Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party 2016

As I mentioned a few days ago, the kids and I spent a long weekend in Orlando in mid-December.

We stayed at my mom’s place near Winter Haven, FL, for two nights and then headed to Orlando for the third (and final) night to attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

A quick tutorial: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is held on select nights in November and December (this year there were 21 dates; we attended on Friday, December 16th).

I’d seen some other sites describe this as a “hard ticket” event, which I guess means that you need a separate ticket – not theme park admission – to attend. Furthermore, if you happen to have purchased a Magic Kingdom theme park admission for a day when the party will be held, you will also be asked to leave when the party starts unless you have a separate party ticket. Whomp whomp.

Officially the party starts at 7 P.M., but I’d read on several other sites that you could get into the Magic Kingdom starting at 4 P.M., so that’s what we decided to do.

After checking into the Swan Hotel at 3 P.M., MGM (9), Trixie (7), and I took a Disney bus to the Magic Kingdom. The bus wasn’t crowded and we made quick time, arriving in less than 30 minutes. Since our party ticket wouldn’t get us into the park for another half hour, we took the monorail to the Grand Floridian to see their huge gingerbread house.

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We arrived in the nick of time to see Cinderella and Prince Charming sweep into the lobby and admire the (huge, elaborate) Christmas tree that was there. They were followed by an entourage of fans, mostly girls in princess dresses. There was a live orchestra in the lobby balcony that started playing a waltz, and several couples joined the royal couple in a dance by the tree.

We had a great vantage point from the balcony for this, and when it was done we headed down to the gingerbread house.

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Many Disney resorts have elaborately themed gingerbread houses on display. We didn’t have time to do a full hotel tour of holiday decorations, but I’ve read about this on other blogs and it sounds like fun.

The Grand Floridian’s house was two stories tall and housed a shop (accessible from the back) that sold various gingerbread items and Christmas sweets. Cast members provided us with a menu while we waited in line a few minutes to order. I was pleased to see a small gluten free section for Trixie and she got a snickerdoodle cookie. It was pre-packaged and the one adjective she used to describe it was “hard.” I opted for a gingerbread Mickey head ($8.50) with chocolate dipped ears. MGM declared that he didn’t want any of it.

Honestly, the gingerbread cookie was disappointing. The flavor was pretty bland, and I was expecting it to be crunchy when, in fact, it was soft and cake-like. I ate the chocolate covered ears and tossed the rest. 

By now it was time to head to the party.

We took the monorail back to the Magic Kingdom’s entrance and went through security, scanned our party tickets and got wristbands indicating that we were there for the party. As the evening drew closer to 7 P.M. I saw many people without wristbands – regular parkgoers – (politely) denied entry into ride queues and also being asked to leave the park.

We decided to take in a few rides before the party started and also took our traditional picture trying to pull the sword from the stone in Fantasyland.

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We still didn’t get it.

Let me pause for a second and talk about cost:

  • Disney admission now varies on whether your trip is considered Peak, Regular or Value season. Our trip coincided with Regular season, so a one-day Magic Kingdom ticket would have been $110 for me and $104 for each of the kids.
  • The Very Merry Christmas Party ticket prices also vary by date, with the earlier dates being slightly cheaper than the ones closer to Christmas. On the night we attended prices were $99 for adults and $94 for children.
  • Since I knew that our theme park stamina would not be strong, I decided that the time allowed for the party (essentially 4 P.M. – 12 A.M.) would be more than sufficient for the three of us to enjoy the Magic Kingdom, so in the end it was about $30 cheaper for us to attend the party rather than buy one day park admissions.

Because of this mindset, we decided to do the theme park stuff we wanted and not go crazy trying to cram in all of the special party experiences.

Trixie is bold and adventuresome and had one thing in mind: rides.

We started off with the Haunted Mansion. The wait time was about 15 minutes. We wandered over to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train but the wait time was 140 minutes. No thanks.

Off we headed to Frontierland and in fairly quick succession we hit Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain, then Pirates of the Caribbean and the Swiss Family Treehouse. The kids wanted to do the Mad Teacups and I sat it out. I hate this vomit inducing spinning nightmare.

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Good news: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train now only had a 40 minute wait so we got in line. This was a new attraction to all of us and was pretty fun.

We took a short ride break to get hot chocolate and cookies. There were about half a dozen stations set up around the park to pass out these free (!!!) treats for partygoers. I’d heard that the cookies were snickerdoodle, but I thought my two tasted more like sugar cookies. Either way they were decent. I thought MGM would want to go back again and again for cookies, but this was the only stop we made. They had pre-packaged gluten free cookies available, too, but Trixie took a few bites and tossed them into the nearest trash can.

A this point, Trixie still wanted more, more, more adventure and asked what the scariest ride was, so we went to Space Mountain. 

MGM wasn’t convinced this was a ride for him. He kept asking if there were steep drops or darkness, because he didn’t want any of that. Sorry, bud. That’s all Space Mountain is. 

I offered to let him wait for us, but in the end he decided to go, too. Both kids loved it and declared it their favorite.

By this time we were hungry and waited in a long line at Cosmic Ray’s fast food restaurant. Adjacent to this there was a dance party with holiday characters like reindeer and elves. MGM loved it and got totally into the dancing, which was good since it took about 25 minutes to get the food.

Once we were done eating it was pushing the time for the evening fireworks to begin. I think this was now almost 10:30 P.M. We’d totally missed a Christmas parade that happened earlier, which was ok with us given the fact that we wanted to do attractions but probably wouldn’t make sense for more serious Disney fans who came for the unique party entertainment.

We grabbed a spot on Main Street and watched the show. The castle looked great with holiday icicle lights.

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The best part came next: it snowed on Main Street!

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Spoiler: this is actually some type of soap, but the kids still loved it.

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The crowds starting exiting the park en masse at this point. We decided to cool our jets for 20-30 minutes to get the initial waves out and did some shopping. I am a sucker for stuffed animals and bought this (ahem) for the children:

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Image via Disney Store

So much for saving $30 on park admission.

By now it was after 11 P.M. and we easily got a bus back to the Swan Hotel.

The kids wanted a picture with the holiday decorated swans in the lobby fountain.

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We were all pretty punchy at this point.

Trixie was so tired that she slept in her clothes.

The next morning we had breakfast at the adjacent Dolphin Hotel. As we passed through the Swan’s lobby to get there, we saw the World’s Largest Chocolate Santa.

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Of course both kids immediately wanted this.

The trip home was unenjoyable but uneventful, and we arrived safely back in Minnesota on Saturday night.

The kids complained a bit about the trip being too short and since returning I’ve heard repetitive pleas to move to Orlando, but I told them that if they hadn’t had a lot of fun they wouldn’t want to go back, so this was a sign that we had a great time. 

I think that went over their heads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Disney Character…

A couple of weeks ago, Trixie started asking us to play a game called “This Disney Character.”

The game is simple: one person gives clues to the identity of a Disney character and the others guess. The person who gets it right does the clues for the next round.

Sample: This Disney Character is a snowman who loves summer.

Please don’t make me answer that one for you.

However, last week the game took a dark turn.

As I’ve mentioned before, Trixie is not the up-and-at-’em type in the morning.

She’s more like a mid-90s Courtney Love forced to meet a parole officer in the A.M.

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Undoctored photo

Last week the two of us were alone in the kitchen and the usual morning scramble to get out the door was in full swing.

I can’t even recall the precipitating incident, but all of sudden she snarled, “This Disney character is chubby, sweaty, stinky and is standing next to the sink!”

Ok, I *was* next to the sink, but really, the rest of that is not true.

(Is it? Sniff. My self esteem is destroyed by a six year old).

Once I recovered I was able to come back with one for her:

This Disney character is about to lose iPad privileges for the rest of her life.

It only took one guess.

P.S. Here’s another Disney game that is a lot of fun.

Anchors Aweigh

Today we’re finally heading off to our family vacation, a Disney cruise to St. Maarten and St. Thomas for the next seven nights.

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This is the fourth year in a row that we’ve done this trip. I’ve written about it before, but I promised to post some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

  1. Most important tip: Do not even consider going on this trip without children. The omnipresent shrieking and the inevitable meltdowns (adult and child) would make this experience a unique hell. Don’t do this to yourself unless you have kids of your own coming with you! Save your money and go somewhere relatively kid-free, like this place.
  2. Second most important tip, and this is what makes this trip tolerable: Go Concierge. Yes, these cabins are more costly. Yes, this is a luxury. But boy, are they worth it. On the two largest Disney boats – the Dream and the Fantasy – decks 11 and 12 hold the concierge cabins. The decor on this part of the ship is nicer than the rest of it. The halls are quiet since traffic is limited to only concierge guests. Plus:
  • You have access to the Concierge Lounge, which is stocked with desserts, snacks, cans of soda (fountain soda is free but cans otherwise come from room service and will cost you), a deluxe cappuccino/espresso maker, and – best of all – two gratis cocktail hours every day. Seriously, you can make up a lot of the expense right there. Tip: book the second dinner seating, and you’ll be able to hit both cocktail hours every day. Hour #1 begins about 5 PM, the time we’re usually starting to get washed/brushed/groomed for dinner. You can swing by the lounge for a cocktail or glass of wine to sip as you shower and get ready, and if you time it right, you can swing back for Hour #2, which starts at 7 PM before your dinner at 8 PM. Cost savings: $10 a drink x 2 drinks per adult per night x 2 adult drinkers x 7 nights = $280.
  • Concierge guests get to walk right on the ship. No waiting in line at the port. You have your own check-in area. That saves you about two hours right there.
  • You’ll be able to pre-book spa treatments for the busy at-sea days, adult dinners at specialty restaurants, and – if you have children less then 3 years old – the all-important Nursery Services (which are limited in space and must be reserved for the under-3 set) a month ahead of everyone else. With >3,000 people on board, the 2 PM massages on sea days go quickly. Get there first.
  • There’s a private sun deck. This is such an awesome perk. No more fighting for a deck chair that others have mysteriously “reserved” by placing towels down the night before. There are top-of-the-line lounge beds, free sunscreen, and misting machines to keep you cool. I want to live there.
  • Concierge cabins basically come in three flavors: regular rooms with a private terrace (no bigger than anywhere else on the ship but in a more desirable location), one bedroom suites, and luxury suites – the all-out “Walt Disney” suites that go for around $30k a week. Personally, I think that the best two cabins on the ship are 12004 and 12504. Both of these are the regular terrace rooms, but there’s something really special about them. The front five cabins on the ship – including two luxury Disney suites – can be purchased as a group and connected together. The decor is even nicer than the rest of the concierge rooms and they have a unifying nautical theme. If there’s a celebrity with a huge family or entourage on board, you can bet this is where they’ll be. Most of the time, however, the rooms aren’t booked en masse, and when the luxury suites are individually reserved, Disney will release the remaining rooms (including 12004 and 12504) for anyone else. We lucked into cabin 12004 on our first trip and loved peeking over our deck rails to see who was in the Disney suite (alas, no one glamourous). We asked for and got it again on our second trip, then last year we reserved it for Spouse’s parents who were traveling with us. This time and last, we decided to try a one-bedroom suite, which is super nice but honestly, I’m not sure the extra expense makes it that much better than a regular concierge cabin. Moral of the story: go concierge but stick to a regular room if you can get it.

3.  If you’re worried at all about being sea sick, bring scopolamine patches with you. While there is a small medical clinic on board, the hours are brief and they don’t stock the patches. You will be miserable if you need them and can’t get them. Play it safe and get a prescription before you leave home. If you don’t need them, toss them; they’re not that expensive. If you do need them, you’ve got gold.

4.  Consider staying on the boat if there’s nowhere you want to go in port. Some of the shore excursions are lame. Staying on board will guarantee lots of open space in the pool and no line at the waterslide.

5. Check out online boards ahead of time. Disboards is one example. People from your particular cruise will start to post a year and a half before embarking and virtually get to know each other before setting sail. This isn’t really my thing, but if you’re into it, then by all means make some friends in advance.

6. Discreetly give a cash tip – maybe $40 – to your server and your room attendant the first day. Especially since we have a daughter with a bad food allergy, we discovered that a cash tip on Night #1 is a great investment for above-and-beyond service the rest of the trip.

7. Get there the day before. Stressing about making the boat isn’t worth it. Stay at a Disney resort and they’ll pick you up and take you right to the port. It’s slick.

8. Liberally use the Kids’ Club. Ideally, I’d check MGM and Trixie into the Kids’ Club for at least 2 hours every day. Two delicious, quiet, nap-filled hours. 

Have fun. If you have kids, this trip is really a blast for them. Their happiness makes it all worthwhile. Our kids talk about the “Mickey Boat” all the time. Really, all the time. The experience is carefully curated, but when you’re five and six, it’s pure magic.

 

It’s A Small World

Disney’s “It’s a Small World” attraction just turned 50 and there’s a fun, interactive anniversary website where you can build your own Small World character doll (with a donation to UNICEF for every creation) as well as hear the ride’s infamous earworm of a song.

Speaking of that tune, it just might be the most-played song in history, with an estimated 50 million plays. Get the math on that and an interesting backstory on the attraction, which first opened at the 1964 World’s Fair, here.

Never one to miss a merchandising opportunity, Disney also hit the animation vaults and resurrected some historic designs for anniversary-themed merchandise.

Dolls and stuffed animals are here.

These dinner sets, however, are way cuter and would make great gifts. They come with a plate, bowl and cup, all of which stack together to form one of the iconic characters.

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There are also individual dinner plates:

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You can order them here and here.