MouseChat Podcasters Share 13 Insider Tips for Planning Your Disney Vacation


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:


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.”


“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.


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


“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.


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.


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.”


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.”


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.


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.


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.

How an Early Female Travel Writer Became an Immunization Pioneer
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by A. Devéria
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by A. Devéria

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was a British aristocrat, feminist, and writer who was famed for her letters. If that were all she did, she would be a slightly obscure example of a travel writer and early feminist. But she was also an important public health advocate who is largely responsible for the adoption of inoculation against smallpox—one of the earliest forms of immunization—in England.

Smallpox was a scourge right up until the mid-20th century. Caused by two strains of Variola virus, the disease had a mortality rate of up to 35 percent. If you lived, you were left with unsightly scars, and possible complications such as severe arthritis and blindness.

Lady Montagu knew smallpox well: Her brother died of it at the age of 20, and in late 1715, she contracted the disease herself. She survived, but her looks did not; she lost her eyelashes and was left with deeply pitted skin on her face.

When Lady Montagu’s husband, Edward Wortley Montagu, was appointed ambassador to Turkey the year after her illness, she accompanied him and took up residence in Constantinople (now Istanbul). The lively letters she wrote home described the world of the Middle East to her English friends and served for many as an introduction to Muslim society.

One of the many things Lady Montagu wrote home about was the practice of variolation, a type of inoculation practiced in Asia and Africa likely starting around the 15th or 16th century. In variolation, a small bit of a pustule from someone with a mild case of smallpox is placed into one or more cuts on someone who has not had the disease. A week or so later, the person comes down with a mild case of smallpox and is immune to the disease ever after.

Lady Montagu described the process in a 1717 letter:

"There is a set of old women, who make it their business to perform the operation, every autumn, in the month of September, when the great heat is abated. People send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the small-pox: they make parties for this purpose, and when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together) the old woman comes with a nuts-hell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox, and asks what veins you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch), and puts into the vein as much matter as can lye upon the head of her needle, and after that binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell; and in this manner opens four or five veins. . . . The children or young patients play together all the rest of the day, and are in perfect health to the eighth. Then the fever begins to seize them, and they keep their beds two days, very seldom three. They have very rarely above twenty or thirty in their faces, which never mark; and in eight days' time they are as well as before their illness."

So impressed was Lady Montagu by the effectiveness of variolation that she had a Scottish doctor who worked at the embassy, Charles Maitland, variolate her 5-year-old son in 1718 with the help of a local woman. She returned to England later that same year. In 1721, a smallpox epidemic hit London, and Montagu had Maitland (who by then had also returned to England) variolate her 4-year-old daughter in the presence of several prominent doctors. Maitland later ran an early version of a clinical trial of the procedure on six condemned inmates in Newgate Prison, who were promised their freedom if they took part in the experiment. All six lived, and those later exposed to smallpox were immune. Maitland then repeated the experiment on a group of orphaned children with the same results.

A painting of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants
Jean-Baptiste Vanmour, Art UK // CC BY-NC-ND

But the idea of purposely giving someone a disease was not an easy sell, especially since about 2 or 3 percent of people who were variolated still died of smallpox (either because the procedure didn’t work, or because they caught a different strain than the one they had been variolated with). In addition, variolated people could also spread the disease while they were infectious. Lady Montagu also faced criticism because the procedure was seen as “Oriental,” and because of her gender.

But from the start, Lady Montagu knew that getting variolation accepted would be an uphill battle. In the same letter as her first description of the practice, she wrote:

"I am patriot enough to take pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England; and I should not fail to write to some of our doctors very particularly about it, if I knew any one of them that I thought had virtue enough to destroy such a considerable branch of their revenue for the good of mankind. But that distemper is too beneficial to them, not to expose to all their resentment the hardy wight that should undertake to put an end to it. Perhaps, if I live to return, I may, however, have courage to war with them."

As promised, Lady Montagu promoted variolation enthusiastically, encouraging the parents in her circle, visiting convalescing patients, and publishing an account of the practice in a London newspaper. Through her influence, many people, including members of the royal family, were inoculated against smallpox, starting with two daughters of the Princess of Wales in 1722. Without her advocacy, scholars say, variolation might never have caught on and smallpox would have been an even greater menace than it was. The famed poet Alexander Pope said that for her, immortality would be "a due reward" for "an action which all posterity may feel the advantage of," namely the "world’s being freed from the future terrors of the small-pox."

Variolation was performed in England for another 70 years, until Edward Jenner introduced vaccination using cowpox in 1796. Vaccination was instrumental in finally stopping smallpox: In 1980, it became the first (and so far, only) human disease to be completely eradicated worldwide.

Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane

What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.


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