Monday, February 13, 2012

Disney Lowdown and Advice

As promised, here is my long, drawn out post on our Disney World vacation ;) If you are planning a trip yourself, I have added tips and advice based on things that worked for us!

It was our first time to Disney World. I had been once, as a kid, waaaay back in the '80s, but it was generally all new terrain. I was a bit overwhelmed by it all before we left...what to see, what to do, how to not spend all day standing in lineups. In the end we bought a book, Fodor's Disney World with Kids, and it was well worth the money just to get a quick overview of the parks, and to give you a bit of a "plan" as to what to hit first to avoid lines. Between that and Fast Passes, we didn't ever wait more than 15 minutes in line for a ride. The longest we waited in line for anything was to meet a couple characters for autographs! Being from Canada and "international", our internet didn't work there (well, it did for a large roaming cost us $27 to send my mother-in-law a happy birthday e-mail!!) and surprisingly, Disney does not have free WiFi in the park or in our hotel, so using apps was not possible for us, so I can't comment on how well those work.
(now, are those true princesses or what?!?!)

We stayed on site and allowed 2 days for each of the 4 Disney parks, which was perfect for a thorough tour! Each day ended something like this...... to the max! :) You know you had a good day when your kids are ASKING to go to bed!

When we booked, since we were visiting in off season, we also qualified for a free Disney Dining Plan, which gives you a certain amount of meals and snacks in any of the parks, hotels, etc....the amount varies with the level of plan. We upgraded (for a small fee) to the one with one "table service" (sit down and order restaurant style), one "quick service" (cafeteria/fast food style) and one "snack." This was HEAPS of food, and the table service meals could be used towards character dining...dinner with the princesses, Mickey, etc, which were a huge hit with our kids.

I would totally recommend this arrangement. I think it saved us a ton of money. Staying onsite saved all the hassles and costs of parking, the shuttle buses were frequent and convenient, our hotel was just a value resort (All-Star Music) but our room was a huge 1 bedroom suite with 2 full bathrooms and kitchenette. The resort had 2 pools and a big screen poolside that showed Disney movies nightly at 8 pm. It was perfectly comfortable for our family.

One more thing about dining- the sit down restaurants require reservations. These can be booked starting 180 days before your holiday, but being a procrastinator, I left it to 3 weeks before we left. While I was able to book all the places we wanted (except the Cinderella castle dinner, but we went to the princess one in Epcot and it was AMAZING!), but most of our bookings were at "off" times. In the end, this was the HUGEST blessing in disguise! We had most of our dinners booked around 4:00, which, if you have kids, you know is the "witching hour" so it was actually the perfect time to get out of the sun and take a break. Also, when we were finished, most others were on their way to dinner...which meant zero lineups for rides! Since we were having an early dinner we planned an early lunch around 10:30-11:00 which had the same benefit, and in the morning we would just leave the hotel room with a cereal bar in hand, so we were able to get to the parks right as they opened instead of wasting time taking 3 kids out to breakfast. In the evenings, we would grab an ice cream and find a good seat for the fireworks, etc, using our snack allotment. Score all around! I completely recommend booking your meals this way, it really worked well for us.

Which park did we like best? All of them had their highlights, I probably couldn't choose! Here are some photos with some of our favorite memories :)

Big G and his "Goofy" hat! He wore this thing everywhere, and it was even autographed by Goofy himself! Then, on our second last day, he lost it during dinner. He was devastated! We checked in with lost and found a couple times during the evening, but no luck. One of the amazing staff in guest services saw Big G deflate at the news...and then proceeded to get him a new replacement hat, and even had it signed by Goofy again! It was an amazing gesture of kindness and customer service, and really reflects our experience with staff ("Cast") there...they were beyond eager to help, and the answer was always "yes." The had a great can-do attitude and really took care of us!

Last But Not Least and the Expedition Everest ride in Animal Kingdom. This is a crazy roller coaster ride that goes up, down, backwards, forwards, through dark tunnels, etc. It had a 44" minimum height requirement, and my 43.5" daughter was determined to ride it. The first day in the park: denied. The second visit, we had a plan. We packed an extra pair of socks and rolled them up, placing one under each heal in her shoe, essentially allowing her to be on tip-toe undetected! It was just enough for her to scrape by! She was the happiest kid you ever did see, and went on to ride it EIGHT fear, I tell you!

The girls (and boy) at the Princess Dinner in Epcot. It featured 5 princesses: Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, Aurora and Snow White, who each came to the table for a personal visit, autographs and photos. Also included was two 8 by 10 professional photos with Belle, and eight 4 by 6 copies. These were all covered under one ticket per person from our dining plan. Sweet deal! It was a really great dinner to boot, excellent food! The girls were all decked out in their princess buds and just shone from the moment we arrived until, well...still shining!
In Epcot for the World Pavilions, grab a "Duffy Bear" from one of the Kidcot centers. As you go to each country, the kids can color the bear and have it stamped with a "passport" stamp. They will also write the kids' names in Arabic, Japanese, etc. We thought this section of the park would be dull for them, but between the Duffy Bears and the great shows, our day spent in the World Pavilions was one of our favorites.

In Hollywood Studios, if you go early enough, you can sign up your kids (aged 4-12) for "Jedi training" in one of the daily shows on a stage near the Star Tours ride. Our older 2 kids participated. They loved fighting the Dark Side...there was a surprise visit by Darth Vader during the training, of course, and it was a riot with them decked out in robes and wielding light sabers!

Roller coasters!!!

Meeting characters, especially those in matching outfits ;)

Fashion!! Hats are back in, people!

Some of our kids favorite things? Swimming in the hotel pools, riding the escalators before and after rides, the staff blowing bubbles. Yup, could have saved a heap of money staying in a local hotel!

In short, I would recommend Disney World to anyone. The parks are a blast but the main reason? The excellent customer service. That said, you could not pay me enough to go during prime season...this was busy/claustrophobic enough for me!! We made so many wonderful family memories, but of course there were "real life" moments....tantrums, tiredness, sibling rivalry and so on. There was more than one occasion where I thought to leave the little ungrateful whiny buggers on a corner somewhere! Sigh. But I think to expect these "parenting moments" to disappear, even in "the happiest place on earth," is unrealistic. So go with that in mind, and you will have a Magical trip :)

(LBNL always manages to "strike a pose")

A few traveling tips in review:

1. We loved staying onsite, it was affordable and convenient. The All Star hotels were a great value. You also get to participate in "Magic Hours," when the parks are only open for those staying at Disney Resorts, so very few lineups!
2. If staying on-site, opt for the dining plan. And remember to book your sit down dinners early. We really benefited from booking ours at off times to avoid lineups! Email me if you want specific restaurant recommendations!
3. Use your Fast Passes. A great tip I got (thanks, Adam!) was that, although the passes have a return time range of an hour, they will never expire and they will let you on the ride any time! We would collect a bunch in the morning as we made our rounds, then came back to the rides to use the fast passes in the busier afternoon times and they always accepted them. Once I even used one from two days prior and they took it!! This flexibility will really free up your day and help you to keep movin' along!
4. Don't bother hauling heavy water bottles, there are about a million water fountains in the parks!
5. In Hollywood Studios, if you want your kids in the Jedi Show, go sign them up in the ABC building (near Star Tours) was all booked up for the day within a couple hours of park opening. Also in this park- go DIRECTLY to the Toy Story ride, get some Fast Passes, then get on it (save the passes for later). This ride had mental lines, and all of the Fast Passes were given away well before noon daily.
(Shooting 'em up on the Toy Story ride in Hollywood Studios)

6. I loved the live shows, and 2 of my favorites were in Animal Kingdom: Finding Nemo and the Circle of Life. Broadway quality! Favorite 4D shows? It's Tough to Be a Bug (Animal Kingdom) and Mickey's PhilharMagic (Magic Kingdom). Skip the Muppets 3D in Hollywood Studios, it stunk.

7. There are "professional" Disney photographers all over the park who will take your photo then give you a card, your PhotoPass, that you then have scanned each time they take your photo. When you get home you can enter the code on the back and see all the pictures they took of you during your visit (ours also had a bunch of a lovely Asian family, but anyways.....). These photos are about $15 each to purchase, OR you can PRE-BUY all your photos for $100 BEFORE you start your holiday. We ended up with 500 photos on our card. You can edit in characters and borders, etc. That said...were all the photos super? No. And, if you ask the photographers they will use your own camera to take a photo for you. But it was nice to get some photos with all 5 of us in them.

Okay, that is LONG ENOUGH! If you are still reading this, you deserve a medal :) And if you are, then you will be the first to know....I have a wee giveaway planned for you! Come back tomorrow!

Hope you have a Zip-a-dee-do-dah day!


Leah said...

Thanks for the tips. Looks like you had a wonderful time!

Sheryl and Derek said...

Thanks for the tips!! Sounds like sooo much fun! Disney is in the plans for us, in some form, for 2013. Sure appreciated all your suggestions!!!

Rachel said...

Sounds (and looks) like you all had a great time! Not sure Disney will be in my future since my only child is 19, but hey, maybe grandchildren one day in the far-off, very distant future and then I will come back and read you post again ;)

Little Island Quilting said...

What about Quilt didn't mention that one?

Shay said...

Oh my goodness. This makes me want to book a trip to Disneyland. (For me - not for kids - just for me )

Im so glad you all had a wonderful time. Sounds like it was a perfect family vacation (even down to the wanting to leave your kids on a street corner at various points- we've all been there )

Unknown said...

How can I thank you for posting all this awesome information? As a mom of three princesses age 5 and under, I have been giving the Disney Trip great thought already. I am so glad you and your family had a magical time!

Lynne said...

Sounds like oyu had a wonderful time. I'm sure people planning a trip to Disney parks will appreciate all your advice and tips.

Katie B said...

This sounds like such a blast! I really want to go. It's kind of hard for us to go during a non-peak time because my husband is a teacher, so when he has time off, so does the rest of the known universe.

Amy Friend said...

Just reading the post made me tired. You must be exhausted!

Lindsay@fortheloveofcotton said...

I am so glad you and your family had such a blast. I love the pictures of your kids zonked out! Thanks for the tips. Although I have been twice with the older child, we are hoping to take the younger child soon.

Grandpa E said...

Thanks for sharing your trip. We loved the pictures and narrative. It brings back memories of trips of the past.

Chris {frecklemama} said...

WOW, what timing! I am leaving on Monday for DisneyWorld with my three kids, hub and my mom. We've been several times but never this time of year. Thank you SO MUCH for your tips!

Ginette said...

Thank you so much for all your tips and advice. We are planning a trip there in 2013 and will definitely take it all into consideration!

Kate R said...

This looks like so much fun. I went to Disneyland and World when I was 12 and lived with my family in the US for a year - such a wonderful family trip! I now live in Tokyo where we have Disneyland and Disneysea and I just love going there - makes me turn into a kid again! I'm pregnant with my first child and admit a ridiculous thought I had - that I wouldn't be able to enjoy Disney as the kid myself anymore!! But your post is lovely and reminded me that there is still much fun to be had with my own kids one day :) Glad you had such a great trip! It looks just wonderful.

Cherie said...

OMG--that sock trip is genious! Going to have to use that one!

That stunk that you couldn't use your apps :-(

PunkiePie (Jen) said...

Fantastic!! Thanks for the tips! I will plan for early dinners; that was somewhat my plan to begin with but I think you nailed it for me. Love the customer service and getting another Goofy hat with the Goof's signature. I would have been devestated myself because the Goof-Man is my FAVORITE Disney character. I will make a notation about the Toy Story ride and the FastPass too. And the PhotoPass. My Aunt got one from their recent trip with their Granddaughter and while the price seems steep, I think it's pretty worth it. When and where did you pre-pay for it? Online before you left?

Cindy said...

Another great reference book is the "unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World." It is updated every year and includes "insider tips to save time and money." It gives advice on just about anything you'd care to know. Topics like waiting in line strategies for adults with young children, pre-mapped plans to avoid lines, how to find characters. It was extremely useful and I recommend it to anyone making the trip to Orlando.

Unknown said...

This is really helpful. My family is going for spring break - I am so anxious about the crowds! But we will be staying on property and the park will be open until 2am - so we will make it work!

Anne said...

Your kids seems like Disney characters too,they are so cute and they obviously had a fun-filled days in Disney! Can't wait to see Disney in my daughter's eyes anymore. Thanks for the tips! Disney Garden Festival