Universal Studios vs Disney

Guest post by Dori Kaplan
Both Disneyland and Universal Studios are popular theme parks in California, but what are the differences? This year, we skipped our usual day at California Adventure and substituted it for Universal Studios. After two consecutive days of Disneyland and Universal, I noticed many striking differences between the parks.
The butterbeer truck at Universal Studios. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

Disneyland Tips: How to Make the Most out of Your Day at Disney with the Family

This is a guest post by Dori Kaplan.

My family is not one to dilly dally when it comes to Disney. Our motto is: structured, organized fun. In our most recent visit, we managed to go on all of the best rides within three hours of arriving at the park. Not only that, but we did not wait in a single line longer than half an hour. Those of you familiar with Disney lines will understand how big of an accomplishment this is, especially for a beautiful day during spring break. To help out other families who are hoping the maximize their day at Disney, here are some tips from my family.

**Note: usually we go to California Adventure and Disneyland – each for one day – but this year we just went to Disneyland. These tips apply for both parks.

Fantasyland – copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

1. Get there when it opens. RIGHT when it opens. Continue reading “Disneyland Tips: How to Make the Most out of Your Day at Disney with the Family”

Orlando for Nearly Free – find out how

Before kids, I used to get lots of free airplane tickets for getting bumped. I traveled off season, which was cheaper. Now that I have kids, paying for travel for four is tough, especially since my husband doesn’t like getting bumped (“I want to get home NOW!”) and we travel during school breaks. Given how expensive travel is, especially to the Orlando parks, I’m excited to welcome Summer Hull to Jersey Kids today. She is launching an ebook called Frequent Flyer Toolkits, including one called Orlando for Nearly Free. She has been running MommyPoints.com, a popular blog that helps travelers navigate the frequent flyer type point programs to make travel more affordable.

Tell me a bit about you and your travel-for-free background.orlando-for-nearly-free

I first dabbled in the miles-and-points hobby as a cash-strapped grad student at New York University. I racked up frequent flyer miles flying back and forth to visit friends and family in Houston. Then, after graduation, while my friends could only muster up the money for a drive to the shore, I was able to use miles and points to take my boyfriend at the time to Hawaii. After that, I was hooked. I didn’t have as much travel occur naturally after grad school, so I had to find ways to earn miles outside of flying.

I kept learning more about how to earn and leverage loyalty currency and eventually my husband got sick of hearing me talk about it all the time! He encouraged me to start a blog and that’s how MommyPoints.com was born in 2011. Since that time I’ve shared tons of tips and strategies that can help just about anyone earn miles they can redeem for a nearly free flight (you still pay tax on award flights) and hotel stay.

What kind of freebies do you talk about in your ebook in terms of traveling for free?

The books teach you how to use frequent flyer miles, hotel points, and bank points. The fact is, using loyalty currency can drastically reduce your costs on all sorts of travel-related expenses. Frequent flyer miles can be redeemed for nearly free flights. All you’ll pay for, in the case of a ticket to Orlando, is the tax (which is $5.60 per flight segment per person). Continue reading “Orlando for Nearly Free – find out how”

Hidden Mickeys at Disneyland and California Adventure

To make the days at Disneyland and California Adventure even MORE fun, I bought the book Disneyland’s Hidden Mickeys: a Field Guide to Disneyland Resort’s Best Kept Secrets (see Hidden Mickeys on a Disney Cruise here. See the rest of this Disneyland/California Adventure series here.)

Note that the book is a few years old so it’s a bit outdated (Cars Land isn’t in there and it covers the time before the renovation of Buena Vista street and the main entrance). We had fun reading through the scavenger hunt and additional clues to find the Hidden Mickeys. We found the scavenger hunt way too difficult and preferred to just read the hints and look for them (we would have missed everything otherwise!). There’s also a Hidden Mickeys book for Disney World.

Like in the book, I’ll separate these out between actual Hidden Mickeys and mere decorative Mickeys. Unfamiliar with a Hidden Mickey? It’s a representation of Mickey in a place you might not look for it or expect it. Y

Here are a few we saw at Disneyland and California Adventure:

This one is in the exit area of Astro Blasters, the Buzz Lightyear ride, on a larger picture.
This one is in the exit area of Astro Blasters, the Buzz Lightyear ride, on a larger picture.

Continue reading “Hidden Mickeys at Disneyland and California Adventure”

How to use a FastPass at Disney parks

Disney parks have the most awesome thing since all-inclusive tickets: the FastPass. While parks like Six Flags and Universal Studios charge for these “get to the front of the line” passes, everyone has access to FastPasses at Disney for no extra cost. Read on for using a FastPass at Disneyland. Disney World changed its FastPass system – you can read more about it here.

Can you see the difference in lines? We waited about 5 minutes to board our space craft inside. The others? Oh, about 90 minutes.
Can you see the difference in lines? We waited about 5 minutes to board our space craft inside. The others? Oh, about 90 minutes.

What are they?

A FastPass is a timed ticket to get you into a special, faster line during a one hour period. Otherwise you ride “standby” which is Disney lingo for “huge long line.” The FastPass line sometimes get you in immediately, but more likely you have to wait a few minutes (though we’ve never waited more than 15-20 minutes unless the ride was broken down). Continue reading “How to use a FastPass at Disney parks”

Tips You Won’t Read Elsewhere – Adventures in Disney

I did a lot of reading before heading to Disneyland and California Adventure (and even more for our Disney World trip). Some might say too much reading. But since it was going to be crowded (spring break) and I wanted to maximize our time there (and minimize lines), it was totally worthwhile. Here are some tips you likely won’t read in other Disney guides. This is part of a Disney/Disneyland series.

princess jerseykids

 

FYI – this is part of a Disneyland/California Adventure series. See the bottom for links to other posts in the series.

Being nice pays off

Twice, being nice to the Disney cast member during a problem (a ticket purchase snafu, and a ride breakdown) caused the cast member to give us an extra “readmission pass” Continue reading “Tips You Won’t Read Elsewhere – Adventures in Disney”

The Best Disney Park Apps (and where to charge your phone at Disneyland and Disney World)

This trip to a Disney park was the first I made with a smart phone. What a difference! I tested out four apps and review them here for you. If you have an extra phone battery, bring it with you! I had to switch batteries late in the day, and I didn’t use my phone for much more than checking line times. An iPad would be ideal – if you have a data plan. We also had my brother in law save his phone battery by not using it during the day (only leaving it on if the group split up for FastPass retrieval) so he’d have a fresh battery if mine died. If you go that route, turn off the data plan (use airplane mode) to save on battery drain. (This is part of a series on Disney/Disneyland)

phone

FYI: Disneyland DOES now have official charging station lockers. It’s $2/hour. Here’s the scoop on charging stations at Disney. We didn’t check it out while there, but it’s nice to know it’s available.

Here’s a list of outlets at Disneyland/California Adventure.

It does not appear at present time that Disney World has the same charging systems. Here are some places to charge your phone at Disney World and here.

I’d recommend spending time on the apps before you get there so you know what you’ll need and where you’ll find it and won’t drain your battery looking. There are a lot of tips and good planning information you can find there as well, which can make time in line go faster as you share these with your fellow travelers.

I reviewed these apps specifically for Disneyland, though there is some Disney World information there too.

linesTouringPlans.com Lines app

If you’re not familiar with touringplans.com, it comes from the authors of the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland   (and Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World). It’s a fabulous book I recommend you buy. They have a touring plan that helps save you time by helping you avoid the lines by going to the attractions in a certain order. I’ve used it – it works.

Pros: You want this app mainly for the Line feature. Continue reading “The Best Disney Park Apps (and where to charge your phone at Disneyland and Disney World)”

What Happens When a Disney Ride Breaks Down

In my many years going to Disney parks, we’d never been on a ride when it broke down. Sure, we’d be in line when it broke down, but not actually on the ride. How did we get so lucky on this trip? Not only did we experience five ride breakdowns, but we were evacuated from Grizzly River Run at Disney California Adventure. Do you get your FastPass back if you’re stuck on a ride? If you’re in line but it closes? If you’re evacuated? Read on for answers below (this is part of a series on Disney/Disneyland):

The day our stranding on Grizzly River Run, we spent the day at Disneyland. For periods ranging from 1-10 minutes, we got stuck on Astro Blasters, Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean (Indiana Jones broke down while we were in the FastPass line, though fortunately cleared before we left).

I totally beat my sister.
I totally beat my sister.

On the Pirates ride, we were surprised to play bumper boats as we approached the waterfall with Blackbeard talking. He talked, and talked and talked until we could repeat his conversation by heart. Fortunately after about 10 minutes, we moved on. Continue reading “What Happens When a Disney Ride Breaks Down”

Disneyland Primer

I grew up in Arizona and later moved to California. Disneyland has always been my park. After moving to New Jersey I felt I had to check out Disney World – after all, it’s in the same time zone and everyone in New Jersey has been to Disney World! Yet, most of my East Coast friends have NOT been to Disneyland and always ask me what that park is like.

Disneyland's castle. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan
Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty castle. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

So here’s a primer. (This is part of a Disney series – most posts to come) Continue reading “Disneyland Primer”

Hidden Mickeys on the Disney Cruise

This is 3rd in a series of 3 posts about the Disney Wonder Cruise to the Mexican Riviera. Part 1 is an overview of the Disney cruise. Part 2 is a very in depth review of all aspects of Disney cruise ship life (kids’ clubs, food, pools, spa, staterooms, etc.)

While on board the Disney Wonder, we had fun trying to find Hidden Mickeys. I didn’t even look to see if there was any mention online until writing this post. Turns out there are a few Hidden Mickeys on the Disney Wonder (we even found 2 official ones, and one posted here – the stained glass). If you’re not familiar with Hidden Mickeys, they’re mouse shaped ears hidden in the design of things at Disney parks. If nothing else, it kept us entertained as we walked around.

The gingerbread house up for the holidays was teeming with them.

Lots of Mickeys on the gingerbread house. Copyright Deborah Abrams Kaplan

Continue reading “Hidden Mickeys on the Disney Cruise”