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MouseChat Podcasters Share 13 Insider Tips for Planning Your Disney Vacation

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Disney World’s Magic Kingdom attracted a staggering 20.5 million visitors last year, making it the world’s most popular theme park. Disneyland, Epcot, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom weren’t far behind, which begs the question: Just how can one rise above the crowds and get the most out of a Disney vacation these days?

Ever since 2010, the popular MouseChat podcast has been offering some answers. Hosted by five Disney-obsessed travel agents at Pixie Vacations, the show has explored topics ranging from new attractions to Disney weddings to, well, “How to Do Disney World with Disney Haters.”

“We just see a lot of people go into Disney with a very blind eye and end up not having a great experience, so we try to provide all the tips and tricks that make a Disney vacation really magical,” says West Virginia-based co-host Chris Sharps. “We give our very honest assessment of what the experience is like; if we wouldn’t spend our money and do it again, we tell them.”

Below, Sharps and Atlanta-based co-host Lisa Griswold offer a few tips for new or veteran Disney vacationers:

1. START PLANNING SUPER-EARLY.

Disney resort reservations can be made 180 days in advance, but Griswold says visitors should start planning even earlier. “Talk about what resorts sound interesting to you, the restaurants you want to experience,” she says. “[Planning early] also encourages people to start saving.”

2. CONSIDER ALL EXPENSES.

“A lot of times people are looking to go to Walt Disney World in the least expensive way possible,” Sharps says. “But the least expensive way [to them] is oftentimes one of the most expensive.” Case in point: He says many folks stay off-site in hopes of saving money, without factoring in parking fees or other costs that can quickly add up.

3. WORK WITH A VACATION PLANNER.

Obviously, the MouseChat hosts are pro-agent, but they do make a solid case. First, it often doesn’t cost extra money to work with a planner. And second, they know the destination inside and out. Sharps says, “Every item of Disney news that comes across the board, we read it, we know it, we know how to best help a family plan their trip. We’re Disney-crazy.”

4. SEEK OUT "SECRET" PERKS.

If you can dream it, there’s probably a way Disney can make it happen. “You can have a private balcony in Italy to view the IllumiNations nighttime spectacular,” Griswold says. “You can get a private boat and watch the fireworks from the middle of the Seven Seas Lagoon. You can take your daughter to get her dressed up as a princess. … There are lots of additional things that people can do when they go to Disney, and I don’t think most of these are known.”

5. DELVE INTO DISNEY HISTORY.

OK, so you’re a grown-ass adult who doesn’t care for The Little Mermaid. Sharps says that’s only a facet of the Disney appeal, and a little Googling might enhance one’s experience. “Walt Disney was the quintessential American risk-taker,” he says. “Learning the business behind Disney is really what helped me develop my passion.”

6. ARRIVE AT "ROPE DROP."

That’s slang for the beginning of the day. “The park is not as crowded,” Griswold notes. “You can get a lot done before 10 a.m.”

7. LOOSELY PLAN YOUR DAY.

“Don’t plan it down to the minute, but plan a general theme for the day,” Sharps suggests. Set a time for lunch, and drop everything when it arrives. Grab a schedule and map at the entrance, and take 10 minutes to become familiar with things like performance times and the almighty restroom locations.

8. TAKE NOTE OF NEW STUFF.

Disney parks unveil new things each year, making no two trips the same. Some upcoming highlights: a new Frozen attraction at Epcot, Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the highly anticipated Star Wars Land. “It’s not the same old attractions over and over again,” Sharps says.

9. GO BEHIND THE SCENES.

Need a break from rides? Sharps says to consider a behind-the-scenes tour, like Keys to the Kingdom or Backstage Magic, which “takes guests through the entire experience of what it is that makes the magic happen each day, from the horticultural services facility all the way up to the safety inspectors that do the rides.”

10. COMBAT LINE FATIGUE.

While lines are unavoidable at a Disney park, there are many ways to make the kids’ wait a bit more enjoyable. “They have interactive queues with lots of things for kids to do, to touch, to feel, to interact with,” Griswold says. “And get a ‘hidden Mickey’ book,” she adds. “Every ride has hidden Mickeys, and [finding them] turns waiting in line into an attraction in itself.”

11. TAKE BREAKS.

There’s no shame in a midday snooze during a Disney vacation; in fact, it’ll probably make the trip more fun. “Don’t plan on being at the park from sunup to sundown,” Sharps says.

12. CONSIDER A HALLOWEEN OR HOLIDAY TRIP INSTEAD.

Disney visits don’t have to happen in summertime. Sharps advises travelers to be open to, say, Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival in the fall, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, or even the decked-out holiday season.

13. HAVE FUN.

Seriously. “Remember, it’s a vacation,” Griswold says. “Don’t let the details stress you out and ruin it. … Also, realize that there’s gonna be a couple hiccups along the way. Take ‘em in stride. There’s no way you can get everything done in a week that Disney World has to offer."

For more podcast interviews and recommendations, head to the archive.

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The Best (and Worst) States for Summer Road Trips
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As we shared recently, the great American road trip is making a comeback, but some parts of the country are more suitable for hitting the open road than others. If you're interested in taking a road trip this summer but are stuck on figuring out the destination, WalletHub has got you covered: The financial advisory website analyzed factors like road conditions, gas prices, and concentration of activities to give you this map of the best states to explore by car.

Wyoming—home to the iconic road trip destination Yellowstone National Park—ranked No. 1 overall with a total score of 58.75 out of 100. It's followed by North Carolina in the No. 2 slot, Minnesota at No. 3, and Texas at No. 4. Coming in the last four slots are the three smallest states in America—Rhode Island, Delaware, and Connecticut—and Hawaii, a state that's obviously difficult to reach by car.

But you shouldn't only look at the overall score if you're planning a road trip route: Some states that did poorly in one category excelled in others. California for example, came in 12th place overall, and ranked first when it came to activities and 41st in cost. So if you have an unlimited budget and want to fit as many fun stops into your vacation as possible, taking a trip up the West Coast may be the way to go. On the other end of the spectrum, Mississippi is a good place to travel if you're conscious of spending, ranking second in costs, but leaves a lot to be desired in terms of the quality of your trip, coming in 38th place for safety and 44th for activities.

Choosing the stops for your summer road trip is just the first step of the planning process. Once you have that covered, don't forget to pack these essentials.

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Netherlands Officials Want to Pay Residents to Bike to Work
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Thinking about relocating to the Netherlands? You might also want to bring a bike. Government officials are looking to compensate residents for helping solve their traffic congestion problem and they want businesses to pay residents to bike to work, as The Independent reports.

Owing to automobile logjams on roadways that keep drivers stuck in their cars and cost the economy billions of euros annually, Dutch deputy infrastructure minister Stientje van Veldhoven recently told media that she's endorsing a program that would pay employees 19 cents for every kilometer (0.6 miles) they bike to work.

That doesn't sound like very much, but perhaps citizens who need to trek several miles each way would appreciate the cumulative boost in their weekly paychecks. For employers, the benefit would be a healthier workforce that might take fewer sick days and reduce parking needs.

Veldhoven says she also plans on designing a program that would assist employers in supplying workers with bicycles. The goal is to have 200,000 people opting for manual transportation over cars. If the program proceeds, it might find a receptive population. The Netherlands is already home to 22.5 million bikes, more than the 17.1 million people living there. In Amsterdam, a quarter of residents bike to work.

There's no timeline for implementing the pay-to-bike plan, but early trial studies indicate that the expense might not have to be a long-term prospect. Study subjects continued to bike to work even after the financial rewards stopped.

[h/t The Independent]

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