Although I am still reveling in Christmas spirit and our Chicago Winter Wonderland, I am finding myself longing for the moment when Spring has sprung!
Two years ago was my very first opportunity to experience Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival and I would totally recommend this event to everyone! The Flower and Garden Festival has always been held as a welcome to the spring and the months of March, April and May in Epcot show that Spring is ready!!!
This years dates are: March 6th - June 3rd, 2019
Here is a sneak peek of what you can look forward to!!!
Children’s Play Areas
Throughout Epcot there are children’s playgrounds set up in the theme park. All three areas were specifically designed for children 2 – 5 years old with play equipment and a lawn area for children to spread out and run around. One of the areas also had a separate section for older children to play and explore.
Often multiple locations!!!
NOTE: These play areas are not supervised by Walt Disney World personnel – you would need to stay with your children as they play.
Set up throughout Epcot there are also a variety of fun activities that the whole family can participate in!
I was also able to spend some downtime inside a butterfly tent. Set up along one of the walk ways was an enclosed tent; families could enter and enjoy an afternoon butterfly encounter! All types of butterflies flew around the tent –sometimes landing on you! Inside, there are stations detailing information about the different species; you can leisurely wander the tent searching for your favorites!!
I totally recommend having family members split up and try foods from the different kiosks – that way everyone can try a sample of everything!
If you are lucky enough to attend the festival on a weekend, you can enjoy the “Garden Rocks ™ concert series. As the sun sets, this is a fun way to end the day – grab a snack and a drink and settle down for live entertainment that is included in your admission!
Some artists have included: Gin Blossoms, The Pointer Sisters and Expose – I can’t wait to see the 2019 line up!!!
So, “while the weather outside is frightful…”----as you sit and snuggle into your comfy chair, under your comfy blankie – you can start to dream about the spring and your next visit to Walt Disney World’s Flower and Garden Festival!
P.S. – I totally want to see pictures of your favorite topiaries (you totally know mine!!!)
Our family took a break from our usual fast paced Disney / Universal vacation and it was the best decision that we made!!
Here are the Clark’s TOP FIVE reasons to add a day at
Discovery Cove to your vacation!!!!
During the day, we were also able to enjoy lunch (again - something for everyone: burgers, Caribbean fish, BBQ, club sandwiches, cobb salad, chicken tenders, hot dog, pasta), as well as unlimited snacks and beverages (including alcoholic beverages!!)
For our stay, we were also provided with snorkel equipment (for the day) and had access to lockers (price included), changing areas (super clean!) and sun screen (specially formulated for the marine life). There were also life jackets there for “littles”, as well as flotation devices (noodles!)
#2: Animal Encounters
Discovery Cove’s water ways opened at 9am and we began our day with the activities that were included in the Basic Package!
The Grand Reef – A large lagoon area that has giant sting rays (barbs removed) swimming. You are able to snorkel with the rays the entire day. While I do recommend getting there early – be prepared that the water in the Grand Reef is cold!!!
Within the Reef – there is also a Plexiglass wall that you can swim up to and see the sharks on the other side! I totally did NOT believe my son when he mentioned this – so I swam over and came face to face with a huge shark. I did freak out a bit – and this has become my kids’ favorite story!
Explorer’s Aviary You can enter the Aviary and hand feed varieties of birds (they have cups there to fill with the “preferred” snacks for the bird types).
Fresh Water Oasis – As you swim through the lazy river – you can pop into areas that allow you to come face to face with otters! Separated by plexiglass, you are able to have above and below viewing of these super cute animals.
EARS TIP: On the far side of Discovery Cove there is a lazy river that winds around through areas to interact / view animals. I highly recommend taking your snorkel gear with you as you move around the facility -- you never know when you might need to submerge!
#3: Exclusive Adventures
In addition to the included adventures – you are also able to add encounters into your package throughout the day: Feeding the Sting rays, Shark swim, SeaVenture (underwater sea helmet walk), Dolphin Swim and even a Dolphin Trainer for the day!
We added the Dolphin Swim into our day and it was amazing! Our family was grouped with a few other people and positioned around a lagoon and met our dolphins: Stella, Hutch and Dexter! Our trainer taught us some amazing facts about dolphins as we were allowed to feed & take pictures with Stella. The highlight of the visit was being able to take a ride on Dexter!! Mackenzie and Tyler talked about this for years after!!
EARS TIP: If you plan to add additional packages to your visit -- I highly recommend arriving early in the morning to check in (right when Discovery Cove opens), in order to pick the time you prefer for each adventure!!
When we left, everyone said that this was the best day, ever!
Let me know what your family's "Tips and Tricks" for visiting Discovery Cove would be!
Edition #3: Planning your Days at the Theme Parks!!
This blog is the third and final edition in a series to help you plan your extended family vacation – Disney style!!!
Hmmmmm…where should we eat tonight?
Here are some great ways to help ensure you get a reservation together
in one of your favorite restaurants:
1) Be ready to book your restaurant choices the first day that your dining window opens. This date is: 180 days from your check in date @ 7:00am EST. Many signature dining experiences and character meals book quickly; if you were thinking of dining at “Cinderella’s Royal Table”, or visiting the Beast at, “Be Our Guest”, you will want to be online first thing in the morning.
EARS OF EXPERIENCE TIP: If you book through me, I can help you with dining suggestions AND even reserve your meals for you, so you don’t have to get up early in the morning!
2) Consider eating during non - peak meal times. Often times, we will grab a snack in the morning as our breakfast (either at the resort, or in the parks). When we arrive at the parks, we try to do as many rides as possible in the morning and then sit down for lunch at a Quick Service restaurant around 11:00am. There have been so many times that we’ve been one of the only families in the restaurant – we’ve had our pick of lunch tables and get everyone close together!!
For dinner, we’ve found that eating earlier has also allowed us to find reservations for the entire dining party. On our last trip – we found a 4:35pm reservation for the coveted “Be Our Guest” restaurant – for all 12 people!! By the time the later evening hours arrive, everyone was ready for a favorite snack (Dole Whip or Mickey Bar – your pick!) and no one was too full to indulge!
IMPORTANT PAYMENT NOTES: All groups that are 6 or more will automatically have an 18% gratuity added. Additionally, if you plan to dine at a restaurant that requires prepayment (like Cinderella’s Royal Table) don’t forget that you will have to prepay for everyone unless you are on the Dining Plan.
Lets ride some rides!!
Now that your dining plans are taken care of, your next big park planning decision is which attractions to reserve a Fast Pass for. Walt Disney World’s Fast Pass + system allows each guest staying on property to pre select- FOR FREE - three Fast Passes each day of their visit (based on the number of park tickets linked to the reservation). Your Fast Pass + window opens 60 days from your check in date @ 7:00 am EST and on site guests can select Fast Passes for the entire visit, again based on the number of theme park tickets purchased. Fast Passes can be used for theme park attractions, theatrical performances and even evening shows and Meet and Greets!
When traveling with a large group, here are a few tips to help the process go smoothly:
EARS OF EXPERIENCE TIP: In booking thorough Ears of Experience, we will provide you with a list of all the attractions that allow Fast Passes (along with height requirements), as well as our suggestions for which rides are the best use of your Fast Passes!!! I'll be able to help you through the entire Fast Pass process!!!
That’s everything!! Room booked … My Disney Experience accounts linked…dining reserved and Fast Passes selected – whoo hoo!!! The last piece of the puzzle is to sit back and let the excitement begin because… EVERYONE'S going to Walt Disney World!!!
Let me know if you have other tips and tricks to help other families that are traveling together have a magical experience!!!
Edition 2: Pre-Planning Family Activities
Now that your Walt Disney World vacation is booked - the fun part of planning starts!! When travelling with a large group - the fun just expands! As each family begins to envision their "magical" vacation - you might find that each family has different ideas of what the vacation should look like.
After planning several Extended Clark Family Vacations - I have a few tips to make the process a little easier!!
Linking your “My Disney Experience” accounts
An easy way to proceed with large group planning is to link everyone’s “My Disney Experience” accounts together. Everyone with a separate reservation will need their own “My Disney Experience” account in order to customize their Magic Bands and link their reservation to their own account.
Once everyone has their account set up-- you can now “link” accounts together in order to allow everyone in the group to make common dining and Fast Pass reservations. This will be done by adding everyone to each others "Friends and Family" list.
To get to the "Friends and Family" list -- hover your cursor over the area in the top right hand corner of the site that says "My Disney Experience". A list will appear and you will choose the "My Family and Friends List" option (see image below) to get started.
When linking everyone’s “My Disney Experience” accounts together, there are a few steps to follow; calling Disney’s Technical Support for help is a great way to help make sure that everyone's account is linked correctly. A quick way to ensure that everyone is linked correctly is to have everyone go into their account --- you should see everyone’s names in each separate account.
EARS OF EXPERIENCE TIP!!! If you have booked your vacation through me, I will totally be able to help you with the entire linking process– no worries!!!
Once everyone is linked, I suggest choosing ONE person's account that you will work through. All group dining reservations AND Fast Passes can be made for everyone at the same time. If different families are planning on separate Fast Passes, or dining reservations - no worries! Even though your "My Disney Experience" accounts are linked - everyone is still able to make separate reservations!!!
NOTE: Although linking accounts makes planning large group dinner reservations and Fast Passes super easy – everyone will now see EVERYONE’S plans in their own accounts.
Pre- planning discussion topics
With everyone's "My Disney Experience" accounts linked, I totally recommend taking some time for everyone to "talk" - Text/ Face Time/ Snap Chat :) - together about what is important for each family while visiting Walt Disney World.
These are the questions that we take some time discussing when traveling all together:
Does everyone want to visit all the theme parks?
Walt Disney World has four theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. If you are traveling with different ages of children – the older ones might want to spend some more time at Hollywood Studios riding the Rockn’ Roller Coaster while the littles are busy riding Dumbo at the Magic Kingdom. Take a moment to decide - in which park would you like to start? Do you want to split up and go to different parks on different days?
Does anyone want to reserve an “extra”?
Walt Disney World theme parks are so magical – but there is even MORE magic to be added! Does your princess want to dress up and have her make up done at the “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique”? Does your little man want to transform into a pirate at the “Pirate’s League”? Do grandma and grandpa want to take an afternoon golfing?
Who will be taking advantage of Disney's Extra Magic Hours?
Walt Disney World offers “extra magic hours”; each day a select theme park either opens early, or closes later for their guests staying on property.
I totally recommend finding out who is the night owl and who is the early bird BEFORE you arrive in Walt Disney World!! When you’re in your resort room – you never know when your 4 year old niece is waking you up at 5:00 am to get ready for the Early Magic Hours at the parks, while your family had planned to sleep in that day and go to the Late Magic Hours in the evening!!!
How many meals do you plan to eat all together?
Another great pre-trip conversation would be your dining options. Not only is this a good time to discuss which restaurants you would LOVE to visit – but also discuss how many meals everyone would like to eat together. Does everyone want to eat their Table Service meals all together, but go their separate ways for Quick Service?
Let me know when you are ready to take the whole family to Walt Disney World!!!
Edition 1: Before you book
Many of our family’s favorite trips to Walt Disney World have been when we’ve travelled with our extended family. While Disney is ALWAYS amazing, I am definitely of the opinion, “The More The Merrier"! With multiple generations travelling together, experiencing the magic is that much more fun!
However, when you get multiple families together, trying to plan a trip could be a little overwhelming. The typical Clark trips include 9 – 12 people from three or four different families; over the years I’ve picked up a few tips for how to make an extended family Disney vacation truly a magical experience!
This blog is the first in a series to help you plan your extended Walt Disney World family vacation!!!
We’re going to Walt Disney World – who’s coming with!
When it comes to Disney planning – there is no such thing as “too early”. When you start thinking ---“Hmmmmmm – I would LOVE for everyone to go to Walt Disney World” – I recommend contacting everyone you were thinking would LOVE to come along, right away! I know it's January 2018 but I totally just booked our next extended family trip to Walt Disney World for New Year’s 2019 -- let the phone calls begin!!!
Trying to decide what type of rooms to book is the next conversation to have. I recommend everyone being open and honest with how close they would like to be :) We’ve learned it’s better to discuss this on the front end to avoid any hurt feelings at the theme parks.
Are we all at the same resort?
A big decision is to determine if everyone would like to stay in the same style of resort. Walt Disney World offers accommodations for Value, Moderate and Deluxe level resorts – each with varying price levels. If everyone is wanting to stay at the same resort – be sure that everyone is comfortable with the location and price.
Are we all in the same room?
OPTION #1: A Disney Villa or Suite
Walt Disney World offers one, two and even three bedroom villas, as well as Suites so that everyone can stay under one roof. These have different sleeping capacities so that even a group of 12 can be accommodated!
Three Bedroom at One Bedroom at Two Bedroom at
Bay Lake Towers The Wilderness Lodge The Boardwalk
A positive of a Villa / Suite option is that everyone is in constant communication with each other – super easy to coordinate plans and use all family members as a support network for getting kids out the door on time! Questions like: “Where are we going today?”, “Can someone brush Kara's hair?”, “Can I borrow your hairspray?” … and most important… “Who’s making coffee in the morning?”, are easily answered! If there are plan changes, the villa gives everyone the ability to easily coordinate.
My Dad invading our "space" at the
With OPTION #2, you are able to request a “Travel With” number. This allows cast members to see that you are a large group traveling in multiple rooms – but still together. When you check into your resort, Disney will try their best to place your families in rooms close together!!!
Watch for next month’s edition of “The Happiest Place on Earth – Extended Family Style!” as I talk about linking your My Disney Experience accounts and activity planning
If you have traveled as a large group- I would love for you to add your advice to families traveling together!!!
Of course, when you think of the holidays - there are so many options to add on to the traditional Disney favorites!!! This year take a minute to visit the all new festivities at Universal Studios, Orlando AND take advantage of round trip transportation for a day trip to Busch Gardens, Tampa bay - Christmastown!!!
The traditional holiday events such as Grinchmas and Universal’s Holiday parade featuring Macy’s will be met with an ALL NEW treat at Universal Studios!!!
For the first time, Christmas is coming to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!! In both Diagon Alley AND Hogsmeade, there will be Christmas décor throughout. Be ready to enjoy festive holiday entertainment (like the Frog choir and maybe even Celestina Warbeck!!!). Your day wouldn’t be complete without sampling the seasonal food and drink options – I can’t wait to see what new Butterbeer choices emerge!!!
In the evening, prepare to be blown away with an all new evening show. A projection-mapping- night time show will display familiar scenes across Hogwarts castle!
If you’re looking for the return of the thrill rides – be sure to spend New Year’s Eve at Busch Gardens! The park will be open until 1am Jan. 1, 2018 – so be sure to “get your scream on” and welcome in the new year!!!
I can't wait to see everyone's pictures this year!!!! Let me know what your favorite "holiday happening" is! P.S. Thank you to my favorite sister for sharing her amazing pictures of my even "favorite-er niece" during their own Busch Garden's experience -- Merry Christmas Jeff, Shell and Kara!!!!
As the holiday season begins, the best place to celebrate (my personal opinion) is Florida!!! With so many places to visit it will be hard to decide where to go. This year, make way for some old favorites and some new debuts for Christmas and New Year’s!!!
Walt Disney World
NEW FOR NEW YEARS EVE -2017!
In addition to Disney’s Countdown to Midnight at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, you can bring in the New Year with two new events – a romantic Creole dining and a fun Pixar adventure for the entire family!
Dining Down in New Orleans: As you arrive at the Contemporary Resort, make your way to the Grand Republic Ballroom and prepare yourself for an evening of fine dining! Inspired by Disney’s “Princess and the Frog” New Orleans themes, you’ll be surrounded by French Quarter décor, listen to a classic jazz band playing authentic sounds of N’awlins and enjoy a fine dining experience. At the end of the night, view the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks from a private viewing area. NOTE: This experience is for guests 21 and older.
Pixar Party: Another possibility is to ring in the New Years with the entire family. Enter the Contemporary Resort’s “Ballroom of the America’s”. The décor is themed after family favorites like: “Andy’s Room” from the Toy Story series, and adventure in “Metro City” with The Incredibles and a fantastic journey inspired by Up. There are character Meet and Greets with Disney – Pixar Characters and fun activities, like face painting, and balloon artists. There is a buffet – style dinner with a DJ playing Radio Disney hits. At the end of the night, you can usher in 2018 by watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks from a special viewing area right in the Contemporary!
Some of Christmas fun will even start as early as September!! The Haunted Mansion will receive a holiday makeover inspired by Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas”
The World of Color will experience its own makeover as you see the “Season of Light” projection and water show. Not only will you see scenes and stories from your favorite Disney movies, but you will hear holiday music accompanying the show!
Disney Cruise Line
Planning on spending the holidays on a Very Merry Christmas sailing? #1 – I’m totally jealous! #2 – Be sure you enjoy all these activities!!!
Kids should be sure to check out the holiday themed activities and crafts! Enjoy decorating stockings, creating festive cards and participating in a holiday scavenger hunt. Teens and Tweens even have their own dance parties!
In addition to Pirate Night, will also have a “Deck the Deck Tropical Holiday Party” with candy-cane limbo, dancing and games. Don’t worry – you won’t need a special costume for this party!
Along with all your favorite characters, you’ll also get a chance to gather in the atrium and hear Mrs. Claus read Christmas stories as she rocks by the tree!
And of course – nothing says Christmas like an island tram decorated to resemble a reindeer! Even Castaway Cay under-goes a North Pole transformation with Mr. and Mrs. Snowman, dressed in holiday outfits and even the occasional “snow” flurry!
Let me know your favorite Disney holiday tradition!!!
Eat Like a Scalawag – dinner!!!
The fun begins when you enter your stateroom and find a gift of party bandanas for each guest. I tied this around my neck, while my son tied this on his head – whatever works for you!
For your evening meal, your restaurant will have a transformed menu to fit the pirate occasion! No matter which restaurant you are in, they will serve the same menu – no worries – you won’t miss out! We were in Animator’s Palatte that night and the “show” around the restaurant was all pirate themed. Scenes from Peter Pan and Pirates of the Caribbean flashed across the walls – this turned into a great game to keep the younger ones occupied as we waited for our food. As each scene flashed on the walls – the kids had go guess which movie they were from!.
The menu itself will resemble an old treasure map and the kids will have their own “pirate hat” to wear throughout the meal. Meal options will have fun themed names, like “Jolly Rogers Barbeque Rib Salad”, or “Pirates Gold-en Pot Stickers” (menu items are subject to change).
Your servers, who will be dressed in pirate wear, will set the tone for the night with fun pirate themed jokes and “pirate talk” – be prepared to hear a lot of “Arrrrr matey!!” this evening!
Pirates in the Caribbean Deck Party
After the second dining, it will be time to PARTY!!!! Head to the main pool deck and be ready for some fun! This will be a great time to see Disney characters in their pirate gear – definitely bring your camera for meet and greets to snap a picture of your family with Mickey and his crew! Throughout the evening, there will be a pirate show and both trivia interactive games. At the end of the night will be a spectacular fireworks display (note that some itineraries do not allow for fireworks and the display could be canceled due to weather conditions)
Tips to help your Pirate Night go smoothly!!!
2. Gather your pirate gear BEFORE you arrive on board. While Disney usually provides their guests with fun pirate bandannas, the rest of your costume is up to you. The shops on board will have a TON of accessories and costumes to help you get ready for the night, but the prices are a bit high. I totally recommend going to a costume shop after Halloween, and gathering your hats and eye patches then!
3. Take some time before you leave to introduce your kids to all the Disney Pirates. While Captain Jack Sparrow is the most recent on the big screen – don’t forget Captain Hook! I recommend scheduling some time to have some family movie nights BEFORE you leave and watch Peter Pan! If kids are younger, they might already know Jake and the Neverland Pirates – but it’s a good idea to at least let them see some pictures of Pirates of the Caribbean to give them an idea of who might be at the party.
4. If your child has sensory issues – you want to take some precautions to help block out things that might overstimulate them. Bringing an ipod and ear buds is a great way to let them enjoy the sights, but have soothing, familiar sounds playing in their ears. If you feel like it might be too much – I would actually recommend skipping the party. Instead – have something else that is fun and special for them to do. Maybe surprise them with a room celebration (decorations that your stateroom attendant can put up) and a special treat waiting in the room!
Let me know your favorite Pirate Night tips!!!
At least for a few more weeks! One of the best ways to end your enchanted Disney day on the perfect note is to relax with a beverage and go over all the “highs” of the day! If you’re staying in one of the monorail resorts, a fun twist is to try a different location each night! These are my Top 5 favorite drinks to sip while I unwind at the end of the day – each one quality ensured by your favorite Mouse Planner!
#2: Disney Springs pick!
When it's time to take a break from the parks, you need to head to Bongo's Cuban Cafe, located in Disney Springs!!! Ask for the "Traditional Mojito" -- but be sure that you know what size you'd like!! I took our servers advice and went LARGE! I can tell you - it was worth it!!!
#5: Just for Fun!
- At the Polynesian - ANYTHING at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto is perfect. With so many fun tropical drinks to choose from – it’s hard to pick. But watch out – your bar order may trigger some surprises from the staff AND the room decorations!!!
ULTIMATE PICK!!!! Disney has just extended it’s amazing Highway in the Sky Dine Around through September!!!. This was introduced during the holidays and became so popular, Disney continued the experience. Check in takes place at The Wave…of American Flavors at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. From there – enjoy a five course progressive dinner at each monorail resort!!
I’m dying to try this one – if anyone gets to go before me – I would LOVE a full report!!!
As Disneyland is about to launch its new Max Pass option (July 19, 2017), I’ve had so many people ask me about the differences between Walt Disney World in FL and Disneyland in Southern California. Growing up on both coasts, I’ve visited both and BOTH are amazing; but there are definitely differences to be aware of when visiting each!
#1: Theme parks and attractions
#2: Magical Express
Walt Disney World in Florida:
If you’re arriving by plane and flying into Orlando International airport and staying on at a Walt Disney World resort, you are able to take advantage of Disney’s free transportation, the Magical Express, to and from your resort. Your bags will be taken from the airport to your resort and you will be whisked away in an air conditioned motor coach to your final destination – Walt Disney World property!
Disneyland in Southern California:
If you arrive by plane in Southern California, there are many options to get you from your airport to Disneyland property, but there is not a free Magical Express option. Depending on which airport you fly into, there are different transport options available – be sure to check which is best for your family!
#3: Fast Passes
Disneyland in Southern California:
Disneyland also has Fast Passes, but guests are not able to “pre-select”. Instead, once you are inside the parks, you travel to the attraction that you would like to ride later, scan your admission ticket, then go ride another attraction while you wait for your Fast Pass time.
NEW: I previously mentioned Disneyland’s “Max Pass” option has launched, and is available at a price of $10 per guest, per day. The MaxPass will work within the Disneyland app and allow you to select a FastPass electronically for an attraction instead of having to walk to each individual attraction every time you want a new Fast Pass. Max Pass also allows each guest to receive unlimited PhotoPass privileges, too, including attraction photos.
The Max pass will NOT eliminate the traditional free Fast Pass system, it will simply be there as another option for guests.
Walt Disney World in Florida
When you are thinking about where to dine during your Walt Disney World vacation – your magic number is 180! All guests are able to make dining reservations 180 days in advance (from your check in date). If you are staying at one of Walt Disney World resort, guests are even able to secure those hard to find reservations and character dining 180 + 10 days out!
While visiting the Florida location, you are also able to sign up for one of Disney’s Dining Plans. There are three versions of dining plans available for those staying at a Walt Disney World resort. The dining plans is purchased and added to your reservation before you arrive and provides you with an allotted number of meals, drinks and snacks for your stay.
#5: Magic Bands
Disneyland in Southern California
Another difference between the two locations would be that Disneyland does not utilize the Magic Band system. Instead, your park ticket will be used for your theme park entry, photo pass option and Fast Pass / Max Pass options.
So – while so many ask the question, “which is better” – I can honestly say BOTH!
Disneyland is where the magic began - I can walk down Main Street and know that Walt's original vision is all around. Everything in Disneyland is just a step away and easily accessible for all ages.
Walt Disney World is an opportunity to truly see the world without leaving the comforts of home. One morning I can explore an African safari and the next minute be in the world of Avatar -- unbelievable!
Do you have a favorite location!
Monica Clark, your