On a Not-So Lazy Sunday Morning

I’ve been a very busy bee this morning – no day of rest for this little worker, who is already feeling anxious about tomorrow’s BIG START to our renovations.  I may have mentioned a time or 20 that I’m not the best at dealing with stress; I can turn myself into anxiety-ridden knots over things that should really be NBD (although I suppose completely gutting and renovating your bathroom – your only bathroom – and replacing all of your flooring qualifies as an actual big deal.)  So I’ve been up for many hours removing framed photos and other artwork from the walls, stashing boxes of our belongings on the balconies, and making two raspberry cream cheese pies for a celebratory, kick-off to the renos dinner we’re having this evening with my mother, who has been acting as our in-the-know general contractor (we have a contractor, actually, but my mom has a lot of experience in the area of construction and home renovations, and we couldn’t have arranged ANY of this without her invaluable assistance and oversight.)  So it’s been a bit of a busy day, and it only just turned noon!

I accidentally tore off three of my four “good hand” nails the other day pulling up the last of our flooring, so I’ve been looking for other blogging and vlogging ways to occupy my online creative energies.  Enter a couple of short videos I made for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, all about some of the delicious food we’ve enjoyed at Disney World over our last number of trips – just try not to fall ravenously hungry looking at all this yumminess.  Happy watching, and bon appetit!

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Literary Inspiration: The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World

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“Wait,” you may be saying to yourself, “you never shut up about Disney World, and I suspect from your last seven, long, incredibly detailed posts that you already know all of the out-in-the-open magic of Walt Disney World.  So what gives with the book?”  (As an aside, it’s amazing how much you sound like me when you’re calling me out!  You’re also a little rude, but I’m willing to overlook that.)

What gives with the book, The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World by Susan Veness, is that in the lead-up to our last trip to Disney, I was looking for a fun trivia book that would point me in the direction of some heretofore undiscovered Disney delights.  Turns out I really do know, like, 90 percent of the magic of Disney World, and this spare little book didn’t illuminate too many things I was not already aware of (at the Magic Kingdom, a kid’s eye view of the Sleeping Beauty fountain in Fantasyland reveals a crown atop Aurora’s head; over in the Animal Kingdom, the red, yellow and white pipes that run along the ceiling in Dinosaur bear the chemical compositions for ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise in a nod to the ride’s original sponsor, McDonald’s; Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror bears an exterior Mediterranean aesthetic in order to blend in with Epcot’s Morocco pavilion next door, over which it – pun intended – towers.)

Things I should have noticed before I purchased the book?  That its information only went up to the Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland expansion in 2012, which means it was missing details on both 2017’s Pandora – the World of Avatar expansion at the Animal Kingdom and the opening of 2018’s Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios.  So it was really telling me nothing I didn’t already know.  It did not take me very long to blip through this wee book.

The most complete, detailed information came in the section on the Animal Kingdom, the park I am probably the least familiar with.  And I suspect that its completeness is owing to Veness securing a direct interview with Joe Rohde, Disney Imagineering legend and lead designer of the Animal Kingdom.  Ultra engaged, ultra gregarious and ultra creative (you’ve seen him; he’s the very enthused, exceptionally earnest gentleman with giant, stretched out earlobes weighted down with intricate metal rings) Rohde strikes me as the kind of man who would grant a delightful interview to anyone, from a major news outlet, to an elementary school newspaper, to an author seeking information directly from the source.

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There is just a ton of detail here about the Animal Kingdom, in particular Dinoland USA, a day-one part of the park (an incongruous mix of the serious – paleontology – with the not-so-serious – a trashy side-of-the-highway amusement park) that has never quite felt like it fit with the rest of the park’s lush, natural aesthetic.  I love the crap out of the Dinosaur ride (it might be my third favourite ride behind the Haunted Mansion and the Tower of Terror) but I’ve just never understood the Dino-Rama midway part of Dinoland USA; why the too-bright, too-loud dino carnival in the midst of the Animal Kingdom’s otherwise peaceful oasis?

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Rohde, who oversaw the design and implementation of Dinoland USA, has always said there’s a method to his madness, and Dino-Rama isn’t just a weird jumble of carnival shys, body-punishing wild mouse coasters and hokey dinosaur puns (“This exstincts!” proclaims one sign bearing a dino staring up in dismay at a meteorite hurtling towards his head.)  But I’ve warmed to the place considerably since reading The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World, because it finally explained that madness, and turns out, it’s really not so weird after all.

The story behind Dinoland USA is that the Dino Institute, a scientific operation where you can take tours into the past (AKA ride the Dinosaur ride, in which you travel back to the Cretaceous period to nab a dino for a morally conflicted researcher, Dr. Grant Seeker, heh), has funded a paleontology expedition in the area and sent a number of students and professors there to carry out the painstaking work of digging up old dino bones (AKA The Boneyard, a massive, incredibly fun-looking playground area for kids.)  The grad students and their professors live in the various trailers and RVs dotted throughout the area, with a number of these 1960s-style trailers converted into makeshift dining halls bearing names like Trilo Bites, the Dino Diner, Dino-Bite Snacks and Restaurantosaurus (actual dining spots you can visit and grab a – sigh – dino bite.)

Animal Kingdom Dino Diner

So the story goes, married couple Chester and Hester, carny opportunists to the core, came to the area and immediately noted the financial possibilities inherent in a place with a totally captive audience of stressed out, entertainment-starved academics.  So they moved in right next door and, cribbing off the Dino Institute’s goodwill and legitimacy, opened up Dino-Rama, a ramshackle midway competitor for the students’ attention, time and money.  This is a dig at the many, many fly-by-night attractions that sprang up directly outside Disneyland’s gates when that park opened in 1955, a “how did we not see this coming?” move that irked Walt to no end and prompted him to essentially buy up nearly all of central Florida in a move to head off a repeat performance when he opened his World of Disney in 1971.

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The big draw in Dino-Rama, aside from numerous looming dinosaurs and Chip and Dale strutting about in their finest dino costumes, is Primeval Whirl, a densely knitted wild mouse coaster in which your cart wildly spins, sending you plummeting downhill somehow both sideways and backwards.  It’s an incredibly rough ride – really never fails to break our old arses – and you swing about so much, you never really get a chance to appreciate the silly cartoon dinosaur artwork and sad trombone jokes that pepper the attraction in a budget imitation of the legit Dinosaur ride next door at the Dino Institute.  Here, behold!  Now with additional Triceratops Spin action!

It’s all so very petty and passive aggressive, and I really kind of love it now that I know the backstory.  The whole of Dinoland USA is actually blanketed with little bits of trivia about the two disparate groups – letters and photos and other mementos dotted about as reminders of this odd, competitive pairing.  I think it’s all quite charming!  And information I’m glad to have learned – it really made my experience that much richer this last visit to have the scoop on the funny little inside jokes and local colour of Dinoland USA.  Which is why I chose its colourful sign – at least the Dino part! – as the subject matter of this manicure, inspired by Hidden Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, which I read in service of my friends’ reading challenge for the eighteenth prompt, “a guide.”

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The Director

That’s me, the Scorcese of hotel room tour videos!  You know, just with fewer brutal gangland murders, epically long tracking shots and Rolling Stones cues.

But I don’t know what to tell you – I really like putting together these room tour videos, everything from the filming to the editing to the nitpicky little adjustments that have to be made before it can see the light of streaming day.

And I positively LOVE getting the opportunity to stay in these fabulously themed Disney resorts.  I’ve always been a little enchanted by the Disney hotels.  We all know the biggies across from the Magic Kingdom, the Grand Floridian, the Polynesian and the A-frame Contemporary.  These resorts have been there since I was a kid (and in the case of the Polynesian and the Contemporary, there since my parents were just kids themselves, vacationing at the brand new World of Disney in Orlando, Florida in 1971.)  I can’t have been more than three years old, but I remember my parents taking me over to the Polynesian during the blazing heat of a July afternoon for a fortifying nap.  Before conking out with my head on my dad’s lap, I remember thinking of the palm tree-shrouded pool, “That pool is awesome and I want in there with all those kids!”

Polynesian prices being what they are (A LOT) we’ve never stayed there, even though it remains a pretty major item on my Disney accommodations bucket list.  One day, gigantic passholder discount willing.

But for now we’re quite content to work our way through the moderate resorts that also occupy space on our bucket list, like the Port Orleans French Quarter, where we recently stayed.  This is one that I’ve wanted to stay at since it was built over 20 years ago, and I’m delighted that it lived up to my admittedly pretty high expectations (that’s what happens when you dream about something for two decades!)

And our room was lovely, so I filmed a video of that for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!  I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed filming it, and also getting the opportunity to stay at the French Quarter. 🙂

Bust Out Your Jazz Hands at Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort

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During our last Disney trip (the one we took three weeks ago and which I very much wish I was enjoying right this moment instead of hiding out in my home from another weekend of Eastern Ontario Nightmare Snow) we stayed at the Port Orleans French Quarter, a resort I’ve wanted to stay at since it opened nearly 30 years ago.  A sister property to the exquisite Port Orleans Riverside, which is just on down the river bend, and at which we have stayed twice, the French Quarter shares its sibling’s incredible attention to detail in its (deeply sanitized) presentation of Louisiana, here with architecture, food, entertainment and an overall design aesthetic modeled after The Big Easy herself.

I lamented in an earlier post the unfortunate experience we had at Pop Century during our last trip.  In short, it was a gong show of noisiness, uncleanliness and general mismanagement.  We wound up cutting our stay short by four days and moving over to Coronado Springs to see out the remainder of our vacation.

No such drastic measure was required this time, because our stay at French Quarter was perfection, everything I had hoped it would be when I first spied its colourful wrought iron balconies in travel brochures many, many years ago and thought, “I want to stay THERE.”

Like both Coronado Springs and the Riverside, the French Quarter is a moderate level resort, meaning it sits at about the mid-way point in terms of room rates and offered amenities.  Being on the smaller size (1,000 rooms to both Coronado and Riverside’s 2,000) it doesn’t have its own table service restaurant, although its food court, the charmingly-named Sassagoula Float Works, named after the meandering little river that runs along the back side of the resort, is outstanding – efficient, nicely laid-out and featuring some of the best Cajun grub you’ll find outside of N’Awlins itself.  I continue to have nostalgic thoughts about the sweet-and-spicy fried chicken on a biscuit I had twice, wondering if maybe I should have replaced one of those biscuits with a steaming bowl of shrimp and grits.  Or maybe just had both.  Ahh, now we’re talkin’!  Followed up by pillowy, powdered sugar-dusted, Mickey-shaped beignets, because the French Quarter is the only place in the whole of the Walt Disney World Resort that has them.

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Every resort that we have stayed at (four now, three moderates and a value) seems to have prioritized one element of its service above all others.  At French Quarter, this was everything surrounding food and beverage service, from the actual food and beverage (oh, that chicken!) to the service itself, which was always prompt and friendly.  Zero complaints about the lack of a “proper” restaurant; if anything, I liked the food I had at Sassagoula Float Works better than the meal we had at the Riverside’s similarly menu’d restaurant, Boatwright’s.

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But there’s so much more to the French Quarter than its fluffy beignets, and thankfully, their exemplary approach to food extended to nearly all other areas of service, including maintenance and cleaning, groundskeeping and landscaping, check-in (fuss-free and speedy, a Disney resort first for us) and both boat and bus transportation.  The French Quarter just really seemed to have its act together on all fronts, and I liked it.  THIS is the Disney vacation experience I always hope we’ll enjoy – a virtually seamless one.

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Not to say there aren’t a few nit-picky little things I’d change about the French Quarter.  While I loved the free-form, Mardi Gras-themed pool featuring a giant sea serpent water slide (loved zipping down his tongue into the pool even more!) I found myself wishing for a second, smaller pool, a quieter spot for more lap-oriented swimmers to work off the last of the day’s amusement park energy.  Even with its smallish footprint, it’s odd that the French Quarter only has one pool; the Riverside has six!

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And while I really liked our recently refurbished and redecorated room (it felt solid and well-insulated, like our own little bubble amidst the low key hustle and bustle of the rest of the resort) I didn’t care for the lighting, which was all of the sallow, overhead variety.  I HATE OVERHEAD LIGHTING!!!  Always have.  I’m a real low lighting, desk lamp kind of person.  Even the shaded sconces above our beds cast an odd light (nasty little LED lightbulbs at work, I’m sure; I hate those things, too!)

But in all areas where it actually counted – and a lot where it didn’t – the French Quarter knocked it out of the park.  The architecture is gorgeous, a picture perfect recreation of the cleanest and most charming bits of New Orleans – wooden slat shutters, grand balconies, brick pillars and wrought iron everything.  The entire resort is laid out like a small city, with painted wrought iron balconies framing brick-edged streets dotted with hitching posts and streetlamps.  As you near the lobby, jazz music drifts through the air, beckoning you inside, where you can relax in the plush, chandelier’d lobby, or perhaps over by the soothingly trickling fountain, or maybe even inside Scat Cats’ lounge, something like a Sloe Gin Fizz in hand.  The pool was beautiful and overseen by some of the most attentive lifeguards I’ve ever seen.  The cast members we dealt with were friendly and helpful.  The buses ran frequently and on time.  The food was delicious.  Our room was quiet.  Again, excepting the One True Pool issue and my own hangups about overhead lighting, zero complaints!

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One morning a couple of days out from our flights home, I couldn’t sleep (side effect of being terrified of flying) so I slipped out of our room and took myself on a solo, 5 am walking tour of the resort, which I filmed!  Because of course it’s the new normal to be walking around at 5 in the morning talking to yourself through a small camera.  Weird world, man.  But I do hope you’ll check out this video, if not to see this lovely little resort for yourself in the (mostly) still and quiet of a balmy Florida morn, then to lend legitimacy to my whole, “See, I really was talking to someone and not just myself!” argument.  Thank you. 😉

You’re a Sorcerer, Mickey!

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Here’s a fun manicure memorializing the main magical mouse, Mickey, and an even funner video I made for our YouTube channel showcasing one of our favourite related games to play when we’re at Disney, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.

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I’ve spoken about Sorcerers before – it’s the free-to-play, card-collecting, interactive scavenger hunt you can only play at the Magic Kingdom, and Mr. Finger Candy is completely obsessed.  No trip is complete without finishing off at least a couple of games of Sorcerers, and more than a couple of visits to the Firehouse on Main Street USA.

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Sorcerers is a cute, not-so-little diversion (no joke, you will walk for MILES completing a single game) that always provides tons of fun while we’re bounding about the Magic Kingdom.  If you’d like to join in on the RFID-enabled scavengering and hunting, please watch this video I recently made for our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!, featuring fun tips on making the most of your magical Mickey.  Thank you so much for watching, and happy spellcasting!

Well, That Was a Year

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If you follow this blog with any sort of regularity (and thank you for that, by the way, that’s very kind of you!) you know my 2018 is ending on a real down note.  At the beginning of the month we rather unexpectedly had to have our absolutely adored kitty, Weegie, put down.  The fallout from that was that Mr. Finger Candy and I just sort of drifted through the Christmas season, present in body, but nearly totally absent in soul.  For someone who never shuts up, I’ve had a hard time articulating why this particular death has hit me so hard.  I’ve lost quite a few beloved pets over my lifetime, and even more adored people, and yet this is the one that’s broken me.  I suppose this is what some well-meaning dumbass would optimistically term a formative event, and I’d begrudgingly have to agree – I certainly don’t feel like the same person I was at the beginning of the month, a change not necessarily for the positive.

But there’s no better time than the start of a new year to hit the reset button, and I’m looking forward to trying, trying again in 2019.  Because even without the heartbreaking events of the last month, 2018 was a wild roller coaster of big ups and bigger downs.  Sometimes actual roller coasters, even!  It just didn’t feel like the most cohesive of years, and I flubbed quite a few personal goals.

But supposedly we learn from our mistakes and all that good stuff, so I thought it might be helpful to look back over the hills and valleys of 2018 and take note of the things that worked, the things that didn’t, and hopefully find a path through 2019 that’s a lot less fraught with grief than 2018’s.  To a better year for all of us.

The Good

I started off the year on a positive note, promising myself that I’d limit my wax and beauty purchases to a small handful of orders from favourite vendors.  My discretionary spending was quite out of control, and my scented wax stores were fit to bursting.  So I put myself on a casual low buy, which though no real direction on my part morphed into a regimented no buy; there were a few months there where our financial behaviour could best be deemed as stupidly tightfisted.  But there just didn’t seem to be anything I wanted to buy, and besides, saving money felt better than buying stuff, which was kind of the point of reining in my spending in the first place, no?  Anyhow, this one was a proper New Years resolution, the kind you make with every intention of breaking, but somehow, I held fast.  Now, with three lovely, highly anticipated orders in my hot little hands (and hot little warmers) I’m set for another year of waiting and watching and planning and melting. 🙂

2018 Wax Collage

2018 is also the year I taught myself a video editing program, upped my photography and video game and started our YouTube channel, Park or Perish!  Amusingly enough, I can lay all three of these newly acquired skills at the tender little furry paws of our cat, Weegie.  There was a time (oh, just the last four or so years) when our sweet baby beast would NOT abide by either her fur mama or papa sleeping for any longer than it took for her soft food dish to run dry (roughly every hour and 45 minutes.)  So I’d find myself awake at all inhospitable hours of the very early morning, with precious little to do.

Then one morning as I sat there just staring at the sky, literally trying to will the sun into cresting the horizon, I suddenly thought about all of the photos and video I had shot of our Disney vacations, and wondered what more I could do with them (other than drive you lovely readers bonkers, that is.) 😉  And so that morning I downloaded a little iPhone-based editing program called iMovie and edited together my first project (a collection of photos of Weegie looking unbelievably saucy, of course, backed by Tom Jones’ What’s New Pussycat?)  Since then I’ve produced 27 videos for Park or Perish!, and some of them aren’t even all that bad!  I particularly like sound editing – it’s incredibly satisfying when two tonally disparate clips finally snap into place (nearly) seamlessly.  This is a major milestone for me; as I’ve mentioned a time or 20, I am unbelievably tech-unfriendly.  That I could even find the program in the App Store in the first place was something of a miracle.  Here’s the most recent video I posted, a fun round-up of our adventures at Disney this past year.  I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.

Speaking of Disney vacations and saving money (now there’s a couple of antithetical concepts) we were able to enjoy two of the former this year precisely because we prioritized the heck out of the latter. We eased up a bit on our “Disney or death!” approach to discretionary income as the year wore on, but generally, if we had two cents to scrape together, we’d throw them into the vacation pot.  It was through this kind of financial nit-pickery that we were able to take two Disney vacations in 2018, both fully (and reassuringly) paid off before we had even stepped foot in a park.  We also became Disney annual passholders this year, because it made the most financial sense given the extent of our plans.  Every little bit helps, and I was incredibly proud of us for hitting this Disney financial goal.

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And speaking of those two vacations, they were wonderful; some of the best moments of my year were had at Disney World.  It’s just where we go to cut loose, explore and have an awesome (frequently margarita-enabled) good time.  We are so fortunate to be able to enjoy such incredible vacations – some people can’t swing a single lifetime trip to Disney, let alone two in one year (actually four in 365 days, but who’s counting besides ourselves and every single one of our friends who has jokingly enquired as to whether we plan on just moving into Cinderella Castle full time (dare to dream!)

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Just about my favourite moment of the year was spending Halloween, our 14th wedding anniversary, bombing around the Magic Kingdom rock star cosplaying as two different video versions of Tyler Joseph, the lead singer of twenty one pilots (the October release of Trench was another neon yellow bright spot in an otherwise pretty gloomy year.)  I can’t speak for Mr. Finger Candy (who was the recipient of most of the delighted compliments, including a number of longing and appreciative glances from one very interested lady and a couple of even more interested dudes) but I loved playing rock star for the day, even with that black gunk smeared about my neck and hands (black stage makeup, by the way, and no, it wasn’t difficult to take off at the end of the night.  Messy?  Yes!  Sooty black water droplets allllll over the bathroom.  But not difficult.)  Also, my man looked hella hot in his meggings and shorts combo, and no, I’m not remotely joking.

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The Bad

Losing our beloved cat.  Taking her to the vet one snowy Monday morning, knowing in my already breaking heart that we wouldn’t be bringing her home again.  Holding her paw until the very end.  Lots of uncontrollable sobbing.  That was my December.  I don’t wish to ever experience another one like it (oh, that we could control such things!)  But isn’t she adorable?  Gosh, at one point she was a complete LARD; look at that tummy!  That’s some serious Weege the Hutt action right there.

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Losing Weegie also brought into sharp focus the good relationships in our lives – the people who have been there for us at this awful time, in supportive ways big, small and occasionally virtual – and those that are no longer worth our precious, middle aged time.  It was really its own special kind of compounding heartbreak to realize that with some people, we just didn’t rank, not even in the midst of our grief.

On the other, infinitely more positive hand, this event clarified the truly excellent relationships we do have in our lives, people we are so profoundly grateful to call our friends.  They are such fantastic humans, a realization ultimately worth so much more than the one about the social boobs.  I actually feel sort of hashtag-blessed. 😉

But getting back to the crap, after making incredible strides towards improving my health in 2017, I backslid in 2018 HARD, maintaining my diet and exercise regimen for most of the year before apparently just giving up altogether in the last three months and gaining 25 pounds.  I apparently like to eat my stress and grief.  And everyone else’s as well.  I aim to jump back aboard the treadmill express in the new year, and overhaul our diets while I’m at it.  Please stop the rich holiday food, I want to get off!

And this blog?  My beloved Finger Candy, which turned five impressive years old this year with nary a whisper of fanfare?  I have no idea what this blog is even about any more; I’m not even sure if nail art is my preferred focus.  I’m in a state of blogging flux; I hope to find some solid ground soon.

Okay, that’s it, 2018 – you’re drunk, go home.  Don’t let the door hit you on the arse on the way out.  And cheers to 2019 as it makes its hopefully spectacular way in.  Happy New Years, friends.

Been There, Disney’d That: Tips and Tricks on Having Your Best Disney Vacation

Halloween to Xmas Pooh Collage

We somewhat recently returned from a week and a half long anniversary trip to Disney World that encompassed two holidays, the end of the Halloween season and then the very beginning of the Christmas holidays.  No joke, we left the Magic Kingdom around 1 am November 1st after spending the evening attending Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, and by park opening eight hours later, all of the Fall decorations had been removed and nearly all of the Christmas ones had been added.  Two days later the entire park was “done,” up to and including Queen Elsa’s Griswold-worthy lighting job on Cinderella Castle and the giant, towering Christmas tree in the entrance hub.  Disney decorating services move lightning fast.

Magic Kingdom Castle Collage

But impressive work on the part of the decorating team aside, I think the truly impressive feat is that we got through 11 holiday days at the Happiest Place on Earth without incurring a mountain of vacation debt, or suffering hideous sunburns, or eating anything truly appalling, or losing our sanity and murdering one another.  I mean, we came awfully close on that last one, but we pulled ‘er back (I kid; Mr. Finger Candy and I travel remarkably well together.)

Also, this was our fourth trip to Disney World in a year; it’s almost like we know what we’re doing now!  Here’s a few things we’ve learned along the way – I hope these practical tips and tricks from a couple of nerds-in-the-know help you maximize your time and enjoyment on your next Disney trip. 🙂

Set a fun vacation challenge for yourself: It may seem counterintuitive to add to-dos to an already packed and stressful vacation schedule (yes, Disney’s loads of fun, but it can occasionally feel like a death march.  With churros.)  But we’ve found that adding a side mission of sorts – like, say, bridging two holiday seasons by attending Mickey’s Not So Scary on Halloween and then Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party a week later – keeps us on task and ups the fun quota significantly by giving us silly little challenge parameters to goof around within.  Or maybe I just like looking down at my list of to-dos for the day and seeing “Ride every roller coaster after dark” or “Eat nothing but snacks.”

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Be prepared for every weather eventuality: Again, how helpful, my advice here simply being BRING EVERYTHING.  But the only predictable thing about Orlando weather is its unpredictability, and if it’s not 90 degrees and humid like it was every stinkin’ day we were there, it’s raining.  And sometimes it’s both!  So pack a travel umbrella and a poncho and maybe even a pair of flip flops that you can throw on in the event you’re caught in a ferocious downburst while sitting at the outdoor Fantasmic amphitheater at the very back of Hollywood Studios one evening.  True story.

Wear sunscreen and stay hydrated: Based on the number of people I saw spackling themselves and their kids with spray sunscreen, I probably don’t need to preach my lifelong gospel of sunscreen (does a Celtic body good!) Well done, Disney travelers.  But I also know there are a ton of people who run about the parks all day long powered on nothing but sugary soft drinks and desserty coffee concoctions (shout-out to the utterly befuddled Southern woman aghast that one establishment “ain’t got no Coke!”)  Man cannot live on Powerade alone!  So go grab yourself a water.  But if you’re not down with paying $3.50 for a bottle of Dasani (geez, who is?) simply roll on up to any counter service location and ask for a couple of cups of ice water, and they’ll give them to you gratis.  Last thing Disney wants is for you to face-plant in front of the Carousel of Progress, so drink up.

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Find the good air conditioning: Disney attractions are notorious for ending in a gift shop.  But the gift shops are air conditioned!  As are the rabbit warren of shops that line Main Street in the Magic Kingdom – you can actually traverse the entire length of Main Street without ever going outside.  Duck into these air conditioned cold spots as often as you can for a quick refresher (fun discovery?  The very best AC in the Magic Kingdom is directly over the oil paintings in The Art of Disney store on Main Street.)

If it makes you sick, don’t ride it: This is advice we only just heeded this past trip, and I think our vacation experience was all the better for it.  Typically we soldier on through rides that have proven to disagree with our old ass constitutions (Space Mountain, Everest, Flight of Passage, Star Tours) and then feel like sweaty, nauseous butt for the next 30 to 90 minutes.  This time we just eschewed those attractions altogether, choosing instead to double or triple up on some kinder, gentler rides (or sextuple – that’s totally not a word – in the case of my beloved Haunted Mansion.)

Work those FastPasses: Three of these express passes are available to every guest every day either physically, in park at a kiosk, or virtually through the My Disney Experience app.  Save the extremely popular, always-slammed attractions (Slinky Dog Dash, Flight of Passage again, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) it’s relatively easy to schedule and obtain these passes.  Yet based on the amount of grumbling I heard from the standby line as I zipped past in the express line at my designated time, few guests know about this awesome perk.  So download the free app or show up in park and schedule a day’s worth of FastPasses so you don’t spend more time than necessary waiting – and grumbling – in line.

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Make advance dining reservations: The immense popularity of the Disney Dining Plan, a pre-paid food plan not unlike the ones you may have enjoyed at college, means getting a walk-up table at virtually any restaurant in any of the parks is a real chore.  So if there’s somewhere you really want to dine, make an advance reservation.  Disney allows you to book your dining up to 180 days out from your trip, which is generally overkill unless you’re talking about Be Our Guest, in which case it’s not enough kill; that place is wildly popular. We certainly love it, and we make it a point to eat there at least once per trip.

Be Our Guest Collage

Take screenshots of your FastPass plans and dining reservations: The My Disney Experience app is a great resource for the more technically-minded Disney traveler, but it is a battery killer, particularly when you’re calling up the app every 15 minutes to see which ride or restaurant you need to dash off to next.  Take a screenshot of your plans and make it the temporary wallpaper to your phone; now your plans are available at the quick touch of a barely-battery-draining button.

Consider becoming annual passholders: Every family’s break-even point is different, but generally speaking, if you’re going to be in park for 12 or more days a year, like we were in 2017 and 2018, it makes the most financial sense to become annual passholders.  APs also enjoy some nice little passholder-only perks, as well as discounts on food, merchandise and accommodations, and unlimited access to the Memory Maker photo service.  It’s a pretty decent deal, and we’ve been really pleased with our first year as annual passholders.

Food and Wine 14 - Goodies

Add funds to a reloadable gift card: Not only will this keep you mindful of your budget (it’s easier to track your spending when it’s in pre-paid, round dollar increments) but it’s a fuss-free way to pay at merchandise shops, counter service dining locations and all of those little booths at Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival.

Stay flexible: Rides go down, the app crashes (repeatedly), your bus doesn’t show up on time, weather concerns cancel the fireworks – these things happen all the time, and the best you can do is just roll with the punches.  Allow yourself lots of time to get to your reservations, engage Guest Services when technical or weather problems derail your plans, move on if the going gets tough, and always have a plan B.  And don’t snipe – or worse – at the cast members for things that are beyond their control.  I’ve yet to meet a CM who could control the weather.  Unless the Thor who strides about the Norway pavilion in Epcot actually is the God of Thunder!  In which case, I think he is quite underpaid.

Don’t be so serious: Cast members love us because we’re polite and will do literally anything for a laugh, whether it’s gossiping about Gaston’s purported addiction to manscaping (seriously, when we met him he was SO waxed!), pretending to Force choke each other in a goofy lightsaber battle or posing for an every-park series of cheesy prom pics.

Prom Photos Collage

You’re at Disney!  Live a little and snuggle up to that dinosaur statue already. 🙂

Dino Collage

Remember that there is so much more to Disney than its rides: I’m always a little dismayed when I overhear other guests planning their entire Disney vacations around the rides.  Sure, Disney attractions are groundbreaking technological marvels, but there is SO much more to Disney than the rides.  So take in a musical show (or four) at Hollywood Studios.  Hop on the monorail and explore the deluxe resorts across from the Magic Kingdom.  Take a scenic boat ride over to the Boardwalk for ice cream and tequila (preferably separate, but hey, you do you.)  Spend a day playing Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, a free-to-play interactive card game.  Enjoy a special meal at one of Disney’s incredible themed restaurants.  Spend the evening bopping around Disney Springs.  Have your picture taken with a favourite character.  Take a behind-the-scenes tour of one of the parks.  Or…

Attend a fireworks viewing party, one (or both!) of the holiday parties or some other special event: Some of the most fun we had this trip was at Mickey’s Not So Scary and Mickey’s Very Merry.  Having attended a Not So Scary earlier in the season, we didn’t feel pressured to cram in a bunch of gotta-dos, preferring instead to explore the Magic Kingdom at our leisure, riding rides, meeting cool characters, explaining our costumes to people who didn’t know who we were (and fanboying out with the people who did) and pulling down some serious loot on the trick-or-treat trails.

Halloween Collage

Mickey’s Very Merry was a first for us this year, although we caught quite a bit of the entertainment – the stage show, Elsa’s castle-lighting and the parade – last year when we were actually at Disney on Christmas Day itself (and yes, it’s every bit as busy as everyone says it is and you fear it will be!)  We enjoyed all of those attractions this year, including the beautiful and moving Holiday Wishes fireworks and projection show, some cool character meet-and-greets, cookie and cocoa-collecting and a whole mess of walk-right-on attractions.

Very Merry Collage

We also started off that day with the first ever seating of breakfast at The Plaza Restaurant on Main Street, which was utterly, utterly delicious; a month on I’m still thinking back fondly, and often, on the delectable lobster Eggs Benedict (on fried green tomatoes) I enjoyed.  It was such a special dining experience – as Ice Cube might say, it was a good day.

The Plaza Collage

But the best day had to have been the evening we attended the Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam Holiday Dessert Party at Hollywood Studios.  What fun!  We had such a blast!  And it had nothing at all to do with the fact that we both got pretty tipsy on generously poured holiday cocktails and attempted to eat our combined weight in cheese fondue and naan bread, nothing at all. 😉  Jingle Bam, the Prep & Landing-themed fireworks show that closes out the night at Hollywood Studios, is an awesome show; I love its odd mix of P&L, the Nightmare Before Christmas and schmaltzy holiday standards.

Jingle Bam Collage

We really got our merry on at the dessert party.  I also danced quite a bit, which I showed off in this video I made for our YouTube channel that I have posted before, but hey, one more time for the cheap seats in the back.

These were all super fun events that yes, we paid extra money to attend, but I think the payoff was worth it for these incredible experiences.  Sometimes you just have to treat yourself, you know?

So there we have it, tips and tricks from a couple of semi-pros on how to have your best Disney vacation.  Although hey, you’re at Disney, so isn’t every vacation really the best? 🙂