First look: Meeting Olaf, Mickey, Minnie at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Disney World visitors have two new places to meet three characters at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Olaf, the comic-relief snowman from “Frozen,” are now receiving guests in new digs at the theme park.

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The area designated “Mickey and Minnie Starring in Red Carpet Dreams” is off the park’s Commissary Lane, across from the entrance to Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant. Its waiting area is primarily outdoors and covered, but a basic back-and-forth queue. (At one point, this was an entrance area for auditions for the American Idol Experience attraction.) The theming is minimal at this point: Mickey-fied movie posters and piped-in swing music.

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Our wait was advertised as 30 minutes, but it was more like 45 minutes before we got into the air-conditioning on Sunday, the first day that Red Carpet Dreams was open to Hollywood Studios guests. It only seemed longer than 45 minutes because the 4-year-olds among us had mid-afternoon meltdowns in rolling fashion. It’s like when one person yawns, then another one does. Then another. Only with inconsolable, undecipherable crying.

Soon, we were greeted by Minnie Mouse, who has discarded her usual polka-dot motif for a pink, flowing starlet look (with matching bow, naturally).

13 Sanity-Saving Tips for Spending Christmas at Disney World

1. Stay at a hotel that offers free shuttle service to the parks.
Parking at Disney World can be a beast. Bypass the hassle by choosing a hotel with complimentary shuttle service to and from the parks, like the Waldorf Astoria Orlando or the Hilton Bonnet Creek Orlando. Resorts off the Disney World monorail, which offers round-trip service to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, are another option. If you do end up driving, Susan Pazera of the Disney Parks Moms Panel recommends taking a photo of your parking spot to help you find it later.

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2. Avoid the Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
If you’re itching to see the Christmas Day parade in person, experience it during the (less crowded) days leading up to Christmas, advises Jeff Silsbee, director of guest services at Waldorf Astoria Orlando. (The actual televised parade is filmed around the second weekend of November.) Similarly, the New Year’s Eve fireworks show can be seen on the 30th, says Silsbee. He recommends the less crowded Epcot and Hollywood Studios for New Year’s Eve festivities.

3. Save money on ticketing.
Disney parks aren’t cheap, but there may be a workaround for those willing to sacrifice daylight. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a specially ticketed after-hours event that happens eight times in December. “While there is an admission cost, it is drastically less than the normal ticket [Editor's note: it's $79 vs. $105] and most of the attractions are still running in addition to special shows, character meetings, parades, fireworks and other enhancements that do not occur during normal operation,” Silsbee explains.

4. Get the My Disney Experience mobile app.
Load this app to manage tickets and make dining and ride reservations from your phone. You’ll also be able to see up-to-the-minute wait times for attractions and shows.

5. Make ride reservations using FastPass+.
FastPass+ is a free service included with park admission that allows each guest to reserve access to three attractions, shows or character greetings per park per day. You can make reservations up to 30 days in advance (or 60 days, for those staying at a Walt Disney World resort). Once the initial three reservations have been redeemed, additional selections for the same day can be made at in-park kiosks, one at a time. To bypass lines at the time of reservation, tap your ticket or MagicBand at the FastPass+ entrance.

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6. Make dining reservations well in advance.
Disney restaurants fill up quickly regardless of season so most will be fully committed over the holidays, says Silsbee. Fortunately, you can make reservations up to 180 days in advance if you’re staying off property—earlier if you’re staying at a Disney World resort. Need a last-minute solution? Day-of cancelations are rare, but Pazera has had luck using My Disney Experience to find last-minute openings. “I’ve been able to make same-day reservations for five people at Be Our Guest Restaurant because someone had canceled,” she says.

7. Take a photo of your kids each morning.
Crowds pose a safety risk when traveling with kids. Pazera recommends taking a photo of your kids in the morning before heading to the park. That way, security will know exactly who to look for if your child becomes separated from the family. Designate a meeting spot as well, and remind kids to ask a Cast Member for help if they become lost.

8. Get into the park early with breakfast reservations.
Pazera recommends making an 8 a.m. reservation somewhere like The Crystal Palace, a restaurant on Magic Kingdom’s Main Street. The park doesn’t officially open until 9 a.m. but you can head over to your favorite ride after breakfast. “As soon as park opens, you’re already there,” says Pazera.

9. Do the ride you don’t have a FastPass+ reservation for first.
There are some restrictions to reservations that require a workaround. For example, at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park, according to Pazera, FastPass+ access is only for the Tower of Terror or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, but not both. “We get there early [when lines are still short] and do the ride we don’t have a pass for first,” says Pazera.

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10. Pack a lunch.
Guests are welcome to bring their own food and snacks into Disney World, with a few exceptions (no glass containers, for example). Small coolers are allowed and locker rentals are available. Pazera’s family takes the ferry to Tom Sawyer Island around lunchtime when they’re visiting Magic Kingdom. The scenic spot offers picnic tables and a reprieve from crowds.

11. Don’t overdo it.
“Understand Disney will be a little busier, so plan to stay longer or focus on accomplishing the must-do attractions,” says Silsbee. Schedule down time, and possibly an afternoon nap at the hotel, into your day. Pazera likes to take a break at the pavilions at Epcot’s World Showcase. “There’s a kids area where they can sit and color, learn about the country’s culture, and get a “passport” sticker,” she says. “It’s educational and parents get down time and air-conditioning.”

12. Watch the parades from off-the-beaten-path locales.
You don’t need to stand on Main Street to get a great view of Mickey‘s Once Upon a Christmas parade. Pazera’s family snags a more comfortable spot (read: less crowded) in Frontierland, where the parade begins. Once the parade makes its way to other parts of the park, they do the rides in Frontierland and exit the park once crowds have dissipated.

13. Continue celebrating back at the hotel.
Disney doesn’t have a corner on holiday magic. Nearby resorts offer excellent views of the theme parks, making it possible to watch the whimsical fireworks from the comfort of one’s room. At the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, carolers serenade guests in the lobby, and Mrs. Claus will personally read a bedtime story to your kids. For New Year’s Eve, the hotel has its own private fireworks show, in addition to what’s visible from Magic Kingdom.

Five Foolproof Strategies for Lazy Parents at Disney World

For the first-time visitor to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., there is an avalanche of information to digest. Guidebooks, websites, friends and family contribute their well-meaning advice. Few things in life require this level of pre-planning. People have planned weddings with less work. Royal weddings. The pressure is enormous. You will do Disney right or you will have failed your family. Or worse, you’ll have to go back and try again. Just kidding, Disney-fans, don’t hurt me.

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Much of the information you’ll find, though, is trying to help you maximize your time there, to fit everything in and meet your goal of seeing and doing it all. Be there before rope drop (at 6 a.m.!). Stay on property and take advantage of your hotel’s activities. Visit multiple parks in one day.

These are all tips aimed at the type of person who wakes up on a Sunday at 6 a.m. with a calendar full of activities for their children or who asks other parents for ideas on what to “do” with the kids during school break as if “let them play with all of their toys and watch as much TV as they want” isn’t a good enough option for their snowflake.

This is not me. Perhaps this is not you, too. Perhaps you love your children and want to take them to the happiest place on earth but not at the cost of your own happiness. Here are five tips for the lazy parent to actually have fun at Disney World.

1. Do all possible character breakfasts or lunches at the parks you visit. Eat with the Winnie the Pooh characters at Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom. Dine with the Disney Jr. cast at Hollywood & Vine at Hollywood Studios. Have a meal with Mickey and the whole gang (except, oddly, Minnie Mouse) at Tusker House at Animal Kingdom. Hang with the Princesses at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot.

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Let’s be real: food at Disney World is…not the draw. Everything you eat will already be overpriced so you may as well get an experience for your money. Plus, and this is where the lazy parent really gets their money’s worth, you won’t have to wait in a line to meet each of these characters later. Your kids will get a full-on, personal character experience which will beat out the six seconds they will spend with them at the front of a long line. At Hollywood & Vine, Princess Sofia commandeered my iPhone and took about 15 selfies with my 5-year-old while we also worked on hooking her up with Jake the Pirate. You just saved hours of time. Bravo, lazy parent.

2. Don’t have meals, character or otherwise, at hotels other than the one at which you are staying. This seems so obvious in retrospect, but Disney planning can make a person a little crazy. Lots of people suggest doing breakfast at Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. I’m sure it’s just terrific. But consider this: Breakfast at another hotel means waiting for 15-20 minutes for a bus at your hotel then taking a 20-minute bus ride—plus eating there, another wait afterwar and another bus ride to the park. It may not seem like much when you’re reading this from the comforts of your home. But when you’re wrangling your kids in transit for over an hour for the privilege of eating with characters you can see elsewhere, you’ll feel differently. This is an option for people who need to “do it all.” If you’re one of those people then you’re reading the wrong Disney piece.

3. Don’t give up. Laziness goes hand-in-hand with under-planning and Disney tends to punish the under-planner. But the secret is that Disney also tends to reward the last-minute, um, no-reservationer. I hoped to book the princess makeover at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique inside Cinderella’s castle during our trip for my 5-year-old daughter. It was her birthday and she had seen pictures of her cousins with their hair piled high on their heads, in princess gowns, lounging on a chaise, and she asked to have that, too. I called and I called and all appointments were booked for our days there. The reservationist suggested I try the Downtown Disney location. Now, maybe an ambitious mother, the kind who has to make all of her child’s dreams come true would go to Downtown Disney. Me? I shrugged my shoulder and told her, “Sorry, no updo for you, kid.” But when we rolled into Magic Kingdom around 10 a.m. on a Saturday, I maneuvered us toward the castle to try for a walk-in appointment. They couldn’t take her right then but, amazingly, we booked a 2 p.m. appointment for later that same day due to a cancellation. When we got there at 1:45 p.m., there was a long line out the door of people trying to do the walk-in thing. A stern Fairy Godmother with a notepad was telling people it would be impossible to accommodate any additional princesses today. The moral of the story is you can be lazy, you can take your chances and walk-in to restaurants and experiences, but you have to do it on the earlier side before the truly lazy moms get the same idea.

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4. Start walking to your bus when the fireworks start. I know, it’s all just so magical. You’re on Main Street USA. Cinderella’s castle is in the distance. The light show begins. Your kids start to ooh and aah. That’s your cue, lazy parents, start walking. Kids can see the show while they walk the same as they can standing still. So unless you want to double or triple your wait time for your bus back to the hotel, the smart move is to watch the show in transit.

5. Park-hopping is for lunatics. Why would you park-hop? Magic Kingdom is 107 acres. That sounds like a lot. That’s not enough for you? Hollywood Studios, Epcot and Animal Kingdom are all even bigger than that! What are you, some kind of hero? Go for four days and do a park a day. Only have three days? Do three parks. If your kids are younger, visit Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. If they’re older, swap out Hollywood Studios for Epcot. Done and done. Only have one day? Magic Kingdom it is.

Disney World shouldn’t be a job and planning for it certainly shouldn’t be the second career some people turn it into. Follow these lazy principles and everyone will have a good, mellow time. If the goal is to actually vacation on this vacation, these tips will help make that happen.

Ohio State mascot Brutus Buckeye visits Disney World

The Ohio State University Mascot Brutus Buckeye Celebrates the College Football Playoff National Championship at Disney World

DAYTONA BEACH –
What do you do after your team wins the College Football Playoff National Championship? You go to Disney World of course.
The Ohio State University mascot Brutus Buckeye visited the Walt Disney World Resort Wednesday to celebrate his team’s 42-20 victory over the University of Oregon.
Brutus Buckeye spent the morning at the Magic Kingdom posing for photos with Disney cheerleaders in front of Cinderella’s Castle and experiencing Storybook Circus where he rode Dumbo The Flying Elephant and strolled through the park holding balloons.
The trip to Walt Disney World Resort was the magical ending to a fun series of Disney Parks TV spots featuring mascots from the four College Football Playoff semifinal teams vying for the chance to come to Walt Disney World Resort if their team won the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship.

The Ohio State University Mascot Brutus Buckeye Celebrates the College Football Playoff National Championship at Disney World

5 Things to Do for Christmas With Kids at Disney World

Believe it or not, the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida becomes even more magical during the holiday season. You can feel the magic in the air more than ever during this time of year. From the beautiful decorations to the special events, the holidays are a great time for a Disney World vacation.

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Disney starts the holiday season a little earlier than most places, by the first week of November. The holiday festivities last approximately two months, through the first week of January. There are festive decorations throughout the parks and resorts as well as special events and activities to help you celebrate the season.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is held at Magic Kingdom on select nights from early November through the week of Christmas. This is the only opportunity to see snow falling on Main Street, U.S.A. The party offers a variety of exciting holiday festivities. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade marches down Main Street with toy soldiers, gingerbread men, elves and many of our favorite Disney characters. This year’s parade will even include Frozen characters Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff. The party also includes character dance parties, free hot cocoa and cookies, and a special holiday Wishes fireworks spectacular.

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Festival of the Seasons

Festival of the Seasons is the holiday celebration held at Downtown Disney. You can meet Santa Claus, pick up some Christmas ornaments, or enjoy live entertainment. There are holiday carolers, stilt walkers, street performers, and a holiday dance party. The area is also full of beautiful holiday decorations.

Candlelight Processional
Candlelight Processional is held every night from Thanksgiving to Christmas inside Epcot. Each night, Disney brings in a celebrity narrator to read the Christmas story. The celebrity narrator is accompanied by a 50-piece live orchestra and mass choir. The 2014 Candlelight Processional at Epcot will feature the following celebrity narrators:

• Jonathan Groff – December 3 and 4, 2014
• Whoopi Goldberg – December 5 and 6, 2014
• LeVar Burton – December 7 to December 9, 2014
• Edward James Olmos – December 10 to December 11, 2014
• Joe Morton – December 12 to December 14, 2014
• Chita Rivera – December 15 to December 17, 2014
• Ana Gasteyer – December 18 to December 20, 2014
• Marlee Matlin – December 21 to December 23, 2014
• Isabella Rossellini – December 24 and 25, 2014
• Blair Underwood – December 26 and 27, 2014
• Steven Curtis Chapman – December 28 to December 30, 2014

Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing LightsOsborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Photo Credit: Disney)

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights covers the Streets of America in Disney’s Hollywood Studios with millions of dancing lights. Every 20 or so minutes, the lights “dance” to music and there will be a snowfall on the Streets of America. You will find a Christmas tree, angels, Santa Claus, and even a spinning Earth made of lights. Plus, you just might be lucky enough to spot a Hidden Mickey or two in the lights.

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Resort Decorations
All of the Walt Disney World Resort hotels show their holiday spirit with incredible decorations ranging from floor to ceiling Christmas trees to larger than life gingerbread creations. All of the hotels have trees, wreaths and other decorations, but the deluxe resorts truly go all out for the holidays. Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa features a life size gingerbread house in their lobby along with freshly baked gingerbread treats available for purchase for a snack or to send to your friends and family back home. Disney’s Beach Club Resort creates a life sized gingerbread carousel in their lobby. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge have spectacular Christmas trees that are a few stories high sitting in their lobbies. Plus, Disney’s Contemporary Resort will feature a new Frozen-inspired creation in their lobby this year. As a reminder, anyone can visit the Walt Disney World Resort hotels to enjoy their decor.

Why not get a lovely Disney Mascot Costume from Mascotshows?