Lee Cockerell at Seeds Conference 2012

At last year’s Seeds Conference, hosted by my church, Church on the Move, we invited Lee Cockerell (former Senior Vice President of Walt Disney World) to come speak about meeting guest expectations. He gave a great talk spanning many topics, but rather than me rambling, why not just watch it for yourself.

A Rookie’s Guide to Disney Info

Many of my friends think I’m a complete dork for knowing how to find stuff about Disney touring. Okay, guilty as charged.

However, this also means I’m often who they turn to when it’s time to start planning their trips. Truth is, I love pointing folks in the right direction. After having written the “helpful pointers” email a number of times for friends, I thought perhaps it’d be more useful to post it here. It’s possible that I’ll break some of this out into separate posts, since there are several topics covered here, but that’s for a rainy day.


Question: “Where can I find a good deal?”

There are so many places to find “deals” on Disney trips. Seems like you can always see a ‘special offer’ on TV, likewise, you can find specials online (I’ve included a few links below to help), but there’s more than a few things to consider when starting to plan your trip. I thought I’d cover a few of the main points in this post.

Package or a la Carte?

Getting a Magic Your Way Package is simple, and it’s probably what Disney would prefer you do. Why? Most likely so they control more of the process (and predictability in occupancy), but there’s plenty of upside for the consumer: you’re staying on-property (lots of goodies with that) and you getting the deal they’re advertising. These deals are always stacked in their favor (read the disclaimer copy very carefully). You’ve got choices, and there’s a ton of info online to help you, read on.

I’ll tell you that we’ve always booked “packages” until our most recent trip. This time we booked a “room-only” deal and bought park tickets separately. Doing this can get really confusing, really fast, but it doesn’t have to. Consider working through a Disney Travel specialist.

Why? They know things that us mortals don’t. Like this: If just one person in your party buys an Annual Pass, you’ll be able to save on the room reservation, probably enough to offset the cost of the Annual Pass itself.

Our agent recommended the Annual Pass technique, and saved us a bundle. There are a lot of other benefits to having an AP. But we wouldn’t have known to do that without her help.

So, the first big tip is: Use a travel agent… preferably one who specializes in Disney bookings. They’ve got their ‘ears to the ground,’ and know about specials, and usually will re-book your trip as new specials come along. And what most folks don’t realize: they’re paid by Disney, not you.

Disney Specialist Travel Agents

Stay On-property or Off-property?

We always stay “on property” (that means literally on the Walt Disney World Property, at one of their resorts). There’s lots benefits to staying off-property, but you what you give up is:

Convenience: You’re literally “right there.” Easy in, easy out. And if you choose one of the deluxe resorts (The Contemporary, Polynesian or Grand Floridian), you’re directly on the Monorail. Bonus: many of the resorts are close enough for you to watch the fireworks from your room!

Extra Magic Hours: Disney’s term of letting resort guests into the parks early and stay after the general public, is a great benefit. I know a lot of folks that don’t use this, but our family rocks it. If you’re goal is to ride rides… then this benefit alone is worth it.

Disney Service: There’s quite literally no other place that “gets” guest service like Disney. Staying on-property is a wonderful extension to your park experience.

On-property Resorts

Disney’s Polynesian Resort (one of their “deluxe” resorts) is our family’s favorite. It’s beautiful for sure, which comes at a cost. What we love about it, though, is its proximity to the Magic Kingdom. One Monorail ride away and you’re on Main Street. Plus, O’Hana (our favorite restaurant) is located in the Poly, making it super-convenient to see if they can “squeeze us in.”

We’ve also stayed at Pop Century (a “value” resort), much more budget-friendly, but you give up some “experience.” Though, if all you’re worried about is a room, pool and food court, you’re all set here. In fact, pretty much all of the Disney resorts are similar in room size, what you pay for is the experience and decor. Two exceptions: DVC resorts, and family suites at a few of Disney’s resorts.

Here’s a full list of on-property resorts. And for some unbiased reviews and such, check out AllEars.net.

DVC Resorts

I have a good friend who swears by DVC resorts (Disney Vacation Club, Disney’s answer to timeshares). I’ve heard that if you go at least every other year, it’s a good deal. We’d love to do it, but haven’t just yet. My friend isn’t a DVC member, but instead “rents” points allowing him to stay at DVC resorts without committing to the program (a really smart way to go).

With DVC, you get a bit more spacious accommodation, and you’re still on property (with all the benefits). Really, it’s a great way to go. (His favorite is Old Key West.)

DVC Point Rentals


It’s true, you’ll save money staying off-property (and there are tons of options, many of which offer shuttles to the ‘World), but you lose some of the great benefits mentioned above. What you gain, though, is more room, less cash out-lay, and some flexibility in location. Another option is renting a vacation home. All have bedrooms for everyone in your party, pools, media rooms, laundry rooms… really, all the comforts of home. Transportation is on you, but if you’ve got a car, you’re all set.

Vacation Home Rentals

Where can I find more details?

There’s SO MUCH information out there on the open web. Sites dedicated to every aspect of Disney touring. Below you’ll find a few of my favorites. I regularly visit these places, not because I’m always planning a trip (though I’d love to), but to get a “Disney fix.” Yeah, that’s right, I feed my habit by living vicariously through those sites. Don’t laugh…

Touring Plans
Whatever you do… go get a copy of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and a subscription to Touring Plans (the companion to the book). They’ve really figured out how to get the most out of a trip, but the Guide is chock full of research (reviews on rides, hotels, dining, everything…). And, if you grab their app, Lines, you’ll have access to even more, all on your phone, while you’re in the parks. It all works together to help you build touring plans that will rock the ‘World. On our last trip, we stuck to a touring plan, and by 2:30, we were done with the “must do’s” and on our way back to the Poly for a leisurely afternoon swim at the pool. Best money you’ll spend. Trust me.

All Ears
Do your recon with All Ears. They’ve seen, and photographed, every inch of WDW, and posted it for you to enjoy. Rooms, pools, resorts… even menus to all the restaurants. This site is rich with content.

WDW Today Podcast
I’ve listened to these guys for years. Three times a week they publish a podcast that answers questions, offers tips, and speculates on rumors and more. If you’re into listening while you work, this podcast is a fantastic resource.

This site is probably the largest Disney Community online. Their forums are deep and wide, with topics for quite literally any question you could think up. The community that supports it is amazingly helpful… but be careful, you could lose yourself in there.

Produced by the folks behind The DIS, this podcast offers a ton of content: audio, video and commentary. They’re also the crew from Dreams Unlimited Travel. Bonafide experts.

WDW Radio
Lou Mongello has a great show chronicling all things Disney World. Often he’ll have guests on, some of whom are literally Disney legends.

And for good measure, here’s a couple of links for deal-searching:
Official Disney Offers


This attraction closed for renovation!

So, I’ve been a little preoccupied… starting with a new job.

Oh, and it’s in a different state, Oklahoma. Which meant I had to relocate my family. And start over. It’s all for the better, way better.

In fact, there’s even a Disney connection… so we’ll get into that soon, I promise. Until then, have a magical day!

Staying Informed (part 3)

In this third installment, I’ll be discussing not one, but three podcasts… there’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started.

The WDW Radio Show with Lou Mongello

Lou’s podcast is probably the most entertaining podcast I listen to. He’s a published author, noted personality, and seemingly and all-around good guy. Oh, and just be prepared… he *loves* food, so there’s usually a lot of talk about dining in Disney.

WDW Radio’s website is deep with content making it a wonderful place to get lost in reading his blog posts or getting caught up on recent podcasts. Lou’s vast knowledge of WDW’s history was the catalyst for his publishing of The Walt Disney World Trivia Books, which are terrific sources for some not-so-common knowledge about Walt Disney World.

Lou’s podcast stream is filled with audio and video covering all the bases… from weekly newscasts, to interviews with Disney legends.


To say that there’s a lot of tech in Disney is an understatement, and BetaMouse is all about that fact. Hosts Henry Work (developer behind TouringPlans.com, more on that soon), Jeff Chaney (gadget guy), Nate Parrish (co-host of another great podcast, WEDway Radio), Scott Barrett and Katie Siloac offer a broad spectrum of perspectives on the parks, and how technology shape and enhances our experience.

When you’re ready for some Disney geek-tech, BetaMouse is where you need to turn.


Best. Trip. Ever.

Our family has had a few years of real struggle. Times when we honestly asked “why us” and questioned a lot of things near and dear to our heart. But I’m reminded of a truth I know… when God allows you to be tested, He’s got a reason, and you’ll be blessed on the other side of it. Now, you might think that this is an odd way to start a Disney trip report, but that’s just it… I don’t. After a few years of struggle, we were enabled to take an amazing trip… one that will be in our memories for years to come.

As I begin this report, I’m sitting on a plane returning from Walt Disney World, and it seemed only too apropos to spend a little time to reflect on the week we spent forging new memories into our collective family life. If you enjoy it, great. If you find a few nuggets of truth somewhere in here, all the better!

Dreams unfulfilled

It began with a dream, three years ago, as we started to plan our next visit to our favorite place on earth. As life would have it, we weren’t able to financially make it happen..  and that, unfortunately, wouldn’t be the first time we’d start and stop the process. I guess that made this trip all the more amazing.

After three years of dreaming, hoping, planning and then realizing that out hopes would need to once again be put on hold, we began to get discouraged. When a large freelance project came along, and a little glimmer of hope shone it’s way in, we started the planning process once again.

This time around, we decided to not include the kids… on the planning. We booked our flights, corresponded with the travel agent, and generally laid our plans in secret. We even planned on packing in the basement, in order to do everything in a “covert” mode.

Eventually we decided to let the kids know that were taking a trip to “Dallas” to see my mom. Prefect cover for being able to pack up our warm weather clothes… and get them ready to fly.

We’d even planned on surprising the boys on the way to the airport that morning… with the real destination. In the weeks leading up to the trip, the boys began speaking more and more about what we’d be doing in Dallas… from where we’d be staying, do what we’d be doing, you know, the sort of questions that naturally come up.

It quickly became too much for Amy to handle, and with one week to go we decided to let the kids in on the awesomeness that was about to occur. They almost didn’t believe me… I’m naturally pulling their legs about all sorts of stuff, so for me to be “kidding” about this wouldn’t be out of the question… but I wasn’t. We were going. Honest. (After showing them the Southwest confirmation, they finally bought in.)

Time to fly.

Fast forward one week, we’re on the plane to Orlando. After touching down, and sitting on the tarmac for an hour, we retrieved our bags, and headed to Disney’s Magical Express (which naturally was on the opposite side of MCO since we had a ton of luggage).

I quickly arranged for mom’s DME voucher, and off we went. Arriving at the Poly was a dream come true. Not only is it Liam’s favorite place, but it’s certainly held a special place in my heart. In fact, the whole family looks forward to seeing the lush foliage, friendly “cousins” and Captain Cook’s.

As we checked in, it became clear that our travel agent hadn’t quite prepared our trip as several details still needed to be ironed out. We took care of the issues (park tickets were an extra $1,800 magical memory), but after it’s all said and done, it was just a detail. God provided the project that enabled us to take the trip, and nothing was a surprise to him.

Rain, rain, and more rain.

We checked in, dropped our bags in the room and headed over to the Magic Kingdom. On the Monorail, it became clear that the skies were going to make it a wet evening. Making memories already!

Walking down the ramp from the Monorail station it really sank in… “we’re actually here.” As we passed through the security and the turnstile, and eventually entered Main Street, there it was… the Castle. After a stroke, two heart attacks and nearly foreclosure, *this* was a magical moment for me, and I won’t soon forget it. (I get teary just thinking about it. For real.)

Let it sink in. This is what I’d been waiting for… rain or shine, this a beautiful site.

The first thing we did was get a PhotoPass card… this year, Dad’s gonna be in the pictures! We tried to get an O-H-I-O with the castle as the “I,” but it didn’t work so well… thankfully that wouldn’t be the last try.

First up was Space Mountain. Thanks to the rain, there wasn’t much of a crowd, so the wait times were in our favor. For the first time, Owen was tall enough to join us on all of the attractions… it was amazing. Mom waited in the gift shop, while we rode Space Mountain. Liam surprised us as well… he was quite the daredevil this trip. He rode it all, and loved it.

Done with Space Mountain, we headed over to Pirates of the Caribbean. No wait, straight on to our boat. After having recently watching all three Pirates movies (Four wasn’t yet released), it was fun to experience the attraction with fresh memories. It’s amazing, after having visited several times, I never really took a liking to this attraction until this trip. Maybe it was the overall glow of being there, maybe it was having just watched all three films recently, but whatever it was, this was really enjoyable this time. (The Davey Jones fog portrait was especially cool.)

We then headed over to Haunted Mansion. By this point, the rain was in full downpour. Though Amy might have you believe that it was miserable, I’d say that after the recent three years’ worth of drama, being wet in the Magic Kingdom was better than anything else in the world. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

The younger guys wanted to head back over to Tomorrowland and do the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. As we walked toward the attraction, the rain came down even harder. It was almost comical… by the time we got there, we were all quite literally waterlogged. Memaw Texas, being the ever patient one, I think was probably reconsidering joining us for the week.

Once we got inside, Amy and I were looking around and noticed a young couple who seemed to be dry… “how did they stay dry?” Amy asked me… didn’t seem fair.

I’m that guy.

We took our seats on the end of a row, the the show began… and within minutes, it was clear this was going to be a unique trip: I’d been selected as “that guy” (the one they keep cutting back to during the show and picking on). The things we put up with for our kids. All three boys seemed to get a kick our of Dad being on screen and being poked fun of… and, to tell you the truth… I loved it.

Next up: Buzz Lightyear! Now, we love us some Pixar goodness… and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin is always on our list of attractions to hit at Magic Kingdom, though we’d not yet been to Toy Story Midway Mania yet. (Oh, we’ll cover that in a bit.) Since we had six guests, we took three ride vehicles, and off we went> I still swear my blaster wasn’t working right!

After Buzz jumped on the People Mover, one of the kids’ favorites. Riding through Space Mountain, and around various Tomorrowland attractions, getting an alternative perspective (no matter how old it actually is) always brings a smile to our faces. Eventually made our way to Main Street. Last stop for the day: the Candy store. Jelly beans for all. $50 worth to be exact.

All in all, a wonderful beginning to what’s going to be an epic trip. How we love Disney World.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the Best Trip Ever. And have a magical day!

Staying Informed (part 2)

The second in the series, I’m continuing on the podcast plan… the single best way I know to both be entertained and stay informed about the ins-and-outs of DisneyWorld.

The DIS Uplugged

Another podcast that’s wrought with fantastic info is the DIS Unplugged. Founded several years ago by Bob Varley, it’s now the online home for an eclectic group of talent, who bring years of park touring and travel experience. They describe themselves as a “weekly roundtable,” and that’s perfect. Their podcast teams consists of Pete Werner, Julie Martin, Corey Martin, Kevin Klose, John Magi, Kathy Werling, Walter Echols, Teresa Echols.

The main host is Pete Werner, who also happens to own Dreams Unlimited Travel, which enables he and his crew the ability to also take advantage of a lot of travel, which adds a ton of dimension to the content of the podcast. They often have shows dedicated to Disney Cruises, Adventures by Disney, dining reviews (watch out for Pete’s rants), and interviews with key Disney community members, like Marty Sklar, legendary Disney Imagineer.

The show has gone through an evolution over the years, and currently is divided into several podcasts on their feed. Essentially, they separated their main show segments into discreet downloadable shows, really helpful for some who what to tailor what’s on the iPod. For example, I skip the Disneyland shows, since I’m primarily interested in WDW (Orlando).

The personalities on the show are varied, and offer a wide birth of opinions… and that’s what I love about it. Likewise, they don’t unduly polish anything. If something stinks, they speak their minds.

Of course, the show has a vibrant community surrounding it, the DIS (Disney Information Service), which contain the DISboards, and very deep, rich collection of online forums where you will undoubtedly find the answers to nearly any question. There are some very hardcore Disney folks there, so fair warning… do some searching before posting a question. If you post a “newbie” question, you might find yourself on the receiving end of some taunts. I’ve not seen this myself, but it’s even benn a topic on the podcast, so I’m taking their word for it.

Subscribe to this podcast in iTunes (other options are available on their site)

Staying Informed (part 1)

How do you keep the Pixie Dust drifting around between trips? I imagine it’s different for everyone, but for me, I listen to a lot of podcasts. (If you’re not sure what that is, they’re like “custom” radio shows that you can dump onto you iPod, iPhone, iPad or whatever you happen to consume your media with these days.) Podcasts let me not only stay up to date with the goings on of Walt Disney World, but quite often, they offer really deep dives into various topics.

WDW Today

My first stop is always WDW Today, a three-times a week ‘cast that offers answers to listener questions, and topical shows that cover virtually every nook and cranny of planning a trip to the ‘World. Each month they offer a live call-in show, which if having your answers in a timely fashion is important, you should make a point to call in… and call early.

The panel of commentators include Matt Hochberg (who happens to also curate a site dedicated to Hollywood Studios, StudiosCentral.com), internet radio host Mike Newell, noted author Mike Scopa, and the co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World Len Testa.

Quite often they have some friends join them (other certifiable Disney experts), notably Annette Owens from MEI/MouseFan Travel, Steve Seifert from TikiMan’s Polynesian site, Jim Hill from Jim Hill Media, Henry Work and Fred Hazelton from TouringPlans.com (& the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World), and many, many more.

Over the years I’ve learned so much just my listening to the podcasts, but even better, as we’re toured the parks, I’ve put those learnings to the test. In fact, our latest trip, a one-day barnstormer of Hollywood Studios, was entirely planned by tips and tricks I’ve picked up by being in the WDW Today listening audience.

The topics have spanned nearly anything you could imagine, from best photo-op spots to the quietest places in the parks. Better yet, by tapping into their site and corresponding wiki, you can learn nearly anything you’d like to know about getting the most from your next trip.

I highly recommend you become a subscriber… it’s free, fun & entertaining. And best of all, it keeps the ‘magic’ flowing!

Until next time, have a magical day!

Subscribe to WDW Today in iTunes

Better than T-shirts: Mouse Ears

Lots of people take souvenirs home from vacations. That’s nothing new. T-shirts, trinkets, toys, pictures, extra luggage to carry all of the loot home (oh, wait, that’s another story entirely). There’s a million things to buy.

So what do we do? Well, besides the two-pound bags of Jelly Belly jelly beans from Main Street Confectionery (root beer and cotton candy), and the obligatory plastic swords from the shop at the exit of Pirates of the Caribbean, we get Mouse Ears of course.

But if you’ve been to the ‘World in recent years, you know the selection of ears has gone wild. Rasta ears, Jack Sparrow ears, Goofy ears, Sorcerer ears, Bride & Groom ears… the list is endless. Or you can customize a set of ears with the amazing assortment of parts.

Our family has made a tradition of selecting a new set of ears for each trip. The kids all get really psyched about it (okay, okay, so do I), one of us gets to chose, then we all get a new set embroidered ears.

Our first trip we all scored a set of traditional ears (the black ones that you no doubt think of). The next trip, we got the 50th anniversary ears (the gold ones), and the following trip, we took the “year of a million dreams” ears (with the light-up silver ears… way magical!). This year, we all got Sorcerer ears.

We’ve continued the tradition each trip, letting the kids make their choice, and then taking them home with pride. It’s really meaningful to us. They remind us of our trip, the attractions, the dinners at our favorite restaurants… they mean a lot to each of us. Those silly ears are memories.

And that’s worth a lot mom and dad.

» Official Disney Store link

The House of Mouse is good for the heart.

My wife and kids tell the story best: when we arrive in Orlando, I start to change, and for the better.

The flights and airports are never fun, especially when I always get the pat-down (pacemakers are great for that). So by the time we finally get to our destination, I’m kind of “done” with the joy of flying.  We traverse MCO airport in record time, make our way to the lower lever, and board Disney’s Magical Express bus. And another Disney adventure begins.

Usually we stay at the Poly (Disney’s Polynesian Resort) and have no more than one stop before we’re lead onto the property filled with the lush green foliage. We pass the guardhouse, and behold, the Grand Ceremonial House,  where you’re quickly reminded this is no typical hotel. Guests are greeted by the softly wafting sounds of the South Pacific and given leis made of beautiful silk flowers. “Aloha” is spoken by all who see that you’re just arriving

Hang on a second… I should elaborate on something here. When we pass that little guardhouse, my wife notices a physical change in my demeanor. I’ve described it to others as feeling like my blood pressure dropped, or a washing away of my worries. However you want to consider it, suffice it to say that I “feel better.” Maybe it’s realizing that everything will be tended to from the Cast Members, or maybe it’s sheer anticipation of our inevitable trip around the Monorail to the Magic Kingdom to get our first fix of pixie dust, but whatever it is, it’s a real change in me.

Now, I’ll admit, it’s a bit of an indulgence to stay there. We don’t apologize for that since we typically only visit the Parks once every other year.  The Poly is our home away from home. We know our way around (though there’s always something new to learn), we love how the Cast Members to cater to us, and there’s simply no other place we’d rather dine than the O’Hana… mmm.

This year we were blessed to be able to make two trips. Those trip reports will be posted soon, I hope you’ll enjoy them.

Until then, have a magical day!

The Building of Disneyland.

Admittedly, I’m a Walt Disney World fan (Orlando), but these time lapse videos are really interesting. They show just how visionary Walt was… by erecting towers to house the stop motion cameras. He knew there was something special going on here.

Here are a few “progress videos” that Disney produced… wonderful short films about the opening of the resort. (Thanks to SMT Productions for posting these.)

Opening of Disneyland (1 of 3)

Opening of Disneyland (2 of 3)

Opening of Disneyland (3 of 3)