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Insider Tips for Visiting Disney in Orlando

On Saturday, July 13, Belinda Skelton and I donned our Mickey Mouse ears to share insider tips on all things Disney on her radio show “Belinda Skelton’s Atlanta Living.” Here are some tips that will save you time, money and sanity! Check them out before your next trip through the turnstiles in Orlando. Thanks to my social media friends who shared their best tips! 

grand-floridian-hotel-001
Staying at a Disney Resort has a lot of advantages. During our recent stay at the Grand Floridian we loved being able to travel to theme parks by monorail, bus or water ferry.

Saving on admission

Sadly, there are very few discounts to be had. I don’t recommend trying to score deals on eBay or Craig’s List as you don’t know whether the tickets are valid or not. There are some official resellers such as Undercover Tourist or Maple Leaf Tickets. Make sure the site is an authorized Disney Parks ticket seller.

Prices usually go up in January and August so if you know you are going you can purchase ahead of time. Tickets never expire. If you’re going back a lot, you might consider an annual pass.

Bypassing long lines

Get a Fastpass. And it’s free! Just go to a machine, put your admission ticket in and get a ticket with a time stamped on it to return. When you return at assigned time, you go right to the front. Not all rides have them but the most popular ones do. You can see a list of them here.

Here are a few more tips for avoiding long lines.

•  Start at the back of the park and work your way towards the entrance. (Billy Miller)

Parades are a lot of fun to watch but if you prefer shorter lines at the attractions and restaurants, go during parade time.
Parades are a lot of fun to watch but if you prefer shorter lines at the attractions and restaurants, go during parade time.

• Go to rides and the most popular restaurants during parades. Lines for everything are shorter then. (Beth Kempe)

• If you’ve got big bucks to spend, hire a Disney guide who will drive you to theme parks so you’ll get around quickly. You will still need to use a Fastpass for lines. The cost for a Premium VIP Tour is $315 an hour for up to 10 guests with a minimum of six hours. That does not include park admission.

• No matter how painful it is after staying up late for fireworks, get the parks early to enjoy shorter lines.  (from Stacie Hanna)

 Dining

My favorite restaurants in Disney are the sit-down ones at Epcot but for a quick meal my favorite is Cosmic Ray’s, where I always get rotisserie chicken with green beans — healthy and filling.

My favorite place for a quick meal at the Magic Kingdom is Cosmic Ray's. If the kids opt for burgers they can get it with apple slices rather than fries.
My favorite place for a quick meal at the Magic Kingdom is Cosmic Ray’s. If the kids opt for burgers they can get it with apple slices rather than fries.

Here are other tips to eat healthy or save money while visiting theme parks.

* Take groceries or if you are flying, use a grocery delivery service from Publix or another local store to deliver to your hotel the day you arrive. You’ll save a lot of time, money and frustration if you have some food of your own.

• Make sure your kids eat breakfast before you go.

• For healthier options, look for Kids’ Picks where kids can choose items such as carrot sticks, applesauce, grapes, apple slices. Many restaurants offer healthier choices like veggie burgers or turkey sandwiches. Visit this site for more tips and a list of healthy choices available at the theme parks in Orlando.

• Adults can order kids’ meals to get a smaller portion, usually plenty for the average appetite.

• Adults can order kids’ meals to get smaller portion, usually plenty for grown-ups.

• If  you want to eat at one of the many sit-down restaurants, make a reservation in advance.

• You can save money by eating a late lunch at the park, then wait until you leave to get dinner at a local restaurant or your hotel.

Alcohol

It was big news when Magic Kingdom finally started serving alcohol last fall when it opened Be Our Guest restaurant in the new Fantasyland addition. But as they said, you can’t have a French restaurant without wine and beer. Be Our Guest serves Belgium and French beers and wines from France and California. But these are available only inside the restaurant and only during dinner.

Animal Kingdom has plenty of wonderful restaurants where you can enjoy an adult beverage, as does Epcot. We enjoyed some delicious cocktails at Tokyo Dining on my most recent visit. At Hollywood Studios you can buy mixed drinks and wine inside full-service restaurants, and can visit a beer stand around the park.

For the first time alcohol is available in the Magic Kingdom. You can enjoy wine and beer during dinner when you dine at the Be Our Guest restaurant inside the Beast's Castle in the new Fantasyland.
For the first time alcohol is available in the Magic Kingdom. You can enjoy wine and beer during dinner when you dine at the Be Our Guest restaurant inside the Beast’s Castle in the new Fantasyland.

What to Take

You don’t want to be too weighed down, but you’ll be glad to have that backpack or tote filled with a few essentials during those long days. Here are just a few items to include

• Water bottle

• Bandaids for blisters and lots of patience! (From Wendy Ellin)

• Your own pirate and princess costumes for the makeovers  at Pirate League & Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at the Magic Kingdom. (Stacie Hanna)

Here’s another suggestion if you are going with kids. Stock up on Disney merchandise at Target or WalMart before you go.  Give each child a small amount to spend at the theme parks.

Accommodations

 One of your first decisions is whether you want to stay in one of the 23 Disney resorts, in all price categories. To compare them all, click here.

The advantages to staying in a Disney resort include:

The Magical Express A free shuttle and baggage delivery service for the airport.

Disney’s Magic Extra Hours On a rotating basis, a different park will be open one hour earlier and three hours later for Disney resort guests only.

• Free and easy transportation to theme parks. Disney Resort guests can take a bus, monorail or at some resorts, a water ferry to get to the parks.

• Package delivery. Rather than carrying that giant stuffed Tigger around all day, have any purchases delivered to your hotel.

 

Kids will love to explore the Art of Animation Resort, Disney's newest value resort where all the suites have themed rooms.
Kids will love to explore the Art of Animation Resort, Disney’s newest value resort where all the suites have themed rooms.

Tips for Disney Resorts

• Call the resort directly and ask for specials

• Look for specials on the Internet and search for discount codes

• W hen you arrive, ask for invitational upgrades. These “invitations” are only sometimes available and will bump you up one class,

• If you stay at a Disney Moderate or Deluxe Resort, ask for an in-room refrigerator, which are offered free of charge.

• Don’t forget to take time to explore the resort.  Dana Lindsey traveled with her family and stayed at The Art of Animation. “From the food court, to the swimming area, to even the cute themed soaps in your room – all of this is part of Disney Magic!,” she said. “During  our last trip (and we’ve been on many), I had just recovered from a broken leg so I took an afternoon to stay at resort while family went out. I walked around the amazing family suite (we were at Cars suites) and tried out everything. I then went to food court and sampled the international fare and to the souvenir shop because there are unique items designed for each resort. One night, my youngest and I took some time and just sat in the Kozy Kones by the pool, and we made sure we to stop and touch every single car t on display. Those are the memories that last, too!”

Accommodations Outside of Disney

• Research deals on the Internet, where you can find really good rates. For example, the Radisson Orlando Resort is just 1.5 miles away, offers free transportation to Epcot and has rooms starting at just $89 a night. Kayak.com is a good site to search for deals. If you’re a AAA member, try searching on their site. If you are staying several days, you may want to search for houses or condos on a site like www.vrbo.com or www.airbnb.com.

A trip to Disney is a wonderful, okay yes, I’ll say it, magical experience. Makes your more magical by following some tips and doing your research first. Come back later this week when I’ll write about what’s new at Disney this summer.

5 Reasons I Love My Global Entry Card

global_entryIt may be the best $100 I ever spent. My sister-in-law and one of my co-workers at Travelgirl magazine had been telling me about the Global Entry Card and how wonderful it was. Being extremely paperwork-averse, I didn’t pay much attention. Then I looked at my upcoming trips and figured I’d check it out.

It took me about 45 minutes to complete the online form, filling in blanks for addresses, former address, places of employment, any names I’d ever used, yadda, yadda, yadda. After you submit that, you wait to see if you’ll be called in for an interview. But they don’t email you — you have to check back on the site periodically.

One day I checked the site and it said I was conditionally approved, and had to set up an interview at one of two locations, either an office at the Atlanta airport or one nearby. I chose the airport and on the appointed day, traveled to the new International Concourse F, with my passport and driver’s license in hand.

This was one interview I didn’t need to prepare for and wasn’t a bit nervous. Being exactly the person I said I was, I already knew all the answers to questions about my life. There was no one else there and within a few minutes, a nice gentleman called me back and after looking at my passport, asking me a couple of questions, and taking my fingerprints he said I was approved. He took my photo and told me I’d receive my card in the mail. A few weeks later it came.

It’s the most magical card in my wallet. Even more so than my “Free foot massage after 10 stamps” card that is almost filled up. I’ve used it several times now and here are a few reasons why I love it.

1. Customs is a breeze

An article in the Wall Street Journal, “The Summer of Long Custom Waits”   that customs lines are reaching up to three hours long in some locations. So many travelers have missed flights in Miami that they have turned an auditorium into an overnight shelter. Welcome to the U.S.

At participating airports, if you have the Global Entry Card you walk up to a kiosk, slide your passport in, answer a few customs questions, place your fingers on the screen and receive a slip of paper that you use to walk through. Couldn’t be easier. When my son and I returned from Europe this spring, we just smiled and walked right by the hundreds of people in line at the Atlanta airport.

Pretty much the last thing you want to do when you return home and have just been on a 10-hour flight
Pretty much the last thing you want to do when you return home and have just been on a 10-hour flight

2.  Short lines in domestic airports on some airlines

Although the Global Entry Program is designed for you to bypass the lengthy customs lines, some airlines participate in  the TSA PreCheck program and if you have a Global Entry Card, you may be eligible to go through the TSA lines in participating airports.  Participating airlines include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways. So if you mainly travel AirTran and primarily travel domestically, the Global Entry Card may not benefit you too much.

I’ve breeze through the short lines in Orlando and Atlanta in less than five minutes. You don’t always get to go through the line but when you do, it’s wonderful.

3. No taking off shoes, stripping half-naked, or taking laptop out

When you are able to go through the short TSA line, it’s a trip back to easier times. No need to take off your shoes, strip half-naked or even take your laptop out. Your clothes and your dignity remain intact.

4. No radiation scanner

I hate radiation scanners and not just because I object to being made to assume a criminal position to have someone look at me naked, although that is plenty to make me cranky. I don’t trust the technology or the lack of regular servicing and do no wish to be radiated every time I travel. There’s a reason these are banned in Europe.

5. My photo is awesome

I’ve had people laugh at my driver’s license photo. Yes, it is that bad. I’d been waiting for hours at the DMV and was cranky at being there in the first place. My sour expression plus frizzy hair = ugly photo. My small black-and-white global entry photo, however, shows me partially smiling. And my hair looks great. And no one has laughed at it yet.

You can find out more at  www.globalentry.gov/howtoapply.html. Please note there are only 25 locations for the in-person interviews. You can see that list here. It can also take several weeks to be approved after you fill out your form. The WSJ article reported that 60,000 people applied in May so applications may be delayed further.

 

What to Wear on a Plane

I can tell you what not to wear. Don’t wear those tight jeans that now surely must be comfortable after that you’ve lost five pounds. They weren’t. We were barely above cruising altitude when those jeans let me know they were not at all impressed by my hard-earned weight loss and were most definitely not my friend.

So now I know to always stick to my usual clothes for a flight – no matter what the scale is saying that week.

For short flights the selection of an outfit is less crucial from a comfort standpoint, although it is important if you are trying to maximize what you take on your trip. For example, in the winter I pretty much constantly wear my black or brown boots. They are great at my destination, if it’s a chilly one, but take up valuable real estate in my suitcase.

So to save space I wear them on the plane. A pain when going through security, true, but worth it to have more space in the suitcase.

But tonight I’m packing for my longest flight ever: five hours from Atlanta to L.A, then eight hours from L.A. to Tahiti, on my way to Four Seasons Bora Bora. (Yes, I’m beyond excited and not complaining about hours in a cramped seat, as paradise awaits.)

Because I’m wearing the same clothes through several time zones, my outfit is critical to trying to find some comfort in my coach seat. Here are some of my go-to clothes:

My bras only last about 14 hours until I want to rip them off and get comfortable. Fortunately I’ve perfected the art of sliding out of one while still dressed, a skill I practice just about nightly if I’m watching TV and far too fascinated by the height of Cat Deeley’s shoes and the dancing in “So You Think You Can Dance” to leave the vicinity of my couch. So rather than wear a bra, I opt for a camisole with a built-in bra, like this one for $16 from Gap.com

 

Leggings are perfect for a plane ride. They keep me warm and have no binding. Leggings do not care if you’ve gained or lost five pounds and they have no zippers or buttons to pinch or bind. These are by HUE, $28 at Macy’s.

 

I have a whole posse of knit dresses from Target that are perfect for travel. They are cheap, don’t wrinkle and very comfortable. Add sandals in the summer, or boots, tights and a sweater in the winter and you’ve got a great sight-seeing outfit too. This is the faux wrap dress for $24.88.

 

I never travel without a cardigan. They are perfect to keep warm and cozy on plane rides and then use as a layer at your destination. I like this open style, $79.50 at Banana Republic.

Decline of Bereavement Fares: What Can You Do?

You get a call that your beloved Aunt Louise in Philadelphia has died unexpectedly and the funeral is in three days. It’s too far to drive and in the midst of your grief you have to figure out how to get there, without spending the equivalent of a mortgage payment for airfare.

We’ve noticed as airlines have cut everything from free checked luggage to supplying blankets. (On a recent sub-zero flight to flight attendant: “Do you have any blankets?” “Honey, we haven’t had those since 1980.”) Many were also quietly cutting the option of discount bereavement fares.

If available at all, the offerings vary widely from airline to airline with varying discounts and requirements. For example, Lufthansa offers a bereavement fare but you have to make the purchase a week in advance. And often the discounted fare on a particular airline is lot higher than a regular one on another airline. United Airlines offers a 5% discount

If offered at all, you’ll have to call the airlines to qualify and be prepared with information such as the name of the funeral home, the doctor’s name, the hospital and the social security number of the deceased. In some cases you may need to supply a copy of the death certificate.

Bankrate.com recently conducted a survey of the policies of various airlines. Be sure to check with the airlines to see if any of these policies have changed.

If you do check and find the airfares are too much for your wallet, what are your options? Consumer advocate Clark Howard recently offered these three suggestions on his nationally syndicated radio show to score lower fares for quick travel.

Woman Seeks Shuttle Spot for Short-Term Relationship

Park your car at Park 'N Fly Plus and drop your dog at Pet Paradise where he can lounge in his own suite or just chill in the bone-shaped pool.

“Last time I parked right by the airport it was like $4 a day,” my friend Melissa said this week as we were discussing parking at the Atlanta airport for her trip to Boston.

“Was that during the Eisenhower administration?” I asked.

People get all rah-rah about Atlanta and how we have the world’s busiest airport. Can’t tell what good that does me, other than making flying out of the world’s busiest airport a multi-hour process. I’m fairly jealous of my buddies who travel out of smaller airports like Greensboro and Charlottesville where you just tool right up to the terminal a short while before your flight leaves. And now that our beloved shuttle parking lot right on Virginia Avenue closed a few years back we’ve been adrift when it comes to parking at the airport.

Truth is we usually take MARTA, our public transportation system, to the airport. It’s easy, fast, inexpensive, and you don’t have to worry about the famous Atlanta traffic. But there are times when it’s not an option — an early-morning flight before MARTA starts running or for longer trips when we have overpacked. By we, I mean my husband who totes a much bigger suitcase than I do. Even though he only needs two pairs of shoes, exactly two toiletry items and zero jewelry.

Tips for Buying Trips at Auctions

The place: Silent auctions

The drink: Whatever you want. In moderation. See #3.

We purchased a stay at this modern home on Lake Rabun, which came with the best-equipped kitchen I've ever seen in a second home (16 steak knives and a microplane!), loads of plush fluffy towels and even a coonskin hat.

The first trip I bought through an auction at a fundraiser was for a bed and breakfast in Toccoa, GA. Not exactly a hot spot destination, but I was a stay-at-home mom with young kids. I would have bid on a Motel Six in Donkey Bend, Kentucky.

Since then I’ve bought several getaways at silent auctions and have found them to be a rewarding and often more affordable way to travel. Another advantage is that you often get to stay in homes not normally available.

Just recently we stayed in a large elegant modern three-bedroom home at Lake Rabun, GA that we purchased at an auction for Actor’s Express last spring. Although our winning bid was for a two-night stay, the generous owner called us the week we were going and offered it to us for two nights more as no one was going to be using his home. We invited several friends up and had a wonderful weekend hiking, hanging out at the lake and eating wonderful meals on the screened-in porch.

Avoid Those Luggage Fees – and win a $100 Amex Gift Card

The best way to avoid luggage fees? A private jet! But this was just a photo shoot for a line of luggage launched by Travelgirl magazine, where I am managing editor. That's me on the left, with Robyn Klugman, Associate Publisher of Travelgirl. We're generally crammed in coach when we travel.

I hate paying to check my bag. I just think about what else I could buy with that $50 I’d be charged just to have my suitcase travel with me. In my world, that’s more than four bottles of wine, a pair of shoes, a dress or a decent meal out with my husband.

I’ve gotten way better at packing now – I seldom have to go pull a Kramer and go commando because I forgot my underwear. Which I’ve done twice. So I can usually pack lightly enough to carry on my bag.

But then there is the whole hassle of finding space and the please-don’t-let-me-drop-this-on-someone’s-head prayer I say every time I hoist my suitcase in or out of the overhead bin. Not to mention the stress of shifting all those toiletries into those tiny three-ounce containers. And between trips the labels wear off so I’m not sure if I’m lathering on sunscreen or hair conditioner when I’m lounging poolside. We won’t even talk about the Neosporin/toothpaste mix-up of 2009.

Here’s one solution – get a Delta SkyMiles card from American Express and your  first checked bag is free! And not only yours, but up to nine people traveling with you. (Bless your heart if you’re traveling with nine people.) But let’s say you’re taking a family trip with four of you – that’s $200 right there.

Bad Photos Spur Life Changes

Bad photos can spur a lot of major-life decisions.

In high school, a bad photo spurred me on to lose 20 pounds. And I didn’t even know it was me in the photo at first. I had gotten a camera at Christmas, and took a photo of myself in the mirror. Weeks later, when I had the film developed, I flipped through my prints and thought, “Who is that fat girl in the mirror?” Imagine my horror when I realized it was indeed me. I didn’t touch bacon or butter for weeks and my jumprope became my new best friend.

Other photos have inspired  new haircuts or a change in color. There have been wardrobe changes as well. A photo I took last March in Las Vegas with my daughter inspired me to race to my closet and toss out that dress that I thought looked so cute, but in reality looked like I’d been the subject of a preschool art project gone horribly wrong.

My latest change came from seeing photos of myself in my prescription sunglasses and realized I didn’t look nearly as cool as I thought I did. But not wanting to invest a few hundred dollars in a new pair when that money could instead  go to a better cause, like my eBay handbag addiction, I sought other options.

That’s when I heard consumer guru Clark Howard talking about Zenni Optical, where you can get glasses at a big discount. Now Clark is not known for being fashion forward, and thinks a hotdog at Costco is a fine dining experience, so I wanted to check this out before I went and got all excited about it.

Refrain From Going Inn-Sane in the Rain

The skies over Amelia earlier this week looked like this.
The skies over Amelia earlier this week looked like this.

Today is a happy day, as I’m in St. Simons Island with a clear, sunny forecast and an entire day that is blissfully agenda free, except for the eight hours I plan to set my sunscreened, sunglassed, straw-hatted self on a chair oceanside and soak up the sun. The only interruption will come in the form of a juicy tomato sandwich made with homegrown tomatoes from the local veggie stand.

Contrast that to our grey, rainy skies on Amelia Island the other day, where we were staying at the Amelia Plantation Inn. I’ve faced my share of rainy days at the beach, and rather than spending another minute cursing the skies and staring forlornly at my packed-up beach bag sitting in the corner, I found more productive ways to spend my time.

• Put self tanner in the shape of a heart with my initials in the middle on my napping husband’s back.

• Watched Dr. Phil and ate an almond cookie every time he said, “It’s time to get real.”

* Continued reading South of Broad and pondered whether Barbra Streisand and her fingernails would star in the movie adaptation of this Pat Conroy book.

• Painted one of my husband’s toenails with red polish then went on Facebook to take bets from my friends on how long it would be until he discovered it.

• Tried to learn the Thriller dance figuring if more than 12,000 Mexicans can do it, I can too.

• Thought of my old college boyfriend. I had first visited Amelia Island with him and his family just a few months before he dumped me, and pictured him now as chubby as John Goodman, as annoying as Larry David and driving his wife (the woman for whom I was dumped) rapidly towards the brink of insanity by wearing hideous cowboy boots and calling waitresses purty lady, just because he lives in Texas.

• Decided to make up new drink recipes with items in our room. The winner was a Triscuit-tini, made with gin and vermouth and garnished with little Triscuit shavings and a olive and chunk of cheddar cheese strung together with dental floss. Hors d’oeuvres and a drink together, clever, huh?

By this time the rain had quit and we decided to go take a bike ride. Even through the dark skies I had no trouble keeping up with my husband – I just followed the flash of the red toenail.

Airlines Take Us for a Royal Fleecing

My $120 up in smoke
My $120 up in smoke

Have a trip planned but you have to be back at work earlier than you thought for a meeting? Let the hotel know a day in advance and you’ll get your money back. Change a dinner reservation? No problem. Change an airline reservation? Sure! Just get out that credit card and get ready to be ripped-off.

As many of you have learned, it can be easy to change a reservation – just expect to pay up to $150 for the privilege to do so. Maybe it’s because it costs so much to re-issue you that fresh paper ticket. Oh wait, they don’t do that anymore. Or because you took so much of the representative’s time to make the reservation. No, that’s not it – you did it yourself online.

The reason airlines fleece you on change fees is simple. Because they can.

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