The Key To a Great Disney Vacation: Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

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Disney World

Let’s Go!

Many bloggers follow Disney groups on social media to determine what is currently a “buzz” topic. We want to know what people are talking about, what is new in the parks and where people are focusing their attention. Most group members post about how much fun they had on vacation, their countdown to the next trip or questions about resorts and parks.

Every once in a while, you see a post that is regarding a negative experience. Someone got stuck on a ride, a hotel room wasn’t ready on time or dinner at a park restaurant did not meet expectations. Sometimes these blips are perceived to be “Day Ruiners”.

Things happen. Vacations are never 100 percent perfect. We all have expectations of what the experience should be…but sometimes we do hit those minor inconveniences.

How should we as guests handle situations that don’t meet expectations?

Firstly…don’t panic.

If you hit a snag, Disney generally is very accommodating. If you find yourself stuck on a ride or a longer period of time, Disney will most likely give you a Fastpass for a later return. This way you can skip the line and enjoy the ride when it’s convenient for you.

Are you running late for a dining reservation and it’s out of your control because you were stuck on a ride or couldn’t get through a crowd? Explain this to the host/hostess when you arrive at the restaurant and they will  most likely do whatever possible to seat you. We were in this situation last December. We could not navigate through a crowd because of the holiday castle lighting and were a 1/2 hour late to our dinner. The Hostess at Liberty Tree Tavern was great and immediately assisted us in getting us back in the queue for a table.

It is difficult to stay calm when vacation snags occur, and Disney has a fantastic Customer Service model. Cast Members are trained to support Guest needs and offer options.

The front desk of your Disney resort hotel can assist with many requests and handle questions about both your park and resort experience. There are also Guest Service desks at the front of each park that handle guest questions and issues that arise.

Always remember that Cast Members want to help make your trip memorable…but it is important to have realistic expectations and to prepare for a little road block here or there.

If it happens, put on those mouse ears, dance or grab a Dole Whip…those things can turn any frown into a smile.

 

 

Try a Ticketed Event To Get the Most Out Of Your Trip.

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Ticketed Events

Hey there…Hi there!

It’s been a long time since I blogged, so I need to shake off some of the dust from my computer and get back into the routine of writing about the most magical place.

This year’s dates for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party have been officially announced and I have been anxiously wanting to share about our adventures there in December.

Here we goooooooo……..

During our recent holiday trip to Walt Disney World, my husband and I lost a park day due to an illness. It was our Magic Kingdom day and I began to scramble to find an alternative since we love those late evening Extra Magic Hours in the parks. The Magic Kingdom was holding Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party for the next two nights, so we decided to give it a try. I can honestly say that it was the best Disney vacation decision that we could have made.

If you are thinking about planning a trip during the holidays, I highly recommend considering attending The Magic Kingdom’s ticketed events. Guests with tickets to the events are permitted to enter the gates at 4PM….so that means a 8 whole hours of Disney-style goodness!

The dates for this year’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party will take place on certain nights between November 8th and December 18th, 2015. The tickets will most likely go on sale in April or May of this year and those who purchase in advance generally get a discount. Be on the lookout for the presale!

The event has a special holiday themed parade and fireworks spectacular. One of the benefits of attending this party is that fewer guests are permitted into the park which results in smaller crowds and easier navigation around the parks.

We attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on December 5th, and it was one of the less attended events. The crowds get larger the closer it gets to Christmas week.

As soon as we arrived at the gate, we were given a special event-themed wristband that we had to wear throughout the evening. We immediately noticed while walking down Main Street U.S.A. that we were walking at a normal pace and actually enjoying the sites. The only places that seemed to be crowded were Town Hall (The Guest Services location) and the Emporium store where everyone seemed to be holiday shopping.

After a really calm dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern, we decided to check out the ride situation.

This was where we got our money’s worth. There were little or no lines for the rides that we experienced. We skipped the Christmas parade and the fireworks in order to miss the crowds.

The only rides that we waited for were Pirates of the Caribbean (15 minutes) and Peter Pan (20 minutes). Those who have waited in line for Peter Pan know that it can be over an hour on some days to get the opportunity to fly to Neverland…so this was a big time saver! Since I am still recovering from an accident last year, there were a bunch of rides that we could not go on, however the waits seemed pretty short (about 30 minutes) for the thrill rides as well.

Free hot chocolate and cookies are also offered to guests at several Quick Service restaurants in the park. This was an added bonus that we really enjoyed. Mmmmm cookies!

The fireworks that we skipped were explained to us by a cast member to be lengthier than the regular show and holiday themed. He tried to talk us out of going on a ride because we would miss the show. We did catch a glimpse of the fireworks as we were running around Fantasyland and they were outstanding from our vantage point. As we were entering “It’s a Small World”, we were surrounded by the breathtaking finale and it was stunningly beautiful!

Access to the characters for picture taking and autographs was easier than a normal day. There were characters throughout the park in holiday attire and most of the lines were extremely manageable.

Everything about the party was done right and as we exited the park, we spoke about how much fun we had…and how we would definitely plan to experience it again.

My tips for a great night:

  • Book early to save on party tickets.
  • Check the weather before you go. You may need a light jacket or sweatshirt if there is a chill in the air.
  • Consider a sit down dinner before you go into the park so you don’t miss any of the fun. Grab a snack later from one of the Quick Service restaurants at Magic Kingdom.
  • Arrive at the Magic Kingdom at 4PM to get the most value out of your evening.
  • Take the opportunity to dress up the family in holiday themed shirts and snap a photo to use for your holiday cards.
  • The parade route fills up quickly. Grab your free hot chocolate and cookies to enjoy while you snag the perfect viewing spot and wait for the festivities to begin.
  • If your family is not a fan of parades, use the time to get on some of the more popular rides. The wait times diminish during parades and fireworks.

 

If you do attend a ticketed event, make sure your phones and cameras are charged and at the ready. You never know what wonderful surprises Disney has in store!

 

Once Upon A Time’s Frosty Return

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Once Upon Returns With a New Addition.

Once Upon Returns With a New Addition.

Tonight is the highly anticipated return of ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” and Queen Elsa will be making a chilly appearance in Storybrooke. It will be interesting to see how her introduction will shake things up in our favorite little fantasy town.

Will you be watching…or will you simply Let It Go?

 

 

 

Planning the Perfect Disney Honeymoon

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Winnie Honeymoon

Walt Disney World is one of the most sought after and romantic honeymoon destinations not only for its location, but the many resort offerings. With themed restaurants and hotels, couples are sure to find a place to stay that is both relaxing and memorable. Prior to booking your Disney honeymoon, make sure to take the time to plan out both your budget and discuss your expectations for the trip to decide how you will allot your money and where you will spend your time.

Where to start?
Create a honeymoon budget. Be realistic and decide how much you want to spend on your room, entertainment (including park tickets), food and travel.
Disney vacations can be quite costly, so knowing your budget will ensure you are getting the best value and you will avoid the dreaded overspend.

Once you have created your budget, then comes the fun part…deciding where to stay.

Do your research.

Prior to contacting Disney’s Reservation line or booking your vacation online, do some test planning through Disney’s online reservation site. Put in your requested dates and decide on hotels that fit closely within your budget. If you contact Disney prior to having a basic game plan for your stay, the cast member may hear the word “honeymoon” and start offering rooms that are not only pricey, but wayyyyy too large for a party of two.

When planning my honeymoon a few years back  I called the Disney Reservation Line and after the cast member heard the word “honeymoon” the first hotel option I  was given was  a town-home style suite at Disney’s Beach Club that would cost us over $4000 for the week. Ouch! The place was enormous and more suited for a family or royalty so I knew going forward to plan a head and have a basic understanding of the price range and hotel theme we would consider.

For honeymooners, I would suggest avoiding the value resorts if possible. These hotels are themed out for families and young kids and offer nothing in the way of romance. There are several resorts in the moderate cost range that are more adult friendly and quieter than the value resorts. For moderate hotel honeymoons, I suggest Port Orleans French Quarter or Riverside and Coronado Springs. All of the Deluxe resorts offer accommodations that are excellent for a honeymoon week with a variety of themes and amenities. My favorites are the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge, Beach Club and Animal Kingdom Lodge.

The Swan and Dolphin resorts are reasonably priced hotels located on the WDW property; however are not owned by the Disney Company. They are generally frequented by convention-goers and have a more corporate feel. You won’t find over the top Disney themed decor, however the resorts do have access to transportation and some even boast excellent views of the fireworks at Epcot.

Plan your meals.

Disney permits guests to book their Advance Dining Reservations 180 days prior to your arrival. Decide where you would like to dine by using Disney’s dining search tool and keep in mind which parks you will be visiting each day.

Think about scheduling at least one table service meal per day. This will give you time to relax and enjoy spending time together without the hustle of running around the parks. Romantic dining locations can be found throughout the resort. **Be sure to explain to the Dining Reservation Agent (or make a note if you are planning through the website) that you are celebrating a special event.**

Some of my restaurant picks for honeymoons and date nights include:

California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Ask for the Wishes seating so you can have dinner and enjoy the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the hotel’s observation deck. We recently enjoyed an anniversary here and were completely impressed with the service and attention to detail. They even gave us a few special surprises to make our event even more magical.

Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian Resort. This waterfront gem serves seafood and has an exceptional view of the Seven Seas Lagoon. Consider booking your reservation later in the evening to enjoy both the Wishes Fireworks and the Electrical Water Pageant.

For those who want to splurge a lot and have a one of a kind dining experience, Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian is the most intimate restaurant on site. With a strict dress code and limited seating, the location is the perfect setting for an evening out for two.

The Flying Fish Cafe at the Boardwalk Resort serves seafood and offers some interesting seashore inspired desserts. Have dinner at the restaurant, then take a stroll on the Boardwalk and enjoy the sights.

Tokyo Dining at Epcot has quite possibly the best view within the park. Book your dinner close to IllumiNations Reflections of Earth and enjoy the fireworks spectacular from one of the large windows of the establishment.

Don’t overbook your days.

Because there is so much to do within the Walt Disney World Resort, guests have the tendency to plan out their stay and go… go… go… the entire time. Not only is this exhausting, but it doesn’t allow for honeymooners to relax and enjoy their stay.

Keep your days simple. Think of a few rides and experiences that you want to enjoy each day, and then plan for some downtime whether that be your meals, pool time at your hotel or even just a few minutes sitting on a bench within one of the parks and chatting.  Trust me, the last thing you want to do is to run around a park all day and then be so exhausted that you don’t enjoy your dinner or the fireworks.

Consider the other happenings at the resort.

The WDW resort has some neat activities outside of the parks that are fun for couples hoping to make lasting memories. Sure some of them cost extra, but just think about the stories that you can tell when your vacation ends.

Enjoy a high flying adventure on the Characters in Flight balloon in Downtown Disney. Soar hundreds of feet in the air and look at the resort below. For an extra special touch, think about taking your flight during the fireworks to watch them like you never have before.

Go golfing. Disney has two mini golf courses on the property; Fantasia Gardens, themed out with the characters from that beloved film and Winter Summerland,  a Christmas themed golf experience with a Summer course and a Winter course. Play a round of golf or two…take lots of photos and enjoy the friendly competition.

Take a spin. Canoes, mini motorboats and sailboats can be rented for a fee from various locations throughout the resort. Take a spin on the lagoon and take in the views of the sprawling landscape.

Stroll around and explore the resort. One of my favorite memories from our honeymoon was walking from Disney’s Hollywood Studios to our resort after park closing. We avoided the rush at the buses and boats and just casually walked the paths and reveled in the quiet time. We ended up at the Boardwalk…played some carnival games…grabbed a funnel cake and sat on a bench for a while. There are many fun little pathways and trails and are best enjoyed in the evening hours when the temperatures have dropped.

Let’s go to the movies! The Downtown Disney AMC 24 is a Dine-In theatre experience that offers guests the option of having a meal while they watch a film. Enjoy a sandwich or pizza  and a beer as your watch a blockbuster movie in a comfy theatre setting.  After your movie, explore the shops of Downtown Disney. It is the perfect place to handle all of your souvenir shopping!

Why don’t you take a picture…it will last longer.

You will want lots and I mean LOTS of photographs to remember your honeymoon. Disney’s PhotoPass Photographers can be found throughout the parks and sometimes are located in the hotels. Plan out where you would like your photos and think about getting at least one photo in front of a major location at each park. The musts are Cinderella’s Castle, Spaceship Earth at Epcot, The Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom and the Sorcerer’s Hat at Hollywood Studios. The PhotoPass site has some handy maps with locations of photographers so you can better plan your day.

If you purchase your MemoryMaker PhotoPass prior to your vacation, you will save $50. Log in to MyDisneyExperience.com for current pricing. The MemoryMaker can be added to your MagicBand and you simply allow the photographer to scan your band before each photo. Although the cost of this option is daunting, it is significantly more cost effective than purchasing the photos individually. (I learned that lesson the hard way on a prior trip)

Think about some fun photo ops…get creative and you can even bring along small props to make it more fun!

 

The best advice that I can give you regarding honeymoon planning is to just be realistic with your time. Plan exciting entertainment options that you will both remember.  Remember that sometimes what seems to be the simplest of moments can really be what is most memorable about your trip.

Wishing you a magical honeymoon!

– Winnie

 

 

Talking To Your Family About Theme Park Safety

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Vehicle

 

Preparing for a Disney vacation is part of the excitement. The packing….the planning…the anticipation. Everyone in the household counts down the days and checks everything twice to make sure it is ready to go for a fun-filled week.

Vacation safety is often a topic that is left for those hurried minutes while running around a hotel room preparing for the day. Ensuring that the family is safe and prepared for most events can be  part of your planning process. Consider setting aside one evening before your trip to talk to your family about vacation safety.

Here are some of my suggestions for topics of discussion….

Keep your arms and legs in the vehicle at all times:

We have heard this phrase on hundreds of occasions at theme parks, but the warning is not simply Mickey Mouse trying to ruin your day.

There are real dangers in sticking a limb outside of a moving car or boat during a ride experience at the parks. Sure, that water on It’s a Small World looks tempting, but there are hidden tracks and moving parts under the boat that could cause some serious bodily harm. Talk to your family about the need to stay seated and keep their limbs in the cars of every ride, boat and transportation vehicle. Perhaps appoint a “safety expert” in your family whose job is to remind everyone of the rules before boarding each ride and keeps a close watch of the little ones.

Stay close to the family:

Crowds at Disney can get overwhelming. I have to admit that there have been times that I have gotten lost in a sea of people while looking for a family member. Talk to your family about sticking together; especially in largely populated areas.

What to do if you are lost:

Create a plan of “what-to-do” in case a member of the family separates from the party. Mobile phones are great for connecting; however for the little ones, it is important to tell them where to go if they become lost.

Cast members can be found at the beginning of each ride queue, in stores, kiosks and walking around the park. Instruct children to seek out a cast member if they should become lost. Cast members are recognized by their oval nametags and have training to handle lost family member situations.

The new MagicBand bracelets used in the parks identify family members and when scanned, gives the contact information for the family; including a phone number and resort information. Make sure when checking into the hotel, that you give the cast member a contact number for the mobile phone you will be taking into the parks.

Only go near the water when an adult is present:

There is water EVERYWHERE at Disney. Lakes, rivers, pools, lagoons….water is a plenty!  Instruct the little ones to hold the hand of an adult whenever they are around a body of water and to wait for the go-ahead before jumping into a pool.

The guard rail is there for a reason:

Balcony and guard rails look like a fun playground….especially at the themed resorts and lakes where the views are glorious. Talk to your kids about balcony and railing safety and instruct them to only go outside or go near a railing when an adult is present. The resorts have a security lock on the sliding glass door, but setting the ground rules prior to the vacation can be helpful in stopping unaccompanied balcony adventures.

Stay hydrated and cool:

The Florida sun is hot and standing in lines in the blazing sun can take a lot out of you. Make sure that each family member stays hydrated throughout the day. We take a backpack with water into the parks so when we need a quick drink, it is available. Monitor the little ones to make sure they are drinking plenty of fluids and instruct them to tell an adult if they are feeling overheated and need to take a break.

Cool down in an air conditioned theater or shop. I keep a list of attractions that are indoors or have ride queues that are housed inside that we can visit when the heat is unbearable.

Sunscreen is a necessity:

I am sure we have all witnessed a sunscreen meltdown. A child comes back from a splash ride and doesn’t want to put the fun on hold for another sunscreen application. Talk to your kids about the necessity of sunscreen and how a sunburn could ruin an entire vacation. Sunscreen should be applied every 2-3 hours or after a water ride or splash in the pool.

 

Stay safe…stay informed….stay connected…..and your vacation should be a magical experience!

Are there any tips that I missed?  Please feel free to share them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get “Frozen” This Summer at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

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Anna and Elsa1

 

From July 5th through September 1st, characters of  the smash hit “Frozen” will be making appearances at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando. Some people are worth melting for….and the cast of “Frozen” surely is worth waiting for in lines out in the hot Floridian sun!

The Disney Parks Blog announced today that there will be some fantastic “Frozen” special events throughout Hollywood Studios which include:

Anna and Elsa’s Royal Welcome– Every morning at 11:00 AM, our favorite royal team (including Kristoff) will arrive in Hollywood Studios and ride down Hollywood Boulevard in a horse-drawn sleigh. The procession will also include skaters and those famous singing ice cutters. The procession ends at the Sorcerer’s Hat Icon Stage with a welcoming ceremony.

Olaf on Summer Vacation– In order to celebrate Olaf’s first summer experience, guests can pick up their own Take-Along Olaf from various locations in the park. Snap pictures with our favorite snowman and post them to social media using the hashtag #OlafSummerVacation. Some guest photos from each day will be selected to appear during each evening’s grand finale celebration.

For the First Time in Forever: A “Frozen” Sing-Along Celebration– Can’t get enough of those ditties from the movie? Join characters from the film at the Premiere Theatre for a retelling of the history of Arendelle and special sing-along moments. This is an interactive show you are not going to want to miss.

Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post & Frozen Funland– Soundstage One will be turned into a play area with cool weather activities, photo ops and even ice skating demonstrations. “Frozen” merchandise as well as foods and beverages inspired by the movie will be available for purchase.

“Coolest Summer Ever” Dance Party– Every evening at 5:30 PM, a DJ and live band will be stationed at the Sorcerer Hat Icon Stage. Get your groove on as they play classic hits, contemporary tunes and medleys from the movie.

“Frozen” Fireworks Spectacular– Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Olaf join at the Sorcerer’s Hat Icon Stage for a spectacular end to a day at the park. The fireworks display will be complimented by the incredible music from the film.

Disney did not give any details regarding the possibility of FastPasses for these events, so my best advice to you is to keep checking your My Disney Experience App for any “cool” new additions to the daily FastPass offerings.

Are you excited about the cast of “Frozen” appearing in the parks? Will this change your summer plans?

 

 

 

 

Can I Take Snacks Into The Disney Parks?

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Snacks1
Disney allows guests to bring in snacks, meals and beverages into the parks and this option can be helpful to the wallet. Even if you are taking advantage of the Disney Dining Plan, you may still want to consider taking snacks into the parks for when those hunger pains hit between meals.

The rules of the park state that you must be able to carry your bags; so no coolers with wheels are permitted. Guests who bring in their lunches may wish to rent a locker for the day so they don’t have to carry it around the park. Lockers are available inside the parks for a fee of $9-$12. You will have unlimited use of your locker for that day, and can come back as often as you wish. There is a $5 deposit required for the locker key that will be refunded once your key is returned.

What should you bring into the park?

Do you have items that you want to keep cool? Bring along a cooler bag. They are easy to carry and many fold easily for travel. If you have a fridge in your hotel room, freeze some water bottles overnight and use them as your ice packs. Once you have enjoyed your lunch, you then have some water to enjoy for the rest of your day.

A family of 4 could easily pay $12 or more for one round of soft drinks or other beverages in the parks, so you may want to consider bringing your own. Be sure that any milk products or perishable juices are appropriately cooled with ice packs or those frozen water bottles…..because it gets hot pretty quickly in those parks.

Snacks that cannot melt in the heat are your best choice for a Disney Day. Goldfish crackers, pretzels, cereal and popcorn are just some of my suggestions. If a member of your party has a food allergy, bring some snacks along that they can eat. While Disney has some incredible options for all types of dietary requirements, the items may be on the other side of the park when you are ready to grab a quick bite and run to a ride.

When bringing lunch into the park, make it a simple meal. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are easy and can be prepared quickly in the morning. If you do not wish to make your own lunch, you could visit the quick service restaurant at your Disney resort hotel, pick up a few sandwiches, salads or snacks and put them in the cooler for later.

Bringing in your own food and drinks can be a significant money saver. During our last trip, my husband and I brought our own water and soda into each park and saved about $60 for the week…..money that was used for souvenirs at the end of our visit!

Money saving while in the most magical place is always a welcome treat!

Our Stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

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Please check out my guest blog about our stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge on David’s Vacation Club Rentals Blog. There are some photos of the resort as well as some information about activities and amenities that you can enjoy during your stay.

Thanks for reading!

Make Your Own Souvenir: Pressed Pennies At Walt Disney World

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Save those pennies for your next Disney vacation!

Save those pennies for your next Disney vacation!

If you are looking for an inexpensive souvenir option or simply an interesting activity for the whole family; consider pressing pennies at the Walt Disney World theme parks.

Whether you are a collector or new to pressed pennies, it surely is a treat to accumulate those shiny wonders with the likenesses of Disney characters, iconic buildings and rides.

How to Prepare.

During vacation planning, decide with your family which coins you would like to collect and work it into your daily schedule. With a few family members, performing the task can be time consuming, so creating a game plan is essential.

Presscoins.com has listings of the machines in all of the parks, as well as photos of designs that each machine produces. The photos and locations are conveniently broken down by park with additional information about where to find the machines. Print off a map of each Disney park and circle the locations so you can easy find them while on your trip.

The money needed to create the pennies does add up and rummaging through a purse to locate the change can also take valuable time away from your Disney Day. The machines take two quarters and a penny for pressed pennies and four quarters and a penny for the pressed quarter machines.

Use an empty pill bottle.

Use an empty pill bottle.


Empty pill bottles or long candy tubes work extremely well for keeping the change in order and do not take up much room in a backpack or purse. If you opt to use a prescription bottle, make sure to remove the pharmacy label prior to filling with change.
Use address labels and stickers to personalize your bottles with each family member’s name. When filling with coins be sure to alternate: 2 quarters (or 4 for the pressed quarters)then a penny and keep repeating the sequence. This is a time saver for when you are standing at the machine and ready to get started.

What to do with these pennies?

What to do with these pennies?

What Can You Do With Pressed Pennies?

Disney sells pressed penny books within the parks. The books contain slots to hold and display the pennies.

As an alternative to the Disney book, you could glue your pennies onto scrapbook pages and attach photos from your trip that correspond with the location. For example, a photo of your family standing in front of The Haunted Mansion pasted next to your Hitchhiking Ghosts penny.

Make jewelry. There are several sites, including Pinterest that have photos with inspiration for pressed pennies jewelry. You can make pendants, earrings, cufflinks, bracelets, tie tacks and key chains. Get as creative as you wish and turn it into a craft night. These jewelry pieces also make great gifts for friends and family!

Pressing pennies at Disney is pure fun…from locating the machines to the event itself…they are a wonderful visual reminder of a memorable family vacation.

Will you plan time to press pennies on your next Disney trip?