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Disney Tips and Observations

I’m by NO means an expert…this is the first time we were at Disney World with the kids. But I do take notice and I do take notes, so I thought I’d share. 🙂

Go Off-Peak
We went the first week of January. And barring those 600 check-outs the day after New Year’s Eve (the day we checked in), the park was relatively quiet. (Mike would disagree – but he’s never been to Disney before, and certainly never waited in line for a ride for over an hour before!)

We only had cause to get one FastPass. One. For the Toy Story ride. 🙂

Obviously, if you have kids in school over the age of Kindergarten, this gets tricky…
(A tip from a teacher of older students: If you MUST go during school, make sure it’s not during exam week!!)

Stay at the Parks
If at all possible, stay on location! You may save money by staying outside of the parks, but the travel time (or lack thereof) is completely worth it. That, and not having to drive in all that traffic 😉 (And this is coming from someone who lives around Boston! LOL!)

Also, you can get a bunch of package deals if you stay at the park (like the Disney Dining Plan…more about that later.) And another big bonus is that if you purchase anything big and bulky, or something you don’t want crushed (like a photo of you and a character), you can have it sent directly to your resort!

We stayed at the All Star Music Resort. I would highly recommend this for any family. It has affordable suites (about 1/2 to 1/3 of the price of others I found). The suite we had was a one bedroom, two bathroom (Yes, TWO bathrooms!!), and a kitchenette. The couch in the living room pulled out into a double bed (super UNcomfortable – I actually slept on the couch cushions on the floor one night and that was a hell of a lot more comfortable than the pull-out), and the chair and ottoman both pulled out into single beds. So lots of sleeping options. If the kids were older, we’d probably take the bedroom and let them stay on the couch – but the way we did it left it so that Mike and I could stay up and have more space after the kids were asleep.

Park Hopper Tickets vs. Single Park Tickets
We opted for the Single Park tickets this time around. I can totally see why the park hopper ones would come in handy…especially if one of the parks closes a bit early, or if your dining plans are in one park, but you really want to be in another one for the day…but with kids our kids’ age, we decided that sticking to one park was the way to go. And it worked for us. I can’t imagine spending more time than we did at the parks (we – and they! – were exhausted!!), and the travel time between the parks just isn’t worth it.

Disney Dining Plan
Oh my. My friend Nancy C. recommended that I check the dining plan out (which, I think you can only get if you’re staying at one of the resorts). Holy money saver! I think it probably saved us over a grand in food. Seriously. The dining plan includes one sit-down meal, one quick meal, and one snack per person per day. And the sit-down meals can be the character meals! (More about that later.) It doesn’t sound like a lot – but trust me, it is. And I liked the snack option (which could be a drink or popcorn or ice cream or something along those lines)…you didn’t feel bad getting something for each person in your group…I could totally see us standing in line gasping at the prices and demanding that we all share an apple juice or something (yes, I’m THAT mom 😛 ), but with the snack option, that didn’t happen.

If you don’t have dinner plans and want to eat at a park, make sure you take note of when the park closes!! (I’m guessing this is especially important at off-peak times). It seems the park restaurants close about a half an hour before the parks do. If you make it inside, they’ll let you stay, but no dice if you’re even a minute late. We missed out on meals at the park twice because we weren’t on time. The meals at the resort weren’t bad…but they weren’t great – and after a few meals there, seemed limited.

Character Meals
I went into this whole thing thinking we’d do one character meal and that’d be that. I even attempted to book it online. DON’T DO THAT!! Thank goodness it didn’t work very well for me (it told me that they weren’t sure if they could seat all 5 of us together…what?!), so I ended up calling the dining plan number. I ended up chatting with a *very* nice lady (for about an hour), who helped me set up every single one of our sit-down meals. And 4 out of 6 of them were character meals. SO.TOTALLY.WORTH.IT!! We got so many autographs without feeling like we were wasting time standing in line. You’re eating (most often a buffet), they don’t rush you in the slightest (we saw a few character multiple times simply because we were still eating), and you have your OWN time with each character! They come right to your table and spend the time writing out the autograph and taking pictures. It also doesn’t hurt if your kid doesn’t want anything to do with the character when they get there because you weren’t just waiting in line for them – you were being productive (eating) as well.

Oh, and if your sit-down meal is breakfast at one of the parks, you by-pass the *entire* line to get in – they have special breakfast lines so you don’t miss your reservations!! It’s kind of neat to be in the park when no one else is there 🙂

One thing to keep in mind about character meals is that if you don’t have the park hopper passes, the meal determines what park you’ll be in for the day. There ARE character meals outside of the parks (a few anyway), but just keep this in mind. It actually helped us to know where we’d be each day before the day even started.

Autographs
I briefly contemplating getting 3 autograph books (you know, 3 kids…3 books, right?). Mike dissuaded me and I’m SO glad that he did. One book was more than enough. Maggie was *totally* into the autographs, so she pretty much had control of the book…but she was also good about letting someone else have the chance to hand it over to a character if they were interested. But the boys, while semi-interested in what the autograph looked like after it all, didn’t really want to bring a book to the characters.

The other thing is…it’s a time-sucker for everyone behind you in line. We were behind family who had autograph books for each kid…and 9 times out of 10, the mom would be the one to hand the books over to the character (the kids had NO interest), and the poor character had to autograph all those books (have YOU ever tried to write legibly with mittens on??)

Now don’t get me wrong…if you have 3 kids who are all completely into getting the autographs, go for it…I’m just saying if you don’t know if they’ll be – or if you know they won’t be – try just one.

Celebrate Something
If you book your vacation online, chances are they’ll ask you if you’re celebrating something. Say YES!! Celebrates something – anything. Seriously. Burke and Maggie celebrate their 6th birthday at the end of the month, but we put in that we were celebrating it so they each got a button to wear the whole time we were there. *EVERYONE* made sure to say happy birthday to them. From the bus drivers to the characters to the janitors to random people just walking by (I think guests got into it too LOL!). They also each received a cupcake or some sort of dessert at every sit-down meal.

I saw a bunch of different kinds of buttons too. 1st Visit and Anniversary were two of the ones I saw most often. And I think if you don’t book online, you can find the buttons at guest services.

Strollers
I went back and forth about this one. Even though he’s only 3, Logan hasn’t used a stroller in over a year, so I didn’t know how he’d do with it. My friend Kelli told me that if we had an umbrella one, to bring it (single stroller rentals are $15/day!). She also mentioned to tie some ribbon or something around it for easy identification. (I happened to have some orange yarn, and that worked wonders 🙂 )

Thank GOD we brought it. Throughout the entire vacation, there was one kid in the stroller, on on Daddy’s shoulders, and one wandering around wishing they were in one of the other two spots 😉 It also provided a place for all of our STUFF. And people were really good about leaving things alone (we hid things in bags, but usually left the bag hanging on the stroller.)

Oh, and there’s no charge to check a stroller on the plane.

Things I Wish I’d Brought

  • I wish I’d thought to bring a pair of sandals. I purposely didn’t because I didn’t want to be lured into wearing them at the parks (I knew socks and sneakers were the way to go), but I would have liked to have had them to hit the pool or other things around the resort.
  • A zip-top bag to hang on the stroller. Luckily, I didn’t mind purchasing one I’d been eying the first day (super cute! Mine’s in Blue though)
  • I’m going to sound like Monk, but I really wish I’d brought my Poland Spring water. (Ever see that episode where he travels and brings an entire suitcase full of water? LOL!) I didn’t drink nearly enough water, but I just can’t bring myself to gag down that Dasani water they have.

One tip I had (also from Kelli) was to bring a soft-sided cooler because they’re allowed in the parks. I did bring it, but since the weather was a very nice mid-70s all week, and since we brought the kids’ insulated juice cups, we didn’t need it. I can totally see that it would come in more useful if it were hotter, or if we weren’t on the dining plan and had brought our own snacks or food though.

What are your tips and observations? I’d love to hear them!

Disney Recap: An Awesome Week!

We had such a wonderful time at Disney World!!

We flew in on Saturday morning and stayed through Friday with 6 day passes to the parks. We stayed at the All Star Music resort – which I would recommend to any family in a heartbeat, and we used the Disney Dining Plan – which I would also highly recommend.

I’m going to do the daily recap here and then tips and observations in another post…stay tuned!

Day 1: Magic Kingdom

As I said, we flew in on Saturday and used the shuttle service provided by Disney to go straight to the resort. We were early (11:30am when check-in time is 3:00pm), but they handled us well. There were 600 people checking out (most there for the night…since it was New Years Eve and all), so our room wasn’t ready, but they found us another one with no problems. Because we used the Disney shuttle from the airport, we didn’t have our luggage yet (more about that in tips), so we dropped off our carry-ons, found some lunch at the resort, and then headed to the Magic Kingdom!

On the bus to the park, Logan and Maggie decided they wanted to sit by themselves.

We hit the park right as a parade was happening!

Watching the Parade:

Our first glimpse of the Castle:


On the Carousel:

We also hit the Dumbo ride, Small world, and the River Taxi to take us to dinner at the Wilderness Campgrounds. We were going to stay at the campgrounds to attend the camp fire and eat S’mores with Chip n’ Dale, but we just couldn’t make it. (Did I mention that we’d been up since about 4:30am to make the flight?)

That night, I stuck them all in the bedroom…sideways on the bed:

It worked that night because they were all so tired they fell right to sleep. The next morning however…that’s another story 😉 The next night we used the couch cushions and put Maggie on the floor; but Logan and Burke woke up kicking each other (and I couldn’t sleep with Mike’s snoring!), so then we ended up putting both Logan and Maggie on the floor with couch cushions, and I slept in the bed with Burke (Mike stayed out on the *very* uncomfortable pull-out couch).

Day 2: Magic Kingdom

We had matching shirts!!

My sister, Sharon, and her family gave them to us for Christmas. They have the hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil monkeys on them and say:

The Zimmer Zoo Takes on Walt Disney World
(What happens in Orlando stays in Orlando)

I can’t even tell you how many comments we got on these shirts! Even people who work at the park said they were clever.

We started our day by having Breakfast with Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger. Burke and Maggie were all over it … Logan, not so much at first; he was content watching from his booster chair, but then got into it.

Then we saw Ariel and had to wait in line to see her. Well, Maggie and I waited in line (and then the boys jumped it when we got there 😉 )

We hit the Jungle Cruise, Swiss Family Tree house, the Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean (3 times). We also saw Pirate Goofy.

After lunch, the kids all wanted to go back to the hotel and swim in the guitar-shaped pool.

Day 3: Animal Kingdom

We started the day with a Safari Breakfast with Donald, Daisy, Mickey, and Goofy. Donald was outside – you had to wait in line to get your picture taken with him before you could even go in for breakfast (they then brought that picture around to sell to you…)

We went on a safari after that – which was SO.SO cool!! I took a lot of pictures, but I’m not going to put them in here…perhaps in another post.

We took a train to the petting zoo area, but the kids were fascinated by the elephant statues, so we stayed there for a little bit.

There were a few characters at the petting zoo area: Pocahontas, Rafiki, and Jiminy Cricket. Burke had no interest in any of them though…

And all 3 kids got new hats.

We went back to the main area and walked through a few animal areas. I have lots of pictures (mostly of the tigers 😉 ), but I won’t put those in here either.

We ended up spending a LOT of time at the Dinosaur Play area.

We quickly hit Mickey and Minnie’s Camp and saw Santa Goofy, Santa Minnie, and Thumper before the park closed.

Day 4: Epcot

We walked around a bit and then had lunch at the Coral Reef restaurant – no characters, but you are sitting right beside a HUGE aquarium. And since Burke and Maggie were wearing their Birthday buttons, they each got a make your own sunday dessert.

We went to The Seas with Nemo and everyone got into Bruce. Then Turtle Talk with Crush – which I HIGHLY recommend going to, Living with the Land, Spaceship Earth, and my personal favorite, Imagination (with Figment!)…I’m still singing that song.

The kids were fascinated with the various water “fun” around the park. The Water “up” was a big hit. As was the water that looked like it was playing a game along the rocks.

Maggie got her picture taken with Marie (from The Aristocats).

Logan had said he didn’t want to…and then changed his mind…but this was the best we could do.

This was the only day it rained on us…and it was right about the time we were looking for dinner, so it was all good.

Day 5: Hollywood Studios

We walked around for a bit and saw a Green Army Man from Toy Story.

We then had lunch with Handy Manny, June and Leo from Little Einsteins, and some bear named Oso.

 

My favorite from Hollywood Studios will always be the Indiana Jones Show 🙂 The kids liked it too!

We took a wrong turn and Mike happen to look over…and then Burke was in HEAVEN. He got to meet Lightnin’ McQueen and Mater! Just look at the glee on his face while we were waiting in line!!

And then boy oh boy…he got to touch them! He was going around Mater … just running his hand along him (even though he wasn’t supposed to), and just the look on his face..! Happy, happy boy.

So of course I had to get a picture of just him with McQueen. The kid LOVES this car.

After that we spent some time at the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playground, and went on the Back Lot tour. The Toy Story ride was a big hit – and the only ride all week that we had to get a FastPass for.

We took another wrong turn and ran into Mike and Sully from Monster’s, Inc. And then Annie and Leo from Little Einsteins. (They refused Leo’s autograph since we’d just had lunch with him and gotten it then…)

After that we hit Playhouse Disney Live – where we were chosen as the “Special Family” of the show. What did that mean? Nothing. 🙂 They tried to sit us somewhere in the middle for the best seats of the house (I use “seat” loosely – we were all sitting on the floor), but when the time came to go inside, the kids were loured to the front row. No biggie. The show was based on Mickey Mouse Club House, but had Handy Manny, Little Einsteins, and Tigger and Pooh.

 

 

Logan was in absolute awe – Mickey Mouse Club House is his favorite show!

Unfortunately at the end of this day, we were running to try to catch the bus back to the hotel and Burke wiped out. Skinned knee, elbow, and wrist. (I actually thought he’d gotten his head, boy did we get lucky there!) And it turns out that it was all for nothing because they were trying to get a wheel chair on the bus, so we made it with time left over. *sigh*

Day 6: Back to Magic Kingdom

We spent most of our time at Tomorrow Land. We rode the Rocket ships, the people mover, and the Buzz Lightyear ride. After that one, we even ran into Buzz!

We let the kids drive around the race track (OMG, Maggie is *never* getting her license LOL!!)

At lunch this day, Maggie drank some chocolate milk too fast and ended up not keeping it down. Not to fear though, she BEGGED to go on the Tea Cups almost immediately after.

The kids got to sit on Minnie Mouse’s couch – in her house!

Then we saw two lines…one 5 minute wait for the Princesses and one 45 minute wait for the Fairies. Thank God Maggie’s into the Princesses!! We saw Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Bell, and Maggie’s most favorite person in the world: Cinderella.

Maggie was in awe 🙂

I think the biggest hit of the day was the Goofy Roller coaster. Logan was JUST barely tall enough to go on it. The ride was only 2 seaters, so we put Maggie and Burke in one row, I sat behind them, and then Daddy and Logan sat behind me. Before we even stopped, all 3 kids said “AGAIN!!” And I could hear Logan giggling through the whole ride. So…we went again! This time, Burke requested to sit all by himself, so Maggie sat with me and Burke rode the whole way with a HUGE grin on his face. 🙂

That night, we had dinner with Cinderella, Prince Charming, The Step-Mother, and the Ugly Step-Sisters.

Anastasia got Burke to agree to marry her LOL!!

He was all over it at first, but then got cold feet after a little while.

The absolute best ride at the parks though? Daddy’s shoulders.