It's daunting right? You've thought about it, you've seen peoples photos, your kids have begged to go but the thought of planning a Disney vacation makes you so overwhelmed you'd rather just put it off and do it another time!
Or maybe you've already planned the trip and you just plan on winging it when you get there? The food, the rides, the character meetings etc etc etc? I do NOT suggest this approach! Maybe its because I am a TOTAL planner but also because you will miss out on some really great things, feel totally overwhelmed and have to deal with your kids crying because "someone" didn't make a reservations at the hottest restaurant in the park!
We have 4 children - three boys ages 15, 14 and 10 and a girl age 7. We have been going to Disney since the oldest two boys were 3 and 4 so I feel like I've become a bit of a pro on the important things not to be missed, the things you can do IF you have enough time and the things that can probably be skipped or at least saved for a return trip.
What I would recommend is looking through this post, checking out the things I have suggested and write down what is important for you and YOUR family while at Disney. Take that list, pick up the phone and CALL Disney World and press the option of "new reservation".
Speaking to an agent is extremely helpful because they can give you suggestions, make your lodging reservations, set up and explain your meal plan option and then transfer you to someone who will help you make all your dining reservations. I promise it's easy and fast and you will still feel in control but also know that you aren't missing anything!
I hope this information helps you get straight to the point! Please remember this is solely my opinion and others may vary!
WHEN TO GO?
For a lot of us, there is not a lot of wiggle room on this topic. Our time is governed by school breaks and so we end up with the masses, waiting in long lines in hot weather during the summer. If this is you it's even more important to plan ahead!
We have been in July a couple of times and it is so hot you swear you are going to melt! You will see people walking around with those water misters around their necks just trying to keep cool. The summer months are definitely the hottest and busiest so if you can avoid that time than do it! If not, it's ok - you can still survive it! The plus side to summer is it makes the water rides, water parks and pools that much more enjoyable!
If you ask any of the locals, the slowest time and therefore the best time for avoiding lines is January and February - they are also the coldest. I don't think you will be enjoying the water rides that much nor would you be using the outdoor pools! There is a definite trade off during this time!
Our most recent trip was at the end of March, it was spring break so it was busy but not nearly as bad as summer. The weather was perfect and warm enough for the kids to swim in the outdoor pool (which they keep heated) and do the water rides!
Here's a reference point for temperatures during your stay:
WHERE OH WHERE WILL WE STAY???
This will be one of your hardest decisions, solely based on the fact that there are so many options!
Resorts on the Monorail - Boat - Shuttle Bus Line - Walking Line
THE CONTEMPORARY: Click HERE for resort info - You can walk to Magic Kingdom from here AND see the castle from one side of the hotel
THE POLYNESIAN VILLAGE RESORT: Click HERE for resort info
THE GRAND FLORIDIAN RESORT & SPA: Click HERE for resort info
DISNEY'S BAY LAKE TOWER at the CONTEMPORARY: Click HERE for resort info
Resorts on the Boat - Shuttle Bus - Walking Line
BEACH CLUB RESORT: MY PERSONAL FAVORITE! Click HERE for resort info - My Personal Favorite! The Pool is hands down the best!!! The Beach Club and Yacht Club Hotel are attached and look across the lake to the Boardwalk so you can walk their for dinner!
YACHT CLUB RESORT: Click HERE for resort info
SARATOGA SPRINGS RESORT & SPA: Click HERE for resort info
PORT ORLEANS RESORT: Click HERE for resort info
PORT ORLEANS RESORT, FRENCH QUARTER: Click HERE for resort info
WILDERNESS LODGE: Click HERE for resort info
BOARDWALK INN: Click HERE for resort info
OLD KEY WEST RESORT: Click HERE for resort info
DOLPHIN HOTEL: Click HERE for resort info
SWAN HOTEL: Click HERE for resort info
Resorts on the Shuttle Bus Line
ANIMAL KINGDOM: Click HERE for resort info - YOU CAN SEE ANIMALS ROAMING FROM YOUR HOTEL WINDOW
DISNEY'S FOUR SEASONS RESORT: Click HERE for resort info
Disney's "Budget Friendly" Resorts - these are off site and will require a shuttle ride to the parks. You WILL save a bunch staying at one of these fun hotels!
ALL STAR SPORTS RESORT: Click HERE for resort info
ALL STAR MOVIES RESORT: Click HERE for resort info
ART OF ANIMATION RESORT: Click HERE for resort info
You can rent a house from VRBO, rent a car and get yourself to and from the parks each day. We did this one year we went and it was very peaceful because you were able to get away from the hustle and bustle. Most houses for rent will have a pool which is a bonus! Be sure to check the driving distance to each park from the address you are considering.
Once your balance is paid in full you will receive a Magic Band in the mail for each member in your party that you can customize with their name and a color. These bands are activated when you check in and store all of your purchased park tickets, meal plans and fast passes. If you are staying at a resort you can also use them to charge souvenirs and food and drink to your room. They make it so easy because they eliminate the need for any paper tickets or trying to look up information. You just scan your band and all the information is available to disney team members.
GET THE APP!!!!
I cannot stress this enough! Disney has followed suit with the rest of the world and gone digital! Sure, you don't have to do it this way and just show up and take your chances but I PROMISE if you do the work before you go (like from the comfort of your couch) you will save yourself a ton of time waiting in line, missing out on the best rides and enjoying meals at the places you want to eat!
MY DISNEY EXPERIENCE is what the app is called and it's free in the App Store. It goes directly on your phone and all your reservations for your tickets, your dining plan and reservations, ride reservations, where the characters are (live time), wait times for rides is ALL at your fingertips!
THE FAST PASS
You will be able to book your FAST PASS rides up to 30 days in advance. DO NOT underestimate the value and importance of booking Fast Passes for the rides you want to go on. When you arrive at the most popular ride at the park and see a posted wait time for regular riders of 2 HOURS (I'm not kidding!) and you see the FAST PASS line empty you will be thankful you did!
The fast pass option is FREE and available to everyone who buys a ticket to the park, all of them. On the app you will be able to book 3 Fast Pass rides per day, per park, at a time. Once you have gone on ALL the fast pass rides that day you will be able to book more either on your phone through the app or at the Fast Pass kiosks located throughout the park.
Here is an example of what the fast pass will look like on the app. You will have a one hour window to reserve in and arrive in. Fast Passes cannot overlap times.
What does this mean? Book your fast pass rides at the earliest times of day that you can because if you book 2 in the morning and the 3rd at the end of the day you won't be able to get more until the 3rd one has been used which is not effective!
Each park will have their HOT rides, that everyone is trying to get on. Use your fast passes to book those in advance and leave the less popular rides to book after you've used the first 3 up.
THE MOST POPULAR RIDES AT EACH PARK (so get yourself a fast pass!)
Peter Pan's Flight
It's a Small World
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Enchanted Tales with Belle
Pirates of the Carribbean
The Haunted Mansion
Buzz Lightyears Space Ranger Spin
Avatar Flight of Passage (this is huge because it JUST opened this summer)
Kali River Rapids
Expedition Everest rollercoaster
Festival of the Lion King (amazing!)
Rock n' Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith (most popular!)
Star Tours - this is a Star Wars ride and is a MUST!
The Twilight Tower of Terror
Toy Story Midway Mania (very popular and a MUST for small kids)
Voyage of the Little Mermaid
For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-a-long
If you have a STAR WARS fan this park is a must! They have a Star Wars parade every couple of hours that ends with a show on stage - this can be found in the center of the park, the kids will absolutely love it.
Also, this is where your child can dress up like a Jedi and literally battle Darth Vader. It is called Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple
- kids must be between 4 & 12
- you MUST register before the show and is first come first serve and fills fast so go to register FIRST THING when you arrive at the park, you can register for a later show if you want to come back.
- registration is located Indiana Jones Adventure Outpost, or just ask a staff member for the fastest directions!
Frozen Ever After
Illuminations: Reflection of Earth
Turtle Talk with Crush
The Seas with Nemo and Friends
* Let it be said that EPCOT for sure houses the best selection of food and drink! You can try different foods from different countries, you won't know which to choose!
* take a look at each of these rides on the Disney website and decide their importance to your family based on age, gender and interest.
Okay, if your kids are little then this is a must! If they are older I feel like it's a bit of a waste of money. Each park and disney resort has a restaurant that will be a buffet style and will have specific characters designated at each one. If you eat there your child will be guaranteed a visit from each of the characters, at your table, get a photo etc. The food is ok but it's a little pricey for the amount of food your kids will actually eat. And because it's so popular for families with little kids they are VERY noisy and expect to hear some unhappy ones while you are there.
This year when we went my 7 year old was still into it but the boys were not impressed :) If you are on the meal plan you get 1 character dining per day included in your plan. If you are just paying cash it can get very pricey. These restaurants also fill up very fast so it's advisable to make a reservation before your trip, again - an agent can help you set up all your reservations in one call.
Here are my FAVORITE character dining spots!
CHEF MICKEY'S located in the Contemporary Resort
THE CRYSTAL PALACE located in Magic Kingdom
CAPE MAY CAFE located in Disney's Beach Club Resort
HOLLYWOOD & VINE located in Hollywood Studios
GARDEN GRILL RESTAURANT in Epcot
AKERHAUS ROYAL BANQUET HALL in Epcot
'OHANA located in the Polynesian Village Resort
TUSKER HOUSE located in Animal Kingdom
1900 PARK FARE located in the Grand Floridian Resort
THE 2 MOST POPULAR RESTAURANTS IN MAGIC KINGDOM:
Cinderella's Royal Table & Be our Guest - both of these are hugely popular and Disney recommends booking 180 days at least in advance, crazy right?
BE OUR GUEST
Modeled after the Beasts castle - you will be hard pressed to get a reservation here unless you do it well in advance. They are open for breakfast and lunch with Belle and Gaston making an appearance and for dinner when the Beast appears. Lunch and Breakfast will be easier to get a table at.
It's quite pricey and counts as 2 table service meals off your meal plan.
CINDERELLA'S ROYAL TABLE
Located IN the castle of the Magic Kingdom, it's a dream come true for a little princess. You are guaranteed to get a visit from each of the Princesses at your table and you meet Cinderella before you go up the winding staircase that take you to the 'Royal Ballroom'.
I really do have mixed feelings about this place. Yes your daughter would love it but it is EXTREMELY expensive and the food is fancy so if you have picky eaters they likely won't find anything on the menu they like.
If you can afford it then go for it but if you cannot, your daughter won't even know it's there (because it's so hidden)
It is located directly across from the Bippity Boppity Salon. I booked my daughters appointment at the Salon in the morning and then our reservation at Cinderellas table for lunch so she could go there all dressed up.
BIPPITY BOPPITY SALON
When you arrive at Magic Kingdom one of the things you will notice is that 80% of the little girls walking around will be dressed as their favorite princess.
Yes a lot come already dressed by their Moms but some are walking around like they literally just stepped out of a movie.
The Bippity Boppity Salon, located at the bottom of Cinderella's Castle is a MUST DO if you have a little princess lover.
Let me say that when we went this past March I actually phoned the Salon first to make sure I could get an appointment before I booked our trip. It is that Magical and my daughter still talked about it from the last time she had been.
Upon entering, you are asked what package you would like. You can choose hair, nails, tiara and sash (good option if you have a dress you can bring yourself) or you can go all out and purchase a dress as well.
After you have picked your package, your daughter will be assigned her own Fairy Godmother who leads her to her own chair and begins working on her hair. She speaks to her about all the training she had to go through to become a Fairy Godmother and plays a pretty convincing part.
Another Godmother will come around and do the nails and a bit of makeup during the process. They keep them turned away from the mirror until the end when they spin them around to see their new look.
In peak times this salon will book up to a year in advance so be sure to book ASAP - you can always cancel if you change your mind!
OTHER RANDOM BITS OF ADVICE:
- My kids when they were in the 4-7 age range LOVED the autograph books you buy at pretty much every turn in Disney and their hotels. They loved collecting the autographs of the characters they stood in line to meet. I got the ones with the photo sleeve and inserted the photos to match the autographs when we got home.
- You can bring your own drinks and food into Disney! This will save you a lot of money! Water bottles for the heat, packaged snacks to have for long lines, fruit snacks or lollipops for a mid day sugar boost, bananas to offset the massive amount of junk food everywhere.
- The Park Hopper option is good if your kids are troopers and can handle 2 parks in a day, we have yet to make it that far!
- If your kids can handle staying up a bit later, spend the early part of the day at your hotel or house in the pool and hit the parks mid afternoon. You will see a massive amount of people with strollers heading out of the park by dinner - and of course watching the fireworks show at 9pm is amazing!
- There is a VIP section in Magic Kingdom that you can buy tickets to watch the fireworks from. They serve desserts and you don't have battle people pushing you as you try to watch.
- MEMORY MAKER is a service you can buy for just over $100 which allows you unlimited access to all the photos taken of you at all of the parks. It is SO worth it! Every time you see a park photographer and you get them to take your photo then just tap your magic band and the photo is instantly downloaded onto your app. Also included are the hilarious photos that are taken of your crazy face on all the rides!
ONE MORE THING!!!
If you have boys or older kids than you should also check out the Universal Parks, located about 30 minutes from Disney.
There are 2 resorts right next to each other - buy a park hopper pass and take the Harry Potter train from one park to another!
We always do the Islands of Adventure park which is home to the famous Harry Potter world, Hulk Roller Coaster, Spider Man ride, King Kong Ride, Dr. Seuss World and the Marvel area where you can meet all the Marvel superheroes.
Also the brand new Volcano Bay JUST opened which is Universals water themed park.
I hope this information has been helpful and has made you feel a little less overwhelmed.
The memories you will make will be worth any hassle it seems like to plan, promise!