Monorail Mom’s friend goes camping!

My friend recently went camping at Walt Disney world and I asked her to share her experience with us. Her trip report makes me want to buy a camper and head on down to what I know is the most magical campground in the world! Check out their trip-

We are a family of four (plus one chocolate lab!) who has been vacationing at Walt Disney World Resort since 2007. We’ve stayed at resorts in all three categories…including the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Port Orleans French Quarter, Pop Century, and others. Two summers ago, we purchased a 28 foot travel trailer. Since then, we have taken road trips to many destinations across the U.S. The destination we have longed to conquer in our RV is Disney’s Fort Wilderness resort. We have heard from other campers that it is the ULTIMATE in camping: A family and pet friendly resort with so many amenities and activities to offer, one never has to leave the resort to experience Disney Magic. Time and other plans have kept us from being able to make the journey to this magical mecca. This summer, however, when our southeastern beach-and-mountains road trip turned rainy, my husband decided it was the perfect time to pack up and travel the extra hours to our family happy place.
We arrived at Fort Wilderness following 5 days at a rather rustic beach campground. There were other campers at all of the turnpike styled check in gates. A cast member approached our vehicle to say that the guests at Gate 3 were nearly finished checking in, and we could pull up right behind them. At that moment, we knew we had arrived at a Disney Resort…we were receiving the white glove, anticipating our need service we had come to know when visiting Walt Disney World.
The cast member who checked us in was friendly and efficient, despite informing us that the check in system had been down all afternoon. She assigned us a site, but gave us a phone number to call if we were unhappy with the site she assigned. She also informed us that, even though booked at the last minute, we would be receiving Magic Bands. These Magic Bands would be programmed when the system was back up and would be brought to our campsite.
We were assigned a site in the 1900 loop. This is a pet-friendly, full hook up loop. Full hook ups, for non-campers, means the site would include hook ups for electric, water, sewer, and cable. Other perks offered at all Fort Wilderness sites that are not offered at many campgrounds are leveled concrete pads, free internet hook ups, and charcoal grills.
When we arrived at the site, we realized that for our short stay, it was important to us to be closer to the pool and other amenities. One quick phone call to the front desk and $12 extra per night got us moved to a site in a pet friendly “Preferred” loop. The site had all the same feature as the former site, with the exception of a longer concrete pad and it was close to the marina, the dog park, and a short bike ride to the Meadows Pool. Our site also had a large grassy area that bordered a canal that ran through the park.
In the center of our loop was one of the resort’s famed “comfort stations.” A comfort station is a fancy name for the building that houses the bathroom and laundry facilities. There is also an ice machine, a pop machine, and a bulletin board with pertinent information about the resort at the comfort station.
I do not usually frequent campground bathhouses, but I had been tipped off that the comfort stations at Fort Wilderness were not to be missed. When I stepped into the Women’s side of the frigidly air conditioned comfort station, I was speechless. There were Corian countertops, natural stone floors, and tasteful, nature theme tiled walls. Everything was spotless and smelled freshly cleaned. The individually doored showers had massaging shower heads! At a campground! What’s more is that there are 15 of these comfort stations scattered around the park-1 station per camping loop. For the record, I stopped into the comfort station at different times of the day over our 4 day stay and found the same, spotless conditions each time.
As far as activities, you cannot beat Fort Wilderness. Those who say you could never visit a Theme Park while staying at Fort Wilderness and always have something to do are absolutely correct. Here is a short list of things to do: swim at the Meadow Pool*, bike ride on the trails*, go fishing in the pond and canals*, ride the boats to the Magic Kingdom, the Wilderness Lodge or the Contemporary Resort*, watch the Water Pageant and Wishes Fireworks from the beach*, see the Hoop Dee Do Revue, eat at Trails End, go horseback riding, attend the Chip and Dale Sing Along and campfire*, watch a movie under the stars at the amphitheater*, and much, much more! (All of the events I starred are at no extra cost!) We especially enjoyed the pool (it has a water slide!), the Sing Along, and the Pageant & Fireworks from the beach.
Because the resort is so large, we enjoyed biking throughout the campground. One thing that struck me as we travelled around was that there were all kinds of friendly campers staying at the Fort. Some were staying in travel trailers similar to ours. Some were staying in million dollar rigs, some in pop ups, and some were in tents. There are deluxe cabins that you can rent, so if you want daily maid service and four solid walls, you can have that, too! Apparently, there are also businesses that will rent RVs and camping gear, if you do not have your own, setting it up for you on a Fort Wilderness site to enjoy.
Many people staying at the Fort rent or bring golf carts to get around. There is golf cart parking throughout the campground, and each site has a post with an outlet to charge your golf cart when it is necessary.
Bus transportation is available throughout the park if you do not have a bike or a golf cart. The busses circulate on the main roads outside of the loops. You can catch a bus from your loop to the reception building, to the pool, to the marina, or to the main bus stop where you can transfer to a bus that will take you to any of the theme parks, except the Magic Kingdom. To get to the Magic Kingdom, you can take a boat from the marina directly to the front gates of the Magic Kingdom. This alone is a benefit of staying at Fort Wilderness…no parking and then waiting at the TTC for a monorail! We did visit the theme parks on one day of our trip and used both bus and boat transportation. We found both to be timely and convenient.
Our family loved our short, unexpected stay at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. We will absolutely return and stay much longer the next time. We hope to return at Halloween or Christmas, when many of the campers transform their sites with lights and inflatables. We know that we have found a full service camping resort with something that will please every member of our family, whatever season we return.
Note: Staying on a campsite at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort will cost between $85-$115/night during peak seasons. Site prices are based mostly on location, as all sites have the similar amenities. Disney rarely discounts the campsites, but if you have an AAA membership, you can get a 20% discount by calling WDW reservations to reserve. Staying at a campsite does make you eligible for all park amenities such as free parking at the Theme Parks and Extra Magic Hours.

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Our First DVC Trip

Last year, my husband and I finally made the decision to buy into the Disney Vacation Club. After years of considering it, talking to current members, and researching like crazy- we took the leap! For us it made sense as we know we love Disney and our kids show no signs of being tired of traveling there either. We laugh as Joanna (10 years old) is already planning her college program stint at Walt Disney World!

In April, we traveled on our first trip using our DVC points. We spent Easter weekend and the following week there. Our stay was split between the Beach Club Villas (2 nights) and Animal Kingdom Jambo House (5 nights). It was the most amazing stay we have ever had.

The first two nights at the Beach Club Villas were fun as we arrived on my son’s birthday and had dinner at his very favorite restaurant ‘Ohana. We had major issues with our Magic Bands which caused me about four hours of dealing with the front desk, concierge, tech people, and managers. They felt terrible and made up for it by paying for our family’s dinner that night.

The feature pool at the Beach Club is amazing. It is a huge pool complex that has a sand bottom! Unfortunately, the weather was chilly and we didn’t swim as much as we would have liked.

On Easter, they had all type of fun activities at the pool and throughout the resort. My kids especially loved the candy scramble where cast members placed candy all over the lawn and kids were able to collect it in sectioned off areas based on their age levels. Each of my kids brought home HUGE bags of candy – good chocolate too! We of course helped them eat their bounty.

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Another perk of staying at the Beach Club was being within easy walking distance to EPCOT. We love EPCOT and while we were there, The 2014 Flower and Garden Festival was in full swing. The topiaries, activities, various food stations, and butterfly house were enough to keep us entertained for days. We had an amazing time!

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The third day of our trip, we switched resorts and moved over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We were beyond thrilled with our Savanna view studio room. There were giraffes, zebras, birds, and various other animals right outside the balcony. Every day, my daughter sat happily on the balcony watching the animals for hours. We also used the night vision glasses to see the animals at night on the Savanna and we all enjoyed doing that.
Below is a picture of Jo in the lobby of The Animal Kingdom Lodge. It is stunning.

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Another interesting stop we made was at The Grand Floridian resort so that we could see the Easter eggs their chefs made. My really poor photography skills do not do them justice, but I will share a couple of pictures.

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We were especially excited for the Magic Kingdom because I was able to secure the much coveted Fast Pass + to meet Elsa and Anna from Frozen. We bypassed a line that was over 300 minutes?!? Anna and Elsa fussed over my daughter’s Frozen earrings. They along with Aurora happily signed the pillowcase we made for Joanna to keep on her bed that is now full of character signatures.

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No matter how much time we spend at Walt Disney World, it is never enough to do it all! I only covered a few of the amazing things we did. Fortunately, we have DVC points now that will allow us to travel there many more times in the future!

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What is DVC?

First, let me apologize for not posting in so long. Our family has been in the middle of an adoption that has been all consuming! We are expecting to travel to China this fall/winter to meet and bring home a precious boy with special needs. We are thrilled to add a new member to our family and I am sure he will be a a Disney fan in no time!

Those who travel to Disney parks often see booths promoting DVC. Families who vacation at Disney regularly consider joining. So what is DVC? DVC stands for the Disney Vacation Club. In short, it is Disney’s version of a timeshare, however there are major differences between a traditional timeshare and DVC. There is absolutely no pressure to join, the contract has time limits, and you purchase points which then you redeem for various times of year so you are not “locked in” to one particular week.

When you join, you have what is referred to as a Home Resort. This is the resort where you are able to have first dibs booking at 11 months out from your stay vs any other resort where you can book at 7 months out. These resorts are all deluxe level accommodations. We chose The Animal Kingdom Lodge for our home resort mainly because we liked the contract and location the best. So for instance, we bought 160 points and we paid the purchase price up front and then pay annual dues each year. Now we are able to vacation with our points through the year 2057. We purchased resale points which means someone else sold their points to us through a broker. While we lose some of the “perks” we might have had buying directly from Disney, we were able to save well over 50% what Disney was offering for the same points and were fine with the few places we cannot use points as we would not have used them in that way anyhow.

If you think DVC interest you, there are so many wonderful resources to help you decide how many points you should buy, charts for the amount of points you need for the season you are traveling, annual dues information, and which resort you should choose. My only warning is that once you go forward with it, you continually want to buy more points!

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As crafty as I get

Let me start by stating that I am not crafty. I feel inferior to the moms who create beautiful things from Pinterest or knit. I basically have the skill level if a novice elementary school art student. However, whenever I see Disney themed crafts, I feel the need to try. I keep coming across “freezer paper t-shirts” on Disney related sites and decided to give it a go since the cost was low to attempt it.
Let me show you what I think was a success and encourage you to try and make some inexpensive yet cute tshirts for your family.

Items needed- craft knife like Exacto, cutting board or mat, computer and printer, freezer paper, fabric paint, iron, piece of cardboard, and tshirt, pillowcase, etc.

Steps I followed were:

1. Search and print desired image or use pumpkin carving stencils. Large and not too detailed images work best.

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2. Resize image to fit shirt using copier or printer

3. Tape print out to FREEZER paper (not wax paper), placing print out on top of freezer paper. The freezer paper’s shiny side should be face down on cutting mat.

4. Use craft knife to trace around image and cut through both sheets. Remember to decide which area you will want paint to show through and cut that section out while leaving area you do not want painted intact. This was the tricky part for me!

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5. After you have your “stencil”, carefully remove printer paper from freezer paper.

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Punch out the areas you want paint to show through.

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6. Iron your stencil shiny side down into your shirt, using your iron’s “cotton” setting.

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7. Place a piece of cardboard inside shirt so that paint does not bleed through.

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8. Paint over your stencil using fabric paint with a sponge style brush.

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9. Allow to dry or use hair dryer to speed process.

10. Apply a second coat of paint.

11. After drying, peel of the stencil and allow your shirt to dry for a couple days before washing or wearing!

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The book I wish I had written

As I have discussed before, I listen to hours of Disney podcasts each week. I like listening to others talking about my favorite place while I clean, drive, or get ready in the mornings. One podcast that anyone in the Disney community recognizes is the award winning WDW Radio Show – Your Walt Disney Information Station Podcast, hosted by Lou Mongello. Lou is a an avid Disney fan who left a successful career as a lawyer and now writes books, speaks, and appears on TV as a Disney historian and expert. When I wrote him and told him about my little blog, he was kind enough to forward me a copy of his new book 102 Ways to Save Money for and at Walt Disney World for me to review.
This book is the book I wish I had written. It appeals to me as it answers so many of the questions I am asked all the time. It is a perfect primer for those who are planning a trip and may be overwhelmed or do not know what to save or splurge on. Not only does it give budgeting tips, there are many hints for a better vacation experience as well. Lou includes chapters on when to go in order to maximize savings, what to pack, which items to skip, best days and sites on which to book travel, which type of Disney vacation best suits your family, and so on.
What I really like about this book was that it was an easy read, very concise (unlike some Disney guides that feel cumbersome), and had stunning pictures. I wish I had found a reference like this when we started traveling to WDW regularly. It would have helped us navigate a bit better.
102 Ways to Save Money For and at Walt Disney World is now available as a downloadable e-book, and will soon be available in print and from Kindle and iBooks as well.
Do you have a favorite Disney book that you would like to review? Let me know!

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Applying for the Disney Moms Panel 2014

In the past couple months, I have been busy applying and waiting to hear the results of the Disney World Moms Panel search for 2014. The panel was created so that regular moms who happen to love Disney and travel there regularly could give advice to others planning vacations. The panel was launched in 2008 and has grown to include moms, dads, singles and even grandparents who specialize in cruising, Run Disney, Disney Land, Disney World and beyond. Needless to say, it is my dream to be on the panel, mainly to learn more about Disney and have a broader audience to ask/answer questions.
This year, like last, I made it to the second of three rounds but was not chosen for the final interview. The competition is stiff as there are parents like me all over who love to help others plan trips. In true Disney fashion, the process has been somewhat magical! Because of social media, I was able to meet and make friends with other moms, dads, and grandmas who applied. We all cheered for each other and supported those who didn’t progress and rooted for those who did. While I was sad to ultimately not realize my dream of being a panelist, I did enjoy sharing the journey with crazed Disney people just like me! I am truly excited to follow those who made the panel this year and I am very happy for them. Plus, there is always next year!!!
If you want to see the panel or ask a question, visit the site http://disneyworldforum.disney.go.com

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Monorail Dad’s review of Fastpass+

As many of you know, with Disney’s introduction of Magic Bands for resort guest, they have also introduced a new Fast Pass system in the parks: FastPass+. This system allows guests to choose 3 attractions (rides, character meetings, etc.) for each day and schedule, to within one hour, the time you would like to experience them. After our recent trip using Magic Bands and FastPass+, I am a big fan.
There has been a fair amount of criticism for this approach, primarily based on these 2 arguments: planning your schedule takes away the fun of spontaneity, and prescheduled fast passes make standby lines longer. Some of this is valid; I did see longer standby lines and that could be a big problem for visitors who did not plan ahead. However, I found that planning even just 3 attractions in advance actually allowed us to be more spontaneous and get more out of our days at the park.
Under the old method, we would get to the park and have to think about what rides we wanted to do and run to get a fast pass. We’d base the rest of our day on what time to go back for that ride and what time. We’d then have to wait for other fast passes to be available or wait in long lines for different rides; we’d be running to all different parts of the park or have to skip things we wanted to do. We ended up pushing ourselves and running all day to do all we wanted to do.
This trip was different. We were able to pick the most important attactions to us (usually those with longest lines) and plan an efficient way to get to them. This freed us up to do other less popular attractions whenever we wanted, spend much less time in lines, and less running all over the park. We found we often had time to experience all we wanted at the parks and leave early to relax by the pool at our resort.
The FastPass+ system does require some advance planning and I can see how less knowledgeable visitors may be negatively affected. For us, though, FastPass+ definitely enhanced our Disney experience.

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A Disney veteran’s packing list

Throughout our years of Disney vacations, we have developed a streamlined packing system. We generally stay on property and there are four of us to a room. We have learned some organizational tricks that help keep our hotel room clutter free. I will only tell you about the stuff that we find to be extra helpful as there are many great complete packing checklists on-line.

I keep a bin of most of these items ready to go for our trips so I don’t forget or misplace any of them. After I pack our clothes and other essentials, I fit these items in where I can.

1. Hanging shoe holder – when we go to Walt Disney World, we always take many pairs of shoes/flip flops because when we walk so much our feet get uncomfortable. We have found having an inexpensive shoe holder clears a great deal of floor space and can hang on the clothes bar.

2. Panchos- rain is likely in Florida during many seasons. There is nothing worse than walking around in wet clothes. We pack cheap rain panchos (dollar store type) in our bag for the day and they take up very little room and can be tossed if they get torn or musty.
We actually like when it rains because the crowds usually lighten and we are prepared!

3. Power Strip- we plug one in the room and use it for our many charging cords.

4. Extra rechargeable phone battery- our phones drain quickly in the parks (especially when using the Disney app). Bringing an extra battery can save you from having to stop and find an outlet or charging station.

5. Dish soap & laundry detergent- I pack a small container of dish soap for washing our refillable mugs. We also take laundry pods and dryer sheets in case we can throw a load of laundry in while we are hanging out by the pool. I also take a coin purse with quarters for the washing machines. It is so nice to not have to take dirty clothes home.

6. Pop-up laundry hampers- I found some inexpensive foldable laundry hampers at the dollar store. I have two black ones and one white one. We sort our clothes when we take them off. This way the dirty clothes can dry out and they are not in a heap on the floor!

7. Sharpie- I always pack a sharpie and take it everywhere at Disney. I use it to label our refillable mugs, write balances on gift cards, etc. It is always handy to have a Sharpie on hand!

8. Medicines/band aids/moleskin- it is easy to forget medicines you might need while away from home. I recommend packing a little bag full of antacids, painkillers, mole skin for blisters, and band aids. Otherwise, it is a pain to have to run to the resort store and spend a bunch for a tiny bit of medication.

9. $1 bills- It is a good idea to have plenty of ones in case you are renting a car for tolls. Also for tips, etc.

10. Swimsuit in your carry-on- We have had instances where our luggage has been delayed. It is always a good plan to have a swimsuit packed so the kids can chill by the pool while you wait!

Anything I missed? Let me know what your essentials are!

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Counting Down the Days

I often think that I enjoy the preparation for a Disney trip as much as the trip itself! We get so excited that we find fun ways to count down to our trip. I thought I would share with you the ways we build up to our vacation and hope you will share yours!

1. Gifts- any time any of us have a birthday, etc., we ask for Disney gift cards to use for spending money on vacation. It is fun to have these aside waiting to be spent! We also allow the kids to earn money for chores and extra work/ good behavior to spend on our trip.

2. Pins- we like to trade pins at Disney World. We usually order some off eBay so we don’t have to trade our favorites from past trips. We then sort them and get them ready to trade at the parks and resort.

3. Countdown Calendar- we download an app for counting down the days (there are many free ones out there). Every day we like to see the number drop. It is fun to customize these virtual calendars with your resort or favorite park pictures.

4. Mousekeeper Tip Envelopes- the kids take plain white envelopes and decorate them for the Mousekeeper who cleans our room. We also fill them with money before leaving so we do not have to worry about it on vacation.

5. Packing/ To Do List- I make a list of all the things we need to take. This helps me not forget anything. I also make a list of all the errands, etc. we need to take care of.

6. Trip Folder- I make a folder containing all of our reservation information for plane, car rental, resort, dinner reservations, tip envelopes, tickets, etc. this keeps everything in one place and makes it easy to find and travel with.

7. Research- I like to spend time online researching our resort, menus, crowd levels, car rental, and message boards in order to have the most recent information about what to expect, any closures, etc.

8. Podcasts and Music- I love listening to podcasts to help me prepare and make sure we know what events are happening at Disney. Our family likes to listen to Disney music in preparation for our trip too!

9. T-shirt Shopping- I love buying t-shirts for our trips so we have cute Disney clothes to go.

10. Obsessing- This is the weirdest way to get ready, but I do it every time. I rethink all of our reservations and talk to my Disney-nerd friends about all of the details. I talk to the kids about it constantly and think about all the things we will do. It is really obnoxious, yet kinda fun.

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Why Disney??

Often those who are not die hard Disney fans do not understand my love for it. They will ask me questions like, “Why Disney?”, “Aren’t you tired of it?”, “Do you do the same thing every time?”, “Why go somewhere so manufactured?”, and “Isn’t Disney only for kids?” I know I tend to behave like a big kid and people assume That is why like Disney. However, there are many other reasons why Disney remains a great vacation choice.

Disney is the ultimate family friendly destination. Children are not just welcomed, they are expected and treated with respect and kindness. There is great thoughtfulness in the way cast members interact with kids and there is something for all ages. This was reinforced to me when we recently took a trip to an amusement park in Ohio, Cedar Point. It is known for its huge roller coasters and fun location on Lake Erie. It is close to our home and the tickets are relatively reasonable. We really wanted to have a good time, and basically did. The problems we ran into were very overpriced food ($50 for a meager Subway meal) and very few rides our kids could ride. Our kids are between the kiddie rides and many of the big coasters and there were many rides my kids could not ride. My daughter who is 9, but very petite, was turned away from even carousel and flying swings because she was maybe a 1/4 inch too short. The random teenage staff did not handle any situation well. I soon became frustrated because we had paid for an experience we really could not have. I realized one reason I love Disney World so much is because you can count on something fun for every member of your family whether they are 2 or 100. I could completely relate to Walt Disney watching his daughters on a carousel and wishing there was a place where the whole family could participate together. It was then he decided to build Disneyland.

This is not to say Disney is just for kids! There are amazing dinners, shows, and other activities for adults or that adults can enjoy without kids. There are even many options for childcare if you want an adults’ night out. At this stage of our life, I cannot imagine a better destination for our family and yet, I know Nate and I will go alone after the kids are older too.

Another reason I absolutely love and return to Disney is the outstanding customer service we have received. The Disney company trains their employees to think about the guest and gives them freedom to go the extra mile to not just make the customer’s experience adequate, but magical. I have many many stories of amazing service and caring treatment from mouse keepers, servers, front desk employees, park cast members, merchandise services, and reservations.

We continue to go back time after time because of the consistency. Instead of being tired of returning, we appreciate that we can expect the same level of excellence each time. While there is consistency in the service level, food quality level, and theming, there are also distinct differences and many opportunities for new experiences. Each time we go we make a point to try a new restaurant, new attraction, and often times new resort. There are still many things we have not yet done and hope to experience in the future.

As for the haters out there, I will probably never change their mind, but I would ask them to go give it one try. They often point out how “fake and corporate minded” Disney is. Of course the experience is manufactured, but very well themed. I would argue that cruises, Las Vegas, some beaches, and most hotels are equally manufactured, just not as well! Of course we want to travel and see the “real thing” when it comes to other countries, etc., but for the price and stage of life we are in, this experience cannot be beat. Disney is a business and they are out to make a profit, but they realize when guests are happy and receive an excellent product, everyone wins.

We love how every season provides unique experiences and events, and yet the constant quality of our experience remains the same. I have spoken to and watched many skeptics turn into fans or at least admit to enjoying their trip even if they aren’t as fanatical as me. Let me know what you love about Disney and want what makes you want to go back. Or, if you do not like Disney (you probably will not read this), I would love to know why.

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