Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Travel Swag Bags for Kids

When I take my grandchildren on a trip, I prepare bags of fun things they might want/need during the trip. For spring break, I’ll pack disposable cameras, flip-flops, sunglasses, travel cups and Easter candy. This year I’ve also thrown in some bubbles and binoculars. Oh, and I include a little envelope with some spending money for the trip – always a guaranteed hit!

I hide the bags in the back of the car and late in the day, when the ride gets tedious, I tell the kids that the Easter Bunny must have come early and then present them with their goodies. It not only provides them with some basics for the trip, but digging through their presents breaks up the boredom of the drive.

In the past, I’ve used plain paper gift bags but this year I was inspired to get these little drawstring back sacks. My grandkids never seem to have the right backpacks for our little daytrips to amusement parks or the beach and these little bags from Amazon will solve that problem.

For other travel tips, see my book, Simply Wonderful Travels, which is available only on

Doing Disney

I was going to blog about touring another big city this week, but since we’re in the midst of spring break season, it seems appropriate to write about doing Disney. So many people head to the Magic Kingdom at this time of year. I have been to Disney more times than I can count and have learned a lot of tricks over the years that make the most of the experience.

Making your day at Disney truly wonderful starts before you even leave home. First, order your tickets on-line. You can have them mailed to your home or held for you at the will-call window. I prefer picking them up there. There usually is no line at that window, plus I don’t have to worry about  misplacing my tickets before I get there. Having them in-hand also means that you won’t have to stand in a long ticket line or listen to a sales spiel. While you’re on the website ordering your tickets, take a few minutes to learn what you can about the park and the amenities. If you want to eat at one of the special restaurants, make your meal reservations while you’re on-line.

Be sure to dress comfortably for your day in the park. You will be walking all day long, so wear comfortable shoes. Even though Disney is incredibly clean, you will get dirty. You will most likely get hot. You will be stepping up into some rides and down into others. Disney is not the place for high heels and sundresses. Shorts, sneakers and durable t-shirts are your best bet.

Wear plenty of sunscreen and bring some along so that you can apply more during the day. Bring sunglasses and/or a hat. If you plan on staying late at night, you might want to bring along a lightweight jacket. I recommend that you put your things into a lightweight back sack. Purses can be a pain in the park, especially on some of the rides.

The number one important thing to do to make the most of your day is to get there before the park actually opens. The parking lot opens before the park and you want to make sure that you are among the earliest to arrive. It can take a while to pay for parking, park your car and take the shuttle from the lot to the main gate.  Ride lines get longer and longer as the day goes on.  You'll be able to see so much more if you get there early.

After you pick up your tickets, grab a map from just behind the ticket booths before you get on the monorail. We prefer to ride the monorail to the Magic Kingdom in the morning and then take the paddleboat option at the end of the day. The monorail gets very crowded at the end of the day.

If you’re carrying any kind of purse or backpack, you will have to go through security just after you get off of the monorail. You want to get in that line before it gets too long. Every minute you waste standing in that security line is a minute that you could spend enjoying a ride instead.

Once you get through security and actually get into “The Magic Kingdom,” you need a strategy. At most amusement parks, people tend to turn right and work their way counterclockwise around the park. Do just the opposite and you will avoid the crowds. A lot of people linger on Disney’s Main Street first thing in the morning. I suggest you save that for the end of your day.

Go straight through Main Street and turn left to get to the Jungle Cruise. It is one of the most popular rides and there will be very long lines later in the day. If you go there first thing in the morning, you most likely will be able to walk right onto the ride. Keep working around the park on a straight path. Crisscrossing back and forth will waste your time and energy. You might be able to walk right onto the first two or three  rides if you arrived early.

When lines start to form, take advantage of the Fast Pass program. Many people don’t use it because they assume there is a cost involved. Fast Pass is free and available on the most popular attractions. Simply find the Fast Pass machine located outside the major attractions and insert your park ticket into the machine. The machine will spit out a ticket with a time for you to return to the ride and go into the special Fast Pass entrances, a trick guaranteed to save you hours of time in line. You must get a Fast Pass for everyone in your party.

The most popular rides are the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and Peter Pan’s Flight. We usually ride the first two, go grab a Fast Pass for the Peter Pan ride, and then double-back to the Haunted Mansion. We ride other rides while waiting for the Fast Pass ride time. Follow this strategy as you go around the park and your ride wait times will be minimal.

If you don’t want to see the afternoon parade, that can be an excellent time to get on the most popular rides. After the fireworks, a lot of people go home, so if you have any energy left, that’s a good time to ride, too.

Some of the rides exit through gift shops and you’ll be tempted to shop at many other locations through-out the day. If you do shop, don’t take your packages with you. Ask your cashier to send your purchases to the guest services center at the front of the park. You can pick them up as you leave and not have the hassle of carrying them around on the rides all day.

Whatever you do, don’t miss the fireworks show. It will end your day beautifully. Just make sure that you watch from near the entrance on Main Street if you intend to leave as soon as the show is over. Thousands of people leave at that same time and you don’t want to be in the middle of, or worse at the back of, that crowd.

I hope you and your family have a simply wonderful time!

For other travel tips, see my book, Simply Wonderful Travels, which is available only on