Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Featured at the Relocated Tourist

Thanks to Amy at the Relocated Tourist (www.therelocatedtourist.com) for featuring me today on "Travel Agent Tuesday."  If you have not checked out her sight yet, please do so. Its a great resource for those looking to travel to and relocate to the Orlando area.  Plus, it's fun.

The write up on me can be found at :


Monday, February 13, 2012

The One Tip

As a veteran Disney traveler and now as a travel agent specializing in Disney Travel, I am asked the following question more often than any other: what is the best tip you can give me for our Disney Vacation.
The great thing about this question is it is easy to answer.  Who is going or when they are going, how many people or where they are staying, the answer is the same: Get there early.  When I say early, I mean at “rope drop” – the time when the Cast Members literally drop the rope and let you into the park.

Why, why, why do you want me to get up early on my vacation?  I want to relax on vacation and take it easy.  I understand how you feel.  To my wife’s chagrin, I love to sleep in as much as anyone, perhaps more.   There is one thing, however,  I don’t like more than an early wake-up call while on vacation (even if it’s Mickey making the call) – waiting in lines.  Simply put, an early arrival helps you avoid long lines and get the best value for your time and money while on vacation.  Believe it, this strategy will actually help you relax and give you more time to take it easy.

Arriving at the Magic Kingdom early gives you a chance to see the wonderful opening ceremonies of the park
Let’s face it, most people on vacation want to take it easy, get a little extra sleep, take their time in the morning, watch Stacey on the TV a time or two more before meandering down to the bus stop and deciding which park to go to that day.  That means many arrive after 10:30 AM – simply watch the entrance gates to the park and you can see the steady stream of visitors pick up around 10:30 and remain steady through lunch.   With the general opening time of 9 AM for the parks, that leaves the early birds ninety minutes of low crowds, small lines and relative peace in the parks.

Ninety minutes isn’t that much you say?  Let’s take a look at what you can do in that time frame at the Magic Kingdom.  Not long ago, on an August morning, my son and I arrived for opening at the Magic Kingdom (“rope drop”) and proceeded to complete the following attractions in the first ninety minutes of our visit: Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Space Mountain, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Mad Tea Party, Peter Pan’s Flight,  It’s a Small World and The Haunted Mansion.  We then grabbed a fast pas sto return after lunch for Splash Mountain before taking a break and deciding where to eat an early lunch.  If you arrive at say, 11 AM, I would estimate that you will not get those attractions in before dinner, much less lunch and will spend most of that time in line. 
A view of a pretty empty Tomorrowland in the morning

Looking at another park such as Epcot – if you want to ride Soarin’ the time to do it is at opening, before the hour plus wait time builds by lunch time.  Yes, you can get a fast pass if you arrive before they are all handed out to ride it later, but why not ride it now and grab a fast pass for later?  The same idea applies to another major headliner, Toy Story Mania at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  I can think of a few more fun things to do with a sixty minute or longer wait than enjoy this well designed cue.

With a good portion of your touring done early, you are now free to meander, shop, take in the little known or over looked attractions or head back to your resort for a swim and/or a nap while everyone else sweats it out (literally in some cases) waiting in line to do what you already have.  When the masses decide enough is enough and start leaving the park about dinner time, you can now return and finish our your touring, relaxed and refreshed form your break.

For most, a Disney vacation is a once in a while, if not a once in a lifetime trip.  It is expensive and can be stressful.    How to pay, when to go, what to do, where to eat, what resort…why add to that stress with the worry of how to fit in all those great things in your relatively short time visiting.   Take some of that stress away and maximize the value of your stay, the value of your time by getting there early .

Yes, you trade off a little sleep and deserved vacation laziness, but you gain so much more in relaxation, time and stress free touring.  I’ll take that trade any day.  How about you, what is your time worth? 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Running at Disney – Making Each Mile Magical

Donald Duck counts it down…3…2…1 and then with a flash of light and burst of fireworks that cut through the cool dark early morning, you are off.  Not quite the rocket launch that happens some 60 miles east of where you are running, but nearly as impressive.  This is the start of your race at Walt Disney World.

I recently returned from running the Walt Disney World Half Marathon and met several experienced runners and several more like me who were running their first race (and a few of the borderline insane who were running the Goofy Challenge – a half marathon (13.1 miles) on Saturday and a full 26.2 mile marathon on Sunday).  The opinions were unanimous - whether you are running your fiftieth or your first race, running at Disney is a great experience.  

From packet pickup and registration, to race completion, my experience running at Disney was made easy and was filled with friendly smiles, shouts of encouragement and helpful cast members, runners and volunteers.    The “you can do it” atmosphere of the entire weekend envelopes you, something that was very meaningful to this very nervous, first time runner. 

On race day, or should I say, way way way too early on race morning, transportation from the resorts to the race starting area begins at 3:00 AM and you need to be on a bus no later that 4:00 am to be able to start the race.  It may be tempting when reading this to want to stay off site where you think you could sleep a little later and just drive in quick and be at the starting area by 4:30 when they begin to stage runners.  Resist the temptation! 

The plan simply does not work – there are thousands upon thousands of runners all arriving at the same time and many of the normal roads used to get around Disney are restricted, shut down or detoured for the race.  This leads to a looooong line of cars trying to get into the start area while the busses zip right in and drop off the slightly sleepy athletes.  For this reason above all others, I highly recommend you stay on site at Disney if you are running.  You will get to the race on time (as long as you set that alarm clock) and when the race is over, the busses are lining up to take you back to your resort.

Disney does such a wonderful job making the race itself enjoyable and keeping you energized and motivated as you run.  Along your journey you will be greeted by the standard water stations filled with volunteers shouting encouragement but you will also encounter cheerleaders, marching bands, music playing and even Disney Characters!  You can stop and have your photo taken with Mickey (or others ) or strike a quick pose as you head up Main Street USA towards Cinderella’s Castle.  Along the way friends, family, volunteers and just plain great folks turn out and cheer you on.

Passing by the iconic Contemporary Hotel, running through an otherwise empty Magic Kingdom just before the sun rises and pushing myself through Epcot’s Future World as the race is nearly over was an experience I soon won’t forget.    I almost forgot the full Gospel choir that greets you just before you hit the finish line – uplifting, inspiring, special and memorable.

The memorable course and amazing support are the two top reasons I am glad I chose to run my first race at Disney.  I have not mentioned the pre and post race entertainment – dance party style that gets you moving, wakes you up and after you run gives you a great place to celebrate with friends and family.   The race shirts, color coded to the race you are running, are very cool (literally and figuratively)and the souvenirs including trading pins are of course, are not only readily available but well designed. 
2012 Half Marathon Medal

Last, but certainly not least, the medal is something special.  A Donald Duck design for the half marathon finishers, a Mickey for the full marathon, and the special Goofy Design for those, well, goofy folks that ran both races!  These are not some cheap sheet metal punch out, they are heavy, shiny and you won’t want to take it off anytime soon.  In fact, you will see runners wearing them for the rest of their trip around the parks – I even spotted a couple on my flight home from Orlando!

A few tips I will offer to those of you thinking of running at Disney.  For reasons mentioned before, Stay onsite at Disney – it is my #1 tip – it will help make your run  stress free from the start. 

If it is cold the morning of the start, you may consider having a throw away seat shirt or something similar to wear.  After you start running an dare warmed up, you can discard it roadside where volunteers will pick it up and it will be donated or thrown out.  You will be arriving between two and three hours before you actually start running – make sure you are getting yourself hydrated properly and keeping loose with plenty of stretching.   Don’t forget to use the restroom as close to your start as you can – while there are rest room stops on the course, they always have lines which will slow you down.

Getting Ready to start the race!
Before starting, you will be placed in a corral to wait for your start time (Disney starts the races in waves).  When your corral is moved into the starting position, if you want a good look at or photo of the starting platform with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, move to theft side.  Each starting wave has it’s own countdown and burst of fireworks, have your camera ready if you want to capture the moment. 

After you start, keep to your plan and pace.  You are competing against no one but yourself – go for your goals and don’t worry if you are being passed – many will pass you and you will pass many others.  If you are getting tired, it’s OK to walk, you will notice many other doing it.  Keep hydrated along the way – don’t skip the water stations and take the opportunity to take in the scenery and grab a photo or two, Characters greets are great for this and to give you a quick breather if you need it.  Also, don’t forget to smile for the cameras!  There are photographers located all along the route.  You will get a chance to purchase photos from your race experience taken by them, so make ‘em look good.

Take a some time to enjoy the post race fun – music, food, shopping and make sure you stretch out after your race, rehydrate and keep moving during the day  so you don’t get too sore.  Don’t forget to wear your race medal to the parks afterwards – it’s a great conversation starter!

Lastly, have fun.  Whether it is your first race our your fifty-first race, Disney has a way to make it special for you and each mile magical.   Enjoy it, but be careful - you may find yourself planning your next Disney Run Vacation before you leave your first! (I know I did).

For a list of Run Disney events and how to get registered, give me a call and we can work on it together.

Joe is a Disney Destinations Enthusiast and Independent Travel Agent with Off To Neverland Travel. 

CST# 2090317-40 / Fla. Seller of Travel Ref. No. ST37203
As to Disney artwork, logos and properties: © Disney – Ship Registry: The Bahamas

Sunday, February 5, 2012

I am Back with a Special Announcement

It' has been a while since I wrote here as the Disney Travel Dude - but that does not mean I have be slacking in my travel or my gathering of travel tips.  Just the opposite!  While away, I made the leap and became a travel planner who specializes in Disney Destinations.

Hence, I am pleased to announce my affiliation with Off to Neverland Travel®.  I specialize in Disney Destinations - Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort, Disney Cruise Line Vacations and Adventures by Disney Vacations - for groups and individuals.  

Off to Neverland Travel’s® focus is on Disney vacation travel.  By specializing, I will provide you with personalized service and expert advice for the vacation that is a perfect match for your personal interests.  I can also  help you with cruises and resort destinations beyond Disney Destinations as well.

The focus of my blog will remain to provide you tips for traveling to the different Disney Destinations and how to make the most of your vacations.  I will also be able to keep you updated on special travel promotions and discounts as they become available.  My facebook page will also keep you updated, so if you haven't yet, take a moment to become a fan of it by visiting www.facebook.com/MagicMakerJoe and click that like button.  

So keep on coming back, I promise to do my best to keep you informed, slightly amused and hopefully make your next trip a bit more magical.  Questions?  Just drop me a line at:

Joe DeFazio, Magic Maker
Off To Neverland Travel, An Authorized Disney Travel Planner

CST# 2090317-40 / Fla. Seller of Travel Ref. No. ST37203  As to Disney artwork, logos and properties: © Disney –Ship Registry: The Bahamas

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Hook

Speak to any Disney Fan and you will eventually find the story.  The one about how they became a fan, where they became hooked. 

The interesting thing is that many of these stories don’t involve grand gestures or indescribably excitement.  Many times it’s a subtle, little moment that grabs them.  That’s mine.

In 2001, I received a 3 night hotel stay as a gift from my employer.  You could go anywhere you wanted with the voucher; you just needed to get there.  I wanted to take my 4 year old Son to Disney World but was talked into believing he was too young for Disney.  So I went elsewhere and had a nice trip, but the decision still bothered me.  Not knowing when or if I could afford another trip, I felt I might have missed an opportunity for my son to see Disney World

A few months later, a sales contest ensued at work.  The prize?  Another 3 night hotel stay.  It was as if someone was telling me “You blew it last time boy, here is your second chance.” Our office won the contest, and I was presented with a second chance to take the trip I knew I should have.   I didn’t hesitate and booked a room in Orlando to see Mickey Labor Day weekend.  

There is the setup, now the hook.

My son’s Grandparents did what Grandparents do best, spoil him.  The fact that they were not going on this trip was irrelevant, they wanted to ensure the young man was properly taken care of and loaded him up with some Disney Dollars for the trip.   He was told to spend the money on something he wanted and we were instructed to make sure he did.

While I had not been to Disney in 16 years, I was quite sure that young Sam would have no problem finding a place to spend those magical Disney dollars.  As we all know, there is no shortage of Disney colossal cash grabs…err…gift shops on property.   

We arrived at the Magic Kingdom on a hot sweaty late August morning, Sam ready to be separated from his wallet.  Exiting the air conditioned comfort of Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin, he spotted it – the gift kiosk with the LGM characters on top.  They seemed to be calling to him “buy heeeere..oooo.”  Sam surveyed the offerings and found the object of his desire, a shiny Buzz Lighyear toy that could squirt water.  Perfect, his favorite character and he could use it for his favorite pass time, making a mess.

Sam looked at me for approval and I relented and pointed him to the cast member at the kiosk saying “let’s go pay.”  Sam approached the cast member and handed him his chosen toy and with pride reached into his pocket to pay.  I began to say “here, give me your wallet” when I was interrupted by the cast member.  “Dad, we can take care of this transaction if that’s OK” he said.  I smiled and stepped back.

Over the next few moments, the cast member worked with my five year old on his purchase.  They spoke about the toy and how much he liked Buzz Lightyear, where he was from (Sam not Buzz although that probably came up as well) and how much fun he was having.  He kneeled down to meet Sam’s level but never spoke down to him, never hurried him and treated him with the same respect and friendliness any full sized guest would receive.

Sam was sold and eager to pay.  The price of “Water Buzz” was given and the concept of sales tax was even discussed.  This guy was better than some of the Economics professors I had in college at explaining this.  The cast member proceeded to help Sam count his Disney Dollars out, adding them up and asking “do you think this is enough?”  When they agreed on the amount of Mouse bucks to be handed over, the cast member counted back the change, doing it like a math problem, all with a smile.  The purchase was bagged and Sam was thanked and told what a great job he did counting. 

Sam beamed.  He just purchased the toy he picked out with his money (the fact that the money had a Mouse on it rather than a President matters not)all by himself.  He made the small talk, he did the counting, this was now his toy.  He was so proud but not nearly as proud as I was.

“Water Buzz” stayed with us for years and became Sam’s favorite bath toy.  And the story of how he purchased him became that subtle little moment for me.

Ten years and some twenty Disney trips later, I still think of that cast member each time I see the neon green glow of the LGMs peering over the top of that kiosk.  I always make a point to stop and browse at it each trip to remember how on at sticky Friday morning, one Cast Member, suited in  Tomorrowland grey,  made my kid’s day and had me grab the Mouse’s bait, hook and all.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


“We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway, yay”
-Carly Simon “Anticipation”

Waiting for a flight to Disney at the Buffalo-Niagara Airport, May 2005

 The planning is done, all that’s left is the anticipation.  What will this trip bring?  What new things will we discover and what old stand byes we will relax into?  And the food, can’t wait to Visit Via Napoli again and try some new things as well.  Can’t we just leave already and find out?

Anticipating your trip is the last step before departure, yet it seems like it’s the longest one.  For the obsessive planner (like me), there are no more crowd calendars to go over, dining reservations to make or flight prices to double check.  The hotel is booked and waiting, and now so are you.

It’s an anxious time.  Will it be too hot?  Too crowded?  How much will it rain?  Will the bus be on time at the airport?  What if my flight is delayed? 

Then, you think of seeing the welcome arch over World Drive and the anxiety melts away to excitement.  You can’t wait to grab the Mickey Bar or Dole Whip (or both!) and hop on Space Mountain, different now, but still very reminiscent of the first time you rode it with your brother over 25 years ago.  You want to see what towel animals the mousekeeping staff leaves for you each day.  You look forward to what you know and love and to new adventures you haven’t yet tried.  You can’t wait to share with your kids this place and watch their smiles and laughs fill your vacation.

That mix of looking forward and looking back, excitement and nervousness gets you going through the day.  Then the alarm goes off.

You are ready.  Grab your bags, it’s time to go.

“These are the good old days”

Monday, May 30, 2011

Top 7 Tips - How to Beat the Heat

90, 92, 92, 90.

No, these numbers not my yearly high school GPA.  Although they are an approximation of how old I feel after Taekwondo classes, its not what I am getting at.  They are not the scores my Celtics failed to get to beat the Miami Heat.  They are temperatures, the average high temperatures for June, July August and September at Disney World to be exact, the warmest months of the year.

Combining the warmest months of the year with crowded summer parks can spell a disaster for your Disney World vacation.  This does not need to be the case.  I have visited Disney World several times during August and find that with some planning and a healthy dose of common sense, you can beat the heat at Disney World. 

So, in classic Stacey style (if you have visited Disney World in the last 7 years or so, you know who I speak of) today we will look at my top 7 ways to keep your cool in the Florida heat.

Early June through mid-September feature average highs 90 or above and it is H-U-M-I-D.  Even if you don’t plan on visiting during the summer you should know that 90+ temps are not isolated to those months.  It is not uncommon to see 90 or above in April, May and even October.  We experienced temperatures in the high 90s during our visit to the Food and Wine Festival in mid-October, 2009.

TIP 1: Dress for Success.

Sure I love to wear my black “I’m Surrounded by Idiots” t-shirt at the parks and my new cowboy boots  are kind of cool, but unless I want to feel what it’s like inside an oven at Via Napoli, I know I need to make better choices.  Light colored, lose fighting clothing is the best choice.  Wear comfortable shoes that breathe – you will be walking a bunch, in the heat and a good chance in the rain, remember that when choosing your shoes.

Bad hat Choice
Good Hat Choice
Wear a hat.  Much to Patrick’s (from Soarin’) dismay, those beauties, the classic black Mickey ears, don’t count here.  Neither does the oven for your head that is the Mickey Groom’s hat.  Use some common sense, keep the sun off your dome and try to avoid the darker colors here as well.

Don’t forget the sunscreen.  While it won’t cool you off, it will help prevent that nasty sunburn which is never pleasant in the summer heat.  I never fail in seeing at least a few people each day doing their best Lobster impressions walking through the parks. 

TIP 2: Drinking is encouraged.

Water, that is.  Between the heat and the amount of walking you are doing, you will be losing body fluids quicker than you think.  Make sure you stay hydrated consistently during the day.  Bottled water is sold everywhere in the parks but isn’t cheap ($2.50-$3.00).  Don’t let that stop you from keeping hydrated.  You can bring in your own bottled water or a refillable bottle and there are plenty of drinking fountains available as well. 

There is also free (yes, free) ice water available in the parks - Just stop by a counter service restaurant and ask for a cup of ice water.  If they have it, they will give it to you.  This little known fact is a life saver If you are like me and don’t like to carry around bottles or are not a fan of drinking fountain.

TIP 3: Timing is (almost) everything.

It’s really not very magical to be crowded together with a few hundred of your sweaty new friends and neighbors in an attraction cue when the temperature out is starting to melt plastics.  So, arrive early, at park opening.  You will hear this bit of advice many times when trying to avoid wait times, but it also applies to the heat.  Arriving at park opening allows you to tour the parks efficiently, with lower wait times and crowds before the heat (and population) peaks in the afternoon.  When the crowds start building and the sun starts scorching around lunch time, escape back to your resort.  Relax, take a nap or a swim (or both) and head back to the parks in the evening as the temperatures and crowd levels subside.  You will see just as much (if not more) doing this than by pushing through the afternoon and will also avoid the hottest part of the day. 

TIP 4: AC is your friend.

No, not the guy driving the white Bronco, but Air Conditioning.  When the heat kicks up, head for indoor attractions that are air conditioned.  This is a great time to enjoy inside attractions, shows and movies such as Mickey’s Philharmagic or The Carousel of Progress at the Magic Kingdom, Ellen’s Energy Adventure or the American Adventure at Epcot, Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom or Adventures of the Little Mermaid of Muppet 3D at Disney Studios. 

Grab lunch indoors or take a break to walk through a gift shop or three (I don’t think you will have problems finding them.)  Downtown Disney is great for this with its wide variety of shops and places to eat.  Working these “air cooled” gems into your touring plan makes a long, hot day much easier to survive.

TIP 5: Go Get Wet.

Take a swim at the resort, head to a water park or enjoy a park attraction offering a splash of fun.  Many times, because most people are in the parks during the day, the resort pools are relatively empty mid-day, so take that mid-afternoon break from the parks and take a dip.

The water parks are fun and a great place to cool off, but they are expensive (unless you have them added to your park ticket already) and can get crowded in the summer.  Get there early to grab a “home base” in the shade and make sure you slather on the sun screen.  Grab a ride Splash Mountain for a chance to get a soaking, or hop on Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom for a near guarantee of getting wet during your ride. 

Also in the parks you will find mister stations that can give you a brief (but welcome) source of relief.  At Magic Kingdom, head to Tomorrowland and find the Cool Scanner misters by Star Traders gift shop or find the misting (and more) Tikis in Adventureland.  In Epcot, look for the Cool Wash mister stations in Future World near Test Track or the misters near Ellen’s Energy Adventure.  While at Disney Hollywood Studios, look for the misting Coke bottles near the Backlot Express.  Animal Kingdom has misters located here and there with the largest ones residing near Tamu Tamu refreshments.

Additionally, look for the fountains in Asia at Animal Kingdom, the spitting Camels at Alladin’s Magic Carpets in the Magic Kingdom, the Singing in The Rain Gene Kelly statue in the Studios and the sidewalk fountains at Epcot for a quick splash of refreshment.

TIP 6: Cool Treats.

You know I have to work food into this somewhere, and Disney World has plenty of great cool treats to help you beat the heat.  From the classic Mickey Bar to a Grand Marnier Slush (aka “adult slushy”) in Epcot, an ice cream on Main Street to classic lemonade, you can cool off just about anywhere in the parks.

Ice cream novelty carts (where you will find the Mickey Bar and if you are lucky, the completely under-rated frozen banana) are usually only a few steps away and you can find a frozen coke fairly easily too.  If you want my personal favorite cool treat, head to Aloha Isle in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom for a Dole Whip.  This wonderful concoction is a soft serve pineapple sorbet that can be served as is or as a float with pineapple juice (they also have orange and vanilla available If you wish, but the pineapple is the best, trust me).  Its cold, tasty, refreshing and cost less than $5, no matter what your choice.

Another top pick for a sweet treat to cool down is Club Cool at Epcot.  Club Cool and, its predecessor Ice Station Cool, offer free samples of sodas from around the world in an air conditioned Coca-Cola gift shop.  The sodas are self-service and spending 10 minutes trying the different flavors in the cool air really can recharge your batteries on a hot August day.  Don’t forget to try the Beverly from Italy!

TIP 7: Mother Nature

Lastly, don’t forget about Mother Nature for to remedy the heat as well.  Along with being the warmest months of the year, June July, August and September are also the rainiest months of year with each month averaging over 6 inches of rainfall, August at 7.3 inches.  Almost like clockwork, there is a mid-afternoon thundershower nearly each afternoon in the summer.  Take advantage of this to throw some rain gear on (or not if you don’t mind wet shorts) and keep touring.  It will be cooler and the crowds nearly instantly thin out.

There are many shady spots under trees than can give you a break from the sun and don’t forget, when that sun does set, Disney Parks stay open, especially with longer summer park hours.  Head out under the moonlight and enjoy the cooler temperatures.

As you can see there is no reason to avoid traveling to Disney in the summer months.  While most of the summer is quite busy, starting in Mid-August, crowd levels drop off significantly making a late august-September visit quite enjoyable.  Just remember to be smart about the heat and sun, pace yourself and enjoy.

What are some of your favorite tips for visiting in the summer heat?