By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.



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The Disney Dining Plan

How to Eat    Where to Eat    The Dining Plan    Guide to Disney Dining

OVERVIEW: THE DISNEY DINING PLAN(S)

(This page is one of a series explicating Walt Disney World lingo, abbreviations, and FAQ for first time family visitors to Walt Disney World.)

There are several Disney Dining Plans available to guests at Walt Disney World resort hotels. The basic premise of these plans is that by pre-paying many of your meals, your budgeting is simplified, and, possibly, you might save money.

(See this for the official Walt Disney World website material on all of these plans.)

Only one of Disney Dining Plans–the “Disney Dining Plan” itself—is worth considering.  This site recommends that those eating all the meals in one of its recommended itineraries purchase it.

The rationale is that those with younger children eating a number of character buffet meals will save some money by purchasing the dining plan.  Not a lot, though.

Buying this plan, however, raises a couple of complexities.

First, to get the maximum value out of it, you really should eat at some of Walt Disney World’s best loved dining settings.  These can sell out months in advance, so you should follow this site’s advice on when your plans should be firm.

Second, while you are actually at Walt Disney World, there can be confusion about which credits apply to which settings, and what items are included and not included.  The itineraries of this site take care of most of this for you.

MORE DETAIL ON THE DISNEY DINING PLAN(S)

[Read more →]

April 10, 2017   3 Comments

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (“MVMCP”) in 2017

DISNEY WORLD’S SPECIAL CHRISTMAS PARTY IN 2017

While Christmas itself is December 25 of course, Walt Disney World provides a special Christmas celebration at the Magic Kingdom many nights in November and December.

This celebration is called “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, or “MVMCP” for short.

At the party, many of the Magic Kingdom’s rides are open with really low waits, and cookies and hot chocolate, special events, a Christmas parade, special fireworks, and even snow (!) are offered.

The official Disney World page for this event (where you can also buy tickets, once they become available) can be found here. For a review of the 2016 version of MVMCP, see this.

MORE ON MICKEY’S VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS PARTY

This party occurs from 7p-12MN on certain evenings at the Magic Kingdom in November and December.

The 2017 dates for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are as follows:

  • November 2017: 8, 9, 12, 14, 16, 17, 26 and 28
  • December 2017: 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12, 14, 15, 17, 19, 21 and 22

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party from yourfirstvisit.netYou need to buy a special ticket for this party. This ticket is different from regular Walt Disney World park admission tickets.

  • The special party ticket does not allow you to enjoy the rides and attractions of the Magic Kingdom before the Party starts–you need a regular ticket for that (note that you can usually enter and enjoy the rides as early as 4p–although your ticket will say 7p)
  • Regular tickets used to enter the park earlier the day of a Party do not give you access to the Party–you need to have the special Party ticket

Mickey and Minnie at Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade at MVMCP 2014 from yourfirstvisit.net_

The party tickets are expensive, so why would first-time visitors be interested? A couple of potential reasons

  • Evening fireworks shows are rare this time of year, so going to one of the parties is a way to guarantee you can see them
  • Operating hours at the Magic Kingdom are shorter this time of year, so the Party allows you more time there within the same visit
  • Walt Disney World sells only a limited number of tickets to each party, so the evening can be less crowded, particularly compared to whenever the Magic Kingdom is doing evening Extra Magic Hours that week

Many families go the first time for one of these reasons…and then going becomes a tradition!

On the other hand, families following one of the standard 8-night itineraries on this site will see the fireworks and evening parade, and have plenty of time at the Magic Kingdom. For that reason, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is not designed into this site’s pre-Thanksgiving itineraries.

It is, however, built in to this site’s Christmas-oriented Basic Itinerary, which works for the three weeks beginning the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

For details on what the party offers, suggested approaches, etc., see this!

Here’s the 2016 brochure–as always on this site, click to enlarge:

2016-mvmcp-brochure-side-1

2016-mvmcp-brochure-side-2

The 2017 easy Guide

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April 7, 2017   2 Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Boneyard

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE BONEYARD AT DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

The Boneyard is the interactive playground area in Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the entrance to Dinoland USA. It is meant to resemble a paleontological dig site, but is often just referred to as “the sandbox”. It is not real sand in the area, but a tiny gravel material called Texas grit. The flooring is a spongy mat-like material.

Although primarily meant for younger children, the location provides insights and delights for guests of all ages. It is littered with not just some fun objects for children to explore but clues as to how the dinosaurs lived and died, as well as additional information about the battles between parts of Dinoland USA’s back story, the irreverent intern students and their more stodgy professors–who in their own way are “dinosaurs” when it comes to new ideas.

For children, there are the bones of prehistoric creatures like a Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops skulls and a Columbian Wooly Mammoth waiting to be uncovered, a fossilized bone xylophone to play called the XyloBone, various debris spill chutes that can be used as slides, dinosaur footprints, that emit a roar when stepped on, scaffolding, rope ladders, netting, tunnels, a fossil-filled maze and much more. Opening doors and lids provide an unexpected surprise as well.

The two sides of the Boneyard are linked by the OldenGate Bridge (a pun on the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge), the gateway structure built out of the giant skeleton of a 50-foot-tall, 80-foot-long brachiosaurus at the entrance to this land. A nearby plaque states: “This replica fossil is cast from the bones discovered in Colorado in 1900. The original is now in the Field Museum in Chicago.”

Before Disney’s Animal Kingdom even opened, the Disney Company and McDonald’s, who was the original sponsor of the Dinoland area, partnered with the Field Museum to offer the winning bid on what was at the time the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever unearthed. The cleaned and restored skeleton, dubbed “Sue,” is now on display at the Museum. Two casts were also made from the original skeleton. One toured the world as part of a McDonald’s promotion and the other is in Dinoland U.S.A.

There is only one entrance/exit to the area, so parents can keep better control of where their children are in the multi-storied enclosed half acre. Even the walls display different layers, or “strata”, of earth that over the centuries buried the remains of these prehistoric creatures.

The generational conflict between the academic-minded professors Dr. Bernard Dunn, Dr. Shirley Woo, Dr. Eugene McGee and Dr. Tina Lee of the fictional Dino Institute with their traditional but often outdated information about dinosaurs and the youthful graduate students including the newest interns Mark Rios, Jenny Weinstein and Sam Gonzales with a sometimes more radical perspective based on recent research is in evidence all throughout the area.

Various handwritten corrections and responses are posted prominently on the various signage, bulletin boards and more offering alternate possibilities for the different findings. Clearly, the knowledge about dinosaurs has always been incomplete and even today is constantly evolving.

There are other more visible signs of student rebellion including a wall of excavation tools where a pick has been deliberately hung in the space clearly identified for small spades.

To add to the reality of the area, casts were taken from real dinosaur bones found in places like Utah’s Dinosaur National Park and then reproduced using a plastic-cement material that looks and feels real.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Gremlin Trouble! The Cursed Roald Dahl Film Disney Never MadeSecret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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April 7, 2017   2 Comments

Free Dining and Other Disney World Deals

The last two years, Disney World’s most anticipated deal, Free Dining, was released in late April–April 25 in 2016, and April 27 in 2015.

In the hopes that Free Dining will be coming again, maybe even in three weeks or so like the past few years, Kelly B, my friend and the travel agent from Destinations in Florida dedicated to this site, composed the following thoughts to help people understand Disney deals and how to get them!!

Kelly has saved my readers tens of thousands of dollars…so I’d give her thoughts a read!

All About Disney Discounts from Kelly B

What is the most sought after “prize”….Grammy, Oscar, Super Bowl ring…….Nope it’s the coveted and often misunderstood Disney World Vacation Discount.

You’re planning your vacation and see a social media ad, TV commercial, or even get a special discount offer in their mail.  With excitement you get online or call your favorite Travel Agent ( WHAT? You don’t have one!?!?!?!?! Don’t worry, call Kelly B – Destinations in Florida’s designated travel agent for yourfirstvisit.net – at 980-429-4499 or email me at KellyB@DestinationsInFlorida.com), only to find nothing is available or you only saved $25. How can that be?

Well, I’m here to explain a bit more about Disney Vacation Discounts and how they work. So sit down, put on your Mouse Ears (if you don’t own any yet, don’t worry, you’ll be able to get some on your next vacation), get comfy and learn all about the best way to save on your next magical vacation to Walt Disney World.

Types of Discounts

Let’s take a look at the actual discounts offered.

There are two common kinds of discounts offered when Disney releases a standard promotion – room only discounts and package discounts. What’s the difference?

  • “Room Only” discounts require only booking a room, and do not require any other components (tickets, dining, etc.) to be included (they can be added, but are not required
  • “Package” discounts usually have other components that are needed, most commonly a minimum number of days of park tickets.

We’ll explore “Room-Only” discounts first. These offers are discounts on the previously posted prices for the room portion of your vacation.  Typically, Each level of resort has a different discount. For example

  • Value resorts may have up to 15% off
  • Moderate resorts may have up to 20% off
  • Deluxe resorts and Villas may have up to 25% off

Did you notice anything about these offers?  The words “Up to”. The discounts range in amounts and go “up to” the discount being given with a particular promotion. It also depends on the specific resort, the room category (often these days, the least expensive room types—typically “standard” views in areas of the hotel that are not “rpeferred”—have little availability) and dates.

The other type of discount of discount is the “Package Discount”.

These discounts come in all shapes and sizes, and change from year to year. They include everything from getting a free day of tickets to the coveted FREE Dining deal, which gives you one or another version of the Disney Dining Plan for free. (While one of the best discounts, smaller parties staying in one of the more expensive resorts—like two people in a deluxe—often do better with room only discounts than with free dining).

These package deals usually come with requirements.  There may be a minimum number of nights you must stay, a minimum number of ticket days you must buy, etc.

What, Where, & Why Discounts Available

Now that you know about the kinds of discounts, let’s talk about getting one. One of the biggest misunderstandings about Disney discounts, is that many people believe if a discount is offered for their vacation dates, they will automatically get it.  Unfortunately, this is NOT true.

When you originally book your reservation (and it is always best to book as soon as you can commit at current prices–resort availability goes fast., and if you wait, you could miss out on a favorite resort or the view or room type you were dreaming about), unless you booked a deal you will be booked in a non-discounted room.

Then Disney World starts planning for a discount.  They contact each of the resorts (each run by its own management team, sometime shared across nearby resorts) with the discount information. Disney takes a look at current availability. They decide how many rooms, what room categories, etc. they will release in the discount.

It’s basically booking trends viewed through the lens of supply and demand.

  • If certain rooms (like Little Mermaid standard rooms at Art of Animation) are booking quite well at undiscounted rates own, they aren’t included.
  • If other rooms have a lot of availability (Like Pirate rooms at Caribbean Beach Resort) it’s an easy decision to include them in the discount.
  • Some resorts may have availability for some dates of the discount, but not during other dates, or be excluded entirely—common circumstances at Port Orleans French Quarter

As much as Disney World is a magical place that I’ve come to call my second home, it’s still a business.  And they are in the business not only of making magical family vacations, but doing so at the highest profit that they can. We can believe the discount is created just to sprinkle some pixie dust on our vacations but we need to understand the reality is to fill rooms and draw in more guests. How does Disney do this? They release a discount to fill resorts and rooms that are empty.

How to Get a Discount

There are two ways to obtain a Disney discount, the hard way and the easy way.

The hard way is to book your Disney vacation on your own. Then check every morning to see if a discount came out. Then if you see one has come out, you can try to change it online. Often the system will crash from so many people being on it so you’ll need to call instead. But hold times can be hours long. And I’m all about Disney hold music, but about the 10th time you listen to Heffalumps and Woozles – well every Disney fan has their limits.

What is that EASY way to book a Disney discount I spoke of?  Book through a travel agent that specializes in Disney like me, KellyB@DestinationsInFlorida.com!

Before the discount is projected to be released, I’ve already booked your reservation, sent you multiple emails (including signing you up for Destinations in Florida’s FREE weekly MOUSE PERKS). I’ve sent you a form to fill out that goes over any changes you’re willing to make to your reservation to get the best discount.  The day of the discount release I am up early (like it’s still dark out that the roosters are still sleeping, early) checking on your reservation online. Looking at your answers to the form, I’ll make changes to your reservation and apply the best discount based on availability. As soon as the phone lines open, I’m in the hold queue waiting to make changes I couldn’t online.

You’ll sleep in, snuggled under the covers, dreaming about enjoying a Dole Whip while you watch the fireworks. No stress. No lost sleep.  Just savings.

And remember, all of my services are FREE.  Free dining planning.  Free FastPass+ planning. Free itinerary planning. Plus, by letting me know you found me on yourfirstvisit.net – I’ll send all qualified Disney vacation packages a FREE copy of Dave’s latest easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Vacation.

Why You Didn’t Get A Discount

When the craziness of Disney Discount Release Day is over, there is still a chance you may not have gotten the discount you were hoping for–wheter you or someone like me was doing the trying.  You’re left wondering what happened. A few different things may have happened:

  • Your resort was not included in the discount
  • Your resort was included in the discount, but your room category was not. You would have had to upgrade into a higher-priced room, and the new price ended up costing more than the discount.
  • Disney puts only some of the rooms in the offered resorts int the deals. Even with all the best planning and work, sometimes there just isn’t enough availability for everyone to get the discount.
  • Because you know it’s best to book as early as possible you did.  BUT since the time you booked, other prices increased. Tickets went up around 10% in February, so if you booked a room and tickets before then, the difference from your discount might be very small or it might actually cost more to add the new discount.
  • Disney only allows one discount per reservation. If you applied a previous discount to your reservation, that discount could be a better savings than the new one—especially if prices have gone up since you applied it.

Don’t give up.  Many guests place reservations on hold that include the discount. If they do not book, that means their discounted room could become available. Disney may release more availability. And sadly (for them) some guests do have to cancel a planned vacation. I know that when I book a client’s vacation, I continually check for the best option.

Some Parting Words On Disney Discounts and Planning Your Vacation

When planning your Disney vacation don’t count on a discount to make your trip affordable. Plan a vacation you can afford, and think of discounts as a cool thing if they happen. Getting a discount is never guaranteed.  Disney has changed options, dates and availability with each new release. If you are sprinkled with pixie dust and do get a discount, that’s great.

Ultimately a trip isn’t about getting a certain discount, or obtaining that hard to get dining reservation. You’ll spend hours planning, working, packing and traveling, creating the “perfect” Disney vacation. And when you return, someone asks your 5 year old what their favorite ride was and they say “the bus”. You just know that mid-afternoon rain shower ruined the day.  But ask your 3 year old what they liked best about Disney World and their answer is “I got to jump in the puddles”. Ask your teenager daughter what she like best about staying in a Polynesian Studio. Was it the gracefulness and beauty of the resort??  Nope “We had TWO bathrooms”.

Ultimately it’s not about how much you spend. Or about what level of resort you stay at.   Enjoy each moment – big and small. Let them ride Dumbo or Expedition Everest 5 times. Stand in line to meet YOUR favorite character. (Doesn’t matter how old or young you are. I do it every time.  Ask Russell). Take pictures. Try something new. Enjoy yourself and your family. Ultimately – It’s about making memories to last a lifetime.  – KellyB@DestinationsInFlorida.com

April 6, 2017   No Comments

Next Week (April 8 through April 16, 2017) at Walt Disney World

DISNEY WORLD NEXT WEEK: APRIL 8 TO APRIL 16, 2017

The material below details next week’s Disney World operating hours, Extra Magic Hours, parades, and fireworks.

For more on April 2017 at Disney World, see this.

OPERATING HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 4/8/-4/16/17

The Magic Kingdom will be open from 9a-11p 4/8 and 4/9, 8a-12MN 4/10 through 4/15, and 8a-11p 4/16

Epcot will be open from 9a-9p every day

Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be open 9a-9p 4/8 through 4/13, 9a-7p 4/14, and 9a-9p 4/14 and 4/16

Disney’s Animal Kingdom will be open 9a-9.30p every day

EXTRA MAGIC HOURS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 4/8-4/16/17

Saturday 4/8 Morning:  Animal Kingdom Evening: none

Sunday 4/9  Morning:  Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom Evening: none

Monday 4/10 Morning: Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom  Evening: none

Tuesday 4/11 Morning: Magic Kingdom Evening:  Epcot

Wednesday 4/12 Morning: Magic Kingdom  Evening:  Magic Kingdom

Thursday 4/13 Morning: Epcot, Magic Kingdom Evening: none

Friday 4/14 Morning:  Magic Kingdom Evening: none

Saturday 4/15 Morning: Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom Evening: none

Sunday 4/16  Morning: Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios Evening: none

Mickey and Minnie Festival of Fantasy Afternoon Parade from yourfirstvisit.netPARADES AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 4/8-4/16/17

The Magic Kingdom: Afternoon Festival of Fantasy Parade: 5p 4/8; noon and 3.30p 4/9 through 4/16

FIREWORKS AND EVENING SHOWS AT WALT DISNEY WORLD 4/8-4/16/17

Wishes at the Magic Kingdom: 9p 4/8 and 4/9; 10p 4/10 through 4/16

IllumiNations at Epcot: 9p every night

Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 8.30p 4/8 through 4/13; 8.30p 4/15 and 4/16

Star Wars Show and Fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 9p 4/8 through 4/13; 9p 4/15 and 4/16

Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: 8.45p and 10p 4/8; 8.30 and 9.45p 4/9 through 4/16

SHOW SCHEDULES FOR WALT DISNEY WORLD 4/8-4/16/17

See Steve Soares’ site here. Click the park names at its top for show schedules.

The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

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April 6, 2017   No Comments

A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The Beastly Kingdom

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians and author of Jim’s Gems in The easy Guide, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

BEFORE PANDORA: THE BEASTLY KINGDOM

By Jim Korkis

The original concept for Disney’s Animal Kingdom was based on animals: real, imaginary and extinct. Extinct animals would be represented in a section devoted to dinosaurs. Real animals would be represented throughout the park including attractions showcasing them.

Imaginary and mythical creatures, like unicorns, dragons, sea monsters and more, were to be housed in a land known as the Beastly Kingdom (and in some planning documents: “Beastlie Kingdomme”).

The marketing material crafted for this land stated: “Beastly Kingdom is the realm of make believe animals, animals that don’t really exist, out of legends, out of fairy tales, out of storybooks. Like our legends and fair tales about imaginary animals, this land is divided into realms of good and realms of evil.”

The silhouette of a winged dragon appears in the center the DAK’s logo that also features real and extinct animals.

Unfortunately time and budget constraints did not allow the development of the land in time for park open.

Instead, Camp Minnie-Mickey was quickly built as a temporary placeholder, until Spring 2003 when the Beastly Kingdom would be finally built, so that young guests could interact with the traditional Disney animated characters.

After the opening of DAK, while guest surveys showed that guests were enthusiastically supportive of a Beastly Kingdom, financial reports indicated that attendance would not grow enough to justify the expense of its construction. In fact, the opening of DAK dropped the attendance nearly ten percent on average at the other three WDW parks

In 2000, Imagineer Joe Rohde, who was responsible for the concept of a Beastly Kingdom, publicly admitted that he was doubtful such an area would ever be built now. In September 2011, Disney announced it was partnering with filmmaker James Cameron to build a land themed to his Avatar film series in that same location.

Remnants of the concept besides the logo remain in DAK today including a parking lot named “unicorn”, a dragon head atop the entrance ticket booth, and for a while, a cave along Discovery River that housed the roar of a fire breathing dragon and a brief burst of a propane flame. For the opening of the park, McDonalds included in one of its Happy Meals, a purple winged dragon to represent that uncompleted area.

The entrance to Beastly Kingdom would be over a bridge guarded by a troll. The legendary realm would have been divided into two sections: one celebrating good creatures and another showcasing evil, dangerous creatures.

The evil side would have been dominated by the Dragon Tower, a charred and ruined castle home to a fire-breathing, jewel-encrusted dragon (the largest audio-animatronics figure to have been built at that time) who guarded a massive treasure. Bats who lived there as well planned to steal these riches and enlisted the help of the guests in their robbery plans.

Guests would be aboard a suspended inverted roller coaster to create the feeling of flying along with the bats on the heist. A climatic confrontation with the dragon would have left the guests feeling the heat as its fiery breath came much too close.

Also in this section would be a waterfront eatery called the Loch Ness Terrace with periodic visits from the fabled sea serpent-like creature.

The good side would include the Quest of the Unicorn, an adventure through a maze of medieval mythological creatures to find the unicorn’s hidden grotto in the center. In addition, a musical boat ride entitled Fantasia Gardens based on the mythological scenes in the Disney animated feature film Fantasia (1940) would be included.

With the opening of Expedition Everest, DAK introduced its first mythological presence into the park, the legendary Yeti who terrorizes riders at the peak of the roller coaster attraction.

*  *  *  *  *

Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Gremlin Trouble! The Cursed Roald Dahl Film Disney Never MadeSecret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
The 2017 easy Guide

Kelly B Can Help You Book Your Trip

Follow yourfirstvisit.net on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter or Pinterest!!

March 31, 2017   No Comments