Sunday, March 17, 2013

Christmas in Disney

As lucky as I am to visit Disney for our anniversary each fall, I've been missing out on some other seasonal magic. So, I sneaked away for my first solo trip to see what Christmas in Disney was all about. (Spoiler alert: there is DOUBLE the magic during the holiday season!!)

Hotel & Park Decorations
I could have spent a whole day just visiting hotels enjoying all the beautiful trees and creative designs! Each deluxe hotel and park has an ENORMOUS and awe-inspiring Christmas tree. And each tree is decorated with custom ornaments to fit each locations theme. As always, Disney's attention to detail is so impressive and it's really these little touches that keep me coming back. 

Besides the trees, the Grand Floridian had an amazing gingerbread house big enough to walk in. And the Contemporary had a gingerbread tree. There were hidden Mickey's scattered throughout. Next time I'll be sure to see the large gingerbread carousel at the Beach Club.

Candlelight Procession
One of the first holiday events I attended was the Candlelight Procession. To ensure I got a seat at this coveted show, I booked a dinner package in Epcot. Since I was a solo traveler  I picked dinner at Biergarten where I was seated at a large table with several other families for company. (As a side note, I really loved this restaurant--the ambiance is like no other! Between the scenery, the live entertainment and buffet of all the German food you care to eat, it was simply an unforgettable experience.) After dinner, the server gave me a sticker with my show time. This sticker allowed me to get in a special queue to ensure I would not have to stand for the show in case it filled up. Saving the time in line and ensuring I had a seat made this package well worth the price.

The show is hosted by a celebrity who reads the Christmas Story while songs from a live orchestra and choir are sprinkled throughout the performance. The whole event is very poignant and moving, although probably moreso for those who are religiously inclined. In any case, it was a beautiful story and I'm glad I got to experience this (from the 3rd row, no less!).


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Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights
Jaw-dropping. Breathtaking. Thrilling and impressive. I cannot recommend this experience enough and my heart gets stuck in my throat just thinking about it months later. It was truly one of the most magical experiences of my life. It's an absolute must-do that will have me planning many more December trips to the World.


You can read about the history here. Each night, a family is chosen to help Goofy turn on the giant light switch. Then, what appears to be a regular backlot in Disney's Hollywood Studios turns into 5 million sparkling lights, coordinated to holiday music. I literally spent hours just wandering those few blocks in utter amazement and delight. Words and pictures can't do it justice. I really felt the excitement of a child at Christmastime as I soaked in all the wonder and awe. (Hint: The gingerbread hot chocolate really tops off the ambiance.) I was half in tears the whole time just taking it all in. 
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I apologize for the movement in the videos. It was hard not to get caught up in the wonder and excitement of beautiful dancing lights at every turn. Literally being completely surrounded by this magic, I felt more like a child than a videographer.
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Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party
Similar to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, the Magic Kingdom holds a private party to celebrate Christmas. Be sure to get your tickets early as this event, which runs on select nights throughout November and December, sold out often.

There is an extra magical quality in the air with the holiday music piped in along Main Street, the garlands above and the "snow" falling and staying on your hair. Hot chocolate and cookies are available throughout the park as part of the party. There are low crowds, so I spent most of the time just wandering and taking it all in. The parade was really neat; I loved the toy soldiers and seeing Santa among the characters. I even stumbled across Scrooge McDuck (a rare character meet that is ONLY available at this party).


The holiday fireworks were great, as well. The icicles on the castle made it extra magical and just a special night altogether.
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All in all, just when I thought Disney couldn't be any more special, the most magical place on earth topped itself. 

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Spreading Magic

I have “met” some of the greatest people in the Disney community. Not only do they love the magic, just like me, but they generously share it with others! One family who was in the World last week was kind enough to leave me some holiday decorations for my resort window.

I can't wait to pay it forward. Happy holidays!

Note the hidden Mickey in the middle of the poinsetta. It was meant to be!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saving for Disney

Let's face it, Disney vacations are not getting any cheaper. Ticket prices go up every year, dining plans get more expensive, and airfare can be unpredictable. Don't despair! Here are a few tricks I've collected to help save money on trips.

CHASE Disney Visa - Rewards
I've mentioned the perks of booking a trip using this card before. It's only 1% back in rewards, which can only be used towards Disney, so it's not the best rewards credit card out there by any means. However, it can be a great way to spread out No Interest payments towards a vacation and you save up the rewards points for souvenirs or meals when you get to the park. Some other perks include an exclusive Character Meet & Greet in Epcot with a free 5x7 printed photo (a $14.95 value). Other perks include a 10% discount on Disney purchases of $50 or more, including gift shops while you're in the World, Disney Stores and Outlets, DisneyStore.com and select restaurants. There are also various discounts on theme park tours, which are a great value.

Target RED Card
When you apply for a RED card, you can either get a credit card or get a RED card that debits from your checking account. We chose the debit card route and are routinely enjoying 5% savings on all purchases at Target. One step to save for Disney is to put the amount you saved each trip in a savings account and watch it grow. Another way to save on Disney trips is to purchase Disney gift cards at Target and get a 5% discount on the gift cards. 

Yet another way to save is to use the Target pharmacy with your RED card. For every 5 prescriptions, they give you a 5% off one-time coupon. You can stack the pharmacy discount with your RED card for a whopping 10% savings! Furthermore, I've learned that you don't actually have to pay with the RED card to enjoy the discount. You just need to swipe the card to watch the discount apply to your total, then simply select on the credit card terminal that you wish to pay with a different form of payment. You will need to hand the cashier your other form of paymen (read: a credit card with rewards, such as the Disney VISA) and starting earning money back. 

Here is an example of savings for a family purchasing $1,000 in Disney Gift Cards using the tips above:
     $1,000 * 5%(RED card) * 5% (pharmacy discount) = $900
     Use Disney VISA to pay for 1% rewards back = $9 in Disney Reward Dollars
     TOTAL SAVINGS: $109*


Airfare
With ever-fluctuating gas prices, airfare pricing can be hit or miss. My advice is to research fares early and sign up for email alerts from individual airlines to stay on top of specials. I've had the best luck purchase 3-6 months prior to travel. My new favorite website to track flight price changes is Yapta.com. Simply enter the flight number and either the price you already purchased at, or the price you would like to be notified of when it drops. 

The site emails you weekly updates (in my case, I had already bought my flights so my updates show me how much the price has gone up), or alerts if the price drops. The website also tells you which airlines offer credits if you've already purchased a flight and the price drops later. Some airlines, like AirTran or JetBlue, offer refunds for ANY price drop. Some airlines, like Delta or American Airlines, offer redunds or vouchers if the price drops more than $150. 

Historical Discounts
Another way to save on a Disney trip is to research when Disney has historically offered discounts for resorts, dining, packages, etc. Mousesavers.com tracks previous years offers to help you forecast a trip during a time where an offer might be made.  This site also has great tips on saving money when you're in the World, which is a post for another time.


Final Thought
With the right research and creativity, there is no reason to pay full price for a trip to Disney. Save those pennies, invest a little time, and enjoy your memories!!

*Only use your Disney VISA if you are prepared to pay off the balance each month. Savings disappear when you accrue interest.