Mom2Mom Apps: for your Disney vacation

Happy Friday! For this week's app review, I thought I'd share with you the apps we took with us on our 2015 Disney Vacation! I get asked about this quite a bit, but have been hesitant to do a review because --- well --- it's so practical, and much less fun than putting together cute videos of cute kids playing cute games, you know?!  :-)

One of the things I do before leaving for a Disney vacation (or any vacation, really) is to set aside an evening for "digital packing". I take care of boring but extremely necessary tasks like maximizing memory: I get rid of all the old pics to make space for the new, delete any apps I won't use while on vacation, and remove media files (TV shows, movies, etc.) that I've already watched. Then, I download some new content for the girls (and myself) to enjoy while the devices are in airplane mode--- for this recent trip, that included the new Tinkerbell and the Legend of the Neverbeast! I find that on long trips, it really helps to have something new that the kids have never seen before, to keep them interested. Doubly true for plane rides! 

I also reinstall my vacation apps, and group them together on one screen. My camera and social networking apps get bumped up to primary spaces as well. I pretty much turn the first screen of my phone into vacation-central (in the digital sense). For the most part, these aren't apps I keep on my phone except when on vacation, but when away I consider them absolutely essential! 

Here are the apps I took with me on this trip, with mini-reviews below of the ones you might not already be familiar with! 


FAMILY FINDER - $1.99 / FREE!

I originally found this app for our 2013 trip when we had a group of 9 people all going every which way. It proved to be a handy app for keeping track of everyone--- and it doesn't hurt that its UI is lovely, too! 

A pro/con of this app is that is relies on your phone's WiFi --- that means we were able to load it onto our old iPhone 4's (that no longer have service plans) to give to my nieces who don't yet have cell phones of their own. On the downside, it also seems like the app only updates your whereabouts when you log in to it. There may be a setting that you can change so that it updates automatically, but I couldn't find it. What does that mean? Well, if someone in your party doesn't realize that they're lost, it makes them a bit hard to find.... 

Family Finder does include attraction checklists for the theme parks, which work as an incentive to log in continuously throughout the day. Still, there were several times I lost track of my husband, only to have him appear at yesterday's park according to the app. Despite this quirk, I haven't found anything better in the app store yet! 

Note: in the instances where my missing family member didn't realize they were lost, I resorted to using findmyiphone and setting their phone's alarm off. Not the most popular option but, hey, it works! (And, if they wouldn't wander off / ignore texts then I wouldn't have to resort to such measures!)

I originally bought this app for $1.99, but right now it is FREE!


MY DISNEY EXPERIENCE - FREE

By the time you check-in to your hotel in Orlando, you should be very familiar with the MyDisneyExpeirence app, so I'm not going to go into too much detail on it here. Suffice to say, it is your one-stop-shop for everything you could possibly need to know or do for your Disney vacation. Unfortunately, that same breadth of information makes the app unwieldy at times.

You'll find plenty of folks lambasting the FP+ system and the MyDisneyExperience App, like this one that goes so far as to say they're damaging the park experience. Because the two are so closely intertwined it's hard to tell whether its the app or the FP+ policies that the critics take exception to. I'm willing to give this app the benefit of the doubt for now and I hope you will, too. I am 100% certain that the wonderful folks behind this bit of technology are hard at work improving it. The in-park features didn't perform well for us on this trip, but I have high hopes for it on our next one! 

After all, MyDisneyExperience is what I use to make those 5:55AM ADRs that I love so much--- it's much easier to sleep with the mobile app version under my pillow than my entire MacBook Pro, you know? ;-)


THE OFFICIAL UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT APP - FREE

This app was released on March 17th, and our trip was on March 25th. I honestly don't know how we would have made it through our two days at Universal without it! I've come to rely so much on my Disney apps, that I was really dreading navigating Universal with no digital assistance. Then, voila!, I received an email as I was packing my suitcase letting me know that Universal now had an app, too. 

I know it will make me seem disloyal but I have to say: IT'S AMAZING. I LOVED the Universal app--- and that's not the kind of praise that I give lightly. Because I make mobile apps for a living, I can be quite hard on the ones I use in my personal life. But the Universal app was a delight to use. It had all the information you'd expect, on par with MDE, but then it went above and beyond--- it displays wait times on the map, no extra clicks required. It gives you walking directions with eye-level images for those of us who are a bit map-challenged. And it performed! Oh, it performed! Such snappy response time, while taking full advantage of the GPS location to serve the relent data first/automatically.

I can't say that our stay at Universal was as seamless as at Disney (paper tickets instead of magic bands, meal plan handled separately, etc. there's still a lot of work to be done there!) but this app really made the in-park experience magical. In part, it's because this app is only meant to help guide you through your visit: there's no FP+ or ADR scheduling, no upselling or educating. It doesn't try to do all the things, and as a result it did what we needed exceptionally well.  

Kudos to whatever team or agency put this app together. If I gave ratings, I'd give it an A+++++++++!  


CHARACTER LOCATOR by KennyThePirate - $3.99 / yr

Character Locator is a mobile web app by blogger KennyThePirate. Subscription is $3.99/yr. I consider this a must-have app if finding characters is important to you because it contains schedules for characters that haven't made it into the MyDisneyExperience app yet (if not for CharacterLocator, we'd never have even know that meeting Hiro and Baymax was an option!) 

The app is full of helpful content beyond characters, too--- if I quickly needed to know park hours or show times, I found myself turning to Character Locator over MDE toward the end of our trip because of the performance issues we were experiencing with MDE. Does it do everything? No, but it does A LOT and most importantly, Character Locator gave me what I needed, when I needed it and when you've got screaming kids and heavy crowds, that's priceless.


CAPTURE - $1.99

There is an entire industry of better-than-your-default camera/video apps out there. If you're looking for a list of reviews, try this one. I'm content with the default camera on the iPhone myself (yes, I hear all you photogs gasping). Look, I'm not overly finicky in this area; so long as it takes a picture I'm content. 

I do have one complaint with the default camera, however: how long it takes to get video going-- so many clicks to open the camera, and switch over to video, and then start recording. (I do love how on the default camera you can take photos while shooting video, that's a great feature!) Sometimes I don't have the extra 10 seconds to do all that switching. I can't tell you how many spontaneous and fleeting moments we've failed to capture because of this--- always frustrating. And a handful of instances where I thought I'd pressed record only to see at the end that I hadn't and didn't record what I'd thought I'd been recording. 

That's why I love the capture app. I've had it for years, but it's most handy on vacations. When you click the icon it immediately starts recording as the app launches, so you have those crucial seconds covered. It looks like YouTube has recently released a cobranded version, but I still have the original app that I paid for years ago so I can't speak to what the differences are. 

The Capture app is still $1.99, but the YouTube version is FREE! 


DISNEY BUBBLE WDW TODDLER EDITION - $.99

OK, this app is basically just a list of the attractions per park that are suitable for toddlers. Not a lot going on here except.... when your family has just taken the older child onto Star Tours and left you with a heartbroken 39.5" toddler screaming at the top of her lungs, it's quite nice to have an app that you can pop open for suggestions of what to take her to, without having to click through and scroll through and read through the details of everything else to find the height requirements. Trust me. It might not seem like much, but if you're headed to WDW with a toddler, I consider it a must have. Doubly so if you're on your first trip and aren't as familiar with the height requirements yet --- I originally bought this app for our very first trip in 2011 when Viola was the toddler; I wanted an app that would tell me what I COULD do, not what I COULDN'T do, and this app does just that. 


DISNEY WORLD DINING PLAN DASHBOARD - $.99

Remember when people were so excited to make and download micro apps, and Apple's slogan was "there's an app for that!" You'd be hard pressed to find an app that does as little as this one does anymore because mobile apps in 2015 have to do all the things! But sometimes I don't need all the things. In fact, some times I only need 1 thing---- to keep track of my WDW Dining plan. 

And yes, I'm sure that the MyDisneyExperience app does this, somewhere. And if it does, I'm sure it's giving you the most up-to-date sync'd to your magic band information. But when I've got a screaming toddler who just got shut out of Star Tours and I'm trying to bribe her with a Mickey ice cream, sometimes all I need/want is a simple spreadsheet of my meal plan status. 

I originally bought this app in 2011 for our very first trip (before MDE was a thing), and I've used it on every trip since. It's a bit aged (I'm not sure that it's being updated anymore) but it's just super convenient to be able to mark off the snacks / meals we've used. If I have a spare moment at the end of a meal, I'll double-check the app against the number at the  bottom of the receipt to make sure everything is copecetic. 

One thing that I really like about using this app, is that I can deduct ahead of time the snacks/meals that we know we'll need for later in the trip, and so this app becomes my way of keeping track of our floating credits (those not 'promised' to an ADR later in the week). This prevents us from over-using dining credits at the beginning of the week and winding up short for an ADR at the end.


APPS TO PASS THE TIME IN LINE! 

$7.99

$.99

$.99

$.99

The bottom row of my vacation apps are things to do in line. My family LOVES looking for hidden mickeys, but sometimes we need just a hint as to where they are! Trivia and charades are also great to pass the time. You'll notice that these are all things that we can do together while we wait. I will hand over my iPhone to the girls when they're bored in a restaurant, but when we are at Disney World it's all about the family time! 

There are a lot of apps dedicated to "things to do at Disney World in Line". These happen to be our favorites, but by no means are they an exhaustive list!  I'm always looking for fun new apps--- what are your favorite apps to pass the time in lines at DisneyWorld? Let me know in the comments below!