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Helping out the mouse
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Heather Murry of Social Circle first visited Disney World in 1971 for the park's grand opening; she was two years old.

"I remember looking at Mickey and thinking how giant he was," Murry said.

Murry estimated she has visited the park more than 30 times, and as a mother of five, she and her husband try to bring the family at least every other year to the park.

Planning so many vacations for an ever-expanding family has taught Murry a trick or two about how not to break the bank.

"Trying to plan a vacation for five kids is hard," Murry said, "and how to afford it is another thing."

While planning a vacation last year she noticed a blurb about a Walt Disney World Moms Panel on the park's Web site.

"I'm a mom of five," Murry said. "I'm not obsessed with Disney - I just like to go."

She applied answering questions such as her favorite Disney memory, to which she replied parasailing with her husband on their honeymoon.

Murry didn't think much of her application until she received an e-mail informing her she had made it to round two of the application process.

She answered three more questions and soon learned she had advanced to the telephone interview portion of the process. Her interviewers asked her what made her a Disney expert.

"I said, 'I'm not - I'm just an average person who knows how to find what I want,'" Murry said.

On the day park officials told her they would call to tell her if she had been selected, Murry constantly checked her cell phone to make sure she had full service.

 Finally the phone rang with a Florida area code and Murry ran out of her home to answer it.

"I didn't realize how invested I was, how excited I was, until that moment," Murry said.

Since being selected as one of the 12 vacation-planning panelists out of the more than 10,000 who applied, Murry has answered around 400 inquiries.

"The most common questions are about celebrations - what can you do for birthdays or anniversaries," Murry said.

She said accommodations and dining also make up a bulk of questions the panelists are asked.

Other panelists affectionately call Murry "Affordability Heather." Other members are knowledgeable about luxury resorts, transportation and shopping.

"We're all from different walks of life," Murray said.

The year-long seat on the panel comes with a free vacation for four. Since Murry has a family of seven, she considers the perk a half-off trip.

Over the years, Murry has seen considerable changes to Disney World such as the addition of new attractions, numerous name changes and the construction of new parks.

"The greatest change is some of the fireworks shows," Murry said. "They've gotten more and more extravagant over the years."

She said the shows are a must for any vacationer and said if someone in a family has an aversion to loud noises, try giving them noise-reduction head phones and letting them listen to their favorite music.

Murry also offered this advice to families trying to plan any affordable vacation.

"Plan as far ahead as possible," Murry said, "and just make sure you keep a budget and save all souvenir buying until the end of the week."