If you haven’t stopped by Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the past few months then, you have haven’t noticed the big changes occurring in and around the park. With the addition of Star Wars and Toy Story lands, the park is undergoing extensive work. These two new themed lands will add approximately 20 acres to the park {& a LOT of extra fun}! We are so excited to see and experience the new extensions that will be happening in Florida. Here is an update of where things currently stand. P.S. You should get EXCITED!!

Starting inside the park and with the Star Wars addition, the Streets of America along with the backlot and car stunt show are no longer. A few buildings remain along the street but outside of that not much is there. There are mounds of dirt and the start of new ride buildings gearing up for the opening in 2019. Toy Story land is also under way with a planned opening in 2018, this section of the park will start near Toy Story Mania and circle around eventually to the Star Wars land. This should make a large loop around the park. 

 

There have been very few released details about each of the two lands and access inside of these construction areas are off limits for obvious reasons. However, there is a lot of information regarding the outside of the park including parking and the new entrance. Hollywood Studios has always had the smallest parking lot and has experienced issues lately with access off of Buena Vista Drive. That is all changing. {Wahoo!!} They are expecting a huge influx of attendance projected in the next two years. Disney has decided to add a new driving entrance that will be located off of Osceola Parkway. (See attached road drawings submitted by Disney)

Star Wars LandStar Wars Land

There will be a new interchange near Victory Way and Osceola at the ESPN Wide World of Sports entrance. This interchange will guide cards into the parking lot from an entire new direction. The parking lot is getting upgraded to accommodate the high traffic. By the looks of aerial photos the parking lot will nearly double in capacity with a private lot for Cast Members. Speculation is there will be a private bus route in the park too, limited entrance to guest cars only.

Star Wars Land

As you can see, work is moving along quickly at the Studios. In the coming months, I will post another update as much will be completed this summer and further details. Star Wars and Toy Story lands are expected to be announced at the D23 conference in Anaheim in July. Stay tuned!

You don’t have to wait until Star Wars and Toy Story lands are opened to the public to visit Disney World! Contact a Me and The Mouse agent today to book your trip to a Disney Destination!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

The Animal Kingdom Lodge SavannahDuring my time as a Cast Member at Walt Disney World, I had a role that allowed me to work in a different resort or park each day. It was great for many reasons, but I especially enjoyed my days at the resorts. I was able to become incredibly familiar with each resort and talk to the guests that visited and stayed at them. I can truly say I think they all have great features in their own way. However, there is one resort that I can say is my favorite: Animal Kingdom Lodge! The resort has many features that I absolutely love, but today, I will tell you three things that I separate it from any other resort on property. Here is why Animal Kingdom Lodge is the top of my list.

 

Location 

Some people will say it’s far away from the other parks, and I respond to that with “that is why I love it!” As a frequent guest to Disney World, I love this feature. After spending the day in the parks, I love traveling back to the resort. I feel as though, I’m being transported to tranquil destination away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Disney World. When you step off the bus, you are surrounded by tall trees and plants. These types of vegetation are not seen anywhere on property! You hear nothing but crickets and the ambient music of the resort it is instantly relaxing. 

 

The Lobby

Animal Kingdom Lodge LobbyThere are incredible lobbies at Disney resorts, but I believe there is nothing like the one at Animal Kingdom Lodge. It is grand in a way that no others can compare. It rarely feels crowded, is set up wonderfully and smells incredible! Yes, I said smells incredible! That is because Boma, the buffet located near the lobby, is cooking up amazing wood fired dishes and the aroma feels the air. The lobby and corridors also offer an extensive collection of African art. You can easily spend hours looking at and reading about the deep African history. This space is truly unique, and it is a great fit for the safari lover in your family!

 

The View

The View at the Animal Kingdom Lodge looking at the SavannahThe view is where the resort really shines. There are multiple areas to view the savannah and animals that roam the resort. I’ve spent an hours sitting in rocking chair just taking in the sights of giraffes, zebras and other animals. Even if you aren’t into animal sight seeing, the view is peaceful and relaxing. The pool is another area that provides a special visual experience. It’s surrounded by the beautiful architecture of the resorts and greenery. It feels as if it’s an African oasis. There are incredible savannah viewing points, just steps away from the pool. However, I think the best view in the resort is actually one you can book! When you book a room that overlooks the savannah, the view is absolutely incredible. I have enjoyed this amazing view on my own visits, and I always look forward to it! 

 

If you’re looking for a memorable and magical experience on your next Disney World vacation, I would gladly recommend the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Ready to book? Contact a Me and The Mouse agent, today!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

Growing up in Western Nebraska, we took yearly trips to South Dakota or Colorado. I remember going on these vacations during my elementary school years. It was during my 5th grade year, my parents made the vacation decision that forever changed my life – a trip to Disneyland! This is the story of why that trip changed my life as a child and as an adult.

Disneyland changed my life!

We had never gone a trip of such magnitude. I remember going to our local travel agent with my mom and seeing that sticker of Mickey Mouse on the window that said “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.” As a child I thought to myself “wow, this is really happening!” After taking home a stack of Disneyland brochures and a few weeks of planning, we settled on our hotel and our tickets.

 

It was almost a year a way, but I was excited as if we were leaving the next day. I remember looking at those brochures every day and counting down until we left. I mapped out the park, the lands, the rides and the routes we were going to take to get around. At this time, my only perspective of a Disney park was seeing them on the Disney Channel.

 

After months of anticipation, we were ready to leave. My family and I were driving to California, and it was an adventure that rivaled that of Clark Griswold’s Walley World pilgrimage! {That is an entire story in itself.}

 

Fast forward to arriving in Anaheim. We drive down Katella Avenue and make the turn and there it is-the famous Disneyland sign. We made it! After a sleepless night, we park and make our way to the same gates that Walt Disney himself entered. It was a like a dream seeing the Mickey Mouse head flower garden and the train station then Main Street U.S.A. We made our way around the park: seeing, riding and eating! 

Disneyland changed my life!

Let me get to the part that changed my life. We were on the monorail and there is a place near Tomorrowland that when you look close you can see backstage. I remember this like it was yesterday. I proclaimed to my family “someday I want to work for Disney.” It was my childhood moment when I said I want to grow up and do this. And guess what? I did grow up and I did work for Disney, and it changed my life. I worked at Walt Disney World, traveled as a Cast Member to Disney headquarters in Burbank, walked Walt’s studio, held the first ticket to Disneyland, met with Imagineers, created magical memories, and bettered my career.
All of this started with a visit to the travel agent in Gering Nebraska and a stack of brochures. I ran into that same travel agent a year ago. She is now retired, but told me, “I remember how excited you were when I gave you those brochures! You were glowing with excitement.”


If you are ready to experience Disneyland for the first time, contact a Me and The Mouse agent today!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

Sweet, Savory and Scrumptious

Walt Disney World is full of amazing food. From full to quick service the options are endless. Today, I want to spend a little time on my favorite treats. Before I go any further, I first need to define what a treat is to me. When I’m on vacation anything I eat outside a meal is a treat and I like my treats! So anything from ice cream to a pretzel to a bratwurst is in my opinion, a treat! This blog post is for all of you food lovers out there, enjoy! Best Disney World Treats

Let’s start with the sweet treats! What may be the most famous refreshing dessert at Disney World is the Dole Whip. It can be found at the Polynesian Resort and in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom. The Dole Whip is a cool creamy pineapple ice cream type dessert. I lean toward the float in which the Dole Whip is surrounded by pineapple juice! {Can I just say, #heavenly!} Staying in the Magic Kingdom, let’s next travel to Gaston’s Tavern. Here you will find a LeFou’s Brew which is an amazing slushy type drink that I can only describe as fruity and butterscotchy! You must get a warm cinnamon roll to go with your LeFou’s Brew.  This warm and delectable treat is anything but small and is certainly full of flavor!

Next it’s the savory treats! At Germany in Epcot, you will find a little stop next to the buffet entrance where you can pick up a German bratwurst covered in sauerkraut and paired with paprika chips. To most this is a meal but to me it’s often just a snack! You can top it with mustard and sit in one of the tables next to the shops. You will feel like you are in Germany! My next savory treat can be found at Disney Springs. It’s poutine! I didn’t really know what that was until I tried it at Disney. It’s big combination of french fries, cheese curds and gravy! It’s a yummy carb filled treat that again is more of a meal, but again I call it a snack!

Best Disney World TreatsFinally, it’s the scrumptious treats! What is a scrumptious treat you ask? Well, it’s the treats that I couldn’t fit into the other categories. I start with one of my all time favorite beers. For this, we again travel to Germany. At the front, you can find an amazing pretzel cart! There will find the Schöfferhofer Pink Grapefruit Hefeweizen. A refreshing light beer with a grapefruit twist! My other scrumptious treats are beer at Italy, beer at the United Kingdom, beer at Canada and well I think you get the point! Epcot is a beer lovers dream!

So that is my favorite Disney World treats! Well actually, it was only a few as it would take about 10 blogs to list all my favorite treats! If you are looking for some different options or in need of more suggestions, contact a Me and The Mouse agent today!

 

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

Days at Sea – Part 2

This is the second part of my blog posting “To Cruise Or Not To Cruise?” This post is meant to help those who have never cruised but are intrigued with the idea of going on one. Part one of this post on the advantages of cruising. {You can read about that, here!} Today, will focus on what to do on sea days or for the cruise novice when you are not at port at a destination.

 Top Five Things to do on Sea Days! Is Cruising for me?

  1. Relax You are on a cruise in the middle of the Caribbean so enjoy the beauty. I usually get balcony rooms and on sea days I enjoy ordering room service for breakfast and enjoy the vast ocean and its peacefulness. If you don’t have a balcony that is ok to. Grab a bite to eat and take it to one of the decks and enjoy the same view. It’s also a great time to relax by the pool in a lounge chair soaking up the sun.
  2. Explore Is Cruising for me?Cruise ships today have so much to do that I enjoy walking the ship and finding little surprises. The last cruise I was on I stumbled upon a little known deck at the front of the ship and reenacted the scene from Titanic! It’s also a great time to see which places on the ship are busier than others. You may find a nice place to read a book or enjoy a drink that is quiet and relaxing.
  3. Eat Cruising is about enjoying a lot of great food. Sea days are a great time to do that. It is true that the restaurants are busier on sea days but I’ve found going at non-peak times isn’t all that bad. It’s also a great time to try different restaurants. You may want to grab a sandwich from one place, an appetizer from another and then finish with dessert at a third location. You may eat a lot but going back to point number two if you explore and walk around you will burn those calories off! {Well, maybe not all of them, but who’s counting!}
  4. Entertainment Is Cruising for me?There is always something going on during sea days, including Broadway musicals, movies, and live entertainment! If you want something low key you can take a cupcake decorating class, play bingo, try miniature golf, zip line or take part in trivia contest. There is literally something for everyone. Children can take part in volleyball tournaments, video game contest or meeting their favorite character.
  5. Spa This may be one of the best options on a sea day. Get a massage, skin treatment, steam bath or choose from dozens of other options. I’ve done spa treatments I would never get at home. They have great couples’ options too for those who want to have a relaxing hour together. They often offer sales on days at port, but if those days are full then stop by the spa on a sea day.

 

I hope first time cruisers now have a better understanding of why you should give a cruising a try! I also hope this blog has shown you what you can do on your day at sea. Be sure to check my future blog posts for what do at port and figuring out what excursion to take!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

That is the Question – Part 1

This time of year I get many people say “I’m want to go somewhere warm!” I reply with the one thing I love more than any other vacation and that is a Caribbean cruise! There reaction is one of three replies. Love em, hate em, and the most common answer I get is “It sounds fun but what do your really do on a boat all day?” That is when my ears perk up! Watch out, I’m about to tell you what you can do a cruise all day. Is Cruising for me?

Living in Nebraska I find a lot people haven’t cruised before, so not know what cruises are all about is very common. Here is my breakdown of what I think are the advantages of cruising.

  1. It is the most relaxing week of my year. I board the ship, turn off my phone and put it in the safe, wait for the ship to debark and next thing I know I’m in the middle of the expansive and beautiful ocean. You feel as if you are a world away from the one you left. 
  2. I eat, then I eat, then I get ice cream, then I eat, then I get dessert then a midnight snack. I don’t know about you, but vacationing is a time that I can say “NO” to watching what I eat. From amazing restaurants to classic buffets to room service with breakfast on your balcony – the food is part of the experience. For those who aren’t into the endless smorgasbord, many ships are offering healthy food restaurants. These restaurants serve endless fruits, quinoa and delicious steamed fish.
    Is Cruising for me?
  3. Amazing entertainment awaits around every corner. I’ve been on Disney and Royal Caribbean cruises and both have world class shows. Disney Cruise Line brings to life live action shows featuring your favorite Disney characters set in a beautiful broadway style theater. On Royal Caribbean ships, you can catch shows such as Cats, Chicago and and line up of original performances made just for the cruise. 
  4. It’s a kids dream! Children of all ages have a huge variety of entertainment and activity choices. From clubs just for the little ones to teen lounges, your kids will never say “I’m bored”. I tell parents it’s the ultimate vacation. They can relax by the pool while their kids are in supervised areas having fun doing what they want to do! 
  5. Different destinations every morning without packing a suitcase? That to me is the best part of cruising. I can wake up to a view in the middle of the ocean one day and the next touring Jamaica. Everyday is a truly a different day. I get to experience the best of the Caribbean in one week!

Is Cruising for me?Yes, cruising might not be for everyone but I think it should get a close look when booking your next vacation. You might end up like me – a Cuisy!!

This is part one of my “To Cruise Or Not To Cruise” blog. I will follow up with a Day at Sea! I will guide you through what I do when my ship is not at a port for the day.

 

 

If you are interested in cruising, be sure to contact a Me and The Mouse agent! Let us take the stress out of planning your next adventure!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

A former Cast Members guide for first time Disney guest

After working for Walt Disney World for nearly five years I’ve seen a lot of overwhelmed faces from first time Disney guests. So the question is how not get overwhelmed by all that Disney World has to offer. I’ve compiled my list of things that may help a first time guest to vacation capital of the world. Much of what will help keep you from getting overwhelmed can be done before you even get on the plane.

 

Tips for First Time Disney Guest

  1. Get familiar with what Disney World has to offer ahead of time. Disney has many resources to help families prepare for their first visit. Research Disney World’s website and explore the 27,000 acres the resort covers. What I found helpful before I ever worked at Disney was talk with someone who knows the lay of the land. In this case that would be myself and others on the Me and the Mouse Team:)
  2. Prioritize what you want to do. It’s a huge place and you will never do it all in one visit. I’ve helped first time families by asking a lot of questions like what do the kids like and then combining that with their ages I can help create a pretty good vacation strategy. First Time at Disney
  3. There is a lot to eat! Get a grip on the dining plan if you are going to purchase it. Know the restaurants and their features. Ask the question “do I want something in the parks or at resort?” Find out what characters at what restaurants too. You don’t want to miss Mickey! Also, don’t think that Disney Quick Service is just hot dogs and hamburgers because it is so much more now. Look at menus on Disney World’s website.
  4. A FastPass is a family’s best friend! Your Me and the Mouse vacation planner can give you the ins and outs of this great time saver. The FastPass system allows you to bypass the line and get more done on your vacation.
  5. Have your Me and the Mouse vacation planner send you a Disney ebrochure that is customized to your vacation. This is a great piece that is visual and will give you a good look at what is to come.
  6. Ask lots of questions. While planning your vacation ask questions and then when you arrive ask any Disney Cast Member for help. Cast Members are your guides while on vacation. They can assist with directions, getting dining reservations and almost anything. While I was a Cast Member, I helped a family who had their luggage misplaced by the airline. We were able to get their vacation started on the right foot by providing them with the essentials until their luggage was found. So don’t ever hesitate asking a Cast Member.

 

And of course all of us at Me and the Mouse are here to help! Ask your questions and we will do our best to help your family have the best possible first time vacation to the Magic Kingdom!

 

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

 

 

I’m a Disney purists. I love the history, the films and of course the theme parks! I think no one does it as well as Disney. With that said, two years ago, I had the opportunity to get a private look at Universal Studios and especially Harry Potter areas of the parks. What I found was a bit surprising and amazing. Universal Studios vs Disney

As a child I had visited Universal Hollywood. I grew up watching Nickelodeon on TV and it was great seeing the shows and rides that were featured. I remember the original Back to the Future ride and the backstage tour it was great but on that same trip I also went to Disneyland. To me, Disneyland is the center of all theme parks. It’s where it all started so at the time there was no comparing the two. Disney outmatched Universal – period.

Fast forward a bunch of years. I visit Universal Studios Florida. It’s okay but no Disney World. It has some great roller coasters at Islands of Adventure and some shows but I was like “ehhh it’s ok.” Now fast forward few more years after The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opens and what can I say now – WOW! It changed everything. I said something I never thought I would. “I’ve never seen something like this at a Disney park.” It’s beautifully done, well designed and incredible. That is all being said from a person, who at the time, had never seen a Harry Potter movie! Universal Studios vs Disney

The folks at Universal have done a great job transforming that park. It’s a full fledged resort with hotels, great food, shopping and world class rides. I will say their rides, in my opinion, tilt toward older children but it is still a great family destination. I think it’s worth exploring one or two days or even staying at one of their resorts.

What I wanted to point out in this blog is that I’m a person who absolutely loves Disney – my white blood cells are in the shape of Mickey Mouse! Disney will always be the best in my eyes but I also think the park a few miles down the interstate is pretty good. Check it out and see for yourself and for those of you like me let’s just keep it to ourselves and not tell Mickey! 😉

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

P.S. All of the Me and The Mouse agents are specialized in Universal vacations. If you would like to add a day at Universal don’t forget to contact your agent!

Go Off the Beaten Path with a former Disney Cast Member

There is so much to see and at Walt Disney World. After spending nearly five years as a Cast Member, I today can still say I haven’t done it all. However, one thing about working for Walt Disney World is you have the opportunity to visit at your leisure and see things without being in a rush. My wife and I would often take a trip to the Magic Kingdom at night just to grab an ice cream cone and a churro and stroll the park. We would visit parts of the parks that are quieter and less busy and enjoy strolls through resorts. I’ve decided to list some of the destinations that as a Cast Member I enjoyed visiting. Enjoy these suggestions that feel a little off the beaten path.

Tom Sawyer Island

Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom at times can feel a bit busy but a trip to Tom Sawyer’s Island is like a trip to a different park almost. It is quiet and offers a good amount of trails and fun caves. Plus, you can get fun views of The Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Railroad.

 

Animal Kingdom

There are so many places at Animal Kingdom that are off the beaten path. I enjoy strolling through Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Here you can walk through a peaceful setting with trees, animals and nature around. Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

 

Polynesian Resort

Many people travel through the Polynesian Resort to get to the laua but don’t stop and enjoy it’s beauty. The newly renovated lobby is beautiful and walking past the main swimming pool to the shore will get you great views of the Magic Kingdom and Seven Seas Lagoon. Plus, it’s home to pineapple Dole Whips! 

Wilderness Lodge Resort

Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness

Both of these locations feel like they are an oasis within Disney World. Both feel like you are in a beautiful mountain area and offer incredible views Bay Lake. The lobby of Wilderness Lodge is impressive and a stop at the geyser is always fun. Plus, both locations offer some good ol home cooking food!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

Having spent nearly five years with The Walt Disney Company, I’ve had many opportunities to be part of an amazing world filled with dreams, imagination and memories. It was a world I will never forget, not only because of what I personally was able to do but because at Disney you are part of something so much bigger than yourself. Each day you are empowered to make a difference, bring smiles to people’s faces and create lifelong memories. Travel Tips from a former Disney Cast Member

 

Once I moved back to Nebraska, my friends and family noticed I was overflowing with Disney. At every opportunity, I spewed fun tidbits of knowledge that often crossed into obscure facts. I quickly became the go to person for helping plan Disney vacations. At that time, I had yet to become a member of the Me and The Mouse team but that didn’t stop me from doing everything I could to help plan the perfect vacation. At times, I was often put into situations where I needed to give two minutes’ worth of tips. That is difficult thing to do when it comes to Walt Disney World. With that said I came up with these three simple tips to make any Disney vacation great!

Ryan’s Top 3 Disney Travel Tips:

  1. Plan Ahead –

    Take time before your vacation to decide what restaurants you want to eat at, what rides you want a FastPass+ to and what parks you want to attend each day. Even if you are a family who does things on a whim, take time to familiarize yourself with your resort and the parks.

  2. Walt Disney World is HUGE – Epcot Ride - Travel Tips from a former Disney Cast Member

    Realize this before going on your vacation. As a former Cast Member even I did not go on every ride, see every show or eat at every restaurant. {However, I did come close!} Pick out what you believe will be the best for your family and do it! There is a great chance you will be back!

  3. Smile, Relax and Make Memories –

    Don’t forget this is your family vacation. I saw families having the time of their life and others who looked like they were related to Grumpy of the Seven Dwarfs. Once you realize that Disney is all about the small moments like eating a churro next to Splash Mountain, riding It’s A Small World for the first time or gazing in amazement at the fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle you can’t help but smile. These are the memories no camera can capture and the ones that last forever.

 

It’s the unforgettable Disney moments that we will never forget. Everyone at Me and The Mouse share the commitment to help thousands of families create those moments. Now that I’m officially part of an authorized Disney travel agent team, I feel that once again I’m part of something bigger than myself. I’m part of making amazing lifelong memories and that is pretty incredible!

Ryan Gross

Disney Vacation Planner