Jan 20

Get REAL ID Ready Before October 1st 2020!

Does your driver’s license have a star at the top?  If not, then you will want to keep reading. Beginning October 1, 2020, all travelers, 18 and up, will need to have a REAL ID compliant driver’s license* or other form of acceptable identification such as a passport to fly in the U.S. What does this mean for you?

It seems like we’ve been hearing about REAL ID forever and maybe we’ve all gotten used to thinking it’s never really happening. Well, it’s happening!  October 1st, 2020 will be the official start of the REAL ID program. Even if you don’t plan on taking a trip anytime soon, it’s probably best to go ahead and get the new REAL ID compliant ID just in case. For anyone who travels, or is planning to travel by plane, you definitely want to apply for your REAL ID sooner rather than later. There will probably be some backlog of last-minute applicants this fall! Truth be told, I may be one of them!

To get a REAL ID driver’s license, you simply need to go to your state motor vehicle agency. Typically, you need to show proof of your social security number, date of birth, and U.S. citizenship, along with two different documents verifying your state of residency. But save yourself some time and check with your local agency before showing up to make sure you bring the proper documents with you. Women who have been married and changed their last name, may need to show their marriage certificate as well.

Unsure if you have a REAL ID compliant license? Look for the star in the upper portion of the card*. Generally, it is a gold or black star, a star cutout in a gold or black circle or a star cutout in a gold grizzly bear. Just because your state is “REAL ID compliant” does not mean your driver’s license is. So, make sure!

If you’re travelling internationally, you can still use your passport as identification but any time you are flying domestically, it will need to be REAL ID compliant as of October 1. Want to be a rebel or just don’t have time to get to the DMV? There is a list of acceptable alternative forms of identification listed here. https://www.dhs.gov/secure-drivers-license-documentation

The bottom line is, if you plan on traveling on or after October 1, 2020, you will want to check your driver’s license for that star and make sure if you don’t have one you get down to your state motor vehicle agency and apply for your REAL ID as soon as possible. Missing a vacation because you forgot to update your identification is going to be hard to explain to the family!

*Note: Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, and New York states issue REAL ID and state-issued enhanced driver’s licenses, both of which are acceptable. State-issued enhanced driver’s licenses do not have a star on the top of the card.

Washington state issues enhanced driver’s licenses only. These documents will be accepted at the airport security checkpoint when the REAL ID enforcement goes into effect.

Nov 27

Giving Thanks the Walt Disney Way

I think we can all find many things to be thankful about – – people, pets, the roof over our heads, the food on our table, and our general good fortune.  If we want to think in terms of Disney, we can always be thankful for the many things that Walt Disney gave to us over these many years that have led to our entertainment, amusement, and memories.   Some of us Disney nerds may even go as far as feeling grateful for the many lessons that Walt Disney had taught us through his imaginative, yet pragmatic approach to life, family, and work.  But this article isn’t about us being grateful for Walt Disney.  It is about how he, himself, lived with gratitude.

Be grateful for the hardships and failures of your youth, and the lessons they taught you.  Walt once said about childhood, “I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young.  I learned a lot out of that.  Because it makes you kind of aware of what can happen to you.”  Considering all of the hardships and failures Walt experienced before he became successful, it is exactly because of those failures that he learned how to do better.  Many people would be worn down by failures, but Walt taught us to be thankful for them, for it is with learning from our mistakes that we create success.  We just  learn to simply not do THAT again!

Be like a child, and be thankful for the little things.  One of the biggest things we remember about Walt Disney was his ability to see the world through a child’s eyes.  In many ways, Walt was a big kid himself, and it is perhaps this childlike approach to life that always kept him curious and looking forward to creating bigger and better things.  Walt once commented, “Why do we have to grow up?  I know more adults who have the children’s approach to life . . . They are not afraid to be delighted with simple pleasures, and they have a degree of contentment with what life has brought – – sometimes it isn’t much either.”  Walt’s notion to find contentment and gratitude in the small things is perhaps one of the most important lessons we can learn from him.  I think many of us can agree that some days, we just don’t want to “adult” anymore.  Sometimes getting lost in a good book or taking a nap with your pet cuddled up next to you is the greatest joy.  Suddenly, you realize just how much you truly appreciate not having to look at your phone.

Be humble and thankful for those that work for and with you, and appreciate who you work for.   When asked of his Company, Walt said, “Whatever we accomplish is due to the combined effort . . . in my organization, there is respect for every individual, and we all have a keen respect for the public.”  Walt realized that although he had big ideas, he could never have built or created what he did without the help of others.   To him, success was found in a multitude of ideas coming together, and no idea was a “bad one,” – – it just needed to be reworked or looked at in a different way.   Walt valued the individual, but also realized that individuals must work together in order to create something much greater than themselves, and for the greater good.

Be proactive in showing gratitude for others.  Don’t just say it!  In all of my years of studying Walter Elias Disney, I have rarely ever come across a pointed example of Walt actually saying, “Thank you,” to someone.  This hardly means that he was ungrateful.  In fact, he never really believed in “thanking” a person since it was more important to show his gratitude through praise.  He was a motivator – – a positive energy that served as a catalyst to propel other’s upward and onward.  To Walt, showing appreciation was key, and he did so by giving others his trust and confidence which was far greater than a mere, “Thank you.”  Walt stated, “Giving appreciation – – showing it – – is fully as important as getting it in our everyday relations.”  Many of those who worked for Walt, learned quickly to never expect him to say, “thank you.”  Their greatest reward came in the form of him praising their work to another colleague.  One might find this odd, but the results became astoundingly clear in the resulting talent that Walt cultivated, encouraged, and helped nurture into the Legends that they became.  Those Legends went on to ensure Walt’s legacy would live on well beyond his lifetime.

I can think of many things that I am “thankful” for.  However, I think the most important part of discovering our gratitude is to humble ourselves, and think in terms of a simpler time.  This was a common practice for Walt, and it helped him to see clearer, to think bigger, love more, and overcome some of the biggest obstacles imaginable.  To actually show gratitude by lifting others up, is how to truly live with a thankful heart.  Who knows what legacies we will leave behind, but at least those we leave behind will know how much they were appreciated.  Thanks again, Walt, for your example!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Oct 22

Oh No! You’re Sick While on a Disney Vacation!! Now what?

So, you saved, planned, and you’ve finally made it to your much anticipated Disney vacation! 


You’re just one day into the trip, you have a feverish, coughing, and wiped-out child, and you are secretly saying, “There is no way.  How could this have happened?  I’ve spent how much money for this?”  Okay, you’re probably thinking other things as well, but as a good parent, you’re now feeling as if the entire vacation is now obliterated by some nasty, unseen virus that has succeeded in some evil plot to make your lives miserable and shatter your hopes of feeling the magic and wonder.  Yes, I have been there, too!  Every single family vacation to Disney for our family has resulted in someone becoming very sick, and not just one of the kids.  On one visit, it was all of us!  On another, it was my husband, and he had to stay back and rest while I took the kids to the Parks.  I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but from stomach bugs, to strep, to upper respiratory viruses with high temperatures – – we’ve been hit with quite a bit while on a Disney vacation.  Sometimes, it just cannot be avoided.  So what does one do?

It’s no wonder many kids, and adults, get sick while on a Disney vacation.  The prime times to travel are during school vacations, and those usually happen during the fall, winter or spring breaks – – times when all sorts of illnesses are running rampant.  Disney is fully prepared for this, and they have had plenty of practice in caring for their guests under all kinds of circumstances.  If you suspect someone in your family is not feeling well, each of the Parks has a First Aid Center which is staffed with a nurse during normal operating hours of that Park.  They carry over-the-counter medications, bandages, etc., for the minor issues, but will quickly determine if you, or your child, need further care.   If this should happen while at your Resort, you only need to visit/call the front desk.

In the event that you are in need of further care, they will contact complimentary transportation for pick up at your Resort, or take you to a “secret” location for pick up if you are at the Parks, and whisk you away to one of the 24 hour Walk-in Medical Centers.  My family has become quite familiar with the doctors and staff at these centers, and from personal experience, they have all been wonderful!  What was even better was that they had the required antibiotic or anti-nausea medication right there.  I’m not sure how, but I am certain the medication they dispense contains Pixie Dust!  I have had a four year old child with a bad case of strep, running around as if it never happened, within 24 hours.  Even if they do not have the proper medication on hand, you will have transportation back to your Resort, and your medication will be delivered to the front desk of your Resort.  Most insurance is accepted, and they handle all of the stress in making sure things are handled with your insurance.

You may ask what you can do to prepare for such a situation?  Outside of normal hand washing, sanitizing, rest, and bombarding your system with vitamin C, I recommend packing the essential “go to” medications.  Ibuprofen or acetaminophen for both adults and children, stomach issue medications, and over-the-counter ear drops to keep those ear canals dry from all the swimming.  If you should require other medications that require refrigeration, the First Aid Centers have those available for guests, as well.

Not that you would really want to be sick while at Disney, but all things considered, I don’t think I’d want to be sick any other place.  They make it far easier to care for ill family members than if you were to do so at home!  Not to mention the magic and comfort of being sick in the most Magical or Happiest Places on Earth!  It’s enough to motivate anyone to feel better quickly.  If you want to put it into perspective, Disney is a family destination with thousands of visitors every day.  They will ensure that their guests are happy, healthy, and thoroughly enjoying that vacation so they will return, or even recommend a visit to friends and family.  There is a good reason why Disney destinations are so popular, and the care for their guests is one they pride themselves on, and go to great lengths to make happen.

Aug 14

Dog Days of Disney….You can bring your furry friend!

When it comes time to take a family vacation, you really want to include the entire family, and that means your canine companion, too.  While some of you may already know about Disney’s Fort Wilderness allowing dogs at the campsites, they’ve now extended that to the cabins.  What you may not realize is, there are a few more resorts that have now implemented the pet policy!

There’s one from every resort category!

Disney’s Art of Animation, Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside, and Disney’s Yacht Club each have select rooms and floors for canine-friendly accommodations up to two dogs per room.  The dog-friendly policies at these resorts have been in place for about a year now, but are still listed as, “for a limited time.”  At Disney’s Fort Wilderness campground sites, the charge is $5 per night. At the cabins, Art of Animation, and Port Orleans Riverside, the added charge is $50.00 per night, and at Yacht Club it is $75.00 per night.  Current vaccination records must be available upon request, so have a copy of those documents with you at check-in. Also, be sure to ask for your “Pluto’s Welcome Kit” upon check in which includes a Pet ID tag, a mat, doggie bags, bowls, and a dog-walking map! Also included is a “Do Not Disturb sign” indicating a pet is in the room.

Now before you get too excited envisioning your furry companion lounging by your side at the pool, or strolling along with you through the Magic Kingdom, let’s explore some of the rules.  First, your dog must be well behaved and well trained.  While in the room, they are not allowed on furniture and must be kept in a carrier or on a leash while outside of your room.  With the exception of service dogs, they are not allowed in the Theme  Parks, Water Parks, ESPN Wide World of Sports or Disney Springs, pool areas, Clubs, Lounges, Fitness Centers or Food and Beverage locations.  However, there are designated areas around the Resort to walk and play with your furry friend. If you’re staying at Fort Wilderness, be sure to check out Waggin Trails Dog Park! There’s lots of room to toss a ball or throw a Frisbee and your dog will get a chance to socialize with other dogs. After all, it’s their vacation too!

Waggin Trails Dog Park at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort

When considering bringing your pooch, you must practice good dog parenting skills.  Dogs cannot be left alone in your room for more than seven hours, and housekeeping will not enter your room when your dog is present as long as you leave your provided “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door.

As for transportation options, you can use either Disney’s Magical Express, Disney’s Minnie Vans to get to, from, and around the Resorts, but your pet must be kept in a carrier during the trip.  Dogs are not permitted on any other Resort transportation, including the monorail.  Of course, you can always use your vehicle or RV, if you have one!

If all of this seems like you may be limiting the enjoyment of your vacation, your fur-ever baby can be pampered at Best Friends Pet Care (bestfriendspetcare.com) for a fee.  Here, you can send your pooch to be pampered in luxury accommodations or Doggie Day Camp while you are out for the day.  They are located about five minutes from Fort Wilderness and even offer doggie cams so you can check in and chat with your pet!  They open one hour before Park opening and are usually open until 1:00am.

Best Friends Pet Care
Looks pretty comfy!

I think we can all agree that it would be a true family experience if we could bring our furry children with us on a Disney vacation!  However, like parents know their children, dog owners know the personality and limits of their pets.  Consider their temperament, their ability to be left alone for six or seven hours, or even if they may feel stressed while in transit.  All of these things must be considered first for the love, care and sake of our pets.  If you feel they would be best left with a sitter or boarded at home while you are away, you can always shop for the new Disney pet merchandise to bring home for them as a souvenir! It’s adorable!

Disney Pet Souvenirs are in most gift shops!
Cassie modeling her Minnie Ears!

Aug 06

The Allure of Bargain Shopping for a Disney Vacation…is it worth it?

Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

There is no doubt that the cost of a Walt Disney World vacation can bring sticker shock to even the most affluent of travelers.  It’s also why many begin seeking out better deals through booking engines.  However, if you’re getting the notion that staying off of Disney property might save you some substantial money, you may want to take a closer look.  Transportation costs, hidden fees, time and stress, all become major factors, not to mention the age of your children and the “gear” required to cart them along.  Let’s just compare the basics:

 1.  Transportation:  If you’re staying off property, you are going to need a car rental.  This can run you anywhere between $320 – $450 per week, depending upon the car you choose.  This figure does not include added Collision insurance or Loss and Damage Waiver fees.  Some rental companies even charge extra for car seats. Many off-site hotels even charge per night for parking (approx. $12) while a few claim to be “free.”  However, to drive to, and park your car at any one of Disney’s Parks, you will pay $25.00 per day.  If you plan on taking advantage of your off-site hotel’s complimentary shuttle, don’t plan on staying to see any fireworks as most of these shuttles have their latest pick up times before show time, and their run times during the day are very limited!

Waiting for your off site shuttle

Comparatively, if you are staying at a Disney Resort, you can pick up complimentary transportation from and to the airport via Disney’s Magical Express.  They also pick up your luggage and deliver it to your room.  Getting around the entire Resort gives you several options for transportation (i.e. Monorail, bus, ferryboat, water taxi, and Skyliner coming in September), all of which will get you between Resort Hotels, Parks, and Disney Springs, at no extra charge.  If you must have your car with you, there is a per night fee of $25.00 at your Resort, but the fee is waived at the Parks should you decide to drive yourself.

Disney’s Magical Express

2.  Hotel Stay:  Navigating a hotel stay off-site should come with a “buyer beware,” neon sign.  Those low rates really catch your eye, and for good reason.  They intentionally show you that bargain rate for $75 – $100 – – then the fine print comes in and hits you.  What they don’t tell you about is the nightly “resort fee.”  This fee can range, but is on average about $30 per night.  Then, there’s the tax, and of course, the parking fee, and none of these were listed in that initial rate I saw taunting me.  For packages you may have sent ahead of time, they charge a $3 handling fee, and $25.00 per 100lbs. per package.  The takeaway on booking an off-site hotel – – add at least $50 to that base price to get the real picture, and if you have more than four people in that room, plan on a little more. 

Caribe Royale

Now if you’re staying at a Disney Resort Hotel, the price is the price.  No resort fee to add in.  If you are mailing packages to your Resort ahead of time, the fee is $6 per package.  There is also a $25.00 per night parking fee for your car, but again, it’s waived if you choose to drive to the Parks yourself.  You can stay at the Parks until they close if you like, and enjoy special early opening hours, or late night hours only available to Resort Guests.  If you’re buying those souvenirs, you can charge them to your Resort account with putting a credit card on file, and request  to have any purchases you have made while at the Parks or Disney Springs, delivered  to your room at no extra charge.   Did I mention that if you go during a busy time of year, Disney Resort Guests have first priority for entry? Oh, and if you’re booking a room with tickets and/or Dining Plan, you only put down a $200 deposit, and get to finance your vacation until you pay it off 30 days before you leave.   Which leads me to my next point….

3.  Tickets:  If you’re looking to stay off-site, chances are, you’re looking for those deals on tickets, too.  Okay, so you get those tickets.  You link them to your My Disney Experience app.  You cannot book any FastPasses until 30 days before your trip, and there are no complimentary Magic Bands unless you want to purchase them on your own ($15 each for the basic ones).  You can always go with the paper or card tickets instead,  but if the Parks reach capacity, off-site guests will be the first to be denied entry even if they have a ticket.


If you decide to stay on Disney property, you may be able to get lucky on catching a room and ticket offer.  Even if it’s not initially offered at the time you decide to book, one might come along and be applied to your reservation at a later date before your trip.  Either way, you will get your Magic Band which will link your room, tickets, dining, purchases, FastPass reservations, and other things all in one convenient little bracelet.  Again, Disney Resort Guests also get priority when entering the Parks, even when it gets crowded. 

4.  Time and Stress:  I put these two together because in Disney, time IS stress if it’s not handled right!  If you’re staying off-site, you have to take the time to drive to the hotel, drive from hotel to Parks, deal with possible traffic and bottlenecking coming and going, time to park, time to gather your things, time to get the Tram to the boat, from the boat to the entrance of the Park, time in line for baggage check.  After all of that, now you’re already a little stressed out.  You enjoy the Park, it gets hot and the kids are cranky,  tired and hungry.  If you’re off-site and you want to go take a break, you have to go through all of that again to leave, and then again to return in the evening (if you’re even up to it at this point!). 


Now picture this:  You’re staying on Disney property, and you take your preferred  Disney transportation method to the Park.  Right there you have eliminated parking, Tram and trying to remember if you parked in Goofy, Donald, or one of the Seven Dwarfs.  You get to the Gate that much faster, go through baggage check, and you enjoy the day until it gets too hot, and everyone gets hungry, cranky or tired.  At that point, you just hop on your complimentary transportation and go to your Resort for a dip in the pool, something to eat, perhaps even a nap.  Best of all, you’re still immersed in the Disney magic!  Now you get to hop on your transportation and head back to the Park for more fun in the cooler evening hours and close down the Park with the “Kiss Goodnight!” 

Apples to Apples:

To give a real comparison, I took a hotel that I have personally stayed at and know to be clean, safe, reputable and comfortable.  I based the cost of my stay for a family of 5 (2 Adults, 3 Children), with travel dates of August 8 – 15, 2019.  This hotel is really close to the Main Gate of Walt Disney World, and had an advertised rate of $100 per night.  That rate quickly turned into $153 for five people.  I also chose the lowest grade of a SUV car rental with a pick up and drop off at Orlando International Airport, opted in for the added insurance, and only one driver.  No gas or car seats were included in this price.  Here’s the breakdown:  Hotel (room, taxes, resort fee, nightly parking) $1,536.36 + rental car $458.91 + Disney parking fee for 6 days $150.00 = $2,145.27.

For Disney, I used the same dates.  I didn’t add in a car rental since I wouldn’t need one.  I was able to find a non-discounted, room only, at a Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort – Preferred Room (MODERATE, NOT VALUE), all taxes and transportation included, for $1,845.03.

That’s a $300.24 savings if you stay at a Disney Resort!  If I were to purchase my tickets from a reputable source, I can get a 1 Park per day, buy 4 days and get 2 days free (no Water Parks), for 5 people (4 adults, 1 Child)  for $2,213.24.  From Disney, I can get Summer One World Tickets for 6 days, same categories, 4 days at the Parks AND get 2 Water Parks for $2,332.35!  I could save $119.11 and skip the Water Parks, but why?  Even with the “other” ticket seller, I’m still saving $181.13, a lot of time, and a lot of stress by staying at a Disney Resort.

Everyone has different circumstances, and deals and offers may vary.  The bottom line is that you cannot always trust those initial “bargain” offers.  Always read the fine print, do your research, and really add up all those hidden expenses before you decide.  More importantly, save yourself the time and stress and discuss your options with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner Agency like Dreams by Design Travel – – they have the experience and can guide you on getting the most out of your vacation budget. Thanks for reading! ~~~Debbie Benson