I spent a lot of time preparing for our trip to Disney World, and why should that knowledge go to waste?
A Disney vacation is not the kind of vacation where you just show up and hope for the best, especially with younger kids. We went during a busy time, much busier than I expected, and I was so glad that I was familiar with the attractions. I knew which ones my kids would love and which ones we could skip. My main source of information was the book The Complete Walt Disney World 2012. I liked it because it had at least a page with photos on every ride, show and other attraction at each of the parks, including Downtown Disney and the water parks. I also liked that it was written specifically for 2012, so I went to Magic Kingdom knowing that parts of Fantasyland were closed for renovations. The book also told me which attractions had Fast Passes, the wait times (on a chart by time of day), and the family-friendliness of each. I knew that if we wanted to ride Toy Story Mania we needed to get to Hollywood Studios when it opened and get Fast Passes right away, or it was a 40 minute wait at a good time and a 2 hour wait at a bad time.
Our travel agent Travel Magic also sent us information, including park hours, show times, extra magic hours and more. The park hours and extra magic hours change, so this was hugely helpful. I also referenced a number of websites. Here’s a good list:
- Disney World – Find information on attractions, a customizable map for each park, and information on the hotel that I found useful.
- All Ears – This site has tons and tons of information on everything from Fast Passes, Photopasses and transportation (yes, you can get on the train in Magic Kingdom and ride it to Splash Mountain to beat the crowd).
- Burgh Baby – Michelle is one of my favorite bloggers who happens to take her daughter to Disney a lot. Last year she wrote a series of posts with tips about each of the parks that I referenced while planning our vacation and again right before we went. Her daughter is about the same age as mine, so it was very helpful. She also worked in Disney in college and has some insider information that was helpful. I set the link to go to the first tip blog post and you can click on the next blog to keep reading.
- Google – “Google it up” as my son would say – If I had a specific question I often found the answer on a discussion board or a blog through Google.
Open Magic Kingdom
We went to Magic Kingdom on our first day and I’m so glad we did. We got there early enough to open the park. Magic Kingdom has a little show where the Town Square characters start with a song, then Mickey and other characters arrive on the train. It was the perfect opening for our vacation!
Create an Agenda, But Be Flexible
I created a general daily agenda of things we wanted to do. Here’s a sample:
- 8 a.m. – Meet at hotel and get bus
- 8:30 a.m. – Arrive at park, get park map and Time Guide
- 9 a.m. – Park Opens – Split up – one group to Toy Story for Fast Passes, Mom and Buddy to Jedi Training Academy
- noon – Lunch
- 3 p.m. – Pixar Parade
- 5:30 p.m.- Dinner at 50′s Primetime Cafe (reservations at 5:45)
- 8 p.m. – Line up for Fantasmic (starts at 8:30 p.m.)
So it’s not a minute-by-minute agenda, but it was good to know what we needed to do right away and when we needed to be where for specific events.
Make it Picture Perfect
I debated on whether to take my Nikon DSLR, or to bring the point-and-click. While I didn’t really want to lug around the bigger camera, I knew I would want better photos so I went ahead and brought it. I’m really glad I did because I got great photos. I brought every SD card we had, but still had problems. The first one became corrupted and 2 couldn’t be read by my camera (I should have checked before I left) but the good news is that I was able to buy another one there. I used 3 SD cards (32 GB, which is the one that became corrupted so I didn’t fill it, an 8 GB that I filled and about half if the 16 GM that I bought there). I also should have charged the battery every night because on our third day, the day of the princess dinner, my battery jumped from fully charged to barely charged and I didn’t get as many photos throughout the day as I would have liked.
Disney also has the Photo Passes, which were great. There are photographers throughout each park, most of them wearing a khaki vest, that will take photos and put them onto a card for you. When you get home you enter the card number onto your account atwww.disneyphotopass.com. A few important things to note:
- The photographers will be at every character meet-and-greet as well as photogenic spots, such as in front of the castle or an entrance.
- The photographers will take a photo with your camera at the photo spots, but not usually at the character meet-and-greets. An employee did take photos for us when we met Mickey and Minnie, but not with any other characters.
- You can take as many photos as you want even if there is a Photopass photographer there, and the characters will take time to smile at you as well.
- You can add as many Photo Pass card numbers as you want onto your Photopass account, so don’t worry about needing to keep track of the same card the entire time.
- Take a clear photo of the back of the card or write down the numbers. I lost our first card, but fortunately has already put it on our account. After that I took a photo of every card.
- A Photo Pass card number can be used on more than one account, so if you go with a group the photos can be on your account and their account.
- If you attend an event like the Jedi Training Academy, you’ll get a Photo Pass Card with photos of everyone at the event. You can delete the kids yo don’t know.
- The photos are expensive, either $14.99 for a download or print each, or $69.99 for a CD of all of the photos (as many as you have). If you have a group, you may want to put all of your Photo Pass photos onto one account and get one CD. Duplicate CDs are. $19.95 so you can save a significant amount of money.
- Photos are available for 30 days after your trip, so make sure you add them to your account and decide if you want to order any.
- Attraction photos from Splash Mountain, etc. are not included on the Photo Pass.
- Not even a week after we got back they announced a Photo Pass package that can be bought at Disney World which also includes the CD and attraction and dining photos. It’s $199.99 and you can learn more on All Ears.
Because I took our good camera, I only bought 2 photos. I found that our photos were just as nice. I bought one of Buddy fighting Darth Vader because I simply couldn’t get as close and had trouble getting a clear shot because he was on the stage and Darth Maul was fighting kids below the stage. My photo is on the left and the Disney photo is on the right.
I also bought one of Sassafras that was simply precious. A photo I took is on the left and the Disney photo is on the right.
Take a Stroller
We joked that Sass’ favorite ride was her stroller. We never use one any more, but we decided to take the small umbrella stroller that we keep “just in case” and we are so glad that we did. In fact, we wish we would have brought our double stroller, even though we no longer have 2 kids small enough to kit. It would have made it easier to lug around all of our bags and water. My husband was worried about the extra cost, but the airlines let you take the stroller to the gate and they put it under the plane, then give it to you when you get off. Renting a stroller in the park is $18 a day or $15 if you rent it for your entire stay. Even if we had needed to pay $20 each way to check it in, we would have saved over renting. We still carrie
d Sass from time to time, particularly on late nights when she was just so tired, but we (and our backs) are so glad we took it. (Bonus, because we bought this stroller about 7 years ago when Buddy was 1 and rarely used it, it was the only one like it so it was easy to spot in the sea of strollers – and there are hundreds of them parked together).
Get the Disney Parks App
Verizon customers can get the Disney Parks App, which I found to be very useful. There’s a map of the park and it knows where you are. You can search for attraction by distance or wait time. We were able to find out where character meet-and-greets would be, where the closest restroom was and what the wait time and/or Fast Pass wait time was on each attraction. We also found it easy to find out what restaurants were on our plan and we were able to make reservations on the app. We could not cancel, though, and had to call the main number. My only complaint is that it wasn’t 100% accurate and showed some attractions as closed that were not and did not have a complete list of character meet-and-greets, but for the most part it was useful.
We received a free basic dining plan, which gave us one quick-service meal, one table-top meal and one snack per day. The meal plan is a little confusing until you get used to it. Fortunately everywhere we went, they knew what was on our plan so there were no surprises.Quick-service meals are restaurants similar in set-up (but not necessarily food) to a fast food restaurant. You order at the register, pick your food up at the food counter, and find a seat. A Table-top meal is a sit-down meal where you have a waiter. Gratuity is not included in the meal plan, so plan of spending about $20 for each Table-top meal. A snack is anything from a bottle of pop to a Popsicle. There are a number of snack stands and restaurants that allow you to get a snack. Look for the purple square Dining Plan logo, which is extremely small and located next to each item on the menu board. Not everything is available as a snack, but I was supposed to find a pack of lollipops in a gift shop included, so be sure to check. You will get one of each for each person per day, but you can use them in any order. For example, you could have 2 Table-top meals on one day and 2 Quick-service meals on another. We got 28 of each and each receipt shows you how many are left on your plan.
Here’s some other tips:
- Make reservations for Table-top meals ahead of time, especially character meals.
- Use Table-top meals for lunch and Quick-service meals for dinner. We did the opposite for most meals and had to wait even with reservations. The day we ate at a Table-top restaurant for lunch and a Quick-service for dinner was much more enjoyable. Both times we were served and seated right away without trying to fight with hundreds of other people.
- Don’t expect much. We were disappointed in the food. It was mostly tasteless. They did have fruit and vegetables, but we were all hungry for real food when we got home.
- Eat breakfast in your room or have a big breakfast and skip lunch (or pack snacks).
- Use your snack for a Popsicle in the afternoon and catch a parade if you can. It is so refreshing. The frozen lemonade was awesome.
- Take water bottles and fill them up before you leave your hotel. We used the kool-ade packs to flavor them. It was much better than spending money on drinks. Plus, we was hot and we needed to stay hydrated.
Give the Kids a Budget
Our kids had about $100 each to spend, and that was it. Most of the money was from relatives, which helped us out too! Whenever they asked for something, we made sure they knew it was coming out of their money, and they thought twice. I did have to talk buddy into spending $25 on a light saber he made himself because he thought it was too much, but it was perfectly reasonable. Also, the experience alone was worth it!
Since this was out kids’ first time we decided to do the autograph books. I made my own kits and the kids loved them. The characters knew what to do with them. They looked at them often while we were there and have shared them since we got back as well. Disney sells them in the park too and they’re reasonably priced. I was worried we would run out of room, and I’m glad I took our own because they each had about 30 autographs.
Buddy collects pressed pennies wherever we go, so I did some research and found out there are over 300 pressed penny designs in Disney World. So we took $20 in quarters and a lot of shiny pennies. The kids had fun finding the penny machines and it was a nice and inexpensive souvenir. We bought each of them penny books in the park for under $8 each. We’ve all enjoyed looking through them to see the different attractions and places we visited.
Enjoy the Atmosphere!
In the midst of making this The Most Magical Vacation Ever, it’s easy to have it turn into We Are Going To Have Fun Whether You Like It Or NOT! Take the time to stop and enjoy it! Look around, you’re in Disney World! People are smiling (or, if you see me, probably crying), the sun is shining and your kids are thrilled to pieces. We were exhausted, but still smiling on our last day. It’s a magical place, so enjoy it!