Auntie Tip: Entering (and Winning!) Disney Sweepstakes

One More Disney Day Sweepstakes logoOn New Year’s Eve, Disney announced “One More Disney Day,” a promotion to celebrate Leap Day. Today Magic Kingdom and Disneyland opened at 6 a.m., and they’ll be staying open for a full 24 hours. For those of us who couldn’t make it to the parks for today’s celebration, Disney offered the One More Disney Day Sweepstakes, giving away a vacation a day from January 1 through February 29, 2012.

Well, have I got exciting news for you!

A Vacationearing reader was one of the winners!

Screenshot of One More Disney Day Sweepstakes webpage showing winner Ashley V.

Ashley won a five-day/four-night stay for four people in a deluxe resort, including airfare, Park Hopper tickets, $1000 Disney gift card, and a choice of a $500 shopping spree, photo package, or spa package. Wow! Today we get to hear from Ashley about her experience entering and winning the sweepstakes. Enjoy!

Erica: Welcome to Vacationearing! Could you introduce yourself to our readers?

One More Disney Day Sweepstakes winner Ashley V. and familyAshley: Hi all! My name is Ashley, and I’m from Northwest Indiana. My husband, Bryan, and I welcomed our first baby girl, Avery LeeAnn, into our family two short years ago. The three of us live with our chocolate lab, Kona, and enjoy all things Disney. My husband’s first time in Walt Disney World was this past September. I’ve enjoyed many trips to WDW, starting back when I was five years old. My husband and I decided to enter the One More Disney Day Sweepstakes—why not, right? And wouldn’t you know…

E: How often did you enter the contest?

A: I entered the contest once per day beginning on January 1, 2012, which is the maximum amount of entries per person. My husband, Bryan, entered once a day as well.

E: Did you enter on the website or via text?

A: We both entered the sweepstakes via text.

E: Did you do anything to help you remember to enter the contest each day? I was trying to enter it every day too, but I kept forgetting! I also found the website to be really temperamental, so I think entering via text was totally the way to go.

A: I agree—I had issues logging on and entering online, which is why we chose text. I actually set an alarm on my cell phone for the same time each day. When I turned the alarm off, my cell phone was already in my hand to send the text. (Otherwise I would have forgotten too!)

E: How and when were you notified that you had won?

A: Disney announced that one winner would be chosen each day from January 1 to February 29, 2012. The official rules stated that the daily winner would be chosen and notified the following day. I won the January 5 drawing, so I was notified on January 6.

Disney hires a third-party company to manage their sweepstakes. I received a call from them on my cell phone (same number from which I sent the text). They identified themselves, asked if I had entered the sweepstakes, and then notified me that I was a potential winner… subject to signing a form stating that I would accept the vacation and getting that form notarized, so they could be sure I wasn’t accepting it on someone else’s behalf.

A few days later, I received a package from them in the mail with additional information regarding the trip, forms that needed to be signed, and directions on how to claim the prize. At that point, I had to send the completed forms back to them and wait for a confirmation phone call. A few short days later, I received a call that they received my signed forms, and everything was in order. “Confirmed winner” is a beautiful thing to see!

E: How did you react when you found out you won?

A: To be honest, I was a bit shocked. I’m a pretty skeptical person, so I thought there had to be a catch somewhere… but, no. As always, Disney does things so well. They followed the official rules to a tee. They are being extremely generous with the travel dates and prizes included in this sweepstakes. They are so helpful and are happy to answer any questions I throw at them.

After the paperwork was confirmed, my husband and I began the exciting talk of where to stay, when to go, etc. We’re just thrilled to go back to Disney and especially to do it at no cost to us. That’s the best way to go!

E: What has the trip-planning process been like?

A: So far the process has been very easy. They contact me in stages for different bits of info. Disney has given out a specific phone number for contest winners to call for questions and to make travel arrangements. We have from June 2012 to June 2013 to travel. It’s been fairly similar to booking a regular Disney stay so far. All final travel plans need to be submitted by March 30, 2012.

At this point, I have a questionnaire to fill out stating my choice of deluxe resort, travel dates, who’s going with, etc. Making these decisions is harder than you may imagine! Do you stay somewhere new or head to an old favorite? Pick the most expensive place to stay or choose based on location? Do you take friends or family? Take someone who loves Disney or someone who’s never been there before?

As of now, we’re planning to take family with us. Our travel dates will be this fall, probably at the end of October. The weather should be wonderful, and we really want to head to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival since we’ve never been able to do that before.

E: Do you have any advice for others for entering Disney sweepstakes?

A: Thinking back, I can’t remember any other contest I’ve ever entered! I just never took the time. When Disney announced they were doing this giveaway I decided there was nothing to lose—just send a text—easy and free.

Of course, I would advise others to be extremely careful when entering any type of contest. Know the official rules, and have them at your fingertips. Also, make sure you are not required pay anything up-front or link the trip to a credit card.

Even though we haven’t taken the trip yet, I’m looking forward to spending time having a blast with my family and being treated like royalty—just the way Disney does it.

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Congratulations again, Ashley! Thanks so much for doing this interview for us!

Whether or not you’re in Walt Disney World or Disneyland today for One More Disney Day, have a magical Leap Day, everyone!

3 Things to Do in Walt Disney World Resorts If You Love Pirates

In the last few months, I’ve covered things to do inside and outside Magic Kingdom and the other Walt Disney World theme parks if you love pirates. Today is the last post in that series, and it focuses on the Disney resorts. Normally, my lists include things to do in a day, but since you can’t spend the night in more than one hotel at a time, this might have to be a themed weekend with resort-hopping.

Here are three things do in Walt Disney World resorts if you love pirates.

1. Pirate Rooms in Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

You might expect a Disney resort with “Caribbean” in its name to have some piratey connections, and you won’t be disappointed at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. A few years ago, some rooms were converted to a pirate theme, complete with beds that look like pirate ships. Even the curtain that separates the room from the bathroom area has a skull on it. Unfortunately, I’ve never stayed in one of these rooms, so I don’t have any pictures to show you, but you can see some on the Disney website.

In addition to the pirate rooms, the pool at Caribbean Beach also has a pirate theme. It’s quite elaborate. Check out the photos over on the DIS.

2. Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Beach Club and Yacht Club Resorts

If you’ve been to Disney’s BoardWalk area, you’ve probably seen Stormalong Bay, whether or not you knew what it was. It’s the pool area shared by Disney’s Beach Club and Yacht Club Resorts, and in fact, it’s more of a waterpark than a pool. The item of interest for pirate fans is a giant shipwreck that serves as an entrance to two waterslides.

Shipwreck at Stormalong Bay at Disney's Beach Club and Yacht Club Resorts in Walt Disney World

See the pirate flag?

Shipwreck at Stormalong Bay at Disney's Beach Club and Yacht Club Resorts in Walt Disney World

View of Stormalong Bay from Crescent Lake

3. Me Pirate Adventure In-Room Experience

If you’re looking for a piratey experience in addition to a piratey atmosphere, you can arrange for Me Pirate Adventure in any Disney resort. It’s pricey ($395) but sure to be unforgettable. Here’s the description from Disney Floral & Gifts:

“When you come back to your Walt Disney World® Resort room, you’ll find a mysterious door banner featuring a glowing pirate eye and the word “Beware!” Now, you know for sure there’s mischief afoot. Inside, next to an eerie, red-eyed skull is a note from Captain Jack that sets you on a quest. This and other pirate gear provide just what you need to live the life of a buccaneer. So, dig into your pirate sack and follow the riddles to Captain Jack’s chest…and…if you are a worthy crew, the treasure inside will be yours.”

If that adventure is a bit out of reach, Disney Floral & Gifts also offers a number of other packages (priced from $59 and up) that you can order to surprise the pirate-lovers in your life.

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For the full in-room piratey experience, you’ll want to stay at Caribbean Beach. You have to be a guest at Beach Club or Yacht Club to swim at Stormalong Bay, but anyone can walk by and take photos, so you could choose to stay at Caribbean Beach and just walk over to Stormalong Bay while you’re visiting the BoardWalk. Or, you could stay at Caribbean Beach one night and then move over to Yacht Club or Beach Club. Bell services will transfer your luggage for you, so moving shouldn’t be too stressful if you just don’t unpack that much! Wherever you stay, you can arrange for Me Pirate Adventure or another in-room experience from Disney Floral & Gifts.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of pirate-related posts. Here are the posts about pirates in the parks in case you missed them:
5 Things to Do in Magic Kingdom If You Love Pirates
5 Things to Do in Walt Disney World (Outside of Magic Kingdom) If You Love Pirates

7 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love Tinker Bell

Back in October, I did a post on things to do in Walt Disney World if you love Peter Pan and/or his mortal enemies (Captain Hook and Mr. Smee). I decided to leave Peter Pan’s closest friend, Tinker Bell, for her own post. I think she would like it that way. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but she does seem to have a bit of an ego.

Not that I blame her. Today, her popularity has far eclipsed her original nonspeaking role in Peter Pan. She has served as hostess of many Disney-related TV shows and mascot of the Disney Parks. She inspired the Disney Fairies franchise and its related movies and merchandise. She’s one busy fairy!

That’s why you can find her in so many places in Walt Disney World. So, here are seven things to do in Walt Disney World if you love Tinker Bell.

1. Tinker Bell’s Magical Nook

When Mickey’s Toontown Fair closed, so did the Pixie Hollow meet-and-greet location where the Disney Fairies used to meet guests. For a time, Tinker Bell was found over in Epcot, but now she’s back in Magic Kingdom in a permanent location in Adventureland called Tinker Bell’s Magical Nook. You can see photos of it on Inside the Magic. Tinker Bell is there every day, and usually she’s joined by one other fairy friend.

2. Peter Pan’s Flight

Although Tink’s fame spreads beyond Peter Pan, it’s true that Never Land is where she got her start. I have to say, though, she’s difficult to find in this attraction. I’m sure she’s there somewhere, but I can’t seem to spot her in any ridethrough videos. Can anyone remember where she is?

3. Wishes

Tinker Bell flying from Cinderella Castle in Wishes at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World

I know it’s hard to make out, but that’s a photo of Tinker Bell flying during Wishes, the fireworks show in Magic Kingdom. The best place to see her is on the Tomorrowland side of the hub; she’ll fly right over your heads.

4. Main Street Electrical Parade

While you’re in the hub for Wishes, you can spot Tinker Bell in the Main Street Electrical Parade. She is on the first float, which was added in 2010 when the parade moved back to Walt Disney World from Disney California Adventure.

5. Mickey’s PhilharMagic

I had forgotten about the Peter Pan scene in this movie until I was working on this post, and so I had to go back and update the Peter Pan post. The scene is brief, but Tinker Bell is there, taking a magical flight with Peter and Donald.

6. Soarin’

Tink also makes a brief appearance in Soarin’, at the end when you’re flying over Disneyland.

7. Fantasmic!

Tink shows up toward the end of Fantasmic!, after Mickey has defeated the villains and before the boat full of characters floats by. As I mentioned in my post on villains, this show is a little too scary for many toddlers, so I would only recommend it for older kids, teens, and adults.

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Finding Tinker Bell in Walt Disney World will take you into three of the four theme parks. You’ll have one big challenge (the same issue as with the dragon-themed day): seeing evening shows in two different parks. If Fantasmic! is having an early show, say 6:30 or 7 p.m., you could go to that first and then get back to Magic Kingdom for Wishes at 10 p.m. and the Main Street Electrical Parade at 11 p.m. You’ll have to consult the Times Guides to figure out which days it’s possible to pull this off. I’d start the day in Epcot (getting there 15-30 minutes before opening) and head straight to Soarin’. After that, go to Magic Kingdom and visit Tink in her magical nook. Then, check the queue for Peter Pan’s Flight. If it’s not too bad (say under 30 minutes), ride. If it’s too long, get a FASTPASS and head to Mickey’s PhilharMagic instead. In the afternoon, you’ll need to head over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Fantasmic! When that show is done, get back to Magic Kingdom as fast as you can for the evening parade and fireworks. I’m sure Tink would be flattered that you expended this much effort just to see her.

Who here is a Tinker Bell fan?

Auntie Tip: Traveling Solo

To balance last week’s post on romance, I thought today I’d share some tips for the single travelers among us. I’ve never done a solo Walt Disney World trip, but I have done two days in Disneyland by myself, which was a great experience.

Traveling solo has a number of perks, not the least of which is being able to do whatever you want! Group trips often involve a lot of compromise. One person wants to go here, while another wants to eat there, and sometimes no one is completely satisfied. When you’re alone, there are no worries! Eat when you’re hungry. Sit down and people-watch when your feet get tired. Ride Storybook Land Canal Boats over and over if that’s what makes you happy. (OK, maybe that’s just me.)

Storybook Land Canal Boats in Disneyland

Seriously, who could not love this attraction? It's full of TINY things! (Sigh, if only they would bring it to Walt Disney World.)

Another advantage is being able to use the single-rider lines. These lines can make your wait for roller coasters much shorter. You just have to be OK riding next to a stranger, which, since it’s Disney and everyone is friendly, should be no problem. The attractions currently offering single-rider lines are Expedition Everest, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, and Test Track.

Another thing I like about traveling alone is that it creates opportunities for magic moments with other guests. When I’m traveling with the whole family, I’m usually pretty focused on them. One thing I like to do when I’m by myself on a crowded Walt Disney World bus is to take a seat and wait for someone elderly or who’s with a small child to get on and then offer them my seat. I’ve ridden the buses trying to stand while holding a sleeping child, and I know how much it means in that moment to be offered a seat, so I’m happy to do that for others.

I also had an experience on my Disneyland trip where I was able to give a tired mom a break for a while. I was sitting on a curb waiting for the parade in Disney California Adventure. The viewing area was starting to fill up, and a mom asked me if her little girl (age 4 or 5) could sit next to me. I said sure, and the little girl sat down and immediately began chatting up a storm. I had been writing postcards to my nieces and nephews, so I started showing her the cards and asking about her favorite characters. That passed the time until the parade started, and I could tell the mom appreciated having a little break.

While it’s pretty unusual for me to strike up conversations with strangers, Disney parks are a good place to do so. If you’re not up for talking to complete strangers but would like some social interaction on your solo trip, check if there are any fan meets happening. Most of the large Disney communities, like the DIS and WDW Radio, have gatherings in the parks on a regular basis. I went to the WDW Radio Food and Wine Walkabout in 2010, and it was a blast! I knew of several of the people there from following them on Twitter, but I had never met them in person. Before long, we were swapping stories and sharing the food off our plates. In November, I’m planning to go on the WDW Radio Cruise, and I expect that to be a great experience as well.

Epcot Food and Wine Festival 2010 Walkabout with WDW Radio Lou Mongello

There was a pretty big group of us.

Another way to avoid feeling lonely in the parks is to take a lot of photos and text them to friends or upload them to Facebook and Twitter so that others can feel a part of what you’re doing. If you’re a reader, take a book along to help pass the time in line or while you’re eating. On my trip to Disneyland, I brought along the The Imagineering Field Guide to Disneyland as well as The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland. I particularly enjoyed being able to follow the touring plans in The Unofficial Guide, which are also available to subscribers on TouringPlans.com (affiliate link), since my family isn’t usually that disciplined when we’re traveling all together.

Have you ever toured a Disney park solo? Share your tips in the comments!

4 Things to Do in Walt Disney World If You Love U.S. Presidents

It’s President’s Day here in the U.S., so you can anticipate the theme of today’s post. As you might expect, presidents can be found in both Liberty Square in Magic Kingdom and American Adventure pavilion in Epcot. You might not guess, though, the other park where one president can be found.

Here are four things to do in Walt Disney World if you love U.S. presidents.

1. The Hall of Presidents

If you’ve ever been to Walt Disney World, you surely predicted the first attraction on this list, and if you love hearing about the U.S. presidents, you’re probably one of the few who enters The Hall of Presidents for reasons other than escaping the heat! I’m exaggerating, of course. Like just about everything in Walt Disney World, The Hall of Presidents is designed with excellence and worth experiencing whether or not you’re particularly patriotic. If you are a fan of the presidency, I can’t imagine a better attraction for you to experience. You’ll also enjoy the displays of presidential memorabilia in the Rotunda pre-show area.

2. Liberty Tree Tavern

Sign for Liberty Tree Tavern in Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney WorldEach dining room in this Liberty Square restaurant is themed after an early American patriot, including two presidents. One room is dedicated to George Washington and another to Thomas Jefferson. I have to admit that I’ve eaten at this restaurant several times and never noticed just how precisely it was themed room by room until it was pointed out to me. Be sure to take time to look around after your meal.

3. The American Adventure

While all current and past U.S. presidents are portrayed in The Hall of Presidents, only a select few made it into The American Adventure. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin D. Roosevelt are represented by Audio-Animatronic figures. Other presidents, including John F. Kennedy, are seen or heard in multimedia clips throughout the show.

4. Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream

The Hall of Presidents would likely never have come to be if not for Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, an attraction created by Disney for the State of Illinois Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The Audio-Animatronic Lincoln figure wowed audiences at the time. The attraction lives on in a modified form in Disneyland, but the original Audio-Animatronic figure is displayed in Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I don’t have a picture of it myself, but you can see the display at Studios Central.

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Your presidential day in Disney will involve three parks. You’ll want to be in Magic Kingdom at lunch or dinner so that you can eat at Liberty Tree Tavern, so you may consider starting at a different park. I would suggest Disney’s Hollywood Studios, because World Showcase (where The American Adventure is located) in Epcot doesn’t open until late morning. If you start in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can take the boat from there to Epcot, and then the monorail over to Magic Kingdom. None of the attractions will involve significant waits. Just make sure to make your advanced dining reservations for Liberty Tree Tavern before your trip.

Happy President’s Day!