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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!