When Mike and Heather Clemmer, of Maryville, hear friends are heading to DisneyWorld, they invite them over.
"We like to share tips and tricks, but we don't give it all away," said Heather, who once worked at Disney World. "There's something about exploring and finding the magic on your own."
Where to stay: On Disney World property. "You don't need transportation. They provide it. You don't have to worry about parking. You can send packages you buy shopping back to your room. You get extra magical hours. You can go in early and stay late. At 2:15 a.m, we were having Dole Whips (pineapple soft serve ice cream)."
Best time to go: September. Kids are back in school. "The week before Thanksgiving is nice, too," said Heather. "The crowds are low, and the kids can make up homework over Thanksgiving break."
Dinner reservations: Make them early -- six months early. "You can usually start booking at 6 a.m. when they open. Sometimes, even then, they don't have the time you want."
Favorite places to eat: Columbia Harbour House in Magic Kingdom's Liberty Square. "It's two floors," said Heather. "If you go up on the second in the middle, there's a breezeway where you can eat and watch guests walking below. There are also bathrooms that few people use."
"We make sure we eat in Germany's biergarten in Epcot Center," said Mike. They go for both the food and the show. "The kids can dance," said Heather. "Two of our kids take German in school at Good Shepherd."
Rose and Crown Pub in Epcot's United Kingdom. It's good outdoor seating for a romantic dinner."
Favorite rides: Peter Pan's Flight in Magic Kingdom, said Heather. An MGM ride is a close second. "I've been on Tower of Terror 74 or 75 times," she said. It has an excelent theme, kind of like the Twilight Zone, drops 13 stories. Mike likes Soarin' at Epcot, a flight simulator ride that has you soaring over California on a hang glider.
Ethan likes Test Track, an Epcot stop where visitors design a vehicle, then go for a "high-octane spin" to see how the car did. It's the fastest ride at Disney, said Heather.
All three boys like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. "And the shop," said Ethan. "It's pirate stuff."
Mark the occasion: "If you are celebrating anything, tell them and they will give you a button."
The magic: On a Disney World visit, the Clemmers sat down to a meal at Be Our Guest restaurant in the Beast's Castle. They knew ahead of time the menu likely wouldn't satisfy Ethan, their picky eater. The server made suggestions, and tried a few different things, but the Clemmers said they'd buy him a pretzel later. "In the song, 'Be Our Guest,' there's the line, 'Try the gray stuff, it's delicious. If you don't believe me, ask the dishes,'" said Heather. "At the restaurant if you say, 'Can I try the gray stuff?' they bring you a teeny tiny blob of something." They waited a while for gray stuff, then: "Here come a couple servers, arms in the air," said Heather. "When they put down the dish, on it was a pretzel." In the shape of Mickey's head.