This past summer, Universal Orlando opened its gates to the most incredible and advanced water theme park I have ever seen.  It is no wonder this is a very popular (and very crowed) park! Here are three tips to enjoy your experience and dodge some of the crazy crowds.

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Tip #1 When Should I Get There? I have three very different recommendations on when to arrive to make sure you get in and not have to deal with horrible lines.  Your best bet is arrive at park opening and claim your chair at Waturi Beach.  This works even better if you are staying on site and eligible for Early Morning Hours.  You will be guaranteed entry and will have your choice of chairs and best view of the breathtaking volcano.  My second recommendation is after 4 pm.   Guests that have arrived in the morning are exhausted, sunburned and ready to leave, which means you will be walking into an empty park.  Similar to this strategy is a little more spontaneous, but very effective.  See a thunderstorm coming? If it is just one of those short Florida bursts, head over to Volcano Bay!  Most guests will not wait out the storm, and again, you will be walking into an empty park.

What to Avoid: Definitely do not try to arrive between 10-2 pm.  Since they have been closing park due to capacity, you would be risking being turned away at the gate.

Tip #2 – Use Tapu Tapu Wisely: IMG_0649Tapu Tapu is incredible technology launched by Universal to help you avoid standing in line for long periods of time.  You will receive your Tapu Tapu when you go through the entrance and feels like an Apple Watch.  To use, you will go to any of rides with a wait time listed and tap your band.  Your Tapu Tapu will buzz when it is time for you to ride.  To make the best use, go to the most popular ride in the park (Krakatau Aqua Coaster) and tap for your wait time, then go find rides with signs that say “Ride Now.” Tapu Tapu will hold your place in like for the Krakatau Aqua Coaster while you ride other lines, experience the lazy rivers, explore the caves or lay out on the beach.  While this doesn’t completely cut out standing in line, it does help you enjoy more during your day.

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What to Avoid: Don’t do a “Ride Now” without first tapping for one of the more popular rides.  Virtual lines fill up, too, and that can cause you to miss a ride you really want to do.   

 Tip #3 Lockers and Credit Cards: Right when you enter, test up your credit card to link your Tapu Tapu on the Universal Orlando app (you can pay for stuff with this, too with Taptu Pay!).  Next, take the path to the right to the very last lockers on the right hand side and rent a locker for the day.  These lockers will be the least crowded and in a more convenient location to the slides and restaurants.  Tapu Tapu actually controls your locker, too!

What to Avoid: Don’t go to the first locker area.  This is the most crowded and chaotic area of the entire park. 

To add Volcano Bay to your Universal package, contact your Me and the Mouse specialist.

Julie Stewart

Travel Specialist

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If you’ve been to Walt Disney World or Disneyland you probably have ridden the monorail and like me you probably remember your first ride. Mine came the summer before my sixth grade year. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was at Disneyland and we boarded at Tomorrowland. As we cruised around the park and over, what was then the Submarine Voyage ride, I was beyond thrilled and amazed. But what was this amazing ride in the sky that I was on? Little did this boy from Nebraska know that this incredible piece of technology opened on June 14, 1959. That’s right – 1959!

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Walt Disney loved technology and wanted a fun and innovative way to transport guests around the park. He hired Imagineer, Bob Gurr, to design the ALWEG Monorail. The technology had existed in Europe and Gurr was tasked with making it work at Disneyland. On that day in 1959, the Disneyland Monorail became the first monorail to transport people in the Western Hemisphere. Guess who cut the ribbon on that day? Vice President Richard Nixon and his family. There is great story about the monorail taking off with Nixon and leaving behind the Secret Service and then after the first trip around, Nixon’s daughters asked for another ride and again left the Secret Service in panic!

Before we move onto the monorail system at Walt Disney World, a fun fact about the Disneyland version is that it was actually owned by a company called Retlaw, which was a private company Walt owned. They also owned the Disneyland Railroad. The Cast Members working these rides were employed by Retlaw. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the Disney family sold the rides to the Disney Company.

The Walt Disney Monorail opened on October 1, 1971 which was opening day for the park. It traveled around the Seven Seas Lagoon to transport guests from the resorts to the Magic Kingdom and from the Transportation and Ticket Center known as the TTC. The TTC is a critical but not too often thought about area of Disney World as it was built to create a buffer from parking to the Magic Kingdom. Something Disneyland did not have the luxury of having.

The Disney World monorail was special as it actually went through a building, The Contemporary Resort. The first time I rode that monorail I had to do three more times because I was amazed that we were inside a hotel! Fun fact about The Contemporary is that each room was built off-site as a modular then the nearly nine ton rooms were lifted by crane into place.

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The monorail was expanded to connect the TTC, Magic Kingdom and resorts to Epcot in 1982. Anyone who has taken a spin in the monorail knows that for many years there was a familiar voice who made announcements including this famous one in english and spanish. “Please stand clear of the doors. Por favor manténganse alejado de las puertas.” This was, of course, the voice of Disneyland, Jack Wagner. In the early days of Disneyland his voice was heard from parades to rides throughout the park.

So there you go, a little history lesson on an amazing transportation vehicle, which I thought was futuristic in 1991 but was around for nearly 40 years before. The next time you get on an elevator give ole Jack Wagner a nod and say “Please stand clear of the doors. Por favor manténganse alejado de las puertas.” You might get some strange looks but for us Disney fans you will get a big smile!

 

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

Hurricane Irma was reported as devastating, unprecedented, and catastrophic as it moved closer and closer to Florida. Me and The Mouse travel specialists were incredibly busy assisting their clients in adjusting their travel plans. As a life long Midwestern family, newly Floridians, this was our first hurricane. We gathered supplies (flashlights, batteries, water, non-perishable snacks) and placed all exterior items into the garage so that they wouldn’t become a hazard. Steel shutters were placed over every window in the house. It was all a bit unsettling. The storm continued to shift west and with less than 24 hours before impacting us it was predicted to be a category 4 (winds ranging from 131-155 mph), as it passed over our community.

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As I have shared before, my oldest son is living with Fragile X Syndrome. We anticipated the storm would be very intense, we would lose power and maybe even water. We realized as the day progressed that this storm was going to be more intense than perhaps he or we were ready for. My husband and I decided it was time to leave for a safer location. Although availability was very limited, the amazing Cast Members at the reservation center and guest services went above and beyond to help us.

We quickly packed our belongings and headed east to Caribbean Beach Resort. Gas stations, grocery/convenience stores, and restaurants were already closed in anticipation of the storm. Upon arrival, we quickly checked in, settled into our room, and realized we had made the right decision to evacuate.

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Although the parks were closed due to the pending storm, there were many reports on social media from guests at various resorts of the activities that Cast members put together to help keep everyone entertained. Even the pools remained open that morning! Updates were frequently sent via in room voicemail and channel 3. Food service and housekeeping was limited and suggestions were made to stock up on water and snacks. A curfew was imposed for safety and housekeeping services would be unavailable. Disney movies were playing continually on tv and would continue to play even if cable was disrupted, a much appreciated distraction.

We weathered the storm, in fact, we slept through the most intense portion of the storm. We never lost power, nor wi-fi, and felt safe. Once the storm had passed, the curfew remained in effect to allow the damage to be surveyed to ensure it was safe for us to leave the room. Food service didn’t resume until 1 pm at our resort, but had begun earlier for other resorts. Character meet and greets were occurring to help pass the time while guests waited for food.

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Cast members exemplified incredible spirit, impeccable service, and always putting the needs of the guests first! We were safe and fortunate we didn’t suffer the devastation that many continue to deal with. Although, I am appreciative of this experience, my hope is this was a once in a lifetime experience!

Missy Zolecki

Travel Specialist

 

When you visit Universal – Orlando, I suggest adding a couple of extra days to your resort stay and enjoy all the other activities Universal has to offer without stepping foot in the parks.

You’re on vacation so take time to relax by enjoying one of the pools at any of the Universal Orlando resorts. One of the benefits of staying on property is your ability to pool hop between resorts. All the resorts can be accessed by a shuttle service or even a pleasant walk due to the proximity of the resorts.

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After spending a day in the sun, head over to Universal CityWalk, which is a destination in itself. It is packed with restaurants, shopping, nightclubs, miniature golf and an AMC movie theatre. You can find famous restaurants, such as Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville and Hard Rock Café. But there are other options including my favorite restaurant Antojitos, where you can enjoy authentic Mexican food and on certain nights, live Mariachi music.

The most popular attractions in CityWalk is the Blue Man Group. I recently experienced the Blue Man Group for the first time. It was a wonderful and entertaining time for all age groups. The audience becomes part of the show, which adds to the fun.

If taking in a sporting event is more up your alley, head over to the Cabana Bay Beach Resort for a dinner and bowling at the Galaxy Bowl. The bowling alley follows the same retro feel as the rest of Cabana Bay and is located on the second floor of the resort. Or maybe hitting the links for a round of miniature golf on one of two 18-hole golf courses. The Hollywood Drive-in golf is located on the first floor by the parking garage of CityWalk. This is a unique miniature golf course that takes on a sci-fi and haunted twist (depending on the course you chose) with fun and over the top special effects, but very family friendly.

When planning your Universal Orlando stay, keep in mind the extra activities when deciding on the number of days to spend at your resort and create more memories of your vacation.

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Janene Jaroscak

Travel Specialist

 

Oh my favorite thing…food on VACA!! What’s even better? Having a meal where you can get a great portion and awesome food for the money (or quick service credit) you are spending. Below is the top 5 based on food quantity and/or quality based on my personal experience along with our agent’s and guest’s favorites!

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Megan Thompson

Travel Specialist

Halloween decorations and parties are in full swing at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It only seems fitting that another legend makes a comeback too! It’s the ‘Return to Sleepy Hallow’ that’s returning to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.

If you’re a brave soul, this is definitely something you don’t want to miss! At Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground, if you dare, you’ll have a chance for a priority photo opportunity with the Headless Horseman himself. Continuing with the night of thrills, you’ll also have a seat at a group viewing of the 1949 Disney animated classic film “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow” inside the resorts historic Tri-Circle- D Ranch stables.

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Not only will you have the priority photo opportunity with and be able to view a Disney classic movie with premium seating, but you’ll also receive a Halloween treat bag. All brave souls ages 3 and up will receive an exclusive limited edition pin.

Doesn’t seem too spooky, you say? Just be sure to watch for galloping ghosts and be ready for an up close and personal encounter with the Headless Horseman himself! To keep in the spirit of Halloween, they will only be taking place on select nights in September and October at 8 pm or 10 pm. Hopefully, you’ll be lucky enough to visit on a full moon! Contact your Me and The Mouse Travel Agent to reserve your spot today!

Leigh Miller

Travel Specialist

A Disney cruise to Alaska – something for everyone in your family with the HUGE added bonus of exploring some of the most gorgeous, natural beauty in the world.


Our family checked off a huge item on our bucket list – exploring the Last Frontier: Alaska. The beauty of Alaska is something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. For fellow travelers we met on our journey, many of them were returning to Alaska for their 3 rd , 4 th , even 7 th time, and now I understand why. Combine a journey into the wilds of Alaska up the Pacific Ocean with the service and entertainment on board a Disney cruise ship, and you’ve got a perfect family vacation.

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Before we had even boarded the ship, we were meeting friendly faces from our cruise group Facebook page where we had all shared plans and hopes for our families’ vacations. We continued to run into each other and meet other new friends throughout the voyage.

For our dinners, we requested to be seated with another family. We were paired with a family with kids about the same age as ours, and it was nice to look forward to seeing them each night, enjoy a meal together and chat about what we had done or seen during the day. They can easily become friends just as your serving team does as they travel with you each night to a different restaurant, and you may also see them at breakfast and lunch at various locations.

On-board fun included Disney shows, the music and comedy of Buckets and Boards, Disney trivia, Disney animation classes, dance parties, cooking classes, Bingo, tween and teen clubs for the kids, 80s Trivia at the pub, movies, and of course relaxing on the pool deck, taking an occasional nap, and food. Lots of food.

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After a day and a half of sailing north, we finally arrived at Endicott Arm where we had an amazing viewing of not only the glacier but also all the lazy sea lions floating by on chunks of ice. Whales were also spotted on our way to the glacier, causing everyone to run for their cameras. Having a verandah was a highlight of our stateroom as we were able to enjoy the glacier and the marine life from the comfort of our own private sitting area.

Exploring just Southeast Alaska, we had three ports of call to look forward to:

  • Skagway – a gold rush town now full of shops and small eateries and a great place to
    catch the salmon spawning. Hike to a lake up on a mountain, or visit the old Gold Rush
    Cemetery and learn about Soapy Smith, Skagway’s very own con-man who finally paid
    his dues.
  • Juneau – the capital of Alaska and accessible only by boat or air, this sprawling town has
    lots of shopping for tourists, tours to Mendenhall Glacier, and a tram up the mountain
    to a great view and a raptor rescue center.
  • Ketchikan – also a mining town, Creek Street was a red-light district filled with brothels whose buildings now serve as shops on a quaint wooden boardwalk lining Ketchikan Creek.

While we enjoyed all three ports, Ketchikan was easily our favorite port. With a Native tour guide and just a small group of us discovering the town, we saw the greatest amount of wild life of any of our port stops with eagles, bears, and otters. We were also treated to a special visit to a totem pole park where our guide appeared out of nowhere in his regalia, complete with a wolf head and beautiful red robe.

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No matter where you were in Alaska, and though it didn’t matter which direction you looked, the waterways, mountains, lush trees, beaches, snow-capped mountains, wildlife,…it was with you everywhere you went.

I have traveled all over the world and have seen some amazing places. Australia still reigns at the top of my list, but Alaska is coming in close behind it, and I’m already looking forward to my next adventure back!

Nancy Wideman
Travel Specialist

On October 1 will be the 35th anniversary of Epcot. Today’s blog is dedicated the past, present and future of one of Disney’s most unique parks.

Walt Disney’s original plan for Epcot wasn’t what it is today. He envisioned it as a community where companies could innovate and people would live in a harmonious utopia. The original name was EPCOT meaning Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Walt dedicated the end years of his life to this project. Unfortunately, shortly after announcing plans for the Florida Project that included EPCOT and the Magic Kingdom, Walt passed away. Page after page could be written about Walt’s original plans for the park so I will focus on what was actually built.

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Nearly 16 years after Walt’s death the park opened. It was a mix of future and technology and world culture. A “sort of world’s fair” as Disney executives would call it. Much of the Future World we know today is not what was opened in 1982. The Land and Imagination Pavilion are the only untouched areas left of that portion of the park. Many of the structures are still there but now feature different attractions and themes.

This is where I think the park is truly unique. It is the only Disney park to open that, from the beginning, was all original. That means, for the most part, there were little to no existing Disney characters or movies that the rides, shows and areas were based on. Walking into the park in the early days was a complete new Disney experience filled with new sights and stories. For me that is what makes Epcot different and one of the best Disney parks.

As the years passed the park struggled with attracting younger visitors. It was thought as of an adult park more than a place for the entire family. Disney noticed this and started to introduce rides that were attractive to teenage audience such as Test Track and Mission Space. They also created festivals such as Food & Wine and Flower & Garden to attract locals.

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The next wave of updating the image of the park came with the introduction of Nemo to The Living Seas followed by Frozen in Norway. This changed Epcot to be a destination for younger children.

What is next? The additions of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ratatouille. Both aimed at a different audience than the decades before. I believe Frozen is an incredible ride and I love The Seas with Nemo. I have no doubt Guardians of the Galaxy and Ratatouille with make us say “wow!”

AT D23 EXPO 2017, DISNEY PARKS CHAIRMAN BOB CHAPEK ANNOUNCES E-TICKET GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY ATTRACTION COMING TO EPCOT -- Looking ahead to the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World, Disney Parks Chairman Bob Chapek announced exciting plans across Epcot to realize the original vision of the park while making it more timeless and relevant than ever before, including a brand-new E-ticket attraction based on the rockinÕ and action-packed world of Guardians of the Galaxy.
AT D23 EXPO 2017, DISNEY PARKS CHAIRMAN BOB CHAPEK ANNOUNCES E-TICKET GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY ATTRACTION COMING TO EPCOT — Looking ahead to the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World, Disney Parks Chairman Bob Chapek announced exciting plans across Epcot to realize the original vision of the park while making it more timeless and relevant than ever before, including a brand-new E-ticket attraction based on the rockinÕ and action-packed world of Guardians of the Galaxy.

The one thing that will never change about Epcot are the memories. I will forever remember my first visit to the park because it was so different to what I knew was a Disney park. That may change a little with the new additions but I’m sure that when children visit Epcot now and in the future they too will be in awe at seeing Olaf, Elsa, Anna, Remy, Crush, Nemo and Peter Quill!

Ryan Gross

Travel Specialist

Who in your family would enjoy seeing Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire? Why everyone, of course. This is a show for the whole family. Please be sure to bring mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. Children of all ages will love this entertaining performance so make sure Grandma and Grandpa tag along too! Join Mickey Mouse and his pals in this dazzling stage show at Magic Kingdom.

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Where can you find this performance by Mickey and his friends old and new? Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire is performed in front of Cinderella’s Castle on the Castle Forecourt Stage, and is presented several times daily. Please check for exact times on the My Disney Experience mobile app and/or pick up a Times Guide located at the entrance of Magic Kingdom. Just be aware because this show is held outdoors, it is subject to cancellation for inclement weather. Performance times are subject to change so be sure to use the above resources for up-to- date performance times.

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Why should you take time out of your busy day at Magic Kingdom to see a show when there are so many fun rides waiting for you? Because Mickey and his friends want you to experience everything Magic Kingdom has to offer. Mickey has invited so many of his friends to help him entertain you and your friends in this magical musical extravaganza. You can be sure that Minnie will be there along side of Mickey. Mickey has made so many friends through the years, you will get to see Donald and Daisy shake their tail feathers and Goofy adds a little comedy to the mix! Mickey has had these friends for years so they wanted to invite some new friends too. We know that Mickey always has new pals. So if any of you are Frozen fans, you will want to arrive early to get close to the stage because Anna and Elsa will be there and they would not dream of performing without their good friend, Olaf. While Olaf is so adorable and adds “cool” touches to the show, I wanted to reach out and give him a “warm hug” because he is one of my favorites. Olaf loves the attention he gets while performing Frozen favorites.

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Who else can you expect to come and sing-a- long? Tiana and friends arrive from the Bayou to entertain with music from The Princess and the Frog. A fabulous part of the show features Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder providing a lively singing and dancing performance that will make you want to clap your hands and stomp your feet and sing along with them as they share their “dreams” and memorable music from Tangled.

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This show is so cute, fun and entertaining, you will dance away from the stage singing the songs you just heard and will have a happy heart as you continue your adventure through Magic Kingdom. The costumes are amazing so be sure to have a camera ready to snap lots of photos. This show will add a lot of “Disney” magic to your day. If you have additional questions, please be sure to contact your Me and the Mouse Travel Agent. We are always here to help you!

Traci Perjak, Travel Specialist

Even though my husband and I have visited WDW dozens of times, he had NEVER had the privilege of enjoying MNSSHP!!! We remedied that by attending OPENING NIGHT 2017!!!

We arrived about 3:30pm and there were already party guests lined up to enter. Although the MNSSHP starts at 7pm, guests can enter the park as early as 4pm with their party tickets! We were able to enter using our annual pass, but later we checked in with a cast member in Tommorowland and receive our party bracelet, guide map and trick or treat bag! As we entered Magic Kingdom, the decorations put you in the Halloween spirit and many guests were dressed in their party bests! Make sure to read the costume rules here when you are planning:
(https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/faq/parks/dress/). Our first stop, the confectionary on Main Street to discover the Halloween themed treats. There were delicious cupcakes, cookies and rice cereal treats, but the pumpkin Mickey cake pop was our choice!! There were many special treats that were available during the party ONLY! Don’t worry if you have allergy concerns, they offer allergy friendly options too!

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When the party officially began, access to attractions were only allowed for guests with party wristbands. Cast members were dressed in Halloween themed attire. The treat locations were open and the lines were lengthy. We made the decision to walk back to Fantasyland to view the exclusive merchandise and pins that were being offered. I saw Daisy and Donald duck and Minnie in her Halloween costume and I had to get my photo with them. There are endless character meet-n- greet opportunities throughout Magic Kingdom, including meeting all 7 Dwarfs!!! The wait for the Dwarfs or Jack Skellington was averaging 3 hours!!!

The Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular was about to begin on the stage in front of the Castle. We chose to watch a later performance and decided to visit some of the treat locations while other party guests were lining up for the first performance of the Boo to You parade (9:15pm)! We did enjoy the Monstrous Scream-O- Ween Ball at the Rockettower Plaza Stage in Tomorrowland. Who doesn’t love dancing with Mike, Sulley and Boo?!!??

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We then headed over to the Main Street area to view the Happy Hallowishes Fireworks Spectacular! The projections on the castle, along with the fireworks and music make this a not-to- miss item for this party! Many guests leave after the fireworks, which allows for more availability for great viewing spots for the 11:15pm parade! It began to rain and the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular was cancelled, but we were awaiting the parade. We had an excellent view of the parade. The parade music gets in your head and I am still singing it! The character interaction was one of the best I have ever experienced in a parade!

My top 5 not to miss activities at the MNSSHP are

1. Character Meet-n- greet
2. Boo to You Parade(11:15 pm)
3. Hallowishes Fireworks Spectacular
4. The Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular show
5. Treats(specialty desserts, popcorn in a mickey pumpkin refillable container
and trick or treating candy)

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Your Me and The Mouse Travel specialist is ready to help you plan your immersion into the Halloween Spirit!

Missy Zolecki
Travel Specialist

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