On our last visit to Sydney, Australia we set aside a Sunday for a rail trip to the Blue Mountains. From the Sydney Central Station to Katoomba Station is about a two hour trip and if you go and return on a Sunday the trip is a super bargain with the Opal card (see Getting Around Sydney). From Central you can Board an air-conditioned double decker Mountains train. The express trains to the Mountains will most likely stop at Strathfield, Parramatta, Penrith, Emu Plains, and then all stations up the Blue Mountains. We were staying at a hotel near Sydney’s Chinatown (the Meriton Serviced Apartments on Campbell Street) which wasn’t far from the Central Station so we walked and caught an early train. The trains were modern, clean and comfortable. One caution, this trip on Sunday is very popular and if you get the train at the Central Station getting a seat probably isn’t difficult, but after a few stops people were sitting in the isles. On our return we boarded at a station farther south and headed back to Sydney from there to avoid the crowds and to be sure we got a seat.
The town of Katoomba is the center of the Blue Mountains with a number of attractions nearby. Once in the Blue Mountains we booked the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus near Katoomba Station. The day pass was about US$30and begins at the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba Street. There are 29 stops which include Katoomba Falls, Echo Point, Three Sisters and Leura Cascades. There is a cable car ride (extra charge) and a complex at Scenic World with a café and a restaurant. There is also the Trolley Tours running a similar route as The Explorer Bus for about the same fare. Between hopping on and off, hiking a number of trails and enjoying lunch we spent about nine hours in the area.
Our trip was in late October of 2015 and the weather was perfect. The area is beautiful with dozens of good trails and scenic overlooks. We followed a couple of well-maintained trails along streams and were fascinated with the thickets of Australian tree ferns (something we planted in our yard at home). We also started to notice the birds in the trees and saw dozens of big white cockatoos. I picked up a feather for our curio case.
Upon returning to Sydney Central Station we walked back the few blocks to our hotel, freshened up and took a rapid rail to Darling Harbour. We had dinner at Baia The Italian sitting by the water watching the sun set. All and all it was a very good day. We’re thinking on our next visit we will spend a couple nights in the Blue Mountains.
Years ago one of the sure things to expect when the family visited Walt Disney World was spending a lot of time waiting in line. Probably the biggest limiting factor in the number of rides you could take in was the length of the wait lines. Disney was one of the first innovators in reducing this time. Initially the FastPass system used your admission ticket once you were in a park to allow you to schedule a ride or two. Even this system greatly increased the number of rides you could fit in but there have been a number of upgrades since.
While the newest FastPass is again an incremental improvement it is becoming really important that anyone planning a vacation or just a visit to Disney World understand how the system works. If you don’t take the time before your trip you could end up riding a lot less rides. Because FastPass allows people to schedule rides weeks in advance it also makes getting onto a ride the day of a visit a bigger challenge
How To Use FastPass+
There are different ways to make Fastpass+ reservations that depend on where you are staying and what type of ticket you have. In order to make FastPass+ reservations you must have park tickets or a purchase confirmation number. Before you begin you need to decide in advance as to what parks you will visit and on what dates. You will also need names and ticket numbers for everyone traveling with you.
If you are staying at a Disney resort: You can make your first FastPass+ ride reservations 60 days in advance of the hotel reservation date. Once you have made your first reservation you can add ten days to the sixty to make FastPass+ selections in other parks. Also before you start making FastPass+ reservations you should investigate Extra Magic Hours for parks during your stay. That information will help you plan which parks to visit on what dates.
Staying at a non-Disney resort you will be able to make your FastPass+ reservations 30 days in advance.
Before you begin you should have an internet connectable device and we would recommend that you use a smart phone for easy use inside the parks. Download the Disney World App. Next set-up a My Disney Experience account so you can make and record FastPass+ reservations. The only way to make Fastpass+ reservations before your trip is to use your account at the My Disney Experience website. You will also need to provide an email address and be sure to use one that you can access on thru you Disney World App thru your portable device.
If you are staying at a Disney Resort at Walt Disney World you will be issued a MagicBand for each guest in your party. The band looks like a bracelet or watch and uses a battery to communicated with a number of devices around “the World”. Before you arrive you will probably be asked for your choice in color but without making a choice it will be gray. The bands have your name printed inside and not to miss an opportunity Disney stores and gift shops also sell decorations that can be added to personalize the MagicBands. With a MagicBand you can link it to My Disney Experience and add reservations (both current and future) along with park tickets and FastPass+ reservations. Wearing the MagicBand you can open your room door, charge meals at Disney restaurants and food concessions and go shopping at Disney stores that are charged back to your hotel account. You can use them to enter the parks (provided you have synced tickets to your account), identify your account to Disney photographers, and use FastPass+. You can manage your MagicBands on you’re my Disney Experience on line both now and for the future. The MagicBand is set-up where you provide a pin number for all money transactions and just like a card based passkey you can restrict charging privileges to certain members of your group.
Because all purchase transactions on a MagicBand require a pin the process is pretty secure. Even if you lose a band someone would still need you pin to use it for shopping or meals. There is however a possible concern around this remarkable system. Disney has capitalized on a phenomenon that the credit card industry has understood forever. People generally spend more money when using a credit card rather than spending cash. The MagicBand takes advantage of this characteristic in a big way and other than knowing that there has been a spending cap agreed to on your hotel account, it is very difficult to confirm the charged balance on your account. The only way we are aware of is to check at the hotel Concierge desk.
Walt Disney has also made a big promotion for meal plans associated with your room reservation. There are a number of different levels, naturally at different prices. These meals are also recorded on you account and accessed again using your MagicBand.
When you eat at a full service restaurant you will get a receipt that shows how much service was used and how much remains. Unfortunately for a full accounting you will again need to check at the hotel Concierge desk.
Our primary criticism with this completely integrated system that includes The WDW App, the My Disney Experience website, MagicBands, park tickets and FastPass is the inability to check the money and meal plan balances. It would seem a reasonable approach to give you access thru the WDW App?