most fun. Even more truthfully, there were of course some tough travel moments. There were dinners with misbehavior brewed from exhaustion and a couple upper arm drags to a quiet spot to remind one of them that this was Disney World and we needed to keep a smile and a good attitude. There were far fewer of those kind of moments this trip than the last one. Far fewer.

There was a healthy serving of sass in 2011.


This is more how I will remember 2014. 
 
 

So where to begin?? Let's start with a big debate in the Coconuts household; Memory Maker. For a general overview of what Memory Maker is please reference these well written and informative articles to get the nuts and bolts.

Straight from Disney Memory Maker Information
Touring Plans Memory Maker Information
Capturing Magic Podcast Memory Maker
Photo Pass vs. Memory Maker from WDW Prep School

We had used Photo Pass on a previous trip, but never really intended to purchase the photos. We had loved the way they turned out, but in the end purchased NOTHING (that's right, NOTHING) because the cost when we got home when we were also staring at a large pile of receipts seemed excessive.  We looked at the photos we had taken ourselves and deemed them "good enough." I regretted that decision when the photo pass expired and I could no longer look at the photos online. This time around, I was more focused on photos because the kids were bigger, we were spending more time there, and I knew that my daughter was going to be all about meeting the characters. They seemed somehow more important. I knew it would be a hard sell for my husband. Spending money on photos you haven't taken, let alone seen, seems a bit irrational. Luckily, a friend had just traveled down around the holidays and was able to share her very positive experience with me. That was the tipping point. I'm sharing my very positive experience to perhaps help you make a similar decision.

Why We Decided To Do Memory Maker

We wanted the shots that the Disney Photo Pass Photographers could take that we knew we wouldn't be able to. They start snapping away the moment you approach a character. If you tell them you have Memory Maker, they will take even MORE photos. It allowed us to truly enjoy the moment with the kids and focus more on experience and less on documenting it. We still took our own shots and video, but I was less concerned about capturing it myself.

We could not have caught our Character Phobic Connor high fiving Chip. (I could not have for sure because he is on my shoulders!) Good story for later is how chip got him down from my head and got him to pose for a photo... Willingly! With a smile even!!


How about these cute "Magic Shots?"



Worth Noting: Photo Pass Photographer's will take ONE photo with your camera if you ask

Each day when we got back to the resort we could go online and see what shots were captured that day. It was a fun way to wrap up the day, relive those memories, and feel triumphant that we had those shots locked up. I would recommend you do this to ensure that the photos you had taken actually made their way to your band. We had absolutely no issues and were able to add on cards from Enchanted Tales with Belle as well. Perhaps most importantly, it allowed us to split up! I could run to grab the day's fast passes at a kiosk, while Steve met Pluto or waited in line for Merida knowing that if I missed it, I could see it later. I missed this fantastic moment waiting by Stitch for the kiosk, but I love that we have these shots.


  
Steve missed this one when we split up later that day knowing Connor had no interest whatsoever in meeting Rapunzel and was desperate to ride Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin again. This was an excellent decision and the time us girls spent together is a wonderful memory. 
 
  
I love that the photos are saved on my computer! I can download them as many times as I want during the Memory Maker "window." I have them all and I can do whatever I want with them now. Look, I just uploaded them to this blog, NBD. Easy. EASY. EASY.

HINT:

Steve and I both used our Magic Bands to collect our Memory Maker photos. They simply scan your band each time they take a photo of your family. It's unbelievably simple. We quickly saw that our bands were not linked together to Memory Maker and we had to pull up Steve's photos separately on the site. We didn't worry too much about this until we got home and I wanted to download all the photos, both his AND mine. How could we do that when Memory Maker wasn't recognizing that we were connected?? It took me a bit of time to figure out, but there is a simple solution.

Step 1: In your My Disney Experience page, open "Friends and Family"
Step 2: Ensure that your friend/family who has photos you want to download is listed as "can view and purchase your Photo Pass photos." If not, simply click on "Edit" and check the box to enable this. SIMPLE

We downloaded our photos last night and I cannot wait to scroll through them all to select ones to share both here and with friends/family. I am sure we will eventually have some printed for a memory book, but I'll have to find the time to do that.  Luckily, I own them now, so I can take my time and put that off for when I really need some Disney Magic. All those autographs Caroline collected in her TWO books can very easily have a photo beside them, creating a lovely souvenir for her to look back on. We will have those photos printed up locally or through an online photo site. Easy!

VERY IMPORTANT: The cost of photo pass is $50 less expensive if you purchase it before your trip and I encourage you to do that not only for the savings, but to ensure you can begin capturing images on your bands the moment you arrive. It can take three or more days to catch up if you buy it in the park when you arrive and you will then need to add photo pass card photos to your Memory Maker after the fact. You could lose those cards and let's face it, there is way less hassle in having your band scanned. Make this decision before you go.

Reflecting back, this was something we were unsure of prior to our trip, but we maximized it; seeking out photo opps with characters, around the parks, and even on rides (yes! Buzz, Space, Everest and more!) and even my skeptical husband stated Memory Maker was "the best thing we could have done!" I couldn't agree more.

There is so much more to share! any questions about Memory Maker?

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snacks and drinks delivered to your door - How?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I don't think Garden Grocer is a secret by any means. I first found it in The Unofficial Guide to WDW when we were planning our first trip with the kids. I was still packing diapers back then and couldn't spare the space in our luggage for a week's worth of snacks.  Knowing that my kids were more likely to snack than eat a solid meal, I knew I was going to need a way to get Goldfish and juice boxes once we arrived at the happiest place on Earth... without a rental car.

With no means of traveling to a local store and no desire to pick up snacks at the resort gift shop, I gave Garden Grocer a try. It had been positively reviewed and like the stroller rental, I took the positive reviews, booked a delivery of various must haves, and crossed my fingers.

When we arrived at our resort (Caribbean Beach), our groceries were delivered almost immediately along with our stroller. My suspicious husband was sure we were going to get hosed on both of these services somehow. I am happy to report that we received every item we ordered down to the flavor of juice box and variation of Goldfish cracker. I was so pleased that I recommended the service to other families, with a word of caution that we had ordered far too much. You are probably going to be out and about most of the day. We stocked some snacks, waters, and juice into my bag in the morning and restocked it after our (laughable) afternoon rest time.  We still took snacks home with us.

When I started pulling together the grocery order for our next trip (in less two weeks !!), I was quite happy to notice two important things.

1. There is an order history associated with your account. You can look back at what you ordered in the past and quickly recreate that order or tweek it for your upcoming trip. I wish there was a way to take an order and "select all" to add to your cart, but from what I can tell there isn't. We thought it was very helpful to see how much we spent last time, reflect on what we didn't need,  and what we wished we had more of (WATER).

The order history from 2011:



 Pending Order for 2013:


2. Garden Grocer will deliver beer and wine! This was exciting news to us because after a long day touring with the kids, we have this nice vision in our heads of sitting out on our balcony, having a drink and a snack while the kids (hopefully) fall asleep. They may have offered this last time, but if they did, we didn't take advantage.) I had to scan and send them a copy of my 21+ driver's license as proof of age, but there is a mechanism in place to do this that is quite simple. You can access that option through "My Account." The site states the information will be deleted upon delivery.

Additionally, you can view the schedule of available delivery times for your arrival day (or any other day during your trip). I would suspect that when traveling during busier times you should consider booking your delivery some time in advance.

 

We are finalizing this order tonight. I'll be able to review our experience on the other end of the trip. I was quite happy with the ability to review previous orders and VERY excited about the addition of beer and wine. The ordering process is quite easy, searchable, and the variety impressive. We are expecting another positive experience with this vendor. Much like our stroller rental, I will plan to review our experience with Garden Grocer upon our return.

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Stroller Rental - What? How?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

When we first started planning this trip (the one in 15 days), a stroller rental was included from day one. At this point, we cannot consider traveling without it. My kids are old enough to get through an airport without a stroller. I'm not even sure if my three year old would sleep in one anymore. We will have enough on our hands getting the four of us through security and to the gate, let alone checking a stroller through to MCO. Having seen the stroller options first hand at the parks, combined with the fact that the most critical time to have a stroller is not inside, but rather outside the parks getting back and forth from the hotel, I always recommend people rent from an outside vendor for length of stay.

There are many options if you do some googling, but the one I can recommend from firsthand experience is Orlando Stroller Rentals. In the effort of being fair, touringplans did a review of some other area rental agencies and also a helpful FAQ. My daughter (who was four at the time of our trip in 2011) loved the stroller so much that she cried leaving it at Bell Services on our last morning. The thing she was going to miss most about her time with the mouse was not the castle, the mickey waffles, the parade, not even a Mickey Bar, but a rented stroller.

 
 
I had no experience renting a stroller at WDW prior to our trip in 2011. I chose based on online reviews and honestly, I hoped for the best. We were pleasantly surprised with how easy the process was from start to finish and it didn't hurt that the stroller we selected was the easiest to fold and operate that we have ever used. I'm sure the stroller was heavy with both kids riding along, but I wouldn't know because my husband was on stroller duty most of the time. Our experience was flawless and I highly recommended them to several friends since our trip who all had positive experiences. (Please note the sass of the girl below. At the gates to the Magic Kingdom, yet still unhappy.)
 
 
A friend recently returned from a trip in December 2013 with a young toddler. I asked her to share her feedback, which was glowing.

"We have no complaints!! Easy to reserve online, waiting for us at bell services upon arrival. Delivered to room by staff. Came with free rain cover and cooler as a gift. Stroller was in great shape and clean! Our name was tied to it in two places."

She further shared some helpful advice, "We should have gone with the city mini, but I booked the city elite. I thought it would give us even more storage and be even comfier for naps, but he never fell asleep in the stroller. The city mini would have been a little lighter and compact to manage on the bus/boats."



I dragged my feet on purpose for this trip to see if I would run into any snags booking within a few weeks of arrival. I had absolutely no issue booking a City Mini GT Double ($85.00, plus tax). I debated between this and the City Mini Double ($75.00, plus tax) to accommodate my daughter who I suspect might whine a bit about squeezing into a seat meant for someone two inches shorter. I'm not sure how much time she will even spend in the stroller, but for an extra ten dollars on the total, it seemed worth it to completely avoid any potential bellyaching (though referencing the photo above, not sure that will be possible).

Last time I had to pay for the rain cover, so I was pleasantly surprised to see it offered free this time around. Seeing these cold temps of late (even in FL!), I didn't hesitate. Anything to create a barrier to cold or wind, right? I'll review again after our trip to share an updated review of Orlando Stroller Rentals, but I am fully expecting another flawless experience.

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strollers, not just for babies - What? Why?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Back in my days as a CM at the Magic Kingdom, I swore (in my thoughtless youth) that I would never EVER travel to WDW with stroller age children. "Why torture yourself?" I thought. "Kids that age cannot even appreciate the experience," I soap boxed. "There is NOTHING more annoying than a stroller wielding mom nipping at your heals as you amble pleasantly (and childless) through a park while she counts kids, rams into your feet, and is distracted by the short people in her traveling posse." 

Yup. I cannot pretend that wasn't my position, but as with many things I have learned I was actually quite wrong about since becoming a mother, I was really wrong on this one. Sure, it would be nice to have children in the parks who can walk independently of us pushing them in what really equates to a luxury coach. Yes, it would be great to save the money on the rental, the time spent looking for it outside of attractions in a line of lookalikes. In reality, I think both my kids would need to be what? Ten? Older?! In fact, imagining WDW without a stroller makes me sweat more than traveling with one at this point.  Both my kids are now old enough to quite literally take off running in opposite directions at exactly the same moment. Now THAT is the kind of thing that has turned my hair grey. I am well aware that this type of scenario could still play out, even with a stroller, but anything to take the odds down a bit is a positive.

I have heard anywhere from seven to fifteen miles as an estimated distance walked per day at Walt Disney World. I'm sure it varies on which park you visit, how intense you plan your itinerary, which season you visit (brutal heat might slow you down), or individual fitness level. There is no way my nearly seven year old daughter is capable of walking even the lower end of that estimate, let alone waking up the next morning to do it all over again.

I'm also quite sure that I JUDGED the heck out of parents with children clearly capable of walking who were riding in strollers. They seemed like giants, legs all crouched up, backs hunched to fit under the canopy. I eye rolled those parents. I snickered. I made all those, "when I'm a mom," tsk tsk comments. I welcome the judgement because a happier kid will not only make my family's experience better, but yours too. The thought of pleading with my daughter to please walk to the next attraction makes me panic. I'd be making empty promises or buying her everything in sight to convince her that the walk back to Main Street will not in fact kill her. It wouldn't be pretty and we would all be exhausted. Asking my nearly four year old to walk even though he has not been pushed in a stroller in well over a year is laughable. My father spent an entire trip with my brother riding on his shoulders (why did they not get a stroller?!?) and since neither my husband nor I can do that without complaining ourselves for any distance greater than a city block, I'd say that is absolutely NOT an option. Additionally, the park exits are reason alone for a stroller with kids! They can sit securely in place and there is far less risk of getting separated or trampled in the push of the crowd. Imagining park close with Caroline walking makes me want to cancel the trip! 

Sure, this place IS for everyone. It is not just for families and kids and we get that. Perhaps if strollers could be more polite, more conscientious of others, and ensure that they aren't using their stroller as a crowd battering ram we could all get along just fine.

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Weather related woes - what? how?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

As we sit in Boston under twelve inches of snow, thinking about a warmer, sunny, less snowy spot, we launch into the ultimate countdown to our kids' surprise trip to Disney World nineteen days from today. That pesky twelve inches of snow got me thinking (and worrying) about what would happen if a storm like this happens while we are packing and heading to a closed airport.

We did not have the foresight to book any insurance, including insurance offered by Disney at a cost of about 75.00 a person (I cannot tell if I wrote a five or a nine in my notes!), which would include the children on our reservation at no additional charge. Though Disney offers Travel Insurance, I would recommend comparing their policy with others and making a decision based on what works best for your family. We were probably foolish to consider a WINTER trip from New England without travel insurance. A winter trip also runs the risk of sickness or other things I don't particularly want to even consider. We have a room only reservation and Disney Guest Services informed me that their travel insurance is NOT offered for room only reservations. So if you have a room only reservation and want to arrange for travel insurance, you will have to look elsewhere.

I spoke to Guest Services on the phone today to ask, "what would we do?" According to the CM I spoke to you, can cancel a trip five days or more prior to your trip at no charge including a return on your deposit, and 0-four days before forfeiting your deposit, equal to one night's stay PLUS tax.

Guest Services confirmed that we were not eligible to add trip insurance and then we discussed the alternatives we might have. He stated that Disney would work with us to do whatever they could to assist us in getting additional accommodations on either end of our trip, PENDING AVAILABILITY and at a current rack rate for the available accommodation. Of course, I would much prefer to be dealing with a storm on the FL side of the trip, but you never know what Mother Nature is going to toss at you.

I also researched some of the airlines inclement weather policies and learned that most offer ticketed passengers an opportunity to reschedule flights or cancel (for partial or full refund depending on airline) for flights into or out of certain destinations.

Here's to hoping we won't need ANY of this information!

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