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Disney World’s MagicBands and FastPass+ Testing

magicbands pic

As of yesterday (9-25-13), we are 45 days away from our Disney vacation. The resort we will be staying at is part of the testing for Disney’s new MagicBands and FastPass+. I’ve been impatiently waiting for the last month or so to find out if we would be part of the testing when we arrive.

Once it was officially September 25th (sometime after midnight), I decided to log onto My Disney Experience site to see. To my delight, I finally had the options to customize our MagicBands and make FastPass+ selections for our trip. Yay!!! You honestly have no idea how happy I was to see this. I am not one for putting my excitement on display, but I will admit that I was smiling ear to ear and doing a little happy dance.

Kayla updating our countdown to Disney chart.

Kayla updating our countdown to Disney chart.

Kayla is excited that we're getting closer and closer to our vacation.

Kayla is excited that we’re getting closer and closer to our vacation.

The MagicBands and FastPass+ are part of Disney’s new MyMagic+ experience. MyMagic+ is Disney’s way of allowing guests to have more control over their vacation, personalize their experience, and make things more convenient. I was a little worried about these changes when I first started reading about them, but now I’m mostly just excited to see how this all works. So far, I like it.

MyMagic plus has many elements to it, with the first being the My Disney Experience website and mobile app. Once you register on this website, you are able to personalize your entire vacation. You can purchase a Disney vacation package, buy theme park and water park tickets, make dining reservations, set plans for your day to day itinerary for your trip, complete online check-in for your resort, and link reservations/tickets bought from third parties to your homepage. You can make and share plans with family and friends in your travel group. And you can manage your MagicBands and FastPass+ selections. The website and mobile app will be your go-to vacation tools when planning your next trip to Disney World. I’ve been playing around with the website and mobile app for a few months, and I love them. One nice feature of the mobile app is the ability to look up current wait times at each of the parks for rides and other attractions.

FastPass+ is the updated version of the old FastPass system. In the past, you would have to go to the FastPass machines in the theme parks, insert your admission ticket into the machine, and obtain a printed FastPass ticket that would give you a time range for when you could ride with little to no wait. You would come back during your assigned time range and get in a special line that had a much shorter wait than the regular lines. I never particularly liked this system because it required a lot of running around to obtain FastPasses for the most popular rides. There were only a number of rides that even offered FastPasses at each park. Not every ride had this option. If you didn’t obtain FastPasses early in the day, there was also the chance you wouldn’t get one because they would run out.

Old FastPass ticket

Old FastPass ticket

The new FastPass+ has a much more user friendly approach to the same concept. There will be a lot of people out there who don’t like dealing with new technology and planning in advance that will despise this new system. But I am LOVING it. This new system allows you to go online or on the mobile app and schedule your FastPasses BEFORE your trip. So here I am at 45 days until my trip and I am able to schedule all of my FastPasses for each of my days at the different theme parks. Oh, and I can also change the time ranges for the FastPasses if I don’t like the the original time assigned to me and my traveling group. How cool is that? No more running around the parks trying to obtain the FastPasses I want, and hoping to get a good time range. Now I can simply log into the My Disney Experience site, schedule the FastPasses I want, alter the times to fit into our schedule, and not have to worry about it anymore.

When you have access to fastpass+, this is what the initial screen will look like.  It will show if you've already made fastpass+ selections and if you have dining reservations for that day.

When you have access to fastpass+, this is what the initial screen will look like. It will show if you’ve already made fastpass+ selections and if you have dining reservations for that day.

This screen allows you to choose what you want to do next.  You can make fastpass+ selections, change current selections, copy selections to another party member, and cancel all selections.

This screen allows you to choose what you want to do next. You can make fastpass+ selections, change current selections, copy selections to another party member, and cancel all selections.

Here is an example of fastpass+ selections I was playing around with the other night.  I have the option to make changes to all three selections.

Here is an example of fastpass+ selections I was playing around with the other night. I have the option to make changes to all three selections.

If I chose to change the time for Toy Story Mania, it will give me options for what times are available on this date.

If I chose to change the time for Toy Story Mania, it will give me options for what times are available on this date.

This is the itinerary screen.  This is where you can add plans to each day of your vacation.  If you want, you can roughly plan out your entire vacation with the My Disney Experience website.

This is the itinerary screen. This is where you can add plans to each day of your vacation. If you want, you can roughly plan out your entire vacation with the My Disney Experience website.

The way FastPass+ works is definitely different. Big users of the old system may not like the fact that Disney is currently limiting how many FastPasses a guest can get each day. Right now the number is three per day, with some people getting a bonus FastPass for the Magic Kingdom. It doesn’t look like we will be one of the lucky traveling groups getting a bonus FastPass, but I don’t really mind. I hear there are rumors that once FastPass+ is completely up and running (no longer in testing), the number of FastPasses will be determined by whether you are staying at an on-site or off-site resort/hotel, and whether you are at a value, moderate, or deluxe resort on-site. People staying at a Disney deluxe on-site resort may be able to get up to five FastPasses each day. Again, this is just rumors at this point. Who knows what will actually happen once FastPass+ is officially rolled out.

Disney’s MagicBands are the most interesting new development. The MagicBands are rubberized bands that you will wear on your wrists while visiting Disney World. These bands will act as your theme park and water park tickets, your Disney resort room key, and allow you to purchase food and merchandise. You will use the bands to schedule FastPass+ selections at the new FastPass+ machines in the parks, and it will allow you to check-in for your FastPass+ reservations for rides and attractions. In essence, these bands will replace the old “key to the world” cards that guests used to get. It’s my understanding that for people who are against this new technology, you will still have the option to use the old fashion ticket to enter the parks and unlock your resort room, but will not have access to some of the newer features.

New FastPass+ turnstiles at Disney World.

New FastPass+ turnstiles at Disney World.

The MagicBands will also be another way to personalize your Disney experience. People staying at a Disney resort will be able to customize their MagicBand by selecting the color they want and having their name printed on the back. If you customize your MagicBand between 45 and 30 days before your trip, Disney will mail the MagicBands to your home. If you don’t customize them in advance, you will be issued standard gray ones without your name on it when you arrive. When you’re in the parks and you swipe your MagicBand to enter a FastPass+ ride, Disney cast members (employees) will now be able to see your name on a screen and acknowledge you by name. This may seem a little creepy to adults, but will be a cool touch for kids. Imagine how your child’s face will light up when the various people at the Disney theme parks will know their names without asking. Pretty cool to most young kids.

Once you arrive at Disney World, there are accessories that you can purchase to personalize your MagicBand even further. I’m aware of three different kinds of accessories. There are CoverBands, MagicSliders, and MagicBandits. The CoverBands are fabric covers that you can buy to cover up your entire MagicBand. MagicSliders are large square charm pieces that you can slide onto your MagicBand. MagicBandits are small charms that snap into the extra holes on the MagicBands. All three options feature popular Disney characters and designs. I am looking forward to letting my daughter, Kayla, personalize hers once we get there.

MagicBand accessories

MagicBand accessories

The convenience of the new MagicBands is what truly amazes me. I think it’s nice that you will no longer have to worry about fumbling around with a paper ticket or plastic card in order to enter the theme parks, pay for meals, pay for merchandise, and unlock your door at your resort. It’s one less thing to have to worry about. For me, that is exciting since we will be traveling with our daughter who will be turning 3-years-old the day after we return home from our trip. I am all for the added convenience. Whatever makes a trip easier when traveling with children, sounds good to me. Not to mention, my daughter will be thrilled when we receive the MagicBands in the mail. I even customized it in her favorite color, pink.

I am having fun scheduling my FastPass+ selections. I find it is a little hard to decide so far in advance exactly what rides to get FastPasses for, but I like the idea of knowing I have the FastPasses I want and being able to plan my day accordingly. It may take some of the spontaneity out of the trip, but it is an added convenience to me. It probably helps that I am a planner, and I like to have a rough schedule of what we have going on so I can factor in my daughter’s nap time and bedtime, etc. I find myself not even hating making the advanced dining reservations as much as I initially thought I would. It’s a little annoying, but also nice to know that we won’t be limited to only eating at counter service locations because the lines are too long at table service restaurants. That is no fun. The only problem I’ve run into so far is trying to schedule everything around each other…meaning FastPass+ selections, advanced dining reservations, and my daughter’s nap time. Some of the times conflict, so this has been a minor issue while planning, but nothing overly frustrating. All it has really done is make me step back and remember not to over-schedule our days. It is a vacation, so there should be down time here and there to make sure we all get the rest we need.

For all you planners out there, you are going to love the new MyMagic+ experience at Disney World. Just remember, don’t get carried away with planning every second of every day. Disney World has a lot of stuff to do, but it’s important to find time to relax too. Even the princesses and the mouse himself need rest.

P.S. Here is the website for logging onto My Disney Experience. https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/

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My Top 10 reasons for going to Disney World with kids 3 and under

Cinderella's Castle at Magic Kingdom.

Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom.

Since we’ll be going on vacation to Disney World soon, and it happens to be one of my all time favorite vacation destinations, I want to do a series of posts about Disney World.

My daughter, Kayla, will be turning 3-years-old in November. The week before she turns 3, we are taking her to Disney World. This was my decision, and my husband has gone along with it. I don’t think it mattered to him if we went now, or two years from now. He said it was completely up to me when we go since I was going to be the one planning it, I’m the one primarily paying for it with some money I had set aside, and because Disney World means so much to me.

Ever since I made the decision a year ago that I was not going to wait until Kayla was older to go, I’ve been bombarded with questions from family and friends about why I am going when she is so young. Everyone has their own opinions about it. These opinions range from, “you should wait until she’s old enough to remember it,” to “you should go when she’s older so she’s easier to travel with,” to finally “you should go when she’s old enough to understand where you’re going.” The last one is almost laughable to me because Kayla completely understands where we’re going and is super excited. She talks about our trip all the time.

Kayla in front of our countdown to Disney chart.

Kayla in front of our countdown to Disney chart.

I figured I would make a list for everyone to explain my top 10 reasons for going to Disney World with young kids. Maybe this will end up being helpful to those of you out there who are going through the same questioning by your family, friends, and co-workers. And maybe it will help all the negative people out there understand a little better why some of us want to take our young kids to Disney World.

So here we go:

10. If you talk to your youngster about the trip, show them pictures, show them videos, and get them involved, they can completely understand that you are going on vacation to Disney World. My daughter has known for a few months now, and she is totally and completely excited about it. We talk about it every single day. We have a countdown to Disney chart. We watch You Tube videos of the rides and of the parks in general so she knows what to expect. And we read Disney travel books together. She has her on Disney World for Kids travel book that she loves. My husband is blown away by how much Kayla knows about Disney World. She knows way more than him, and he’s 36. Kids can understand a lot more than we give them credit for, so don’t underestimate your child.

Celebrating my 3rd birthday in Florida at my grandparents' house.  This was in 1983.  We always stayed at their house because it was a great way to save money, and we'd get to spend time with my grandparents on our "resting" days.

Celebrating my 3rd birthday in Florida at my grandparents’ house. This was in 1983. We always stayed at their house because it was a great way to save money, and we’d get to spend time with my grandparents on our “resting” days.

9. It can be a wonderful learning experience. Your child can start learning long before you even go on the trip by teaching them about going to the airport, flying on airplanes, staying in a hotel, and the concept of going on vacation. (It helps if you’ve taken a mini trip before where they already have an understanding of vacations and trips.) You can have your child get involved with planning by showing him/her pictures and videos of various things and getting their input on what they like and don’t like. Then once you get to Disney World, there are so many learning opportunities there. Take your child to Animal Kingdom where they will get to see all types of animals, go on a safari ride, and learn about helping animals. Then take them to Epcot where they can go around the World Showcase and taste foods from all around the world. Epcot has some great educational rides, like Universe of Energy where you can learn about the history of energy, how energy is produced, and searching for new energy resources. The best part of the Universe of Energy ride is when you’re seated watching a video, your seat turns into a moving vehicle, and all of a sudden you are on a ride with animated dinosaurs. I remember loving this ride from a very young age. There are several other educational rides at Epcot that are fine for young kids to go on. New experiences are essential to a child’s development. So why not give them some new experiences that the whole family can enjoy?

Epcot

Epcot

8. My parents took me to Disney World for the first time when I was 2-years-old. I was turning 3 that summer while we were on vacation. My family used to go down to Florida twice a year to visit relatives. When I was younger, they would leave me with my grandparents while they took my older sister to the theme parks. I believe they wanted to be able to focus on enjoying all the rides with my sister for another year or two before having to take me along and focus on me.

Despite what most people think, I do have memories from my first trip to Disney World. No, they aren’t completely clear memories, but they are vague memories that I have carried around with me all my life. I can remember the feeling of excitement. I can remember sitting on my grandpa’s shoulders to watch the parade. I remember loving the parade, even though I can’t tell you anything about the parade now. I remember resting in my stroller while people in my family took potty breaks. I remember that my grandpa never went to the bathroom the entire time we were there and my mom kept telling him he was going to have bladder problems. I remember wanting a big pinwheel sucker and my mom saying no. The sucker was so colorful. I remember feeling a sense of awe when I went on rides. I remember that my favorite ride was It’s a Small World, and I loved singing the song. I remember being very tired at the end of the day and my dad carrying me to the tram. I also remember the smells. The smell of sweets and popcorn.

These memories may be vague and I may not remember a lot of details, but they are still memories. These are not memories that came from pictures, or even from family stories. They are things I have asked my mom about over the years and she has confirmed as being real memories from my first trip there. Now that my dad and grandpa are gone, I cherish every memory I have of them, even the vague ones. For the things that I don’t remember about my first trip, I can see in pictures in our family photo albums. I love looking at our old vacation photos. And lets face it, we never know how long any of us has on this planet, so why put off the opportunity for great memories?

My mom, my dad, and me standing on the steps of the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot.

My mom, my dad, and me standing on the steps of the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot.

Me with Tweedledee or Tweedledum.

Me with Tweedledee or Tweedledum.

7. Young kids can eat, stay, and fly for free. If you get the Disney Dining plan with your Disney resort package, you don’t have to pay for kids under 3. They can just eat from a parent’s plate. They don’t even offer the dining plan to kids under 3. You have to pay for the dining plan for kids 3 and older. Even most off-site hotels allow kids to eat for free. Kids also stay for free at hotels/resorts. And If your kid is really young, you may opt not to buy a seat for them on the airplane and just have them ride on your lap. You can always make the choice to pay for a seat for them and bring their car seat for safety reasons, but it’s not required when they are under a certain age. (Beware of bad turbulence.) I believe if they are under 2, they can ride on your lap. These three things alone are huge money savers.

6. Disney World is the perfect place to expand a child’s imagination and offer plenty of stimulating experiences. Having a good imagination is important for kids. It’s good for kids to be able to dream, learn to make wishes, and to gain an appreciation for great storytelling. Disney World has live shows, play areas for kids, splash zones, and kid activities. Do some research. There are a number of things for young kids to do that will help them use their imaginations and be creative.

5. The Magic Kingdom caters to families and young kids. Out of all the rides and attractions in the park, there are only four that my daughter will not be able to go on. There are 30 something rides/attractions at the Magic Kingdom. Not being able to do four things is hardly a reason not to go. Granted, my daughter is tall for her age (38 inches), so the majority of the rides she can’t go on are the roller coasters at the theme parks. Luckily, Disney World isn’t a big thrill ride place, so most of the rides can still be enjoyed by kids who are 3 and under. A good portion of the rides are slow moving rides, which is perfect for young kids.

4. The hotel/resort is as much of an attraction as the theme parks at this age. They enjoy exploring the hotel, playing in the pools, checking out the gift shop, and hanging out in the hotel room. With a young kid, you can easily spend a whole day at your hotel/resort and they’ll still be happy. Older kids usually don’t enjoy “resting” days as much as younger kids.

This is me on one of our "resting" days when I was little.

This is me on one of our “resting” days when I was little.

3. The photo memories you can capture are priceless. Have you seen the beautiful pictures of a baby being held by Mickey Mouse, or a toddler walking up to her favorite Disney character for the first time? What about the pictures of 1, 2, and 3 year old little girls wearing a princess dress and getting their very first hug from a Disney Princess? I’ve also seen some wonderful family photos taken around Disney World. I am hoping to get a nice picture of Kayla, my husband, and myself for our Christmas card this year. Those photos capture moments that your child may not be able to remember, but will be able to look back at later. They are pictures that parents, grandparents, and friends can enjoy. You can show your child the pictures over the years and discuss the trip often to help secure the memories in their mind. The pictures are once in a lifetime photo opportunities that may not be quite the same when your child is older and more aware of what is really going on. Part of the beauty of some of the best Disney pictures I’ve seen is the pure innocence of the children in the pictures.

Me eating my Mickey Mouse ice cream.

Me eating my Mickey Mouse ice cream.

I loved seeing Chip and Dale in person for the first time.

I loved seeing Chip and Dale in person for the first time.

2. When you wait until your kids are older, some of the magic may already be gone. The older your kids get, they start to understand that all the characters are just people dressed up in costumes. They may not be as excited about half the rides there because they may want more advanced rides. They may not even be impressed by fireworks and parades anymore if they’ve seen them at other places, like at home on 4th of July. As much as this Disney Lover hates to admit it, I have known quite a few people over the years who went to Disney World when they were older (or have taken their older kids to Disney World), and they weren’t as impressed. Especially if they are older kids who enjoy going on really fast roller coasters. Kids who have already experienced going on numerous thrill rides tend to be less impressed by Disney’s slow moving dark rides.

I’ve also noticed that boys tend to grow out of Disney World faster than girls if they don’t obtain an appreciation for it when they are younger. When I was little, three of my male friends went on a trip to Disneyland in California. I was so excited for them, and I couldn’t wait to hear about their trip when they got home. To my horror, they came home very disappointed by the whole experience. They thought it was boring, and that the rides were too kiddie. At first, I wanted to believe this dislike was due to the fact they went to Disneyland instead of my beloved Disney World. I was wrong. They didn’t realize before they went that there wouldn’t be lots of roller coasters and thrill rides like at Six Flags theme parks. They didn’t enjoy the traditional Disney rides at all. They had no interest in meeting the characters. They also thought the shows and parades were cheesy. I was horrified. I’ve gone through life telling myself that I have to take my kids to Disney World for the first time while they are still fairly young so they will appreciate the magic.

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Show in front of the Castle.

1. Kids under 3 are free at all four theme parks and the two water parks. Yes, FREE! You can save hundreds of dollars on admission tickets by going to Disney World when they are under 3. Once they turn 3, you have to pay for admission to everything.

Ok, so those are my top 10 reasons for taking kids 3 and under to Disney World. Sure, there are reasons for waiting until they are a little older (4, 5, 6, etc), but I think there are plenty of reasons for families to consider going while they are younger.

Please feel free to share your reasons for taking your young kids to Disney World, or on other vacations. I would love to hear about your experiences with taking your kids for the first time. What was their favorite part? Do they have any memories of it? Do you think it was worth the trip? How did you prepare your kids for their first Disney vacation?

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Summer is coming to an end

It feels like summer just started, and now it’s already coming to an end. The weather is getting cooler (some days), kids are back in school (or homeschool), and the fall decorations and clothing are in the stores. I find myself already looking at my fall recipes and coming up with comforting meals to keep us warm on cool fall evenings.

Santa's Village 2012 from phone 002

Santa's Village 2012 from phone 004

My daughter and I successfully grew two pumpkins this year. We already have one sitting outside on our patio table. We’re putting away some of our summer decor and bringing out the fall stuff. I’ve been looking in Kayla’s closet wondering if she has enough long sleeve shirts and long pants for the fall and winter.

pumpkins 2013

Summer is my favorite season, so I always feel a little sad when it’s coming to an end. There is something about warm, bright sunny summer days that makes me feel carefree and happy. Maybe it just brings back a lot of awesome memories of summers with my family and friends from when I was little. I used to spend long days outside playing with my friends, and would stay up late watching movies with my family at night. My family used to take summer vacations to Florida to visit relatives, and go to the amusement parks. Of course, my favorite was always going to the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. (Even though Busch Gardens in Tampa was always a lot of fun too.) It’s hard not to love a magical little self-contained city like Disney World. It’s a place where fantasies come alive and dreams come true. It’s a wonderful place for kids and families. I will cherish those summer childhood memories for the rest of my life.

Kayla’s summer sessions of gymnastics and dance have ended. We’ve already started our fall session of Mom and Mini gymnastics. Kayla’s summer reading programs have all ended. We’ve officially started our preschool homeschooling for the year by doing workbook pages, playing learning games, working on letters and numbers, and watching learning videos.

home pics and disney countdown chart 002

Oh, and our Disney vacation that once seemed so far away is now under 60 days away. Before I know it, we’ll be heading to Florida and Kayla will be experiencing her first plane ride and Disney World vacation. I booked this vacation back in January, so it’s hard to believe it’s getting so close now. Kayla and I made a Disney Countdown Chart (see previous post) in July, when my sister’s family went on vacation, so Kayla could understand how much longer we still had before it was our turn to go on vacation. When we made our chart, we still had 114 days to go. Now we have 48 days left. It’s amazing how fast time goes by. When we get home from our trip, Kayla will be celebrating her 3rd birthday.

Selecting a clothes pin to remove from our countdown chart.

Selecting a clothes pin to remove from our countdown chart.

Kayla showing me the clothes pin she took off our Disney Countdown chart.

Kayla showing me the clothes pin she took off our Disney Countdown chart.

Erasing the old number on our chart so I can write in the new number.

Erasing the old number on our chart so I can write in the new number.

home pics and disney countdown chart 021

home pics and disney countdown chart 022

home pics and disney countdown chart 025

home pics and disney countdown chart 026

All the clothes pins we already removed from the chart.  This was at 60 days left.

All the clothes pins we already removed from the chart. This was at 60 days left.

We’ve had a great summer. We’ve gone to the state fair, a county fair, Santa’s Village Azoosment Park, the zoo, and took a trip to Springfield. We also just attended a fall fest, which is always a lot of fun, and took Kayla to see Disney on Ice. Although I’m sad that summer is ending, I am ready to enjoy the wonderful things we have planned for this fall and winter. Only a couple more months, and we’ll be getting ready for Christmas. Summer may be my favorite season, but Christmas-time is my favorite time of the year.

Ride at Santa's Village.

Ride at Santa’s Village.

By the pool at my friend's apartment building in Springfield, IL.

By the pool at my friend’s apartment building in Springfield, IL.

At the Illinois State Fair.

At the Illinois State Fair.

I hope everyone had an awesome summer with their family and friends.

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