Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Next Trip...

Just days after coming back from Walt Disney World, I began planning my next trip!

This is going to be very special.  My husband, Matt, is turning 30! He's admittedly not very excited to get another year older, so I figured a Disney trip would be perfect for Matt to feel like a kid again. He really is a big kid at heart... one of my favorite things about him. :)

On this trip, we're also taking our friends Ben and Barbara, who got married earlier this year. They came with Matt and I to Disney World a few years ago, and we have been dying to do another couple's trip ever since!

Here are some pictures from our last group adventure.

Barbara and I really had our hearts set on either the Little Mermaid rooms at Art of Animation or a standard room at Pop Century. Last time we went together, we stayed at Caribbean Beach Resort and didn't have a great experience. Because we wanted to get a good deal, we booked a room only reservation at Pop Century. We also added a 20% off discount to the reservation. I haven't personally booked a reservation on the phone with Disney in years. It was a really fun experience, as the Cast Member who helped me out was such a lively woman! She shared in my excitement and was really knowledgable of what Disney offers.

We're going to be flying into Orlando from Detroit on February 8th. Our flight is in the morning and we should be hopping on the Magical Express motor coach by 11:45. We're really excited to be flying with Southwest and using our Rapid Rewards points that we've earned by signing up for Southwest credit cards.

We do have a few special sit-down meals planned for our trip already. Matt requested Cape May Cafe for his birthday dinner. We're also going to have dinner one night at 'Ohana, and lunch another day at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant. While I can't give rave reviews on Sci-Fi's entrees, their appetizers and milkshakes never fail to put a smile on my face. Barbara is crazy excited to try LeFou's Brew at Gaston's Tavern. I tried it earlier this month and absolutely loved it. One other goal is to attempt the Kitchen Sink at Beaches and Cream. I've wanted to do that for years!!

Last time we went, we didn't buy park hopper tickets and we'll be doing that again this year. We found that it really saved us time by not having to travel from park to park. On top of that, it also saves us money.

I'll get into more detail about the trip as it gets closer. :)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Our Medical Emergency on Main Street U.S.A.

If any of you follow me on Twitter or are friends with me on Facebook, you might have read that my mom had a medical emergency our very first day of vacation, which resulted in us taking an ambulance to Celebration Hospital. I figure some of you might like to hear about what exactly went on that very scary night.

Our first day was really REALLY incredible. Everything seemed to be going right. We didn't have any issues with our flight, checking in at Pop Century, and using our MagicBands at Magic Kingdom. My mom and I didn't do the typical mother/daughter bickering that can happen with us. It was just, as my mom later put it, too good to be true.

We didn't eat any lunch that day, and when we got to Magic Kingdom we decided to share a meal at Columbia Harbour House. By about 11:00 p.m. we were both starving. We'd thrown around the idea of going to eat at the Polynesian Resort, but we ultimately decided to go back to Pop Century, grab a bite to eat, and go to bed so we'd be ready to get to the Studios at park opening.

The Main Street Electrical Parade was going on, so we were taking our time walking through the crowd, stopping to take pictures here and there. Mom and I were walking to the left side of the American flag, on our way to the left exit, when my mom fell over a small curb. I was two steps in front of her and only realized she fell because I heard a PhotoPass photographer say, "Ma'am, are you alright?!" Immediately, I turned around and saw my mom on her hands and knees. My first thought was, "Oh shit, she has osteoporosis." I helped her up and she seemed totally shaken and distraught.  I think I asked her if she was okay, and that's when she told me that she hit her face on the concrete. She said she wanted to sit down.

We made our way across the street over to Town Square to sit down on a bench. When she said she was getting really warm and sweating, I knew what was coming. I squatted down in front of her, took off her sweater, grabbed a water bottle, and made her drink. I kept saying, "Mom, stay with me", but within a few minutes, her face went limp, water flowed out of her mouth, and her eyes closed. No cast members were within earshot, so I aggressively nudged the guy sitting on the bench with us (who clearly just ignored what was going on), and told him to go get a cast member right away. He looked startled as I was holding my mom up, keeping her from falling over. It was all a blur for a bit after that, but I know eventually we were surrounded by a couple cast members. I asked for a cold bottle of water and napkins. When a cast member asked me if my mom was breathing, I instantly thought, "Oh my God. I didn't even think of that." I internally panicked and started searching for a pulse. I finally felt relief when I saw her inhale and exhale. Soon after I began putting cold, wet napkins on her, she came to. She really couldn't form sentences, but just sat there with her head in her hands. The bridge of her nose was bleeding and she had a big red bump on her forehead. At that point, a few medics showed up and had her lay down on the bench while they hooked all sorts of wires and machines up to her. I sat on the ground right in front of my mom and one of the medics told me that her blood pressure was very low. Her glucose level was only a little high.

I probably explained what happened to at least five different people. Guest Relations, Disney security, a few medics, and then EMTs when they showed up. Before I knew it, my mom was on a stretcher and hooked up to a bunch of things. They told me that they would need to transfer her to Celebration Hospital. At that point I started calling and texting family. Surprisingly, I was really calm, cool, and collected on the outside. I wanted to make sure that I kept my composure and handled the situation like an adult.

All I could think about at this point was how my mom was feeling. Not medically, but emotionally. She gets embarrassed easily and deals with guilt when things like this happen. That was the worst part of this whole ordeal, by far. I knew there was nothing I could say to my mom to make her feel better as she laid on a stretcher in the middle of Magic Kingdom.

You'd think that I would have been really interested in looking around backstage at Magic Kingdom as we walked to the ambulance, but I wasn't. I actually don't remember a thing except for watching my mom's face as they lifted her into the ambulance. She looked so angry and disappointed. I just got in the passenger side of the ambulance and waited to leave. The guy driving the ambulance was really nice and kept making small talk until we reached the hospital.

Once at the hospital, it was a slow process getting into a room. The nurse had me help mom get into a hospital gown. They ran blood work, did a chest x-ray, and a CT. Mom was freezing, and so was I. The hospital was like ice. We waited forever for an update on anything. The nurse forgot to take her IV out. She was hooked up to nothing, yet had a huge needle in her arm that was throbbing. After 20 minutes of silence, I was getting worked up (not at all like me in public situations), and walked out to the nurse's station in search of my mom's nurse. He was just casually a clickin' on his computer. I somewhat aggressively asked what was going on and what we were waiting for. He was like, "Oh, everything looks good. Just waiting on her CT results." As I started to explain that she was cold, tired, and uncomfortable from the IV, the doctor came up behind me and asked how she was doing. Right away he came in and talked to my mom and told her that she most likely had a mild concussion and probably passed out from trauma and stress of falling. After getting the IV out, getting mom dressed, and going through billing, I called us a cab to take us back to Pop Century.

I think it was around 1:30 or 2:00 a.m. when we got back to our room. The food court was closed. I ended up paying $2.25 for a little bag of Sun Chips. Mom was not in the mood to eat. I made her chug a bottle of water before I'd let her go to bed. I was really scared to let her sleep, but the nurse assured me that it was okay. Still, I stayed up until about 4 a.m. watching her sleep. Even once I got to sleep, every single time I woke up I pointed my phone over to my mom to light up the area so I could make sure she was breathing.

The next morning she was feeling better. We took it slow all morning. We figured we'd get to the parks whenever she was feeling like it. Around 11:00 we went to the food court to get lunch and she soon realized she didn't feel well. She was very nauseated and weak. I quickly panicked, grabbed food without paying first, and got her in a booth to sit down. I made her chug water and eat a sandwich. My goal was to prevent her from having to go back to the hospital. Once she ate and drank what I wanted her to, we went back to our room. Mom took a nap and when she woke up, she was feeling a lot better.  We walked around the resort to make sure she felt up to going to a park. She did great, and around 5:00  we were off to Epcot.

Aside from my mom getting sick at Hollywood Studios the next evening, the rest of the trip was free of any illness or medical emergencies. Thank goodness.

In case you were wondering, yes, I am looking into getting my mom a helmet for our next Disney trip. :p

I really appreciate the kind words and well wishes that were sent to us when all of this was going down. It was really touching and a little surprising to see people reach out that hadn't talked to me in months or years. To those people, really, thank you so much. It was super scary at one point and I felt very nervous playing nurse the following days. Kudos to my mom for putting up with me and my demands for her to drink water every two seconds. She was such a trooper.

My next post on my blog will be about something much happier and less depressing. :) Promise.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Fastpass+ and MagicBand Review

Boy do I have so much to share with you all!

I got back from Walt Disney World last Thursday and I have found some time to tell you about my trip. Let's get to the part you guys really wanna hear about... Fastpass+ and MagicBands!

I am VERY happy to report that my mom and I did not have big issues with the MagicBands. They were comfortable to wear, even when the weather got up in the 80's. I admit that I LOVE them to get into my hotel room. It's so much easier than having to find my Key to the World card. Like, way easier. Not until the 2nd to the last day did we realize that my mom's band wasn't set up to be able to get into the room. It wasn't a big deal since we were always together, but if we needed it to work, we would have had to go down to the lobby and have them fix it. An issue like that could happen with a KTTW card, so it's not some "MagicBand Only" problem.

As far as using the MagicBands to get into attractions with Fastpass+ reservations, it was really easy. The only issue I forsee happening is that there are 2 places along the queue in which you need to touch the censor thingy. Once is when you enter the queue, and another before you board. I know on Maelstrom they didn't have someone watching the second censor post. I walked by it without noticing until I turned the corner. Not sure why there are two and how that affects using Fastpass+, but that is just something I noticed.

Using MagicBands to get into the parks was the only area I saw a problem. It's more of a user issue that guests will have to learn and adapt to. You know how with the card readers you'd just pop your card in and get your finger scanned usually using your right finger because you'd only enter your card on the right side of you? Well, the new entrances have censors on BOTH sides of you. This makes things tricky. Make sure you remember whatever finger you initially use. My mom and I both screwed this up. Our first park was Magic Kingdom and we didn't pay any mind to what we were doing. When we went to get into Epcot the next day, I believe I used a censor on my left instead of my right, which threw me off in terms of what finger I needed to scan. While I quickly did it again with the other finger, my mom wasn't so lucky a few days later. The cast member working the entrance kept having her try again and again. It was a slow process. Finally, another cast member with an iPad came up to her and asked her what finger she used and all that jazz. In my opinion, they needed to step in much faster, especially RIGHT at park opening when there was a long line behind her. I also did not like how no one was totally sure when they were supposed to take their wrist off the censor and proceed to have their finger scanned. I just kind of waited until the white light started spinning quickly, but I don't know if I could have done it sooner. I think that needs to be explained somehow.

Onto Fastpass+. My summary in one sentence is this... While we had no issues at all on this visit, I can still forsee a lot of potential problems. Pretty much everything I spoke about before as a concern, is still a concern. Fastpasses fly like mad (really, they do), guests without smart phones have a huge disadvantage, and park hopping is now almost pointless. In terms of lines, we waited no more than 10 minutes for anything. Ever. I understand that long lines for Fastpass+ can build, however, I believe we timed our Fastpasses really well. My best advice is to get those reservations done well in advance to ensure you're going to save some time standing in line.

I didn't think that we would need to change any of our Fastpass+ selections at all during our trip. I was very sure of my decisions. However, when my mom had a medical emergency Saturday evening, the next few days changed our schedule quite a bit. On Sunday, we didn't even get into a park until 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening. I had three Fastpass+ reservations made for the morning and early afternoon that we would have missed if I didn't get to change them using the phone app. I actually changed them all twice that day. At first we thought we'd be in a park by noon, so I made reservations from 12:30-3:00, but my mom became ill again and we stayed at the resort until about 5. I changed them again in the afternoon before we left for Epcot. This was a great help. I wasn't looking to get into popular rides that night, so we were fine with getting whatever we could.

My BIGGEST complaint about the new system is actually the My Disney Experience app. It ran horrifically slow, even when my WiFi was strong. It was embarrasing really. While I liked being able to change my Fastpass+ selections on a whim, actually doing it was a huge pain in the butt. Sometimes, the app would freeze entirely and not save my changes. Sometimes, it would save my changes, but the app would freeze, so I didn't know if I actually had made changes or not until I got out of the selection window and went back to look at my confirmed reservations. It's like the app is a mini version of the Disney website... slow and annoying.

I still need to share with you other details of my trip, but this is good for now. :) If you have ANY questions about MagicBands or Fastpass+, feel free to ask!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Not Letting Anxiety Win

 I am at the countdown point now.

3 days.

A few days ago, I asked my mom to come over so I could explain Fastpass+ to her and what that is going to mean for us. I am fairly confident that she gets it for the most part. It IS a confusing process with quite a few rules and stipulations, so I really can't blame her for getting confused at any point next week. My mom is sort of known for wanting to experience every single thing in the park possible. I am still hearing about how we missed Splash Mountain a year and a half ago. To be fair, that is a favorite for both of us, and I do regret missing it. However, it is what it is, and I'm sure on this trip we'll run into that with something.

To sort of eliminate the chance of either of us being disappointed missing one of our favorite things, I asked my mom to make a list of her 3 must-dos for each park. I told her, "Tell me what 3 things, shows or rides, that you would be really crushed if we missed on this trip."

I had made my list up earlier in the day and made sure not to reveal my list to my mom before she made her picks, so as not to sway her decision in any way. Our lists do not reflect our "favorite attractions" at the parks, but rather what we deem priority on this trip for one reason or another.

My List

Magic Kingdom - 1. Enchanted Tales with Belle
                         2. Splash Mountain
                         3. Haunted Mansion

Epcot - 1. Maelstrom
         2. Test Track (I really just have to show it to my mom.)
         3. O'Canada

Hollywood Studios - 1. Tower of Terror
                               2. Star Tours
                               3. The Great Movie Ride

Animal Kingdom - 1. Kilimanjaro Safari
                            2. Flights of Wonder
                            3. Finding Nemo: The Musical

I find it funny that I did not include Carousel of Progress, perhaps my favorite attraction in Magic Kingdom, on my list. I think that's because I have seen it and done it so many times that I can easily say some other things get priority. My favorite attraction at Epcot is also not on my list, Spaceship Earth. Weird. I'm not sure why I was drawn to put Star Tours on my list, but I just felt that I really wanted to do it. Kind of an impulsive pick that I don't want to change. Most people would be surprised that me, the roller coaster enthusiest, does not have a roller coaster on my list. Well, my mom doesn't do coasters at all and I really like to make sure my priority is us doing things together. If I get on some coasters, great. If not, no big deal.

My Mom's List 

Magic Kingdom - 1. Carousel of Progress
                          2. Splash Mountain
                          3. Haunted Mansion

Epcot - 1. Maelstrom
          2. Soarin'
          3. Test Track

Hollywood Studios - 1. Muppet-Vision 3D
                                2. The Great Movie Ride
                                3. Toy Story Mania

Animal Kingdom - 1. Finding Nemo: The Musical
                            2. Kilimanjaro Safari
                            3. Festival of the Lion King

As you can see, my mom and I agree on A LOT of things! That's great! Things that I felt sad to leave off my list, she picked up on her list without knowing what she was doing. The one thing that makes me smack my forehead hard is Festival of the Lion King. I'm in the camp of "if you've seen it 5 times, you don't need to see it for at least 3 years." It's just not my favorite show at Animal Kingdom and it absolutely never changes. It's not a huge production like Finding Nemo (both mom and I's favorite), and it just takes up a lot of time for something I don't get much gratification from. However, I will absolutely 100% make sure we get to do it for my mom.

Just 3 days to go.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My Thoughts On FastPass+ and MagicBands

Disney recently implemented their new FastPass+ system, and thus far, it sounds like a train wreck for the most part. Sure, they say it's still in a testing phase. A testing phase that might be a total nightmare for some.

On top of that, MagicBands, the replacement for the Key to the World cards, are being rolled out to many guests staying on Disney property. I'm not going to go into detail of how to use the MagicBand or what it all does, because you can get that information on virtually every Disney travel tip website at this point. I don't feel like wasting my breath.

Next month, I will have the honor(?) of trying these new "features" out myself. I was looking forward to it until recently. It sounds as though some people are running into bugs with the MagicBands when using them for numerous things. Since it's this fancy schmancy technology, it's probably a huge pain in the butt for Cast Members to work out the issues in a timely manor. Oy. I'm seriously praying my mom and I don't have to go through this. I have faith that Disney will eventually get all the kinks straightened out and guests will learn to find MagicBands a stroke of genius.

That being said, I don't see a great future for the FastPass+ system right now. Lately, I've been going to Twitter and doing a search for "fastpass" just to see what current Disney World guests have to say about it. People are posting pictures of FastPass+ queues and they look ridiculous. Way longer than they should be for this time of year. I just have a hard time seeing Disney sticking their tail between their legs and going, "Yeah, we need a lot more time to figure this out."

I just feel like sharing my thoughts about how FastPass+ will most certainly affect guests in the parks, and also, how FastPass+ will affect Disney.

So, it's been said that a possible reason for changing from the legacy FASTPASS to FastPass+ is because guests that used FASTPASS in the past tended to have a better experience visiting the Disney World theme parks. Makes sense to me. Shorter lines makes everyone happy. FastPass+ essentially pushes more guests into using a FastPass system in some way. For some reason, there have always been a number of guests that don't take the time to understand and use the legacy FASTPASS. They must really enjoy standing in long standby lines. My question is, how are extremely long FastPass+ lines going to please guests and give them a better experience? Guests are assuming it will save them a lot of time in line, as it has before, but they will be incredibly disappointed to see that a standby line has virtually the same wait. Disney is ticking off guests left and right! They really need to discontinue use of FastPass+ until they can get this issue under control. That is, if they want to fix this "problem." Maybe they truly don't care that the FastPass+ line isn't really doing much for guests. So, backfire #1... ticking off guests with longer than usual FastPass+ lines.

What about those guests that aren't planning their FastPass+ attraction picks ahead of time, and will never have the opportunity to because they are random day guests? Why should they have a strike against them? Aren't we all created equal here? These guests are basically forced into using a FastPass+ choice on Captain EO because nothing else is left for them to choose from. Sure, I get it. Disney wants to entice potential guests to choose an on-property resort and stay longer. But, let's face it, they cannot and will not get everyone to do so.

What about guests that are older and are not tech savvy? I see SO many guests that are older in the parks. I can assume some of them don't have a smart phone or a computer. These guests will then need to go to a kiosk at the parks or their resort, and choose FastPass+ picks with the help of a Cast Member. Of course, since they had to do it last minute, they are stuck with Captain EO as well.

Disney likes making money, right? Sure! They're a business and that's a top priority. While they are trying to cut some corners by implementing FastPass+, they will be potentially losing gift shop sales. I know that if I just waited an hour in a FastPass+ line, the last thing I'd think about is buying a t-shirt. I'd be off to another attraction so I don't waste my time in the parks any more than I already have.

I'm curious if guests typical day behavior will change now that FastPass+ exists. Will less people use the Park Hopper option since they can only get FastPasses at one park per day? Will guests that typically leave mid-day for a nap or swim still do so? If those guests have limited options for FastPass+ picks, will they only use one or two to ensure that they aren't scheduling one that they know they might waste?

I'm most scared of how FastPass+ could get worse. There's a "rumor" that FastPass+ will end up adapting to a tiered system that allows guests at deluxe resorts (AKA, the people with all the money) to receive more FastPass+ choices than those staying at say, a value or off-property. I promise you that I will flip my lid if this actually ends up happening. Walt would NEVER stand for this. It's disturbing to think about guests with more money to spend on Disney property being given the option of having a more efficient park experience. It's essentially saying, "Oh, you can't afford to stay at a deluxe resort? Back of the line!"

I really have to wonder if guests will ultimately get so ticked off about these changes to their ride experience that they will just choose not to return to Disney World. Will they be pushed into the arms of Universal? Will they space out their trips a little more in hopes that Disney might change their ways? We'll have to give it more time to see how guests react to the changes.

To balance out my complaining about FastPass+, I would like to touch on what could potentially help FastPass+. Something I mentioned before, mid-day napping guests, could help guests in the standby line. If the guests that are leaving had FastPass+ "reservations" over the period of time that they will be out of the park, that possibly means that standby guests will be reap the benefits.

Another thing that might help out FastPass+ is late arrival guests. There are always going to be families that have the hardest time getting to the parks when they intend to. If a family like that had 5 FastPass+ reservations for Test Track at 9:15-10:15 but didn't make it there on time because there were running late, this means there will be 5 less people standing in front of you in the FastPass+ queue and 5 less people to compete with if you're in the standby line.

My friend, Ed, is at Disney World right now and I asked him how his experience with FastPass+ has been. He said it's been great and his family has not had to wait more than 15 minutes for an attraction. This makes me wonder if Ed's family just happened to pick great times for FastPasses, or if it's just a random thing that some guests are having to deal with long lines while others aren't.

I just did a Twitter search right now to see what I would get. Here it is 2:50pm on a Wednesday and I'm seeing someone report that the "FastPass+ app is down again today." I'm also seeing that the return time for Toy Story Midway Mania FastPasses moves ten minutes later about every 5 seconds. Whoa. It's strange, but I see that someone reported that they just made FastPass+ selections for December, while another guest said upon calling WDW, they were told that FastPass+ would not be running in December. This could cause madness if guests made FastPass+ selections and then they are taken away. One guest said that they were impressed with the Disney mobile app and MagicBand technology because it made life around the resort a lot easier. Cool!

Lastly, a valid gripe was said... "Wouldn't it be nice to know the FastPass return time, or if FastPasses are gone, before you walked across the park to get one?" Though, even knowing what the return time is for an attraction when you check from across the park is pointless because by the time you get there, it could be 2 hours from what you believed it to be since return times are increasing rapidly.

I will absolutely report back after my trip next month and let you know how it goes for my mom and I. Crossing my fingers and hoping for the best!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

January Trip Pictures

After having a real life "McAlister" moment at the airport, we were so thankful that we made our flight. Then we went from plane to Magical Express. 

This was Matt's first time seeing us on the "welcome" video that plays on the Magical Express. Back in 2008, before Toy Story Midway Mania opened, we were lucky enough to be a part of the promotional video filming. It was such a fun experience for us to ride a new attraction before any other guests!

Our first stop was Animal Kingdom. Some of the Christmas decorations were still up.

In case you didn't know, my favorite animal is buffalo.

This was from dinner at La Hacienda de San Angel in Epcot. 

This was the very first car we created at the new Test Track.

My first time meeting Ariel! I was obsessed with her when I was 4 years old.

I really should have bought this beer hat. 

I was surprised to find a buffalo stuffed animal in Canada! I named him Ontario because the Cast Member that sold him to me was from Ontario.

Our first time eating at Be Our Guest was amazing!

As you can see, we were very proud of ourselves for running our first 5K. That was definitely the highlight of the trip for both of us.