If you would have told me 10 years ago I would be going to Disney World 2-3 times a year I would have looked at you like you were crazy! Well..we relocated to a city a mere 4 hour drive from Walt Disney World, had two little girls, and a set of grandparents who love a good trip to the “House of Mouse” and BOOM! I have manifested into a Disney Ninja (Keith’s words, not mine). Simply put, we are Disney nuts and we love it – or, to be precise, we love the way WE do Disney.
Animal Kingdom July 2018
In today’s blog post I will cover how we avoid crowds, where we pinch pennies (and where we don’t), which rides to prioritize for Fast Pass, and miscellaneous tips. This is not an objective, unbiased Disney write up – this is how we roll and is a pretty detailed overview of the logic behind our itinerary. If it’s not for you, there are about million other blog sites and trip planning resources to access.
1) My Disney Experience: If you have never planned a Disney trip before, or haven’t been in the last 6 or so years, the first thing you need to do is create an account on My Disney Experience. My Disney Experience is where you can link hotel reservations, park passes, view & book Fastpasses, dining reservations, view and plan daily itineraries, view Photopass photos, etc. Everyone in your party will need a profile in order to take advantage of the advance planning opportunities, which is crucial for an enjoyable trip. You need to plan. If you have visions of skipping through the Magic Kingdom, holding hands with Mickey Mouse and waltzing right up to the rides, consider this your wake up call.
2) Decide where you want to stay. I highly recommend staying on Disney property – in my opinion the cost vs. convenience factor is a no brainer – message me for recommendations if you like – I have stayed in most resorts at every price point. The free transportation, access to FastPasses at 60 days out, Extra Magic Hours – all of those little things add up to time vs. money.
Disney’s All Star Movies Resort July 2018
3) Next up it is time to book your dining reservations. Advance dining reservations (ADR) can be made 180 days out – set an alarm. If you have any hope of getting an ADR at “Cinderella’s Royal Table”, “Be Our Guest” or “Le Cellier”, to name a few, you better be on your game. Seriously. Right before I book my restaurants I also take a moment to check the operating hours for each park (find them here – they are usually posted right around 180 days out) to make certain I am taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours, which allows registered guests staying on Disney property access to experience select attractions either before or after the parks are open to the general public. So, if the Magic Kingdom has Extra Magic hours from 8-9 a.m. on Wednesday, it doesn’t make sense to book a lunch reservation in Epcot that day, as we will plan our day in the Magic Kingdom, taking advantage of light crowds during EM Hours. Your ADR’s will dictate where you spend your day, so give it some thought! We usually have breakfast in the room or on the go – so I typically book an ADR for lunch and / or dinner, and then as the trip approaches, I make adjustments based on how the Fast Passes worked out. This is also a good time to book any other experiences such as an appointment at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
Harper, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique March 2018
Avery, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique March 2018
4) Speaking of FastPasses (FP) – that is the next step and one of my favorites parts of planning! If you’re staying on Disney property you can book FastPasses 60 days in advance, 30 days for all other guests (with valid park tickets). Again, set an alarm! My strategy here is to prioritize what attractions we want to ride, and I book our FastPass window to start about an hour or so after the park opens, with all three FP choices back to back. So let’s say the park opens at 8 – I like to book the first FP around 9:30, then 10:30, and 11:30. The logic behind this is that the crowds are lightest when the park opens, so we take advantage of this and hit some rides before the wait times get too long, and enjoy avoiding lines (thank you, Fast Pass) when the crowds start to pick up closer to lunch time.
7 Dwarfs Mine Train – Classic Photo!!
Some additional tips for booking Fast Passes:
- Map out which attractions are a “must” and map out a route accordingly. For example, if you want to book FPs for Peter Pan, Tales with Belle, and Splash Mountain – it doesn’t makes sense to book Splash Mountain (located at the far end of the park in Frontierland) in between Peter Pan and Tales with Belle (which are both located in Fantasyland). Don’t waste your valuable time traversing the park to make a FP window or a dining reservation.
- Before deciding which rides to use your precious FPs on, do your research! There is a feature on the My Disney Experience app (side note – familiarize yourself with this app BEFORE arriving) that shows attraction wait times…use this to determine which rides are mandatory for a FP (7DMT, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, and Peter Pan come to mind), and which rides typically have a shorter wait time and you can probably deal with waiting in line (Mickey’s Philharmagic, It’s a Small World, The Mad Teacups).
- I like to have a loose plan in the back of my head for how we spend our time between FP attractions. For example, if our first FP is Peter Pan at 9 a.m., I know we can probably squeeze in It’s a Small World, The Haunted Mansion, and Prince Charming Carousel before and after that particular Fast Pass window and be on time for FP #2. If we don’t have time for a ride, or wait times are creeping up past what we consider reasonable (15-20 minutes) then it is time for a bathroom break or a snack or a treat.
- Make sure to check your Disney app after you’ve used your first 3 allocated FastPasses – you can book another immediately after you scan your band! It is probably clear by now I am strategic about how we use these little nuggets of gold, otherwise known as a FastPass. I generally don’t use them to book character meet & greets, but I always check after we’ve worked through our 3 allotted FPs, and if a Princess Meet & Greet pops up before we’re planning to leave the park, I will snatch it up!
Mickey Bars are always a solid treat option!
5) Character Meals. I personally think that a great way to have a more meaningful experience with the characters is by booking a Character Breakfast or Lunch – over the years we have done several of these. My favorite is probably Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot – it is all of the “storybook princesses” and in my opinion, a better bang for your buck than Cinderella’s Royal Table (we’ve done both a couple of times). The food is better, they serve booze, the atmosphere is more interactive, and it is less expensive. I highly recommend booking an ADR here, as this is a wonderful way to meet & greet all of the princesess and get a great photo opp without burning a Fast Pass. I also love Tusker House in the Animal Kingdom, featuring the classic characters (Donald, Mickey, Daisy and Goofy) this large African-theme buffet has a diverse selection of healthy options such as a whole roasted salmon and a delicious roasted cauliflower salad. And did I mention these restaurants serve alcohol??
Donald’s Safari Lunch at Tusker House, Animal Kingdom.
6) Strollers. BYOS. Bring your own stroller. We are currently using one of the Graco “Stand and Ride” strollers and it has been great! Our 6YO can just hop on the back, and the 4YO is still small enough to sit in the front. We drive so we bring our own, if that isn’t your situation I recommended you either check one or schedule a stroller delivery service – as you want a stroller that you can take with you at the end of the day (check the Disney Moms Blog
for recommendations). You can also rent a stroller at any of the parks, but they must be left behind…if your child falls asleep in the stroller you don’t want to have to wake them up, carry them to the buses / monorail, and likely also have to carry them home. We also like to take a cooler and a bag of necessities, and it is nice to store this in the stroller carriage rather than carrying these items around all day. Disney can be exhausting so I do whatever I can to lighten the load!
The stroller is also a great way for the little ones to have a seat at the show, parade, etc.!
7) Packing, Grocery delivery, and items to take to the park. We like to use Garden Grocer to
deliver some grocery staples to our Disney resort – you can even get a discount based on how far out you make your request. I also like to make a meal in advance, the past couple of trips we have been taking pulled pork, which is great to make sandwiches for the trip down (I hate stopping for fast food and try to do whatever I can to avoid it). I have taken a frozen lasagna in the past, also a box of pasta and a pre-made sauce is always a nice backup meal plan. Sometimes you’re just beat and it is nice to know there is something easy to fix up back in the room. No one is getting “hangry” on my watch so I also pack a soft cooler to take in to the park with (relatively) healthy snacks and beverages for everyone (cheese sticks, pirate’s booty, Chomps, La Croix, granola bars, apples slices etc.). I also always pack sunscreen
, baby wipes, and ponches from CVS / Walgreens.
Ponchos always come in handy! It rains almost every day in Florida.
And my last word of advice is to Just “Let it Go”…sorry, I had to. Listen – you can’t do it all. You just can’t! So seriously, let it go. I have been to the parks dozens of times and every single visit I do something totally new. There is so much to do and see, I highly recommend you have everyone in the family “buy-in” and give you their top 3 attractions etc. Plan for those top 3 things and make them a priority, and when the park starts getting crowded, lines are getting long, and people are just kinda over it – get the heck outta there! Head back to the room and put your feet up, hit the pool and cool off, or hop on the Monorail and explore some of the resorts (and get a cocktail at one of the fabulous bars they have at said resorts – Mizner’s
at the Grand Floridian
is a personal favorite – and if you time it right, you can enjoy live jazz by the Grand Floridian orchestra while you sip your well-deserved martini). It is really easy to have FOMO and start stressing about cramming as much in as you can. I totally get it! It is expensive, and you want to get your money’s worth….but nothing is worth melt-downs and misery.
It’s Magic, y’all!
Please reach out to me via email or comment below for additional recommendations!